Prof’s first public lecture promises close-to-home appeal

Raglan professor and former competition snowboarder Holly Thorpe will reveal in a public address next week how a handful of youth-focused counter-culture sports – including the one for which her hometown of 15 years is renowned – have made it into the Olympics.

A new professor this year, she will explain in a lecture entitled ‘Sport for a better world’ just how the rapid rise and development of informal action sports like surfing, skateboarding and sport climbing around the world have led to their inclusion in the 2020 Tokyo Games.

This has been a huge decision-making process by the International Olympic Committee and one involving a lot of cultural politics, Holly told the Chronicle. “The IOC has been losing younger viewers and is trying now to bring in new sports.”

Holly has spent a decade-and-a-half studying from a sociological viewpoint the rapid rise and development of these sports which, she says, first came about in the 60s and 70s.

Now the 38-year-old academic – a one-time Fullbright Fellowship scholar at a prestigious university in Washington DC – is looking forward to delivering Tuesday night’s “professorial address” at Waikato University, where her work is based.

Her address at the on-campus Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts is part of a public lecture series that introduces the university’s newest professors like Holly to the community, and gives them a chance to demonstrate how their work is having a real impact on the world around us.

Holly will include in her talk her involvement in the Marsden project for which she has researched young people’s use of informal sports – like skateboarding and parkour – in helping them recover and rebuild their communities after crises such as the Christchurch earthquake and New Orleans’ devastating Hurricane Katrina.

She will also outline her work on girls and women in sport and physical culture. Recent research signposts important changes in society that are affecting women and girls’ options and addressing inequalities, she says. “There are now huge opportunities for women in IOC sports.”

Holly came to live in Raglan in 2004 when first studying for her PhD at Waikato, which she describes as an ambitious university “quickly rising in the (international) ranks”.

It courts post-graduate students from all over the world, she says, a number of whom choose to live in Raglan while looking to balance lifestyle with study. She cites colleague and associate professor Belinda Wheaton as another university academic who now lives here.   

Raglan’s certainly become a special place for Holly. She and her American partner Dr Jose Borrero met here back in 2007, downtown at what was then Aqua Velvet cafe. Jose is a coastal engineer with Whale Bay-based marine consultancy eCoast, and the couple now have two young children whose care they juggle with work which often involves overseas travel.

Holly – who also enlists her mother Kris to help look after their children – is grateful she and Jose can make family life work for them here in Raglan with their respective work commitments.

Fortunately Jose “gets (understands) the academic life”, Holly laughs of their relationship. “It’s pretty unique really.”

*The University of Waikato presents ‘Sport for a better world: Theory, method action’ by Professor Holly Thorpe at Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts, Gate 2b Knighton Rd,  Tuesday September 3 at 5.45pm. The 30-minute public lecture is free with complimentary drinks and nibbles served at 5.15pm. Free parking after 4.30pm.

Edith Symes