History of Skateboarding

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Skateboarding has a vibe and culture all its own. While most people consider skateboarding as a fun activity, there are also some that regard it as an action sport where the best of the best can showcase their skills and tricks. 

Skateboarding was a sport that emerged from surfing during the 1950s, but some may say that it actually evolved from roller skating, which has been around since the 1600s. Either way, skateboarding is a serious contender in the world of sports today and has become a multimillion-dollar industry. To know more about how skateboarding started and how it evolved into one of the most popular action sports today, let us take a look at the origins of skateboarding.

The Origins of Skateboarding

The Origins of Skateboarding

Skateboarding is derived from different activities, pastimes, and sports, so its origins have branches that should be discussed. First, let’s talk about the early influences of skateboarding, particularly in the late 18th century up to the post-World War II era.

an old skateboard

Early Beginnings

It is believed that skateboarding evolved from roller skating, an activity that can be traced back to the late 18th century. Roller skating involves wearing shoes or boots that have wheels on their outsoles. These shoes, better known as roller skates, allow the wearer to move faster on smooth surfaces compared to walking and running. Eventually, roller skating evolved into an action sport that features different tricks and stunts.

During and after World War II, children became resourceful in how to enjoy their free time using discarded items. One of the toys that they and their parents created is a scooter that is made using a milk crate or fruit box that has wheels from roller skates attached to it. [1]

Some kids would have no handlebars on their scooters, and some would have the front and sides of the boxes removed, which made the scooters look like the wooden skateboards that would be introduced in the 1960s.

The 1960s – Sidewalk Surfer and the Modern Skateboard

skateboard with clay wheels

By the late 1950s, the scooter made of wooden boxes evolved into a skateboard made of wooden pallets and clay wheels. The wooden skateboard first became popular in Southern California, but it eventually became a craze around the United States in the 1960s.

It was in the early 1960s when skateboard companies like Makaha and Hobie started to market skateboarding as “sidewalk surfing,” which is supposed to be an alternative to surfing for people that are far away from beaches or for those that want to surf anywhere if the waves in the beaches are flat.
[2]
Because of the influence of surfing, the skateboards in the 1960s look like smaller versions of surfboards that had wheels attached to them at the bottom.

Unfortunately, the skateboard craze would die down by 1965, as roller skates would emerge as a more popular activity. Another contributing factor to the crash of the skateboard craze was the media sensationalizing the dangers of skateboarding, and this forced parents to prohibit their children from playing with a skateboard.

The 1970s – the Skateboarding Subculture Emerges

Thanks to one man, skateboarding re-emerged as one of the most popular activities in the United States. The man that is responsible for reviving the skateboard craze in the 1970s was Frank Nasworthy, a hobbyist who introduced the urethane wheel in 1973. [1]

Urethane Wheels

The urethane wheel is created as a vast improvement over the fragile and clunky clay wheels of the 50s and 60s. What’s great about the urethane wheels is that they can grip asphalt and cemented surfaces so that the skateboard would be much easier to control, especially by children.

However, children were not the only ones that benefitted from urethane wheels, as teenagers and adults that are serious about skateboarding also found the plastic wheels to be beneficial for performing tricks with ease. The urethane wheels became instrumental in the creation of the skateboarding subculture that focuses on providing the youth with a space for freedom and creativity.

Skateparks

skate park sunset

In 1976, just three years after the introduction of urethane wheels, the first skatepark was built in Florida. By the early 1980s, there were already numerous skateboards throughout the United States, Canada, and different countries in South America. It was also in the 1980s when skateboarding and skateparks became popular in Asia and Europe.

Because of how quickly skateboarding is becoming popular among children, there were a lot of restrictions that were created for skateparks in order to avoid injuries and potential liability issues for the owners of the parks. Moreover, the rising insurance costs in the 1980s also affected skateparks, as skating is more likely to cause injuries compared to other activities for kids and teenagers.

In the early years of the 1990s, there were only a few skateparks left in the US because owners were unable to keep up with the rising insurance premiums. [3] Fortunately, the skating subculture survived despite the negative publicity that skateboarding receives from the media and several parent associations.

Street Skating

Skateboarding evolved as an anti-establishment subculture that thrives on countering the negative connotations of skateboarding. With the lack of skateparks, skaters were able to create a compromise in the form of street skating. Street skating is an activity where skaters would perform stunts or tricks in public areas like ordinary parks, staircases, and public benches.

Vert Skating and the Impact of the X Games

skating on a vert ramp

While skateparks became rare in the 1990s, vert ramps that are used by professional skateboarders became trendy. Vert ramps are U-shaped ramps that allow skaters to gain speed and momentum to do high-flying tricks that are exciting to perform as a skater and to see as a spectator. One of the professional skaters that are responsible for popularizing vert ramps is Tony Hawk, who is also one of the greatest skaters of all time.

