Images from @rooszwettie
Skateboarding made a major cultural breakthrough in the 1990’s with Tony Hawke – and to an extend also Bart Simpson – bringing the sport into mainstream consciousness.
I say ‘sport’ but some insisted it was a ‘lifestyle’ and to them ‘competition’ was a dirty word.
30 years on there are still traditionalist who resist official ‘contests’, but Olympic inclusion, for the first time at Tokyo 2020, has transformed the global skateboarding landscape and inspired a new generation.
Crucially the latest progress has also enhanced prospects for women; a belief endorsed by Dutch skateboarder Roos Zwetsloot who stepped away from hockey to pursue and ultimately achieve her Olympic dream.
“The most important part is to keep it fun and not be afraid of falling, because that will happen – a lot – but it’s a case of getting up, keep on trying. If girls work hard and believe in themselves then there’s a big chance that they can make it to the Olympics like I did.”
A Career-defining Choice
Roos’ childhood proved to be blueprint for adulthood with sport a major focus.
From BMX, to a scooter, then a skateboard, all while taking part in tennis and field hockey competitions. She had, and continues to have, a very active life.
“The combination was nice because I really love to be in a team and I had less nerves before a hockey competition because you were working to a goal together,” she tells the WSA.
“In skateboarding you’re alone in a competition, but I liked the freedom and there’s a great community where people help one another.”
Roos faced a tough choice after finishing school in 2018, but learning that skateboarding would debut at the Tokyo Olympics brought clarity.
“I was at a point where I had to choose whether to try the next level with hockey and go to the senior league which would mean training four or five times a week,” she reveals.
“I wanted to go to the Olympics but to achieve that you really have to be 100% motivated and I was maybe 80% motivated with hockey.
“I knew that was not enough to go to the Olympics and I had more motivation for skateboarding so I decided it would be the best way to get there.”
Images from @rooszwettie
The Nightmare ACL Injury Which Almost Ended Her Dream
“In a way it’s funny, because in hockey I didn’t really have any injuries,” Roos recalls while shaking her head.
Five years on from the incident – ahead of the 2018 World Cup in her homeland – she is relaxed when recalling the “scary” moment not only her Olympic aspirations, but also her skateboarding career, could have ended.
“I went to the venue in Rotterdam a week before the competition to practicing my favourite trick, but I went a bit too fast for the first bump. I landed with one leg on the skateboard and the other came off and twisted.
“It felt really weird inside and my leg was a little bit out of place so I knew something was wrong straight away, but I could never image that it was an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament).
“We were in the Netherlands so of course someone had a bike and they took me to hospital but it wasn’t until further scan a week later that we realised I tore my ACL and my meniscus.
“It was such a bummer because I did my research and realised it would likely mean a year or rehabilitation and I knew there were points I needed to get for the Olympics.”
A former hockey team-mate had suffered a similar injury and quickly recommended her physiotherapist, who had also worked with several footballers.
The pair struck up an excellent relationship and her comeback was so successful that Roos now makes the remarkable admission that she feels “it was really good that I tore my ACL” because of how much she learned from the experience. Tokyo 2020 and the Olympic ‘Covid-Crew’
Although still far from returning to peak performance, the Covid-19 pandemic – and subsequent 12-month delay to the Tokyo 2020 Games – gave Roos enough time to return to the sport and attain the results for an Olympic place.
“I was worried as everything was so unclear and there are a lot of good women, but 12 months after surgery I competed in Brazil and although I wasn’t at my best I then knew my knee was strong enough for the Olympic process,” she recalls.
Each Olympics is unique but pandemic-related restrictions truly made Tokyo 2020 a Games like no other, with no fans in venues and socialising between athletes severely limited.
All attendees had to complete daily Covid-19 PCR test and that process saw Roos’ team-mate Candy Jacobs ruled out of the Games after arrival in Japan.
“She was in tears and we were all so sad because we were a really close group,” the 22-year-old tells the WSA.
“It was also tough because people saw us as the ‘Covid group’ and kept their distance so it was a bit weird, but it also gave us extra motivation to do well for her.”
She certainly did that, progressing from the preliminary round, to the semi-finals and the final where she would place an impressive fifth.
“I’d achieved my goal of reaching the first-ever Olympic street (skateboard) final and I was really proud of the journey,” Roos states.
A New Business Venture
Since the Games the Dutch skateboarder has worked on improving her strength and skills, but away from the sport she has also developed her own business.
‘Zwettie’ which is based off her nickname, is her hand-makes bracelet brand, which include designs specific to her sport, such as the inclusion of a compartment for wax.
“You wax as a skateboarder to grind harder and I always had to borrow from someone as I’d forget to bring mine with me,” she says.
“A friend of mine came up with the idea that because I'm always wearing bracelets maybe we can combine something with that and wax and her father worked with the kind of materials we wanted to use.
“We also make keychains and other items from old rope and any old materials we can find, so they’re sustainable and we’re keeping it handmade right now which is really fun.”
Growing skateboarding and switching off socials
Social media is a crucial tool to help grow her business, but Roos has also learned the importance of the occasional ‘digital detox’ and reducing her social exposure to her sport.
“There are so many young girls out there who are really good and their tricks show that I have to step it up,” Roos says.
“It’s funny though because while you respect the accomplishment you also think ‘oh, if she's gonna do that next month (in competition), then I have problem!’
“It motivates me to train harder, but sometimes it gets into your head and keep to follow my own path, so sometimes I try to not be too much on social media.”
The sport in 2023 is barely recognisable to that Roos grew up with and away from the competitive side she is delighted to have a witnessed an “explosion” of new skateparks across the Netherlands, something reflected across much of Europe.
Roos aims to keep pace with the progress herself.
Is a podium place possible in Paris 2024?
“Tokyo 2020 was an amazing experience, but to go to an Olympics with a crowd would be really special too,” she tells the Women’s Sports Alliance (WSA).
“That give me extra motivation to train and work to Paris 2024 and I know in my mind that it’s maybe possible to get a medal, but I need to keep enjoying it, putting down my tricks and then we’ll see what happens.”