Ever since I started working in the skateboarding industry, I've wondered if "real" skateboarding is growing or shrinking. The data out there isn't all that great, so all I've ever had to go on was my own when I formerly worked for Skatepark of Tampa prior to 2013. SPoT continues to do all the same things they've done, including their all ages contests. At The Boardr, we do similar ones on the Grind for Life Series, but they're spread all over Florida.
In the mid-2000's, it seemed like "real" skateboarding was shrinking as I saw and wrote about numbers at SPoT taking a dive leading into 2008's retail slump. I do remember admissions taking a dip at that time, too. Things seemed to recover a couple years later and were headed towards being super solid by the end of 2012. In 2013, The Boardr was founded as many former staff at SPoT wanted to do their own thing.
So, I'm looking at two sets of numbers here:
- Participation in The Boardr's annual Grind for Life Contests
- Participation in SPoT's annual All Ages Contests
The Grind for Life Series existed long before The Boardr started, but creator Mike Rogers had stopped doing them for a couple years. After we started The Boardr, he approached us about taking it over and restarting the series. That was done in 2014.
I selected a few annual Grind for Life stops that have three years of history now. You can see that participation overall is pretty flat. It's worth noting that the audience for Grind for Life vs the SPoT All Ages Contests is pretty different. Grind for Life has many of the same street divisions, but also has divisions for much older skaters, including bowl divisions that SPoT All Ages Contests do not have.
Next, I'm taking a look at SPoT's All Ages Contests. When I worked there, those were some of the most fun events where we'd see our regulars from all over the south make the trip to skate the contest, and we'd see kids grow up and move along into the older age divisions and all the way into Sponsored.
So, seeing the declines in participation there recently is a bit of a bummer. In these recent years, there's a consistent overall and individual event participation decline of about 30%.
In 2013, nearly 500 participants skated their three annual events. By 2016, that total number is just 349. The same pattern of consistent decline shows across all events for all years, with one exception for the April event in 2015 showing an increase.
Now that really makes me wonder if "real" skateboarding participation is declining.
Is it? Is that why smaller retail shops are claiming to be struggling so much? Even our industry's strongest retail chain, Zumiez, feels the dip.
Or are kids skating and just entering contests less? Based on your local scene, what do you think?
Let's look at one more, a long running amateur contest that does not have a registration cap, at least when we ran it. Disclaimer: my partner Ryan Clements and I used to own and run Damn Am until we sold our shares in to Skatepark of Tampa when we both left in 2013.
Damn Am at Costa Mesa has been happening since 2001. Here's the total number of skaters in the Qualifiers every year since then.
You can't perform this same type of analysis on Tampa Am because each year, participation is capped due to excess demand. Anyway, what's happening here? Is it contest skateboarding on the decline or skateboarding in general?
There was a two year dip while the Volcom Costa Mesa park was being rebuilt and the event had to be moved an hour away to Woodward West. It had a one year resurgence in participation when it returned in Costa Mesa in 2013, but the two most recent years are down nearly 40% from their highs years ago.
I'd like to think it's contest skateboarding a bit on the decline with "real" skateboarding as healthy as it ever was. Social media has given kids a whole new platform to meet the need of "showing off" and maybe "likes and views" satisfies that spirit of competition need that most of us have. Or maybe plain old games of SKATE?
Is the Olympic announcement going to change any of this? Personally, I don't think it will change top amateur skateboarding too much, but might have more of an impact on the all ages and beginners level, creating a bunch of new beginner skateboarders. It certainly isn't going to bring any old ones back that quit years ago.
Who knows for sure. Just keep pushing and rolling, please.