Tony Hawk became known as a participant in The Extreme Games, which is a show and competition launched by ESPN in 1995. The Extreme Games, later known as the X Games, would also be instrumental in the growth of skateboarding as a respected sport. It was on June 27, 1999, when Tony Hawk performed the 900 at the X Games.
[2]
The 900 is an extremely difficult trick where the skater would need to rotate at 900 degrees while in the air. Because of how difficult the trick is to land, Tony Hawk was only able to do it successfully on his 11th attempt.

Skating in the 2000s and Beyond

By the 2000s, skateboarding became connected to the rising punk music scene that was spearheaded by pop-punk bands like Blink-182 and Green Day. Surprisingly, the punk music scene was integrated into the mainstream, so it was no longer a counter-culture. Skateboarding also became part of the mainstream, and brands that are associated with the skating subculture, like Vans and Supreme, became big companies that earned millions per year.

Because of the popularity of Supreme and Vans, the fashion industry followed and copied what the skaters were wearing. The term “streetwear” was eventually coined, and this term is supposed to be used for fashion pieces that look like they can be worn by skaters and people that are regularly on the streets. Streetwear became the number one trend in the fashion industry when celebrities started wearing streetwear during the 2000s and 2010s. Some of the popular streetwear pieces in the 2000s are oversized shirts, cargo pants, and bucket hats.

Despite the impact of skateboarding in sports, music, and fashion, it was only in 2021 that skateboarding was considered a legitimate sport. The first Olympic skateboarding event was held on July 25, 2021, for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. It was the first time that skateboarding was regarded as an official Olympic sport. [1]

Who’s Who – Famous Skateboarders

Who’s Who – Famous Skateboarders

Skateboarding wouldn’t be impactful today without the help of famous skateboarders that truly made the sport known around the world. Here is a list of some of the most famous skateboarders in the industry.

checking skateboard wheels

Alan Gelfand

Alan Gelfand is an American skateboarder who is widely known as the inventor of the ollie, a skateboarding trick wherein the skater would need to lift the skateboard and leap into the air without using his or her hands. [1] Without the ollie, it is impossible for other popular tricks to be created, as the ollie is the stepping stone to enabling skaters to move skateboards from one direction to another. The ollie’s name is derived from Gelfand’s actual nickname, “Ollie.”

Rodney Mullen

street skating

In the realm of street skateboarding, Rodney Mullen is considered to be the GOAT or the greatest of all time. Rodney Mullen is the inventor of the kickflip and the heelflip, which are two tricks that, much like the ollie, also serve as stepping stones for the other tricks to be invented. [4]

Mullen started freestyle skating at the age of 14, and over the years, he has won 34 out of the 35 freestyle contests that he has participated in. From freestyle skating, Mullen transitioned to street skating and used public areas as playgrounds where he would invent more tricks like the primo slide, the dark slide, and other slides that utilize the railings of public stairs.

Tony Alva

Tony Alva is a skateboarder and musician that served as a pioneer of vertical skateboarding, which is the type of skating that uses vertical or vert ramps. Before being a skateboarder, Tony Alva was a surfer at first, and he was able to utilize his surfing skills to perform crafty tricks on a skateboard. Besides pioneering vertical skateboarding, Alva is also known for being one of the first skaters that introduced empty pool skating.

Stacy Peralta

Stacy Peralta is known today as a film director who directed documentary films such as “Dogtown and Z-Boys” (2001), “Riding Giants” (2004), and “Lords of Dogtown” (2005). However, when Peralta was 19 years old, he was already considered the highest-ranked professional skateboarder in the United States. Peralta is responsible for co-founding the Bones Brigade, a skateboard company that was created in 1978 and had a team composed of some of the best skaters in the world, including Rodney Mullen, Alan Gelfand, Steve Caballero, and Tony Hawk. [4]

Steve Caballero

skating on a vertical ramp

Steve Caballero is an American skateboarder that is renowned in the skating community for performing difficult tricks that only a few can do. Despite being born with scoliosis, a condition that causes the spine to curve abnormally, Caballero was still able to become one of the best skaters in history. Caballero was able to invent a few tricks, which include the frontside boardslide, the Caballerial, and the Half-Cab. The Half-Cab was also the name of Caballero’s signature skating shoes for Vans.

Tony Hawk

This list of famous skateboarders wouldn’t be complete without including Tony Hawk, who is arguably the skateboarder that even non-skateboarders know. Tony Hawk, along with Tony Alva, is one of the pioneers of vertical skateboarding, and he made the sport mainstream after performing the first-documented 900 trick in 1999. A lot of people that don’t skateboard know Tony Hawk’s name from a skateboarding game series called “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater,” which was introduced in 1999. [4]

Impact of Skateboarding on Society

Impact of Skateboarding on Society

Skateboarding has transcended as a timeless sport and activity that has been enjoyed by several generations of people. Because of the immense popularity of skateboarding throughout the years, it isn’t surprising that it has made an impact not only in sports but also in other industries.

Music

listening to music after skating

There are different genres of music that have become associated with skateboarding. One of the first genres was surf music, as skateboards and the surfing culture became connected during the 50s and 60s. [5] The connection between skateboards and surfing is pretty much logical, as surfers in Southern California were the ones that popularized skateboards as an alternative if surfing isn’t possible on the nearby beaches.

