Boarders follows four skateboarders - Sam Beckett, Alex Hallford, Jordan Thackeray and Alex deCunha - who are competing for a spot on the UK’s first-ever Olympics skateboarding team, following the sport’s inclusion in the Tokyo Games.
Annika Ranin and Sean Fee’s film starts down a path familiar to many sports documentaries. Boarders explores the lure of skateboarding and examines the sport’s history. It takes us back to the skateboarding boom of the 1970s and looks at what happened afterwards - when skateboarding “died”. Boarders introduces us to the skateboarding community and considers the impact of the sport’s Olympic debut.
My first hint that Boarders was more than a run-of-the-mill sports doc came when I discovered that, for these four skateboarders at least, Olympic recognition is far from an overwhelmingly positive development. The general consensus in the film is that the Olympics could divide the community and take the heart out of skateboarding.
Boarders has got heart to spare. Beckett, Hallford, Thackeray and deCunha clearly love their sport. Halford describes feeling invincible while skateboarding and emphasises the sport’s endless creativity. Meanwhile, Beckett talks about the beauty of skateboarding. He did not aim to become a pro skateboarder - in the early days, it helped him with his social anxiety.
Thanks to the palpable sense of trust between the filmmakers and their subjects, the skateboarders feel comfortable to reveal their innermost thoughts and feelings on camera. The result is an intimate and surprisingly moving experience. The film explores the mental, physical and emotional toll that skateboarding can take - and the pressure is, of course, even greater when you aim to compete at an Olympic level.
The UK Olympic skateboarding team has faced significant challenges in the run-up to the Tokyo Games. The UK lags behind other countries in terms of training locations, facilities and general investment. Meanwhile, burgeoning sponsorship brings its own issues. Brands want bang for their buck. Skateboarders are forced to push themselves harder and faster - to take risks or be left behind.
Thanks to the endearing and heartfelt way Sam Beckett, Alex Hallford, Jordan Thackeray and Alex deCunha describe skateboarding (as a way of life, of connection, of community) we understand their fears for the sport's future. Will skateboarding lose something vital if it becomes commodified? Will rules and regulations stifle creativity and individuality?
Meanwhile, what are the rewards? No one really believes that they will get rich from this sport. Olympic standard skateboarding requires hours and hours of training. The travelling that is necessary in order to compete prevents the skateboarders from putting down roots and living life. You sense that this is not what they began skateboarding for - it feels desperately sad that reaching the pinnacle of their sport comes at such a cost.
However, as Boarders moves into its final act, there is hope. We have been with them on a fascinating and, often challenging journey (made even more difficult thanks to the global pandemic) and there is something joyous about how they emerge at the end. It is hard not to fall in love with these guys.
Boarders left me hoping that - Olympics or no - they can nurture and protect their special relationship with skateboarding (and with each other) long into the future.
You can watch Boarders via Bohemia Euphoria.