Japan's Kairi Netsuke and Liz Akama shine as skateboarding takes Dubai by storm

World Skateboarding Tour event saw 238 athletes from 63 countries vie for Paris Olympics qualifying spots

Kairi Netsuke won the men's section of World Skateboarding Tour (WST) - Dubai Street 2024 at Dubai Harbour. Pawan Singh / The National
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After making its debut at the Tokyo Olympics and now heading to the 2024 Paris Games, skateboarding has gone from a youthful pursuit to a mainstream sport.

That was evident during the World Skateboarding Tour (WST) – Dubai Street 2024 at the Dubai Harbour which witnessed a week of action-packed skateboarding for men and women.

The final night of the event in Dubai turned out to be a double delight for Japan, with Kairi Netsuke, 20, winning the men’s Street Pro Tour Stop and Liz Akama, 15, winning the women’s division.

Gustavo Ribeiro of Portugal and Sora Shirai of Japan completed the men’s podium while Australia’s Chloe Covell and Japan’s Coco Yoshizawa took second and third on the women’s podium.

“Skateboarding is popular among kids in Japan but now it’s fiercely competitive with an Olympic medal at stake,” Netsuke, speaking through a translator, told The National after his win following the finals that concluded on Sunday.

“This is a sport you are not guaranteed a win, however good you may be. One mistake can spoil your chances, and this is very evident when you look at the results. This is why skateboarding is such an exciting sport for both athletes and spectators.

“I was the lucky one tonight. I’m so happy with this result and my joy was doubled when Liz [Akama] won the women’s final that followed, to complete the double for Japan.”

Akama spent a few anxious moments watching as Covell completed her final trick.

Covell, 14, led the pack with a couple of spectacular runs. She raced to the top of the eight finalists on her first run and produced a superb score of 93.49 to consolidate her lead.

However, she struggled during the trick section, landing only two of her attempts, which gave Akama the upper hand.

The Japanese teenager launched into her final trick – a frontside 270 lipslide – to edge ahead of Covell.

Covell needed to score at least 87.22 on her final attempt but fell on her last trick, handing Akama victory.

“I ran out of things to do for the last trick, so I just gave it a go and happened to land it,” Akama said.

“When I spent time recovering from my injury last year I was upset because everybody improved themselves a lot. This result made me relieved but I know I have to work harder.”

Covell was gracious in defeat.

“It’s pretty cool I got second place, which means I got more qualifying points,” she said.

“I guess I just keep stacking up points. So hopefully I can qualify for the Olympics. I’ll know where I stand exactly when the latest points are announced.

“I'm in a pretty good spot and I can qualify for Paris. So, we’ll just wait and see. The Olympics has been one of my biggest dreams for ages. If I get to go, it'll be a dream come true.”

Covell’s journey in skateboarding began when she was only six years old.

“I was just watching TV with dad one time, and the X Games came on and I saw Nyjah Huston skating,” she added. Huston is considered one of greats of the sport.

“I'm like, Óh, that looks pretty fun. I want to be like that.' So, I got a skateboard, did lessons and progressed.

“It started as fun and now I’m here trying to qualify for an Olympics. I feel it’s really good when kids get into sports and have an opportunity for competing in Olympics, which is amazing.”

The WST is part of the ‘Road to Paris’ for park and street skateboarders looking to compete at the Olympics. Dubai was an important stopover in that journey.

The event, hosted by World Skate and Arada, was the last chance for skaters to accumulate points towards Olympic World Skate Ranking before the cut for the Olympic Qualifying Series – the second phase of qualification.

A total of 238 athletes from 63 countries took part in the event in Dubai.

The Olympic Qualifying Series is a two-part competition series that will take place in Shanghai (May 16-19) and Budapest (June 20-23) and will determine the final field for Paris 2024.

Ray Tinston, events director at Arada, said: “These last two weeks have been incredible and we’re proud to have hosted a spectacle that has set a new benchmark for future events to emulate.

“Whether on social media or here in person, how positively the skaters and audiences have felt about the Park and Street competitions has been clear for all to see.

“The UAE today is home to a really passionate and engaged skateboarding community and, in many ways, is becoming a centre of excellence for skateboarding regionally and globally. People have really recognised this.”

Updated: May 02, 2024, 8:22 AM