When skateboarding became anti-establishment in the 1980s, it was adopted by the punk music scene that was seen as rebellious or non-conformist. After punk music became mainstream in the late 1990s and early 2000s, thanks to bands like Green Day, Fall Out Boy, and Blink-182, skateboarding also emerged as a trendy activity or sport. Today, skateboarding is still widely associated with punk music.

Fashion

The influence of skateboarding can be seen predominantly in the fashion industry, as there are now many brands that are following the “streetwear” trend that is based on the outfits or styles of skaters in the United States. Some of the brands that were once exclusive to skaters, like Supreme and Thrasher, have now become iconic fashion brands even to those that have never skated before. Vans, a shoe company that built its reputation for providing the best shoes for skaters, have also begun catering to the masses since the 1990s.

Gaming

Sony PlayStation

The first successful skating video game, Top Skater, was an indicator that skateboarding could also be influential in the realm of video games. Top Skater was released in 1997 by Sega, a Japanese gaming company. It is important to note that the X Games were prevalent during the late 1990s, so it is not a surprise that a Japanese company like Sega would capitalize on the popularity of skateboarding.

When Activision, an American video game publisher, saw the success of Top Skater and another skateboarding game called Street Sk8er (released in 1998), they decided that they should make their own skateboarding video game that would appeal to a young audience.

In the late 1990s, Tony Hawk was a prominent figure in the skating scene, so Activision sought a partnership to release a game that is named after the said skateboarder. After negotiations, Tony Hawk accepted the deal, and the first game in the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series was released on September 29, 1999, for the Sony PlayStation. [6]

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater is not only recognized for making skateboarding video games popular, but it is also responsible for bringing the limelight to extreme sports as profitable avenues in the video game industry. Without Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, the creation of video games about extreme sports like snowboarding, BMX racing, and parkour wouldn’t be possible.

Conclusion

Although many industry insiders believe that the skateboarding industry will continue to grow, others see its decline. According to a Google search, there have been fewer people that are looking for available skateparks and skateboards in recent years. It is also revealed in studies that the number of skaters around the world continues to decrease year after year. [7]

There are a few possible reasons why skateboarding is becoming less popular in different countries, and one of those reasons is the accessibility of skateboarding. There are now fewer skateparks available compared to the 80s and 90s, and skateboarding is also an expensive hobby in today’s era, as skateboard parts and the shops that sell them are starting to become rare.

The Future of Skateboarding

girls skating

Despite the decline in the number of skaters, there is a possibility that skateboarding would experience another reemergence, similar to how it became prominent again after its fall in the 1960s and 1980s. The streetwear culture is still pretty much alive today, as shoes that were popularized by skaters, like the Vans Old Skool and the Nike SB Dunks, are being worn by celebrities and people that don’t know a lot about skateboarding.

In addition, TikTok has also been influential in the increase of skateboard sales in 2022, as there are now a lot of skaters and “skater girls” that are usually the social media platform to showcase their skills and subsequently encourage other people to try skateboarding. [8] In the near future, we can expect that the number of skaters around the world will start to increase again, as skateboarding is an activity or sport that never truly goes away.

References

[1] Frank F. (2023, February 4). THE LONG HISTORY OF SKATEBOARDING EXPLAINED. Grunge. Retrieved February 7, 2023, from https://www.grunge.com/462863/the-long-history-of-skateboarding-explained/

[2] Foley, Z. (2020, September 3). History of skateboarding: Notable events that took place. Red Bull. Retrieved February 7, 2023, from https://www.redbull.com/us-en/history-of-skateboarding

[3] Public Skatepark Development Guide. (n.d.). Brief History of Skateparks. Public Skatepark Development Guide. Retrieved February 7, 2023, from https://publicskateparkguide.org/vision/brief-history-of-skateparks/

[4] Vee, R. (n.d.). 20 Most Famous Skateboards Who Changed Everything. SkateboardersHQ. Retrieved February 7, 2023, from https://www.skateboardershq.com/most-famous-skateboarders/

[5] StoreYourBoard. (n.d.). Music and Skateboarding. StoreYourBoard. Retrieved February 7, 2023, from https://www.storeyourboard.com/music-skateboarding.html

[6] Ombler, M. (2020, September 18). How Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater changed gaming … and skating. The Guardian. Retrieved February 7, 2023, from https://www.theguardian.com/games/2020/sep/18/skateboarding-tony-hawk-pro-skater

[7] GOSKATE Staff. (2021, June 11). Death of Skate? – The Declining Popularity of Skateboarding. GOSKATE. Retrieved February 7, 2023, from https://www.goskate.com/top/declining-popularity-of-skateboarding/

[8] Miller, C. (2021, April 19). How TikTok And Skater Girls Are Sending Skateboard Sales Off The Wall. NPR. Retrieved February 7, 2023, from https://www.npr.org/2021/04/19/986527276/how-tiktok-and-skater-girls-are-sending-skateboard-sales-off-the-wall

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