Skateboarding has been around for about 70 years. It originated in the 1950s and has grown into a worldwide phenomenon that continues to grow. Skateboarders are often seen as cool, rebellious teenagers who just want to have fun, but they’re also good athletes who push their limits every day on their boards.
This article will explore the history of skateboarding while looking at some notable figures in the sport. One of these people was George Powell, who made his first board out of wood with roller-skating wheels nailed onto it so he could make turns easily. The modern skateboard can be traced back to this invention!
Many people think skateboarding was invented by surfers who wanted a way to get back home without walking on their boards or carrying them on their backs when they got tired. This is true when it comes to the history of California in regards to skateboarding, but there’s evidence that shows the sport could possibly be traced back even earlier than this.
If you’ve ever been curious about the true history of skateboarding, you’re in the right place. Keep reading to discover some of the most important facts surrounding this sport on wheels.
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The Earliest Examples of Skateboards
The most popular version of the origins of skateboarding started in the 1950s when surfers designed skateboards as a way to assist them in carrying their boards all the way home on foot. However, many people don’t realize that there were earlier variations of the skateboard well before the ’50s.
Inventions that were manufactured in the 1930s were very similar to the skateboard. However, there’s another mobile foot accessory that was seen even earlier than this.
History of Skateboarding: 1920s
In the 1920s, the first toy was assembled that had some resemblance to the skateboard. These toys were three-wheeled aluminum components that were used to simulate cross-country skiing.
These skate-like accessories were known as the Roller Ski. Roller Skis were used by the Olympic team to practice during the offseason. These were actually more similar to roller skates.
Eventually, this invention hit the market for sale and was mass-produced. These devices only had three wheels, a heel cup similar to the rubber knob on the end of a roller skate, and a toe clip for security. There were poles included that mimicked the ski poles used by cross-country skiers during the winter.
However, there was no real way to steer these skates. Because of the lack of directional options, most people only used the skates on flat ground, which proved to be somewhat boring for younger children.
History of Skateboarding: 1930s
The 1930s witnessed another invention that was even more similar to the modern-day skateboard. The Scooter Skate was also a three-wheeled toy fashioned from aluminum. However, this toy was equipped with a flat deck, very much like the ones used for skateboards today.
The sides contained divots for feet, and there was a bolted-on bar for balance. However, the bar couldn’t be used for steering, and the lack of trucks and bushings made this device impossible to control.
Incredibly, children in that era would remove the bar and attempt to skate flat on the deck, using the device exactly like the modern-day skateboard. Even though the 1950s version wasn’t designed drawing on inspiration from the Scooter, it’s hard to deny the fact that this could have been the very first skateboard.
History of Skateboarding: 1940s
There would be one more invention that could be considered skateboard-like before the formal 1950s arrival of the actual vehicle known as the skateboard hit the scene.
The Skeeter Skate was manufactured in 1945. Another aluminum device, this version contained four wheels with a removable handle and axles to turn the wheels.
It was apparent at this point that manufacturers were getting the hang of how to assist children in directional control of these small vehicles. This particular skate was more efficient than the last two offerings from the previous two decades.
Skateboarding History: The Official Arrival of the Skateboard
It was during this particular era that America would receive the first official version of the skateboard. Nobody knew it at the time, but this would usher in America’s love affair with this hobby and eventually the global obsession with this sport that would change the landscape of sports forever.
1950s: Sidewalk Surfing and the Roller Derby #10
In the 1950s in California, surfing had already taken off as a very popular beach sport in cities like San Diego. When the waves were flat, surfers wanted something they could do on land that mimicked the carving motion of their surfboards.
The first invention credited with the name skateboard was pieced together with a 2×4 and a wheel system. Originally, this was known as sidewalk surfing but was soon changed to skateboarding.
Nobody knows exactly who fashioned this first skateboard. Apparently, several surfers claimed to have come up with the design at the same time.
The first official orders for skateboards were placed by a Los Angeles surf shop owned by a man named Bill Richard. Richard struck a deal with a roller skate company out of Chicago to design these boards. Skateboarding began taking off from the beach and into households.
During the mid-1950s, toy stores across America received shipments of skateboards intermittently. Different manufacturers provided these skateboards, and there wasn’t one popular design until 1959.
Finally, the first mass-produced skateboard hit shelves in the version of the Roller Derby #10 skateboard. This seemingly insignificant roller toy would go on to create a culture that would propel skateboarding to the upper echelons of the sports world. The Roller Derby was a mid-sized board with a flat tail and tip.
The 1960s would witness the first real American boom for the sport of skateboarding.
