The lower body of a person with kneepads riding a skateboard down an asphault street is pictured. The person has one artificial leg.
Adaptive skateboarding and wheelchair motocross have grown in popularity, sparking discussions about their potential inclusion in the Paralympic Games. (photo by Kampus Production via Pexels)

Skateboarding has boomed globally over the last decade, and researchers have been quick to examine how intersecting social markers like race, gender, and age can influence people’s participation in this action sport. Yet, little research has considered disabled people’s participation in skateboarding and adaptive action sports, such as wheelchair motocross (WCMX), despite increased uptake among disabled people. Considering this gap, I explored the emerging adaptive action sports of skateboarding and WCMX.

Adaptive skateboarding is a term used to encapsulate different forms of riding. While some riders make modifications to their sporting equipment or environments to facilitate independent participation for a disabled person, some riders make no modifications. Like skateboarding in general, adaptive skateboarding has grown in popularity. In fact, adaptive skateboarding events are now included in both the X Games and Dew Tour, and an adaptive skateboarding demo was recently showcased at the Street League Skateboarding international tournament series in Paris. In addition to these competitions, adaptive skateboarding programs, like the Skate Bats and Rad Skate School, have blossomed and illustrate a growth and interest in the sport and its potential.

WCMX fits loosely under the umbrella of adaptive skateboarding. In WCMX, participants perform tricks and stunts adapted from bicycle motocross (BMX) and skateboarding in customised wheelchairs. The sport was first development by Aaron “Wheelz” Fotheringham in the early 2000s and has since grown in popularity. While WCMX riders often compete alongside adaptive skateboarders, participants widely consider WCMX to be its own distinct sport, unique from skateboarding and BMX. In fact, separate WCMX World Championships exist, and a separate WCMX exhibition event was included at Dew Tour in 2022. Like adaptive skateboarding, WCMX programs like SIT‘N’SKATE and WCMX Great Britain have emerged in recent years.

The growth and popularity of both adaptive skateboarding and WCMX have even sparked conversations about these adaptive action sports being included in the Paralympic Games. Indeed, this inclusion could be monumental for the sports and disabled people. However, in my research, I was less concerned about the Paralympic potential of these sports and instead interested in learning about disabled riders’ experiences in these sports and the wider action sport community.

Using qualitative interviews, I spoke with 30 disabled riders from eight different nations. Twenty participants identified as adaptive skateboarders, nine identified as WCMX riders, and one identified as a wheelchair boarder (who attached their wheelchair to the top of an electric longboard). Impairments varied and included caudal regression syndrome, cerebral palsy, limb difference, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, spina bifida, spinal cord injuries, and visual impairments. Interviews gleaned insight into disabled riders’ experiences with these adaptive action sports while also drawing attention to some of the challenges they encountered. In what follows, I detail some of the key findings that developed from this work.

In general, disabled riders reported positive experiences participating in adaptive skateboarding and WCMX, noting how they felt included in the wider action sport community. Disabled riders noted how participation in the sports can not only enhance one’s physical and mental health but also provide a greater sense of community, belonging, and identity. Moreover, findings highlighted how participation in adaptive skateboarding and WCMX may be used to challenge the stigma and negative social perceptions about disability.

Against this potential, however, findings also highlighted how economic, material, and sociocultural forces may impact disabled riders’ participation in adaptive skateboarding, WCMX, and the wider action sport community. Though academics have touted skateboarding as being a “relatively cheap sport” to participate in, discussions with disabled riders illustrated a different narrative and outlined how both sports can be expensive, which presents participation barriers. Disabled skateboarders noted how the costs of skateboarding equipment (i.e., boards, shoes, and protective gear) and the constant need to replace this equipment can be costly and influence their participation. Financial constraints were even greater for WCMX riders who noted how WCMX chairs can cost between $6,000 and $15,000USD. Thus, significant economic constraints exist for those wanting to participate. Such economic barriers are particularly pressing when you consider that these costs are often not covered by insurance and that, on average, disabled people make less and are given fewer employment opportunities than those without disabilities.

Findings also illustrated how material barriers, such as inaccessible skatepark designs, can influence the extent to which disabled riders participate in certain sporting spaces. Though disabled riders recognised the difficulties of creating accessible skateparks “for all riders,” many acknowledged the importance of having accessible pathways to and from skateparks and the importance of having accessible amenities like washrooms, water fountains, and hangout areas in these built environments. According to participants, these pathways and amenities may not only allow greater access to disabled park users but may also allow greater access to disabled individuals from the community who may want to engage with these spaces.

Conversations with disabled riders also detailed how gender may influence riders’ participation in adaptive skateboarding, WCMX, and the wider action sport community. Disabled women riders noted how, although they felt supported by adaptive riders and able-bodied skateboarders, they tended to receive less recognition, support, and opportunities than disabled male riders. One reason for this lack of support, according to disabled women riders, could be the dominant gender ideologies that circulate in the skateboarding world that frame girls and women as “not as impressive,” “skilled,” or “willing to take risks” as boys and men. However, another reason for this gender discrepancy, according to participants, could be because most positions of power in the action sport landscape (i.e., owners, board members, judges, and media personnel) are occupied by able-bodied men, who may not have full understandings about disability or gender, which, in turn, could shape and fuel who is prioritised and given more opportunities within the skateboarding and action sport worlds.

As this work has highlighted, adaptive skateboarding and WCMX offer a huge untapped potential for disabled people, disability sport, and action sports. Regardless of whether adaptive skateboarding and WCMX enter the Paralympic Games, disabled people will continue to participate in adaptive action sports. Therefore, it is important for academics, participants, stakeholders, disability sport organisers, and those from the action sport industry to consider and actively address how to make these sports, their sporting spaces, and the wider action sport industry more inclusive and welcoming to all riders. While potential remedies could include increased funding, consultations with disabled people throughout the planning and design process of skateparks, or carving out space, opportunities, and leadership positions for disabled girls and women riders, there are numerous ways that these adaptive action sports can be made more inclusive to different riders and riding styles.

Author Biographical Note:

Nikolaus A. Dean is a postdoctoral research fellow in Te Kura Aronui School of Social Sciences at the University of Waikato in Hamilton, Aotearoa (New Zealand). Nikolaus’s research interests lie in the sociology of sport where he uses (digital) qualitative methods and critical social theories to explore topics related to disability, pain, injury, and risk in action sports. His current research is exploring the “push” for adaptive skateboarding and WCMX to join the Paralympic Games.


This article draws on research supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.