The skateboarding scene has seen a resurgence over the past year with a number of contributing factors that led to the first sell-out year on record for many of its brands. From the Olympics to the pandemic, ToyNews takes a look at what’s been driving sales across the board, and how toy shops can land their own skateboard trick.
Skateboard GB, the official organising body for the UK’s skateboarding scene, was abuzz with excitement in the lead up to the National Championships earlier this year, the first in-person skateboarding competition since Covid-19 stripped us of the Tokyo Olympics last year.
Across the board, interest in skateboarding had already been subject to a sweeping surge here in the UK, with the number of active participants in the hobby somewhere between seven to nine per cent higher than the year prior throughout 2020. Before the pandemic had struck, Skateboard GB estimated that the country’s population of skateboarders was around 750,000. By the height of last summer, the industry had seen
its first sell-out year.
Stories that independent skate shops had sold out of complete decks (skateboards sold as ‘complete’ with board, trucks, and wheels) by certain brands began to circulate the industry, while shops – some with a 20
year history in the hobby – were seeing their best sales to date.
Something had triggered a resurgence for the sport of skateboarding, and it’s a special something that is persisting, even now.
“We thought, when the pandemic really struck, that the independent skate shops would really suffer,” Neil Ellis, head of digital at Skateboard GB tells ToyNews. “But it went the other way. People were finding time to take up the sport again, as well as the space to do it. We saw a surge in popularity, from groups of girls taking up the sport – which is absolutely amazing, to generations coming back to the sport after time away.
“And throughout it all, we have been doing everything we can to promote the sport and show that people can enjoy it and enjoy it for longer.”
It’s according to Ellis that the sport had all of a sudden hit a sweet spot. The ill-fated Tokyo Olympics had whipped up a media hype and what Ellis calls a ‘pre-legacy’ growth in the sport, while the on-set of a pandemic that would go on to see sweeping changes to the way in which people lived their day-to-day, paved the path for a natural return to the hobby.
“In the lead up to the Olympics last year, I had never been so busy in my life,” recounts Ellis. “Literally half of my week was replying to emails and doing interviews. Then, when Covid hit, that all fell off a cliff. It was then
that natural growth took over. There was nothing influencing it, apart from the fact that people were locked down and not meant to be having contact with other people. They were alone, with time and space, and
skateboarding is a great thing to do to fill all of that.”
A sport historically dominated by males aged 14 to 25, Skateboard GB reports that not only has the scene witnessed a growth in the girls’ demographic, influenced, it believes, by the likes of the UK’s own Sky Brown, Team GB’s youngest Olympian and famed skateboarder and dancer, and the toy partnerships that she has secured (including with Mattel’s Barbie and Spin Master’s Tech Deck), but at a grass roots level, too with parents encouraging younger kids into the sport.
“Because the sport has only been around since the ‘70s, we’re seeing this group of parents who did it as a kid and went on into normal life, got a job, stopped skateboarding for ten or 20 years, now encouraging their seven and eight years olds into it,” says Ellis.
“We call this the rad mums and dads market. They enjoy it because they can pick up a board and get back into it with their children as something the family can enjoy, which actually says a lot about the resurgence of the nostalgia trend that is happening right now.”
In fact, it’s merely an extension of the surge in the kidult space, too. A pattern has long been emerging that ‘play’ is lasting long into adulthood and societal sensibilities have certainly changed to accommodate and even encourage the idea that parenthood isn’t all council tax and electric bills. It can be LEGO just as much as it can be skateboarding, too.
“The social media exposure to skateboarding and the official recognition given by the new Olympic status will be opening the sport up to a new generation.”
Meanwhile, the significance of the growth in the girls’ market cannot be overstated.
“That’s a demographic that has grown about 20 per cent,” says Ellis. “It’s been absolutely huge, and that’s year on year. It’s amazing to see happen. I put it down to a number of things; skateparks have started having girls only sessions, while there are a number of young influencers coming through the ranks. All of which is helping this sport grow at a grass roots level all of the time.”
