Former world champion Kelvin Hoefler is adamant that not only will skateboarding prove itself to be unique among the 33 sports on show at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, it will also “change the world”. Find out how, in the company of this exuberant Brazilian.
Kelvin Hoefler is a serial winner. In the three-plus years since he burst on to the international scene, the man from São Paulo state has picked up the Street League Skateboarding (SLS) Super Crown World Championship title – as a rookie in 2015 – and claimed two golds, a silver and a bronze in four X Games appearances. For the 25-year-old, however, his sport is about far more than just grabbing glory.
“Skateboarding is about freedom, creativity, being with friends and just having fun,” Hoefler said, the smile evident in his voice. “For me, skateboarding is a lifestyle. It’s just being in a park, learning tricks. I live for it every day.
“It is the best thing in the world; you don’t have any pressure. You just skate with your friends and try tricks.”
A total of 40 male and 40 female skateboarders will compete in Tokyo in 2020 when the sport makes its debut at the Olympic Games. Half will ride in the park event, gaining points for outrageous mid-air tricks pulled off half- and quarter-pipes, and other complex curves, while Hoefler hopes to be one of the 20 male skaters in the street event, where he will show off his immense skills on a course lined with stairs, handrails, kerbs, benches, walls and slopes.
Competition will be fierce but different. And it is this difference that is the secret to skateboarding.
“It is going to be a shock for Olympic fans – as a Brazilian I will be shouting for the Portuguese or USA (skaters),” laughed the man who finished second at the 2018 World Skate SLS Street World Championships in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. “If someone does a great trick, I am going to be hyped. Say Nyjah (Huston, the USA skater who beat Hoefler to last year’s World Championship crown) lands a trick he has been working on, I am going to be so happy for him. I want him and everyone to progress.
“For sure it’s going to be unique at the Olympics, it’s going to change the world. We are like a big family and I am so proud of that.
“Skateboarding is always the same, whether you are at the Olympics or just in your local park. The Olympics will be just the same as what we have been doing all our lives – just way bigger with way more people watching.”
The underlying factor behind this relaxed attitude is, according to Hoefler, the fact that as a skater you compete against yourself, not others.
“To learn a new trick you have to fall 99 times. You have to learn to fail before you get it. Then when you get it, it is the best feeling. You can be trying a trick for seven, eight hours or even days, and then when you land it, it’s something special, spiritual,” he explained.
To pull this off, you simply need a board, a pair of shoes and ideally a friend with a video camera. Although, Hoefler does advise that if you want to reach the very top, it is worth sourcing the best of each.
“With a cheap board you might only be able to ride it for 15 minutes or even less before it breaks. And the wheels won’t go fast enough,” the elite skater explained. “My boards will break but only after a lot of riding.
“Shoes are important. I need three or four weeks to break in a pair of shoes, so I can skate with them properly and be comfortable with them. I need to be able to feel the flicks and be really comfortable and not be worrying.
“And filming is just part of our culture. It is key. If you want to be successful you need to get out there, be in the streets and film your friends doing their best tricks.”
Of these three aspects, the board is, of course, the most important bit of kit. Hoefler not only reveals he often rides two or three different boards at a single competition – because they may have “different wheels” or he just “likes the feel of them” – he also admits to always keeping his main boards in his bedroom.
“You have to spend a lot of time caring for them,” the 2015 world champion laughed.
With skateboarding one of the fastest-growing sports in the world, the rewards Hoefler and his peers get are plentiful; but that has not, it seems, dimmed the spirit of inclusion and acceptance it promotes. Hoefler moved to California several years ago, in order to better progress his skills, and in the process fulfilled one of his life ambitions. “It’s always been a dream of mine to have my own park,” said the man who now does have a skate park in his back garden. “I built it because in my city in Brazil we didn’t have a good skate park. I started skating in 2000, and still right now we don’t have a real skate park. The streets around my house in Brazil are not asphalt either, they are dirt streets.
“But it is not my park, it’s for the neighbourhood. Every time I go to skate (in his nearest public park) and chill, I will meet a kid who will say, ‘Yo, can I go to your park?’ and I will be like, ‘Yeah, let’s go right now.’”
Make no mistake, Hoefler wants to win gold in Tokyo next year, but he will only do it in the skateboarding way.