Monday, June 27, 2011

The History of Skateboarding

Skateboarding was invented sometime in the 1950s by surfers as a hobby that they could practice in their downtime. The first skateboarders started with wooden boards with roller skate wheels attached to the bottom. During this time, skateboarding was seen as something to do for fun besides surfing, and was often therefore referred to as "Sidewalk Surfing".

Your grandfather getting ready to shred

Bill Richard was responsible for producing and selling the first retail skateboard out of his surf shop in Los Angeles, California.

A number of surfing manufacturers such as Makaha began making skateboards that resembled small surfboards, and assembling teams to promote their products. The popularity of skateboarding at this time spawned a national magazine, Skateboarder Magazine. The growth of the sport during this period can also be seen in sales figures for Makaha, which reported $10 million in skateboard sales between 1963 and 1965. Yet by 1966 the sales had dropped significantly and Skateboarder Magazine stopped publication.

One of the first retail skateboards built by Makaha called the LX10

The popularity of skateboarding remained hindered until the early 1970s when Frank Nasworthy began developing a polyurethane skateboard wheel. Prior to this, skateboards wheels were made of metal or clay. Frank's improvement to the wheel was so immense that skateboarding’s popularity began to increase again. As a result investors increased funding for product development.

An advertisement for Cadillac Wheels

Skateboarders recognized the advantage with the improved quality of their skateboards and began inventing new tricks. During the 1976 California drought, Skateboarders began riding the vertical walls of swimming pools that were left empty due to water conservation requirements. This started the "vert" trend in skateboarding. Another style of skateboarding, the "freestyle" movement, was developing into a much more specialized discipline. Freestyle skateboarding placed emphasis on a wide assortment of flat-land tricks.

A young Greg Noll shredding flat-land

Skateboarding in the 1980s was supported by skateboard companies that were owned by skateboarders. The focus was initially on vert ramp skateboarding. The invention of the no-hands aerial (later known as the ollie) by Alan Gelfand in Florida in 1976 and the almost parallel development of the grabbed aerial by George Orton and Tony Alva in California made it possible for skaters to perform airs on vertical ramps. While this wave of skateboarding was sparked by commercialized vert ramp skating, a majority of people who skateboarded during this period never rode vert ramps. Because most people could not afford to build vert ramps or did not have access to nearby ramps, street skating gained popularity.

Legendary Tony Alva of the Zephyr skateboard team shredding a pool in your mom's backyard

Freestyle skating remained healthy throughout this period 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-eighties, but street skating was still performed on wide vert boards with short noses, slide rails, and large soft wheels. Skateboarding, however, evolved 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.

Rodney Mullen -- this man needs no introduction.

Public opposition and the threat of lawsuits, forced businesses and property owners to ban skateboarding on their property. By 1992, only a small fraction of skateboarders remained as a highly technical version of street skating, combined with the decline of vert skating, produced a sport that lacked the mainstream appeal to attract new skaters.

The current generation of skateboards is dominated by street skateboarding. Most boards are about 7¼ to 8 inches wide and 30 to 32 inches long. The wheels are made of extremely hard polyurethane and the 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 mostly alike 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 standard by the mid '90s.

Since 2000, attention in the media and products like skateboarding video games, children skateboards and commercialization have all forced skateboard to more and more mainstream venues. The benefit of this is that culturally, skateboarding is becoming more accepted in society and negative stereotypes are being changed. Skateboarding is even being considered as an Olympic sport.

Big Air guru Danny way looking down the barrel of a loaded pistol


  1. Damn I used to skate. I'm really impressed with the photos and posters. good stuff!

  2. nice pics loved to skate myself too.
    i gave up. too bad!

  3. I tried for a year or two to get into skateboarding, but all the injuries just kind of made me sick of it... haha