A Brief History of Skateboarding
The first type of skateboards were actually more like scooters. These contraptions, which date back to the early 1900's featured roller skate wheel attached to a two by four. Often the wood had a milk crate nailed to it with
handles sticking out for control. Over the next five decades kids changed the look of the scooter and took off the crate and started cruising on two by fours with steel wheels. Tens of thousands of roller-skates were dismantled and joyfully hammered on to planks of wood.
In the 1950's modifications were made to the trucks (the device that holds the wheels) and kids started to maneuver more easily. Towards the late 1950's, surfing became increasingly popular and people began to tie surfing together with cruising on a board. By 1959, the first Roller Derby Skateboard was for sale. Clay wheels entered the picture and sidewalk surfing began to take root.
By the time the 1960's rolled around, skateboarding had gained an impressive following amongst the surf crowd. However, when Larry Stevenson, publisher of Surf Guide began to promote skateboarding, things started to take off.
Larry's company, Makaha designed the first professional boards in 1963 and a team was formed to promote the product.
The first skateboard contest was held at the Pier Avenue Junior School in Hermosa, California in 1963. In 1964, surf legend Hobie Alter teamed up with the Vita-Pakt juice company to create Hobie Skateboards. While most skaters took to the street or sidewalk, some brave souls decide to ride empty swimming pools. By 1965, international contests, movies (Skater Dater), a magazine (The Quarterly Skateboarder) and cross country trips by teams of skateboarders elevated the sport to enormous heights. Over fifty million boards were sold within a three year period and then all of a sudden skateboarding died in the fall of 1965.
The first crash of skateboarding came about due to inferior product, too much inventory and a public upset by reckless riding. The manufacturers were so busy making product that little was done in the way of research and development. Although some companies developed better quality wheels, clay wheels were the cheapest to manufacture. However, clay wheels did not grip the road well and skaters fell everywhere. Cities started to ban skateboards in response to health and safety concerns and after a few fatal accidents, skateboarding was drummed out of existence (for the time being at least!). Manufacturers like Vita-Pakt and Makaha lost enormous amounts of money due to canceled orders for the Christmas season.
Over the next eight years, skateboarding remained fairly underground, showing up only in areas like Santa Monica, California. During this period Larry Stevenson invented the kicktail and tried to resurrect skateboarding but he met with only a small amount of success.
In 1970, a surfer by the name of Frank Nasworthy visited a friend at a plastics factory in Purcellville, Virginia. The factory made urethane wheels for Roller Sports, a chain of roller rinks. The urethane ensured roller skaters would have decent traction and Frank realized that the urethane wheels would fit on his Hobie Skateboard. He decided to develop a skateboard wheel made from urethane. As you would expect, the ride was magnificent compared to clay wheels. Frank promoted the product in the San Diego area and he initially met with a great deal of resistance. Over time however, the urethane wheel gained a following and word spread throughout California of these tremendous wheels.
By 1973, Frank Nasworthy's Cadiallac Wheels launched skateboardings' second boom. Truck manufacturers like Bennett and Tracker began making trucks specifically designed for skateboarding. Board manufacturers sprang up over night and suddenly, the industry was awash with new products and new ideas. In 1975, Road Rider came out with the first precision bearing wheel ending decades of loose ball bearings. Slalom, downhill and freestyle skateboarding were practiced by millions of enthusiasts. SkateBoarder
Magazine was resurrected and was soon joined by other publications hoping to cash in on skateboarding's comeback. Bruce Logan, Russ Howell, Stacy Peralta, Tom Sims and Gregg Weaver were featured heavily in the magazines. The sport was on a roll once again.
The first outdoor skatepark was built for skateboarders in Florida in 1976. It was soon followed by hundreds of other parks all over North America. Skateboarding moved from horizontal to vertical and slalom and freestyle skateboarding became less popular. The look of skateboards also changed from being six to seven inches in width to over nine inches. This increase in size ensured better stability on vertical surfaces. Top riders included Tony Alva, Jay Adams and Tom "Wally" Inoyoue. Wes Humpston and Jim Muir marketed the first successful line of boards with graphics under the Dogtown label. Soon after, almost all board manufacturers put graphics under their boards.
In 1978, Alan Gelfand invented the "ollie" or no hand's aerial and moved skateboarding to the next level. The roots of streetstyle developed when skaters started to take vertical moves to flatland. Skateboard culture began to mesh with punk and new wave music. Images of skulls appeared on skateboards thanks to the creative genius of Vernon Courtland Johnson at Powell Corporation.
