6 Reasons Why Tricking (Still) Hasn’t Gone Mainstream
In September of 2018, Sean Sevestre of the Garrison uploaded a thoughtful video to YouTube titled, “The Future of Tricking.” Just three minutes in, Adrenaline co-founder “Daddy Kane” makes a bold pronouncement before a room full of top trickers:
“We guarantee within two years from now, this sport won’t be that sport where someone asks you what you do, and you say ‘tricking,’ and they go, ‘What’s that?’ That will not happen again in two years, I promise you that.”
Kane was wrong. It’s now been over two years since his declaration, and tricking has yet to gain widespread recognition. To be fair, you could argue that there has been some progress—tricking was featured on ESPN2 thanks to Adrenaline, and WIRED did a killer article and a fascinating video on the mythical quint cork. These are undoubtedly positive steps, but the fact is that tricking remains firmly underground; whenever I describe it to a stranger, I still get the same, inevitable response of, “Oh, it’s like parkour!”
So why the hell hasn’t tricking gone mainstream? Parkour has mostly succeeded in gaining a ton of well-deserved attention, so why not us? I’ve been thinking about this for years—as I’m sure many of you have—and I’ve compiled a few key reasons why I think our sport has yet to break through into popular awareness.
1) The literal name “tricking” is problematic.
Any politician will tell you that name recognition is crucial to becoming well-known. This is where parkour has it made, because if you hear the word “parkour,” you either know it, or you don’t. It’s highly distinctive, and someone will know for sure if they’re familiar with it or not. But people already know the words “trick” and “tricking”—in fact, if you go to Google and type in “define trick,” you will see like 13 different definitions. So if someone hears the word “tricking” in casual conversation, they might not even realize that a new sport was just mentioned.
Either that, or they might just misunderstand it altogether. I’ll never forget the time I first mentioned “tricking” to my grandpa, and he started laughing right away. “Oh, you’re turning tricks, are ya?!” he said, cracking himself up. Back in the day, “turning tricks” meant prostitution, so even if boomers are told what our definition of “tricking” is, they’re still less likely to take it seriously—because to them, it’s an absurd name. And frankly, it kind of is.
2) To the untrained eye, tricking is hard to recognize.
If someone jumps from one rooftop to another, onlookers will say, “That’s parkour”—and they’re right. Parkour is relatively easy to identify, but if a Muggle saw you throw a cork, what would they think you were practicing? Gymnastics maybe? Circus arts? Capoeira? Or if you threw a jackknife, they might nod and confidently say you were a black belt in Karate or Taekwondo.
And the worst part is, their guesses aren’t actually that bad. Corks really are thrown in circus performances and in capoeira practice. TKD students really do throw monstrous jackknives. So even if you go up to this Muggle and say, “Actually, I do this thing called tricking,” they’ll likely still walk away from the conversation thinking, “Boy, that circus performer really was something.”
The beautiful thing about tricking is that it’s a blend of techniques from a wide array of disciplines—but that also makes it very hard for the general public to recognize it, or even acknowledge that it’s a separate sport. Rationally, most people understand that rugby and American football are similar yet also fundamentally different, as are baseball and cricket. But try telling someone that capoeira and tricking are distinct activities, and thanks to their ignorance and misplaced self-confidence, they may not entirely believe you.
So although tricking is more visible than ever—on Instagram, in superhero movies, on dance shows, etc.—its similarity to other disciplines makes proper recognition difficult to come by.
3) To the untrained eye, tricking is too complicated to understand.
Returning to our earlier example, if your average joe sees some guy jump from one rooftop to another, he’ll think, “Holy shit, that’s incredible! That must be so difficult, and scary!” But if he then saw Steve Terada throw a snapuswipe, he’d be like, “I… don’t know what that was. But I think it was cool?” *insert obligatory “but can you do a backflip” joke here*
What I’m getting at is that feats of athleticism are much easier to understand in a sport like parkour. But in tricking, even if you go step by step through what a snapuswipe entails, I promise you that your average Muggle will still fail to grasp its insane difficulty. There’s just too much going on, too much complexity for them to wrap their head around. That’s why Muggles LOVE backflips—not because it’s the hardest thing ever, but because it’s a simple technique, and they can understand how hard it is. Appreciation and acclaim can only begin with understanding, and if tricking techniques are too complex for Muggles to easily comprehend, they won’t be as impressed as they should be.
