When Joel Ricketts places his foot on his board in Cali, Colombia at the Junior Pan American Games later this year, he will have created history as the first Jamaican to compete in skateboarding in international competition but it will be only his first steps to representing the black, green and gold at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
Since its entry into the Olympic Games in London in 1948, Jamaica has been represented at the Games in athletics, cycling, swimming, diving, gymnastics, judo, taekwondo and boxing. If Jamaica gets there, skateboarding would be the latest addition to the growing list of skills that the land of wood and water have paraded on the largest of sports’ global stages.
The gravity of such an accomplishment is not lost on the 16-year-old Ricketts.
“I’m glad that I could be given this opportunity to represent my country doing what I love. I would also like to thank the JOA and the SJL for giving me the said opportunity,” he said.
Joel is an honour-roll student at Wolmer’s Boys School. The first of two children for project manager Joel Ricketts and his wife Loretta, a school teacher, Joel ran track, played football and basketball growing up but it was skateboarding that lit the cauldron of passion within him.
“Standing out vividly in my mind was the day I got a skateboard,” he said. “It was the most joyous day of my life. My passion for this particular sport led to my connection with Jamaica Skateboarding Federation and the Olympic body, Skateboarding Jamaica Ltd.
“This yearning of passion and exposure through the association has helped me to be a better team player and a more confident and disciplined individual. I am motivated and driven to excel in this sport and in other areas of my life. With the new-found self-determination and discipline gained as a result of skateboarding, this has allowed me to improve and own the skill and enjoyment of skateboarding.”
His declaration sounds like music to the ears of the Skateboarding Jamaica Limited (SJL) President Ryan Foster, who is also the Secretary-General and CEO of the Jamaica Olympic Association.
“The Junior Pan Am Games in Colombia will be historic for Skateboarding Jamaica Ltd as it will represent the first time that Jamaica will be represented in skateboarding in an international tournament,” Foster said.
“As the president, I am extremely elated that our athlete will be allowed to showcase his talent and this will be used as a stepping stone to many great things to come. Tournaments such as these are seen by the Skateboarding Jamaica Board as the beginning to the pathway to qualification to the 2024 Olympic Games.”
Joel is currently in California for a training camp courtesy of the JOA and SJL to get much-needed practice with some of the best young skateboarders in the world that Foster believes will help lay the foundation for a successful campaign towards Paris in 2024.
“We have a core of skateboarders currently, which will form part of our Olympic squad and the board of SJL will be working with our strategic stakeholders to ensure that Jamaica will have representation in 2024 Olympics,” the president said.
Meanwhile, Joel revealed that he is learning a lot in California.
“I am learning a lot, really, but what I am really working on is breaking the lines together and getting over the fear factor of skateboarding, which is falling but the basics are down so what we are working on is putting the basics together and formatting them into my trick system,” he said.
Creating history for Jamaica in the sport, he said, is both terrifying and satisfying.
“It’s a bit nerve-racking but I am also excited. I got this opportunity to do what I love, there is nothing better than that so I am just going to do the best I can,” he said.”
“To make the Olympics in skateboarding would be amazing. It is one of my goals.”
To get there, Joel has to successfully navigate a pathway filled with challenges that come in the form of qualifying tournaments across the globe. The equation is simple; do well and Paris awaits.
“You have the Street League, which is a skateboarding contest, which has aligned with World Skate and they organize contests in different parts of the world – France, Japan, Brazil and Italy sometimes. That’s where most of the points are earned and then there are other meets like the OISTU Open in Brazil,” Joel said.
His focus after the Junior Pan Am Games is getting better.
“More contests, more practice, getting better and getting over that fear and it would mean a lot to me,” he said.
“I go by the rule, ‘If it has been done it is achievable and there is always room for growth. The best is yet to come.”
The journey has begun.