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Cannabis and skateboarding are like peanut-butter and jelly; they’re both great on their own, but even better together. In our column The Ganja Grind, we’ll take you into the fold of what to look out for in the world of skateboarding. From interviews with our favorite pros and compilations of social media hijinks, to video reviews and sneaker releases, this series will get your week rolling.
Skateboarding’s latest mainstream breakthrough finally has a roster. Last week, after years of anticipation, Josh Friedberg, the CEO of USA Skateboarding, announced the names of the 16 athletes that will be traveling to the 2020 Tokyo games to represent the stars and bars in the first-ever Olympic skate contests.
In addition to the shoo-in contest superstars like Nyjah Huston and Jagger Eaton, the skate bureaucracy powers that be also punched the tickets of stylish LA skater Louie Lopez, Plan B pro Chris Joslin, pioneering women skaters like WKND pro Alexis Sablone and Meow Skateboards pro Lacey Baker, all-terrain shredder Zion Wright, as well as a handful of other noted homegrown rippers.
All in all, each country will send four skaters for each of four separate competitions; men’s street, women’s street, men’s park, and women’s park, with the street efforts scored in the same manner as Street League contests, and park runs tallied like the Vans’ Park Series.
And so for better or worse, as skateboarding continues to look a lot more like the traditional sports on three-tiered podiums and ESPN highlight reels, we figured we’d give you a classic pre-season preview of the American squad heading to Tokyo in 2020. On top of flagging our favorite U.S. skaters to watch from each of the four separate categories, we’ll also showcase some international competitors to look out for when you’re picking your fantasy team or placing your prop bets for heaviest slam.
Men’s Street: Louie Lopez
Born and raised in Los Angeles, 24-year-old Louie Lopez has grown up in front of the skate industry spotlight. First sponsored when he was 12, Louie has rounded out the latter half of his young life by releasing ahead-of-his time video parts and, recently, honing a fully-grown adult style and trick selection that have all but blown away even the loftiest child prodigy predictions.
A recently-minted Converse pro and current board brand free agent, Louie is not the first name that comes to mind when discussing big name contests. But apparently the young buck feels just as comfortable in an air conditioned arena as he does in the streets. He doesn’t have the name recognition or trophy case to rival his new teammate Nyjah Huston, but if you’re looking for a skater’s skater and underdog to root for, Louie is your guy.
Women’s Street: Alexis Sablone
An East Coast skater with a masters degree from MIT, self-taught drawing, animation, and graphic design skills, and a mean nollie flip, Alexis is an effortless maestro at all of her many crafts. And while her artistic sensibilities may stand out against the pom pom nationalism of the Olympics, it is no surprise to see Alexis conquering yet another realm of accomplishment.
Sablone was introduced to the skate world in the 2002 Boston classic PJ Ladd’s Wonderful Horrible Life, but she left the pursuit of pro skating for a while to get a degree in architecture, finish her graduate studies, and make a shit ton of awesome art. Never putting her board down entirely, though, Alexis eventually turned pro for SoCal board brand WKND in 2017 and joined the Converse team earlier this year. Like her Cons teammate Louie, Sablone is not the odds-on favorite to take home gold, but she’s our pick for primetime viewing.
Men’s Park: Zion Wright
In skateboard terms, Zion Wright is what we refer to as an all-terrain ripper. In next year’s Tokyo games, he’ll be confined to the transitional curves and pool coping of the Olympic park events. But if you had told us that Zion would be representing the stars and stripes on the handrails, out ledges, and long gaps of the street section, it would be just as plausible.
Hailing from Jupiter, Florida, the 20-year-old Wright turned pro for San Francisco-based Real Skateboards last year, and has now spent the past 24 months establishing himself as one of the industry’s most versatile pros. Wright makes the impossible seem easy in video parts, contests, and every Instagram post in between.
Women’s Park: Nicole Hause
Nicole is a 20-year-old Minnesotan who rips bowls, pools, and ramps. She’s been shredding for years, but made a name for herself among head-in-the-sand skate bros in the recent female-only Thrasher video “Please Don’t Grab My Boob.”
With boosted airs and endless style on her lip tricks, Hause is the one to watch in women’s park if you’re looking to pinpoint skating’s fun side amidst very serious global competition. After last week’s US team announcement, Hause changed her Instagram profile picture to an image of an Olympic track star waving the American flag with her own face photoshopped over it. To put us even further in Nicole’s corner, she will be — as far as we know — the only skater in Tokyo riding Anti Hero decks. If that’s not enough to get Nicole your support, we’re not sure what else to offer.
Alright, so now you know who to root for on the American side of things, but what about the rest of the world? Well, unlike USA Skateboarding, most countries haven’t officially announced their teams for next year’s games. But with a final roster from Brazil and some educated guesses from the rest of the world, here are our favorite international skaters to look out for in 2020.
Tiago Lemos - Brazil
The ambidextrous leaper who can grind waist high ledges with ease will represent Brazil in the street competition, alongside fellow big name pros Luan De Oliveira and Felipe Gustavo. Together, they’re turning the squad from South America into early favorites to take home some hardware. Tiago blends the rugged style of ‘90s tech skaters with balance and pop reminiscent of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater cheat codes.
Aori Nishimura - Japan
Aori is a teenage ripper who will represent the Olympics’ host country in the upcoming games, but she doesn’t need home park advantage to take home a medal. Nishimura has a deep trick selection and sick style that could easily see her compete for a place on the final podium. Count her down as one to watch.
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