4) Tricking is hard to commodify.
Tricking is often compared to skateboarding, and I think rightly so. They’re both youthful, authentic subcultures full of people who love throwing tricks, listening to heavy music, and doing hoodrat shit with their friends. So why did skateboarding enter mainstream awareness, while tricking remains below the radar?
Sweet, sweet cash, baby. Skateboarders need a whole slew of products to practice their sport, from decks and wheels to trucks, protective gear, and more. Each of these many needs presents a money-making opportunity for companies to manufacture those products, market them to the masses, and push skateboarding into mainstream culture. And that’s exactly what has happened.
Tricking, on the other hand, doesn’t require any particular products or services. No equipment, no protective gear, nada. You can become a world-class athlete with just the clothes on your back. (Actually, you don’t even need those—looking admiringly at you, JFB.) With little to no opportunity to sell stuff, companies simply don’t wanna invest in our community. Yeah, we had a good thing going with Red Bull for a while, but even that has mostly stopped. Without the cash and marketing power of big companies, tricking will have a hard time becoming widely known.
5) The learning curve is steep as fuck.
Let’s say you wanna learn tennis. You pick up a tennis racquet, head to the court, and hit a ball… directly into the net. Dang. You try hitting a second ball and—holy crap! It went over the net! As a tennis player myself, I can verify that that mini sense of accomplishment is addictive. You’re driven to try again and again, sometimes hitting it just right, sometimes all wrong.
But that’s not how tricking works. If you’re trying to land your first backflip, for example, you’ll have to do a lot of prep exercises and throw quite a few attempts before you land even your very first one. In other words, tennis allows you to enjoy some instant gratification—“Look at me, I’m already hitting it over the net!”—while tricking makes you wait for any real sense of accomplishment.
You see the same thing happen in other major sports, too. In basketball, you can still sink a few lucky buckets if you’re a total beginner. In football, you can run and catch a pass on day one. And in baseball, even your dangerously overweight uncle could probably get some decent hits at the local batting cages. All of these sports start rewarding you almost as soon as you pick them up. And while some naturally-gifted trickers will land a backflip or 540 in their first few sessions, most people won’t land them for weeks—maybe even months.
And unfortunately, this fact is painfully obvious to most Muggles. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thrown a trick for a friend, and they go, “Oh my god, I could never do that.” Someone might see LeBron James hit a 3-pointer and think, “I bet I could make that shot,” and then feel motivated to start practicing. But they see a double cork, and it looks so difficult and dangerous that they don’t wanna even go near it. Muggles rightly believe that the learning curve for each and every skill is steep and full of peril—and unless you enjoy a tough climb, it’s not even worth starting.
6) There’s not much competition or external validation.
I keep calling “tricking” a sport, and it sort of is—but it also really isn’t. Most sports involve direct competition with another player or another team, and while some gatherings feature battle brackets, the majority of tricking is either a solitary or collaborative enterprise. You’re either training by yourself or alongside other trickers, without a structure in place for regular competition.
Many of us wouldn’t have it any other way, but a lot of parents wanna get their kids involved in a real, competitive sport. They want their kids to experience teamwork, striving together toward a common goal. They want to expose them to both the triumph of victory and the huge bummer of defeat. Most kids want that, too—especially if there’s a trophy or medal waiting for them at the end of the season.
But tricking doesn’t have that, either. No trophies, medals, or certificates—no concrete evidence that you’ve accomplished something real. Even martial arts has a belt system, to show kids that they’re getting better and convince parents that their money is being well spent. Sure, the most talented tricking students will routinely land new tricks, which can be their own rewards. But for average and below-average learners, the lack of external validation may make them feel like they’re wasting their time. As a result, these kids are less motivated, their parents are less supportive, and the growth of tricking remains slower than we’d like.
So there ya go—six reasons why I think tricking has stayed so underground. But do we even want it to go mainstream? Is it possible for tricking to get big while maintaining its unique spirit? Those are questions for an entirely new post. But as we work to build the future of our community, let’s keep these factors in mind. Sooner or later, they might point us in an exciting new direction.
Jeremy Price is a longtime martial artist and tricker repping the MuggleSlayers and Team TrickStrong. He also writes about tricking, stunts, and random BS for sites like VICE, Maxim, and Vulture. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter.