At 4 years old. This is the age at which Aurélien Giraud discovered and started skateboarding at the Gerland skatepark, in his hometown of Lyon. Considered one of the biggest French stars in the discipline, he is preparing, 19 years later, in Tokyo, to participate in the first Olympic skateboard competition.
‘When I started it was super impressive to see all the great skaters. I wanted to be like them, ‘recalls Aurélien Giraud. ‘My dad was happy to see me thrive in this sport, but my mom was scared. She bought me all the protections possible and imaginable. The others called me ‘Robocop,’ he laughs.
When his father died, Aurélien was only 6 years old. His mother, however, continues to take him to the skatepark. It was at the same time that Régis Caillol, the manager of Gerland, took him under his wing and offered him a board adapted to his small size. A phenomenon of precocity, he stood out during his first competition, the V7 teenage tour.
‘I loved skateboarding so much that I did it all the time,’ he recalls. ‘I didn’t eat, I drank very little. One day, I was skating eight hours in a row, I did a stupid trick when I was not feeling well. My head was spinning, my head banged, and I woke up at home without remembering anything. I think I had a head trauma. ‘
Not enough to disgust the Lyonnais of his favorite sport: ‘Falls are part of skateboarding.’
Tampa Am, the turning point
Supported very early on by the Lyon specialist store Wall Street, he signed a first major contract with Red Bull when he was 13 years old. But four years later, when he won the famous Tampa Am amateur tournament, his career took on a new dimension. Aurélien Giraud then becomes a professional skateboarder. He who grew up admiring Ryan Sheckler is now his colleague at the skate brand Plan B.
One year after their postponement due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Tokyo Olympics will finally open on July 23. Dozens of athletes will discover this great festival of sport in a very specific context linked to drastic health restrictions. France 24 met several of them who will represent the new disciplines of these unique Olympic Games: surfing, skateboarding, climbing, karate and 3×3 basketball.
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>> 3/3: From skateparks in Lyon to the Tokyo Olympics, prodigy Aurélien Giraud dreams of gold
‘I never imagined my board would take me this far. It’s amazing to make a living on a skateboard, traveling all over the world, ‘he explains, as he goes through performances, contracts, photoshoots and filming.
‘Aurélien, he has a pretty incredible board feel. With him, it’s innate while others work on it for a long time, ‘explains his manager, Jérémie Grynblat. ‘Another of his talents is that when he pulls a trick for the first time, he manages to reproduce it for a long time. It goes into his head, ‘he continues. And to continue: ‘He also has a’ pop ‘, an impressive explosiveness and he is able to go very high.’
‘In France, it can be hard to make a living from skateboarding, but I’m lucky to have a great community that follows me and to win competitions. Of course, if I had been in the United States, it would certainly have been easier. ‘
The American dream
The original homeland of the sport, the United States, and more specifically California, is considered a ‘skateboarding mecca’. Aurélien Giraud has fond memories of his first trip across the Atlantic.
‘I remember the first time I discovered America, it was like a dream. I was with Vincent Matheron [his friend and teammate of the French skate team, Editor’s note]. I was dazzled, I looked everywhere. It was my childhood dream to skate in the USA, ‘he recalls.
In 2021, to prepare for the Dew Tour, he spent a month in California, with Vincent Matheron who is an expatriate there. From now on, his short-term project is to reach the Californian promised land to live the American dream there. ‘All the sponsors are there, all the legends of the sport, the best skateparks. This is where everyone is and where everything happens. This is the movement to make to pass a plateau, ‘he explains.
A complicated marriage between Olympics and skateboarding
Ranked 6th in the world before the 2021 World Street Championships, Aurélien Giraud won his qualification for the first Olympic Games in the history of the discipline. ‘It’s amazing to be able to compete in the first skateboarding Olympics and be able to represent your country. It is a source of pride and at the same time a source of stress. We will try to bring back the gold medal ‘, wants to believe the young man.
If Aurélien Giraud is delighted to see his sport at the Olympics, the entire skateboarding community is not unanimous. In 2016, when skateboarding was announced among the new Olympic disciplines from Tokyo, along with surfing, rock climbing, karate and baseball / softball, some of the pro skateboarders protested against the idea, defending the idea. libertarian ideal of their discipline, hardly compatible according to them with the Olympic straitjacket.
‘Those who are against the Olympics are those who were already anti-competition. For them, skateboarding is above all in the street ‘, explains the young man. ‘Skateboarding can take a real turn. I hope that this will give people the desire to do it but, at the same time, people must not take up skating to do the Olympics. Skateboarding is not that at the base and it would be a shame to limit it to that ‘, he concedes.
‘I think that’s good news for skateboarding. We are going to have a lot more kids who will discover this discipline and take an interest in it. If there is an interest, we will have more practitioners and therefore more skateparks, therefore more recognition and we will be taken less lightly at the institutional level, ‘notes manager Jérémie Grynblat. ‘It’s also interesting at the business level, we are not going to hide it. If we sell more boards, skate shops will do better. ‘
‘However, I fully understand those who are afraid that skateboarding will lose its soul. They are purists, attached to the notion of freedom around this sport and who do not want people who have nothing to do with the discipline to appropriate it for financial purposes, ‘he continues.
‘So why did the IOC add skateboarding [to the Olympic program]? It’s to make wheat by selling the TV rights. Young people today prefer to watch skate rather than 400m, ‘adds Aurélien Giraud’s manager. ‘We are fighting to ensure that the right people are at the heart of this Olympic project. If we ever found ourselves only with people outside of skateboarding, we are likely to slam the door. These Olympics can turn out to be a huge masquerade and not work as expected. But in this case, we can at least say that […] we gave [Olympic skate] a chance. ‘
And for the manager, Aurélien Giraud’s goal is clear: ‘Aurélien does not go to the Olympics to put on pearls. He wants the gold medal. In any case, he doesn’t know how to settle for 2nd or 3rd place. He prefers to risk everything to win first place rather than insure for second or third place. ‘