1960s: When Skateboarding Began to Takeoff
During the 1960s, many California surfing companies such as Hobie, Bings, and Makaha began manufacturing skateboards that looked like tiny surfboards. Separately, each manufacturer scrambled to come up with new promotional methods to bring their newest variation to the public.
The founder of Mahaka, Larry Stevenson, sponsored the first skateboard exhibition in 1963. This exhibition took place at Pier Avenue Junior High School in Hermosa Beach, California.
A few of the team members were seen on a show called Surf’s Up in 1964. This popular surfing show promoted skateboarding as a new wave of land riding that was a fun activity.
The first monthly skateboarding publication, known as Skateboarder Magazine, saw its release in the 1960s. However, the success was short-lived.
After just a couple of years, the first skateboarding magazine would shut down. However, it would emerge again in the 1970s.
Prior to this, the only literature that existed on the sport was Quarterly Skateboarder. Quarterly Skateboarder was released briefly every three months to keep the public updated with happenings surrounding the budding sport.
Eventually, full color publications like Transworld Skateboarding Magazine would gain huge popularity in the skateboarding scene.
By 1965, Mahaka posted skateboard sales of over $4 million. However, a decline in the sport loomed on the horizon.
In 1966, many public news venues published stories describing the dangers of skateboarding. This enraged many American families, and they demanded the skateboard be removed from toy store and surf shop shelves.
Many of the stores obliged, leading to a sharp decline in popularity for skateboarding going into the last few years of the 1960s. Only a few diehard pioneers continued to promote skateboarding, which can be credited with keeping the sport alive. Luckily, there was a resurgence set to take place in the 1970s that would propel the sport to new heights.
1970s: Earliest Skateboard Exhibitions Grow Bigger
Frank Nasworthy began to develop new skate wheels in the 1970s. This skateboard wheel was made from a material known as polyurethane. Prior to this revamped form of wheel, skateboard wheels were made from metal or clay.
The new skateboard wheel brought greater levels of traction, leading to much better performance. The official release from Cadillac Wheels Company in 1972 began to bring skateboarding back from the dead. Skateboarding popularity was heading through the roof.
Places like the Escondido reservoir in San Diego, which is still a popular skate spot to this day, began receiving large numbers of skaters attempting to navigate the tricky layout of the area. There were no skate parks at this time, so skaters had to make do with what they had available in urban areas.
Skateboarding magazine, a once-dead publication, was resurrected and began revealing locations like the Escondido reservoir, fueling the sport’s resurgence even more. In 1976, manufacturers began releasing the earliest known version of skateboard trucks, which added another level of control to their game.
The largest skateboarding competition ever hosted took place in 1975. The two-day competition was won by legendary skater Russ Howell. However, a Santa Monica, California group known as the Zephyr Team, displayed a new style of skateboarding that was similar to surfing. The Zephyr Team’s style of skateboarding changed the way skaters would approach the sport forever.
The team was made up of 12 skaters, including Jay Adams, Peggy Oki, and Tony Alva. Their style of skateboarding was heavily influenced by Hawaiian surfers like Mark Lidell. Craig Stecyk, a journalist for Skateboarder Magazine, followed the team during the competition and wrote several articles after the event. Just like that, the professional skateboarder was born.
These writings became known as the Dogtown articles, and they completely revolutionized skateboarding. Eventually, the team would become known as the Z-Boys, and two major motion pictures were filmed featuring the team as the main characters.
The first film, a documentary, was known as Dogtown and the Z-Boys. A few years later, a full-length dramatization was filmed known as the Lords of Dogtown. Both movies were met with a fairly decent amount of commercial success.
The Z-Boys style of skating is still seen in competitions to this day. Arguably, the Zephyr Team is the most influential group of skaters that have ever existed in the world of skateboarding.
As a result of the success of the competition, skating began to see regular events where cash prizes were up for grabs. This would become a regular occurrence and eventually lead to what we know as modern-day skateboarding competition.
In the late 1970s, vert skating was born. Again, the Z-Boys would have a hand in manifesting this form of skateboarding. This was when skateboarding evolved heavily. Contemporary skateboarding was shoved out of the way for more extreme forms that would eventually lead to a skateboard competition known as vert-skateboarding. This would eventually lead to the skate park.
A major California drought left backyard swimming pools completely empty. This gave the skate team the idea of dropping into these pools, using the sides to propel them into the air where they could perform tricks similar to a surfboard.
These pool riders would eventually start developing ramps and half-pipes known as vert-ramps. Modern-day skaters still use these exact same designs in a skate park.
1980s: Street Skateboarding Rises
The 1980s was a unique period in the fact that it saw the inception of skateboard companies that were owned and operated by actual skaters. The early half of the 1980s was all about vert-ramp skating.
