Skateboarding makes its debut at the Olympics in Tokyo next week, and Sean Fee and Annika Ranin’s unexpectedly reflective film documents the preparations of Team GB’s riders. As if in answer to the debate about whether this gnarlier-than-thou lifestyle should be given the appellation of “sport”, let alone if it belongs at the most official of sporting forums, the British preparations seem almost laughably on-the-fly. The team members and manager complain about the stingy funding. At the time of filming they don’t have the funky livery rocked by their rivals and – surprisingly given skating’s immense presence on UK streets – they struggle to find the facilities needed to hone the manoeuvres they will need to win medals.
The candidness extends into a fairly intimate portrayal of the personalities who, a bit stunned, find themselves in the position of being national representatives. There’s Sam Beckett, the most ostensibly successful one, who rode the sponsorship gravy train in the US but now, nearly 30, seems slightly lost. Alex Hallford, a lanky Nottingham homebody with a string of Nepalese bunting in his living room, is unimpressed by the subtleties of Olympic scoring. Jordan Thackeray is a barrelling, athletic presence in a skate bowl, but hits the banjo to wind down. And Alex Decunha, a teetotaller whose quick-fire tricks look like an extension of his fastidious personal style, hints at the pro-athlete future for skateboarding many fear the Olympics are ushering in.
Flipping between the team buildup, a potted history of British skateboarding and assorted personal musings, Boarders is baggily structured, and feels overlong as a result. But it’s still an absorbing look at day-to-day involvement in a sport that’s a combination of dynamism and hyper-precision as an activity, but paradoxically nebulous and uncertain as a long-term career. A sense of drift is further spotlighted when the pandemic postpones the Tokyo games. Hallford’s relationship falls apart, he decides to live in a van, and suffers a horrific injury making a sketchy essay of a canal lock embankment that is surely the opposite of whatever sensible athletic training looks like. But this film misses a trick in not taking more than a token look at British female skaters – especially as two have now joined the Olympic team.