Many of the biggest names in skateboarding have been in Lausanne to contest the city's Grand Prix Skateboarding event - one of the biggest of its kind in Europe.This content was published on July 10, 2000 - 07:56
Skateboarding, once regarded as the exclusive domain of schoolboys with too much time on their hands, is now big business. Hundreds of top names from North and Latin America, as well as hopefuls from Europe, were competing for the 40,000 US dollars on offer in prize money.
"Skateboarding has become more professional since the 1980s. The look and the style of skateboarding has changed a lot and street skating has become more popular," says Raphael Mettler, the brains behind the Grand Prix.
"I wanted to improve the image of the sport in order to appeal to more sponsors and television coverage, and to have it respected as a sport," Mettler told swissinfo.
Mettler started the event in 1996 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of his skateboard company. Held every two years, it has gone from strength to strength: this year's "skatefest" was covered by four international television channels and around 30 magazines
Part of the appeal is the presence of top skaters like Eric Koston, Bob Burnquist and the near-legendary Kareem Campbell, all of whom helped to design the course.
"Many parts of our course are replicas of famous skate parks in Los Angeles and San Francisco," says Mettler. "The 'Street' course tries to replicate the situations that skateboarders encounter in a city."
The big winners at this year's Grand Prix were Canadians. Rick McCrank won the street contest ahead of the 1998 champion, Carlos de Andrade from Brazil, while Pierre-Luc Gagnon triumphed in the "vert".
"Vert is done in a half-pipe. Fewer people do vert because it's harder to get access to such facilities. But it's much more spectacular for the public," explains Mettler.
Around 12,000 people went along to the Malley stadium in Lausanne to watch the event, and perhaps learn a few tricks from the pros. While North America, and specifically California, is still considered the Mecca of skateboarding, the sport truly knows no boundaries, and it has become very popular in Switzerland.
"We've seen a big increase in the sale of decks," Mettler says. "There are a lot more skating contests in Europe, and many more US professionals coming here for tours, so people have more opportunity to see the good skaters. The media is also very important. There are lots of magazines devoted to boarding and television programmes on extreme sports, which encourages kids to practice and try out new tricks."
But despite its image of being a relatively cheap sport that anyone can do, skateboarding can be an expensive business, if you want to take it up seriously.
"It may seem cheap, but if you practise often, you need to change the deck and wheels, and even your shoes regularly. A deck costs around SFr100, and you may need to replace it 10 or 12 times a year."
That's why so many skateboarders want to join the professional ranks. All the top competitors have sponsorship deals with skateboard and clothes manufacturers. And it's not just the financial cost that could dissuade the faint-hearted.
"It's quite dangerous, and there are a lot of injuries. If you want to be a top skater, you have to be prepared to get hurt a lot," say Mettler.
Lausanne itself is much loved by the skating fraternity. It has a number of skate spots, including a now famous skatepark. As an added bonus, the actual competition course is open to the public for the whole of this week. Just make sure you wear your kneepads and helmet!
by Roy Probert
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