Some of the first self produced skateboards became popular in the 80s. Skateboarding history was made when the street league gained popularity. The street league consisted of ranked skaters competing in different urban settings. Skateboard magazines became popular, and the first girl skateboards hit the market.
Although professional skateboarders spent most of their time competing on vert ramps, the overall skateboard-owning public did not take part in vert-ramp skating. People either didn’t have the money to purchase vert ramps or couldn’t build them efficiently, and this left room for street skating to develop.
Legendary skater Rodney Mullen pioneered tricks like the kickflip, leaving a mark on the sport that is still felt presently. Street skating, otherwise known as freestyle skating, took off in the middle and late 1980s. Wide vert boards with large soft wheels were still the normal method of riding, even for street skaters. A more efficient version of the professional skateboard wouldn’t be released until the 1990s.
Street league skateboarding began picking up steam in the 1980s. Several different cash competitions popped up around the country. Rodney Mullen became one of the fathers of modern skateboarding after the way he would flip skateboards became public.
The lack of official skate parks around the country led to skaters seeking out places with rails, curbs, and other items they could use for their freestyle skating interests. The problem was many of these places were private property, and this led to a rift between local skaters and business owners in many cities.
There was a large amount of public disdain for skateboarders in the early 1990s, which led to another decline in the sport’s popularity. Because of the rebellious side of skateboarding, it was predicted the sport would never gain enough mainstream traction to break through to the masses.
1990s: Street Skateboarding Dominates
The 1990s was largely a decade reserved for street skating. Revamped designs of the skateboard were released to the public that included smaller wheels that made the board much lighter.
These skateboards made freestyle and street skating much more efficient. Because of this, the freestyle version of the skateboard became the most widely used variation by the end of the 1990s.
2000s: Street Skateboarding and Back to the Vert
The new millennium also brought new life to the skateboarding world. This would finally be the era that would witness skateboarding breaking through the stratosphere of the sports world.
By 2001, it was estimated that more American children skateboarded than played baseball. Skate parks became a staple around urban areas and were often utilized in many youth programs.
The popularity of pro skaters like Tony Hawk and Bob Burnquist helped propel the sport to new heights. Tony Hawk had a highly publicized quest to complete a vert-ramp trick known as the 900, which brought skateboarding to nearly every television in America.
Tony Hawk and his quest also led to the release of the video game series bearing his namesake (Tony Hawk Pro Skater). Tony and many other pro skaters are playable characters in this wildly popular video game franchise. Players compete in a mixture of street skateboarding and vert skating in real life locations.
One of the largest skateparks in the world was constructed in 2006. This 12,000 square foot monster was erected in China. There was even a 5,000-seat stadium that surrounded the park.
Another history-making event took place in 2009. The skateboarding world was given their own version of a Hall of Fame. The Skateboarding Hall of Fame and Museum was opened by SkateLab, and new entry members are selected every year.
2010s: Street Skateboarding as an Olympic Sport
The second decade of the new millennium was a decade that finally saw skateboarding receive much-deserved recognition. This era hosted several events that cemented skateboarding’s role in American history and culture. Perhaps the most historic and honorable moment in the sport’s history took place in the late 2010s.
There were new traditions born in the world of skateboarding, and many old disciplines started to make a return to the scene. Electric skateboards gained popularity and are a staple in many American households now.
Barefoot skateboarding witnessed a resurgence in popularity, largely in part to the rising interest in the once-popular plastic penny board. These plastic boards are traditionally ridden with no shoes on. Skateboard companies began releasing new versions of these mini-plastic boards.
In perhaps the proudest moment in the history of skateboarding, the sport made its debut in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. Men and women participated in respective events, and there were two disciplines highlighted during the games. Street style and park style were given their own competitions during the 2020 Olympics.
Now skaters could truly say skateboarding was a professional sport if doubters still existed.
Cory Juneau of San Diego, California, would win bronze in the park competition for the American men’s team, and Jagger Eaten took home bronze in the street competition.
Skateboarding has been going strong in America for over 50 years and continues to gain steam. The skateboard industry is worth $5 billion in the United States alone, so what other trends do you think will happen?
What about technology integration, new materials to make boards out of, or even a change in how people use them? With newer discoveries and advances in technology, could the face of skateboarding continue to change and adapt?
Something tells us that skateboarding won’t allow itself to change too much. The sport is very much in touch with its grassroots origins and tight-knit community, and advances too far in the direction of technology would alter the landscape too much.
There’s something refreshing about how skateboarding sticks close to its humble beginnings, ensuring future generations of amateurs and pros never lose touch with skateboarding’s history.