Is Soccer Why So Many Brazilian Skaters Are So Awesome?
Amazing skaters from Brazil are so common that it’s like hockey players from Canada; it’s hard for one to stand out until they’re really, really good. (For this reason, we made a documentary about Brazilian skater Tiago Lemos, launching at Dew Tour on July 22, and available to view online at www.greenlabel.com/tiagolemos from July 23.)
One of the reasons, we wonder, for Brazil’s strength in skateboarding may be to do with its national obsession of futbol, or soccer.
Modern skating was born when bored surfers wanted something to do when waves were waning. In that sense, skating’s unique in that it has a direct lineage to another sport and its maintained that synergy to surfing, through pool skating, vertical, and even the streets, through style and approach.
Skateboarding’s also been influenced by other more traditional sports, most notably basketball. The relationship started famously when the Air Jordan 1 was heavily discounted in the mid-’90s, and several notable skaters, including the Bones Brigade, started choosing them over Vans, due to their support, affordability, and durability. In an era where hucking yourself off a jump ramp onto concrete was a thing, a hightop made sense and as skating got bigger, with Frankie Hill laying out the blueprint of skating big gaps, rails, and stair sets, it seemed like that support was paramount.
Almost 30 years later, it’s soccer that’s permeated skate culture, not only because they’re both foot-driven, but by the numbers: It’s estimated that soccer or football—or futbol—has roughly 3.5 billion fans, dwarfing any other major sport. While California, like Hollywood, may always be the heart of skateboarding’s industry, those who are the actual talent come from a global pool, as evidenced by the dominance and presence of top name skaters hailing from Europe and South America, places where soccer is a big deal.
Interest in soccer grows exponentially in the US, but it’s more than adidas and Nike creating collab soccer jerseys and footwear lines; if you look at the design of many modern skate shoes, they’ve evolved into a simple, pointier, leaner design, with fewer moving parts, a lower profile, and the toe as the focal point. Why? Modern skating is predicated heavily on the toe flick, whereas in the early ’80s, the ollie was yet to be a standardized trick, especially for transition skaters.
As we saw with the advent of the lower-profile, vulcanized trend in the early 2000s, skate shoes cut the fat of the bulky ’90s shoes, opting for feel and control over padding, girth, and gimmicks. Toe caps and overall profiles slimmed down, and the lowtop became the new staple of skateboarding, with shoes as low as the classic Vans ERA making a comeback. Like soccer, the closer the relationship between your feet and the board/ball, the more control, so the fact that a modern skate shoe looks more like an indoor soccer sneaker makes more sense than it does resembling a bulky Steph Curry Under Armour boot. When you see Tiago Lemos or Carlos Iqui leap up to a ledge half their height, with their board flipping flawlessly, before locking into a grind or slide, it’s obvious that fitness and feel are as important as power. That leg strength is as important as the flexibility and control in competitive soccer. For many Brazillian skaters, Pelé is as much of an inspiration as Rodney Mullen. OK, you can use your hands in skating, but that’s 10% of the game (unless you’re a grizzled transition vet, stalling out your inverts as long as possible—as you should).
Both are relatively inexpensive sports to pick up, that you can do by yourself, anywhere in the city. OK, a complete set-up is still much more expensive than a soccer ball and the most you can do with said ball is dribble it in a corner or whatever, but the days of Rob Welsh running some “roomy” sweats and a Larry Bird jersey seem distant. The entire marketing push of adidas’ Away Days video, down to the branded soccer scarfs they gifted at the events was rooted in the sport.
I mean, it’s hard to not see a clip of someone running a soccer jersey, but then again, who could forget Gino Iannucci’s footage in Yeah Right! and his Inter Milan jersey over a decade ago? If you’ve never seen the part, go watch that before you devour another clip of some really good person, most likely wearing a soccer jersey or shoe, doing something really hard, because that’s skateboarding in 2016. Everyone is good, maybe even great, but there’s no denying that as skating grows, it’s gravitating closer to the “world’s sport.”