Directed by Sean Fee and Annika Ranin, following a group of British skateboarders on their journey towards Tokyo 2020, where skateboarding will make its debut as an Olympic sport, Boarders tells the story of skateboarding in the UK – from arriving in the early 70s all the way to its current-day popularity and rise to become an Olympic sport. Starring: Sam Beckett, Jordan Thackeray, Alex Hallford, Alex Decunha, Lucy Adams, Lee Blackwell, Iain Borden and Ryan Gray.
It’s no secret that skateboarding has had a tumultuous past in the UK, going through different waning waves of popularity and unfairly being linked to disruptive or aggressive characteristics, but what may be a surprise is the daily struggle of professional skateboarders. While the film spends a fairly unnecessary amount of time recapping the early days of the sport, what it then evolves into is a warning of how these athletes are treated as property and often not given the mental and physical support they need to succeed and survive. It’s much like any industry which puts people into the limelight and asks a lot of them, they need the space, community and management to allow them to create a safe, healthy life-work balance, to adequately look after themselves.
However, it takes too long for the film to reveal this intention and despite exploring their passion, the overall tone in its earlier moments feels very negative. It would have been great to see them use the film as an honest deep dive into the issues these athletes face, rather than trying to do too much and split itself between that plus the history of skateboarding in the UK and the effect of covid and the cancellation of the Tokyo Olympics. The energy that it has much more keenly reflects a sombre discussion, so it doesn’t match the more upbeat moments as there isn’t the atmosphere to back it up. It moves slowly and can tend to repeat itself, which again feels like the result of not focusing more strongly on one key goal.
Looking more at the pieces of the film visually, despite that lack of motivated energy, there is a nice back and forth exploring the different lives of each skateboarder. There’s the big hit of nostalgia at the beginning with the initial introduction of the sport to the UK, it’s always enjoyable to see all the retro style and people’s excitement for something new. However, it is a real shame that it couldn’t reflect its subjects’ passion for the sport in its style and inject it with some positivity and a more satisfying flow to the story.
Boarders is a sad and touching exploration of the reality behind professional skateboarding. It’s a shame that splitting its focus took away from the more strong, honest impact it could have had. A lot of its earlier content feels overly familiar and somewhat repetitive, time that could have been better spent diving further into the lives of its skateboarders. It’s a film that will undoubtedly hold special interest for anyone who loves skateboarding but there is still more for a wider audience to connect to.