The History of Skateboarding

history of skateboarding

history of skateboarding

No one knows for sure when officially skateboarding was born, but most people agree it started in the late 1940s or early 1950s.  Surfers in California were always looking to catch a wave but wanted something “to surf” when the waves were flat. No one knows who made the first board either — it seems that many people had similar ideas around the same time. These first skateboarders began “surfing on land” with wooden boxes or boards with roller skate wheels attached to the bottom. Over time, these boxes turned into planks, and eventually, companies started producing decks of pressed layers of wood — similar to the skateboard decks you see today. During the 1940’s and 1950’s, skateboarding was seen as something to do for fun besides surfing, and was therefore often referred to as “Sidewalk Surfing”.

As sidewalk surfing took off (start of skateboarding), a few surfing manufacturers, such as Makaha, started building skateboards that resembled small surfboards. The popularity of skateboarding at this time spawned a national magazine, Skateboarder Magazine.  In 1965 an international championship was broadcast on national television. The growth of the sport during the 1960’s is also apparent by looking at sales figures for Makaha, which quoted $10 million worth of board sales between 1963 and 1965 (Weyland, 2002:28). Yet, sales dropped dramatically the following year and in 1966 Skateboarder Magazine stopped publication. The popularity of skateboarding dropped and remained low until the early 1970s.

At this time, Frank Nasworthy began developing a skateboard wheel made of polyurethane, calling it the “Cadillac”, as he hoped this would convey the smooth ride it allowed the rider to feel. There were also tremendous improvements in traction and performance.  When the new wheel was released in 1972, the popularity of skateboarding began increasing again. Many companies started manufacturing trucks (axles) specially designed for skateboarding, and continually looked for ways to increase performance. As the equipment became more maneuverable, the decks got wider, reaching widths of 10 inches (250 mm) and over, thus giving the skateboarder, even more, control. During the mid-1970’s “banana boards” became popular.  This term described skateboards made of polypropylene that was skinny, flexible, and had ribs on the underside for structural support. They were available in lots of colors, but bright yellow was probably the most memorable, thus the name.

As skateboarding continued to become more popular, manufacturers experimented with more exotic materials and metals, such as fiberglass and aluminum, but most skateboards were made of maple plywood. Skateboarders loved the improved handling of their boards and started inventing new skateboard tricks. In 1976, many swimming pools were left empty because of the California drought.  Many well-known names, such as Ty Page, Bruce Logan, Bobby Piercy, Kevin Reed, and the Z-Boys (so-called because of their local Zephyr surf shop) started to skate the vertical walls of these swimming pools and started the vert trend in skateboarding. These vert skaters could now skate faster and perform more dangerous tricks, such as slash grinds and frontside/backside airs. This caused liability concerns and increased insurance costs to skatepark owners. Many closed their doors.  Because of this, vert skaters started making their own ramps, while freestyle skaters continued to evolve their flatland style.

In the 1980’s, skateboarders invented new vert tricks: the no-hands aerial (later known as the ollie) by Alan Gelfand in Florida and the almost parallel development of the grabbed aerial by George Orton and Tony Alva in California. However, the majority of people who skateboarded during this era couldn’t afford to build vert ramps or didn’t have access to nearby ramps, so street skating gained in popularity. Freestyle skating remained strong during the 1980’s with pioneers such as Rodney Mullen inventing many of the basic tricks of modern street skating such as the Impossible and the kickflip. The influence freestyle had on street skating became apparent during the mid-80’s, but street skating was still performed on wide vert boards with short noses, slide rails, and large soft wheels. However, skateboarding history evolution ramped up quickly in the late 1980s to accommodate the street skater. Since few skateparks were available to skaters at this time, street skating pushed skaters to seek out shopping centers and public and private property as their “spot” to skate. Public opposition, and the threat of lawsuits forced businesses and property owners to ban skateboarding on their property. Because of this, by 1992, the sport had declined in popularity again and lacked the mainstream appeal to attract new skaters.

Today’s generation is dominated by street skateboarding. Most boards are about 7.5 to 8 inches wide and 30 to 32 inches long. Wheels are made from an extremely hard polyurethane, with hardness(durometer) approximately 99a. Wheel sizes are relatively small so that the boards are lighter, and the wheel’s inertia is overcome quicker, thus making tricks more manageable. Board styles have changed dramatically since the 1970s but have remained fairly constant since the mid-1990s. The contemporary shape of the skateboard is derived from the freestyle boards of the 1980s with a largely symmetrical shape and relatively narrow width. This form had become a standard by the mid-’90s. Go Skateboarding Day was instituted in 2004 by a group of skateboarding companies to promote skateboarding and help make it more noticeable to the world. It is celebrated every year on June 21st. That my friends are the history of skateboarding, now go skate.

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