Skateboarding is not just a sport; it is a way of life. Skateboarding has evolved from its humble beginnings over 70 years ago to the point now where it is considered an Olympic sport, thereby defining skaters as athletes. We are going to discuss this evolution today and tell the story of how skateboarding became, grew, and now is.
We will go over the main decades for skateboarding and outline how each period helped define what skateboarding is today.
From the 1990s
Skateboarding roots can be found in 1950s surf culture. Californian Surfers were looking for a way to experience that same thrill when the waves were a bit flat and the surf not so good. These intrepid young men fashioned crude skateboards out of planks and wheels and aptly called themselves "asphalt surfers". Similarly, in Hawaii, early skateboards were constructed from shorter surf boards and wheels constructed of steel. By the late 1950s, skateboarding experienced its first peak. During this post- world war II period the US economy was booming, seeing growth in many industries including retail and in leisure. Manufactures started producing the first skateboards with the most well-known company being Roller Derby who released their first model in 1959. These skateboards were the first of their kind and featured some very futuristic tech. These new skateboards allowed skaters to perform different manoeuvres and tricks for the very first time.
During the years of 1959 to 1965, skateboarding grew in popularity particularly in the east and west coast. Due to this activity’s commercial growth, the skateboard's standing altered from being just a toy to actual sports equipment.
In 1962, "Val-Surf" a Hollywood surf shop began producing their very own skateboards which utilised a traditional surfboard shape, shrunken down for size, with roller skate trucks and wheels.
In the very same year, a local business called Patterson Forbes developed their range of complete skateboards boards with an even better set of specialist trucks.
Surf Guide Magazine featured the first ever advertisement for skateboards in 1963. Whilst new skateboard manufactures were beginning to sell their products, a group of clothing and apparel brands began to establish themselves in the skateboarding scene. Some of the most notable brands still exist today for instance Vans, which make some of the most well-known skate shoes, was founded in 1966. Following Vans' niche, Etnies, Converse and DC shoes also began manufacturing skateboard related shoes and apparel.
In 1963, Hermosa Beach, California hosted the first ever skateboarding contest. By this point the sport had already evolved past cruising and skaters were competing in several different disciplines from slalom to freestyle. Different brand began sponsoring skaters and setting up teams to promote their products and further the sport. As the appeal of skateboarding began to broaden, the first skateboarding publication "The Quarterly Skateboarder" was released in 1964.
The next advancement in skateboarding was the creation of the Kicktail. Developed by Larry Stevenson, these new decks allowed for fresh ways to perform tricks and opened a whole different dimension to skateboarding.
Things were moving fast but the skateboarding industry was about to experience its most important innovation. This was in 1972 when Frank Nasworthy released the urethane wheels. You might be familiar with the scene in Lords of Dogtown where the main cast members are all trying to outdo each other on these new wheels. Urethane wheels, made by Nasworthy’s new company Cadillac Wheels, were a game changer as they made riding skateboards much smoother but also grippier. Skaters were now able to pick up speed much more comfortably, resulting in the development downhill skating. New publications like Skateboarder Magazine began to hit the shelves from 1975 and along with that came newer and bigger skateboarding events. In 1976, the first ever skatepark was opened and new skateparks with ramps and other features began to spring up all over the USA.
Over the coming years skaters and board manufacturers started experimenting with different shapes, sizes, and concaves. Decks became wider and started to feature a nose as well as a tail and skate hardware also saw major improvements.
Then in 1978, Alan Gelfand developed a trick that literally changed the game. The Skateboard Ollie allowed skaters to jump over obstacles, transforming the sport and leading to the development of street skating.
Several different skaters started making a name for themselves, the most prolific being Rodney Mullen who invented many of the modern skate tricks we see today. To this day Rodney Mullen is still recognised as the “GOAT”, the greatest street skater of all time. Popularity in other urban sports like BMX and inline skating was also growing but skateboarding was taking a clear lead.
In 1981, "Thrasher Magazine" was first published and since then Thrasher has been at the forefront of street skating culture. Following Thrasher was Transworld Skateboarding who first published their magazine in 1983. A number of less well-known publications were also founded in this era along with dozens of dedicated skateboard shops across the world.
With the proliferation of skateboarding videos spreading across the globe, the appeal of skateboarding continued to rise. Skate videos are still the core marketing tool that brands use today although the medium has shifted from hard copies, namely VHS and DVDs, to free streaming platforms like YouTube.
From the mid-1980s on, skateboarding was recognised as a truly profitable industry with a few firms now controlling the market. Brands like Powel Peralta and Santa Cruz dominated the worldwide skateboard market with specialist skateboards and other skate related hard goods. Skate shoes made by Vans, Vision and Converse were recognised as the industry standard.
Over time vert skating was starting to replace street skating. The number of skateboarders was growing drastically, and pro skaters were beginning to be treated like sports celebrities in a similar vain to other sports stars.
Skateboarding did see a slight dip in popularity during the early 1990s due to the growth of various sports that turned out to be fads. Scooters and aggressive skating began to take the centre stage over skateboarding though fortunately today they are recognised for what they are; LAAAAAAAAAAAAAME!
Skateboarders however chose to ignore this and instead returned to their street skating roots and it was not long before the next big event occurred. In the mid-1990s X-Games introduced skateboarding to a whole new audience with televised events. To this day the X-Games is still considered to be the pinnacle of skateboard competition though they have been somewhat eclipsed of late by brands like Red Bull and also the Summer Olympic Games. More on that soon.
Skateboard decks and hardware continued to evolve and improve with brands like Chocolate, Flip and Girl being the most popular. At this point it was easy for skaters to get hold of top-quality gear all over the world.
With the growth in popularity in events like Street league skateboarding began to be recognised as a professional sport. These events saw some of the best skaters in the world throwing down some insane tricks. With huge cash prizes for the winner these events demonstrate how far skateboarding has come.
This golden era of skateboarding is well depicted in Mid90s a 2018 film that beautifully demonstrates Los Angeles skateboarding culture.
The end of the decade brought skateboarding into a second renaissance with the release of Tony Hawks Pro Skater in 1999. Months earlier, Tony Hawk had landed the first ever 900 during the Summer X-Games after 11 attempts.
Skateboarding was now considered a multi-million-dollar industry and different companies were desperately trying to incorporate skateboarding into their brand. For instance, Tony Hawk was featured in a 2004 McDonalds ad and many other big brands were soon to follow. Tony Hawk discusses the hate he received for this advert in his appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience.
From this point on skateboarding popularity began to slow. For instance, Bam Margera who had originally made a name for himself through skateboarding, shifted to filming antics on his various MTV shows including Jackass and Viva La Bam.
This slow down in popularity saw the value of the skateboarding industry fall from $10 billion in 2001 to $1.9 billion in 2018. During this time, many smaller skateboard brands went out of business and the sport became relegated to a small niche industry.
This all changed in 2020 when due to the COVID-19 lockdowns and the fact that many kids were out of school for most of the academic year, skateboarding exploded. Combined with the announcement that the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games would host skateboarding events for the very first time, the value of the industry doubled to $4 billion. This rapid growth took all major manufacturers, distributors and skate shops by surprise and they are as of writing this article still struggling to keep up with demand.
This growth in skateboarding does not seem to be slowing and when combined with the fact that skateboarding tutorials are so easy to find now on social media one thing remains certain.