Skateboarding was once a niche activity. Back in the day, your average person would be hard-pressed to name anyone other than Tony Hawk as a notable member of the scene –– but there’s since been a board-based renaissance. From the Palace Skateboards alumni taking over Instagram with their shameless stunt videos to the likes of female skateboarding icons Annie Guglia and Sky Brown helping to shift contemporary attitudes, the activity has entered a new era.
For the first time ever this year, skateboarding will feature as a competitive sport at the Tokyo Olympic games. A cohort of young up-and-comers will take to the world stage but a name not to be missed is that of veteran skateboarder Rune Glifberg. Having competed at a professional level since the '90s, Glifberg is set to make history as he represents his native country, Denmark. Watch an exclusive short film with the seasoned pro below, and read on for our chat about this year's big games:
How would you say the scene has changed since you started?
I feel like skateboarding has become pop culture these days – it definitely wasn’t that way when I started. I remember back in the '80s, I pretty much knew everyone that skated in Copenhagen, or at least had some sort of reference to who they were. In that sense, [the scene] was super small. It was a different time; we were looked at as proper outcasts, dirty misfits. If you met someone with a board on the street, you’d nod your head and say hello. Sometimes drivers wouldn’t let you get on the bus if you had a skateboard with you, so then you’d have to skate home.
What were your thoughts when you heard that skateboarding would be added to the Olympics?
At first, I was definitely hesitant and thought it would ruin skateboarding in a way. I think everyone that started to skateboard in the past 10-15 years probably thinks it’s normal that it’s part of the X games and is now in the Olympics. My generation and older are the only ones that believe that the Olympics would ever hurt skateboarding because the “skateboarding’s niche and it’s just mine” mentality is still instilled in us.
But I’m not worried about [the sport] losing its roots. The Olympics is just another tier of competitive skateboarding, which only accounts for 10-20% of what skateboarding is. Most people will continue skateboarding in the streets: you’ll still see people rolling around in the gutters, skating curbs and jumping down handrails. You could have 1,000 Olympics and never get rid of that gritty part of skateboarding. I do think the sport will grow even more now as a result, though – and I’m totally for it, which is part of the reason why I decided to try and qualify.
How do you plan to stay mentally grounded during the competition?
I’ve been competing for so many years that my approach will be the same as it always is. I just try to focus on what I’m there to do – and what I want to do on my skateboard. But there will be no in-person spectators now so that will be a little bit different. I definitely do better when I can feel some energy from the crowd. I feed off the environment of feeling like I’m on the big stage versus being at a smaller, local contest where there’s not that many people there. As it’s a major competition though, I’m pretty confident that I’ll be able to find the right gear to get revved up to skate my best.
And what’s your physical preparation like?
I guess with age comes more preparation. When I was younger, I didn’t do any sort of physical training. I’m 46 now, so I have to take better care of my body. Although it’s probably minimal in comparison to a lot of the athletes there – I go to the gym around three times a week for an hour. For me, that feels like a lot of effort to put into just riding a skateboard but, otherwise, my body would sort of fall apart.
Are you worried about any stigma you face as an older competitor?
I’m not at the Olympics to try and win a gold medal – obviously, it would be nice if I did. But any naysayer wouldn’t really understand what skateboarding is. It’s not about being the best physically or trick-wise, skateboarding is about unique personal expression. I’m going to Tokyo to show the world that there’s an older generation of skateboarders that are talented and have a different way of doing it, who are still active and very much relevant.
Skateboarding is like art: whether you’re 15 or 35, you’re going to appreciate different kinds of art. I’m sure there’s a lot of 15 year olds who will appreciate the stuff that I’m doing at the Olympics, and I’m sure there’s a lot of 50 year olds that are going to appreciate what Sky Brown will be doing at 13 years old.
Skateboarders have a particular style. How do you feel about having to wear a uniform?
The whole idea of having to wear a uniform is the complete opposite of what skateboarding is about – and that’s probably another reason why a lot of people were initially against going to the Olympics. One of the things we wanted to do was create something that didn’t look too formal by taking some of the seriousness out of the kit. Working with Wood Wood was an automatic choice because it’s a Copenhagen brand that’s inspired by the city.
Going with natural dyes, Brian SS Jensen (Wood Wood’s co-founder) made everything in his garden, which was an organic, wholesome way to create it. Being born in the '70s, the tie-dye look from that era also served an interesting source of inspiration. I think the kit matches what I’m about and how I see my Olympic journey: not trying to go there with the sole goal of winning medals or attempting this grand, superhuman performance.
What would you say to spectators at home wanting to get into skateboarding?
If you want to start skateboarding, you’ve just got to find inspiration and do it your way because that’s ultimately how you’ll get the most out of it. There’s a million different ways to ride a skateboard and finding your own personal preference in terms of how you like to skateboard is important. Your skateboard will reward you via personal gratification because you’re doing what you like to do – not what someone else thinks is cool.