Pool skating was hugely popular and as a result of the better technology, skaters were able to perform aerials and go far beyond the coping. Skatepark insurance became an issue due to the problem of liabilities. In fact, skatepark insurance was so expensive for most owners that they closed their doors and the bulldozers were brought in. By the end of 1980, skateboarding died another death and once again, many manufacturers were faced with tremendous losses. As BMX became popular and SkateBoarder Magazine turned into Action Now, most skaters deserted the sport. Skateboarding moved underground once more. A hard-core contingent stayed with skateboarding and built backyard half pipes and ramps as more skateparks closed.
In 1981, Thrasher Magazine began publication in an effort to provide hard-core skaters with information on the skateboard scene. Although skate contests were held, the turnout was small and the prize money was even smaller. In 1982, Tony Hawk won his first contest at the Del Mar Skate Ranch. By 1983, skate manufacturers like Santa Cruz, Powell Peralta and Tracker begin to see the sport on the upswing. In that same year, Transworld Skateboarding entered the skate scene.
By 1984, vert riding took off, followed closely by streetstyle skating. Launch ramps became popular. Powell Peralta created the first "Bones Brigade" skate video thanks to the highly creative talents of CR Stecyk and Stacy Peralta. The video featured all the team skaters and helped to propel skateboarding to new levels of popularity. Dozens of new manufacturers sprang up and skateboarding entered its third wave of popularity. Numerous vertical champions emerged including Tony Hawk, Christian Hosoi, Lance Mountain and Neil Blender. In the street, Mark Gonzales, Natas Kaupas and Tommy Guerrero took the ollie to new heights. Freestyle skateboarding was also a part of the scene and Rodney Mullen dominated all competition.
In the mid to late 1980's three main manufacturers handled most of the skate market-Powell Peralta, Vision/Sims and Santa Cruz. Board royalties and contest winnings escalated and some pro skaters pulled down earnings of ten thousand dollars per month. The National Skateboard Association, headed up by Frank Hawk (Tony Hawk's father), held numerous contests across North America and eventually throughout the world. Skateboard shoes from Airwalk, Vans and Vision became enormously popular along with skate clothes.
Towards the end of the decade, skateboarding shifted focus to street skating and vert riding became less popular. A number of pro skaters decided to leave the larger manufacturers and start their own skate companies. One of the first skaters to do this was Steve Rocco who started up World Industries. Over time, the personality of the skateboard world changed and new school skateboarding was born. Its focus was on ollies and technical tricks and it took on a whole other attitude.
By 1991, a world wide recession hit and the skate industry was deeply affected. As in the past, a number of manufacturers were faced with large economic losses. The industry turned extremely negative and began the process of reinventing itself. Big Brother began publication in 1992. As in the past, a hard-core contingent remained with the sport, but this time, the attrition was not as great as it was in the past. By the mid 1990's, skateboarding once again reemerged and the fourth wave started. In 1995, skateboarding gained a great deal of exposure at the ESPN 2 Extreme Games. Skateboard shoe manufacturers like Etnies and Vans began selling huge quantities of product and were joined by other soft goods manufacturers eager once again to cash in on skateboarding's popularity.
Towards the end of the 1990's, skateboarding's focus remains streetstyle and the industry is filled with numerous manufacturers and marketers. In many cases, pro skaters develop their own product and manage their own companies. Longboarding, a once forgotten art (featuring large boards), is begining to make a comeback and downhill skateboarding enters a whole new dimension thanks to street luge. In California, skateboard parks have started to be built once again thanks to a change in legislation. The hard work of Jim Fitzpatrick and the International Association of Skateboard Companies ensures that other states follow California and more parks are scheduled for construction over the next few years.
Over the past 40 years, skateboarding has had its peaks and valleys of popularity. Poor product, safety concerns, insurance issues and recessions have all contributed to the valleys. However, skateboarding technology has vastly improved since clay wheels. In terms of injuries, the sport remains much safer than football, rollerblading or hockey (when you look at percentage of participants injured). Despite safety concerns or economic recessions, the sport endures simply because it is so much fun to do.
This article was written by Michael Brooke, author of "The Concrete Wave". He has been skateboarding since 1975 and runs a website called Skategeezer Homepage. It was that site that led to the publication of his book.