Tapping into the younger audience of skateboarders is something the toy industry is well versed with, and across the UK business, a number of companies have found themselves well-established within the market, the likes of TKC Sales, Ozzbozz, and MV Sports, included.
“Ozzbozz has always been known as an outstanding outdoor brand, and this year has proved no different,” says CEO of H Grossman, David Mordecai, talking to ToyNews about the strength of the brand’s range of vinyl skateboards. “In fact, we think that our new items have proved even more popular than we expected this year.”
The outdoor market – not limited to skateboards alone – has been the focus of a bit of a boom over the past year or so, driven, like all hobbies spanning the toy space have been, by an increased audience that have turned to play as a means of beating the frustration of the pandemic. Scooters too have been subject to climbing sales figures, while companies have been quick to highlight the increased interest in the skate scene in general, reflected in their own numbers.
“We have very much seen the evidence of a surge in interest in skateboarding in the popularity of our own ranges,” continues Mordecai. “Our range of neon plastic skateboards, in bright colours, are very attractive to younger children, and the difference in sizes across our skateboard range makes them accessible to all ages and all skill sets.
“The fact that outdoor events and skateboard parks are opening up all of the time indicates that the engagement with the hobby from younger families could be about to grow further. The social media exposure to skateboarding and the official recognition given by the new Olympic status will be opening the sport up to a new generation.
“Also, there are far more facilities for people to skate safely.”
It’s part of Skateboard GB’s country-wide work to help with the development of these kinds of facilities, and Ellis is part of a team that partners with local councils to encourage the opening of safe, and good quality environments up and down the country. In the past year alone, engagement with the hobby, from a community level, has really stepped up.
“We look to help councils try to create the best facilities they can, so people in that local vicinity can get the best experience of skateboarding,” explains Ellis. “Whenever a sport is in the Olympics, there is a pre-legacy and a post-legacy growth. A good example is gymnastics. Following the 2012 Olympics, there was a
waiting list of 723,000 people wanting to get into gymnastics. We’re not necessarily expecting those numbers for skateboarding, but it’s about recognising that these things are going to happen.”
The team at Skateboard GB is now in the midst of establishing an award scheme with UK skateparks, through which it is encouraging facilities such as first skate lessons and local community groups across the country. It’s also putting a lot of emphasis on its work with distributors to provide mainstream retailers the kind of quality products that are going to make a child’s first experience of skateboarding a good one.
“There are various things we are trying to do to facilitate this tidal wave of skateboarders coming into the sport,” says Ellis, who urges that retailers now thinking about getting into the scene, do so by first looking into the many brand options available to them.
“I’m not necessarily saying that toy shops should go with higher end brands or distributors,” says Ellis. “I just think it’s about being aware of what is out there in the market. Whether you’re a small shop or a chain, we know you can be pressed on time and obviously want the best value to make the best margins.
“There are a lot of skateboard distributors who can provide full setups with 50 per cent margin for £30. If anyone is considering putting skateboards in their toy shop, then feel free to come to us and sound out
your options. We are really about making people’s first and ongoing experience of skateboarding the best it can be.
“And the better experience a customer has with their first skateboard, the more likely they will be to return to that shop. It’s that consideration for that longevity.”
With the sport on the verge of being placed on the world’s stage for the first time this summer, Ellis and the Skateboard GB team are hopeful that eyeballs will turn into investment in the coming year. Core to this, of course, will be the UK’s performance at Tokyo this year and the weight of expectations for a medal being carried on the shoulders of the country’s youngest Olympian – 12 year old, Sky Brown.
But whether or not Brown does return home with metal this year, it won’t negate the biggest win the industry can expect, and that’s that skateboarding is kicking up some real credibility, championed for its emphasis
on explosive activity, as well as its positive impact on mental wellness.
“One of the best things about skateboarding,” says Ellis, “is that you can go to a skatepark and see a 39 year old, a five year old, a group of girls, some older lads, and they’re all cheering everyone on. It’s a lovely feeling, I still get butterflies when I land a trick, and I’m almost over that hill.”