No longer the realm of slackers and young kids, skateboarding has evolved into an industry full of complicated tricks and techniques, high-profile tournaments, celebrity athletes, and a much-deserved spot as one of the most recognized and celebrated sports in the United States today. But where did it all begin, and how did it go from being a hobby of surfers to an extreme sport? Skateboarding has had a fascinating journey from underground counterculture sport to a billion-dollar industry – let’s take a look at the timeline that took skateboarding from then until now.
This was the earliest known advent of what we would recognize as traditional skateboarding, beginning in California, where surfers invented a plank on wheels to simulate surfing on land. According to Wikipedia, the first skateboards were originally manufactured for surfers to use when they weren’t in the water. Crafted out of square wooden boards with a set of skate wheels from roller skates, Wikipedia notes that “skateboarding was originally denoted ‘sidewalk surfing’ and early skaters emulated surfing style and maneuvers, and performed barefoot.”
Skateboarding began to take off in Southern California, with manufacturing companies popping up to specifically create skate decks and hold competitions. A timeline in Skateboarding Magazine pegs 1963 as the year that the sport’s popularity soared: “Companies such as Jack’s, Hobie, and Makaha started having real competitions consisting of Downhill Slalom and Freestyle where skaters like Torger Johnson, Woody Woodward and Danny Berer paved the way for future skaters.” Clay wheels were also introduced in this decade, but this invention may have actually contributed to skateboarding’s decline in the latter half of the 1960s – they weren’t particularly safe, and injuries increased.
It took a new type of wheel to bring skateboarding back into the spotlight. With the invention of polyurethane wheels, created by Frank Nasworthy, skateboarding once again became popular – not to mention a lot smoother thanks to the new wheels. In 1975, a massive skateboarding tournament – the Del Mar National Championships – was held, birthing the Santa Monica legends known as the Zephyr skate team, later dubbed the “Z-Boys.” These twelve skaters (notable names include Tony Alva, Jay Adams, and Stacy Peralta) would influence the style and techniques of skateboarders for years to come, and the Del Mar National Championships would bring about a new era of skateboarding tournaments with cash prizes.
Now that the standard skate deck was established – with the additional option of larger, softer polyurethane wheels – focus was shifted to the types of ramps available, and the various tricks that could be performed on them. The construction of vertical ramps or “vert ramps” led to Alan Gelfand’s creation of the no-hands aerial – better known as the ollie – followed by the grabbed aerial, invented by George Orton and Tony Alva. “While this wave of skateboarding was sparked by commercialized vert ramp skating, a majority of people who skateboarded during this period didn’t ride vert ramps,” says the Wikipedia entry. Skateboarding Magazine chalks this up to the fact that many skaters couldn’t afford the lumber to create ramps, but “they saw the whole world as [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][their] skatepark and took to the streets. During this time many new board shapes took form allowing for skaters to overcome obstacles otherwise impossible.”
Street skateboarding rose to prominence in the 90s, causing yet another shift in wheel technology – this time back to smaller, harder polyurethane wheels. “The wheel sizes are relatively small so that the boards are lighter, and the wheels’ inertia is overcome quicker, thus making tricks more manageable,” explains Wikipedia. This was also the time that skateboarding began to intertwine with punk music and culture, and in 1995, ESPN held the inaugural – and extremely successful – X-Games. Skateboarding’s evolution into an extreme sport had begun. (Not coincidentally, it was in 1999 that Tony Hawk landed the “900,” a trick involving completing two-and-a-half mid-air revolutions).
Due to the mainstream success of skateboarding as an extreme sport, more and more people of all ages have begun to take up skateboarding as a hobby and an athletic pursuit. Skateboarding Magazine credits this to the fact that “pros make real money. Wining events can bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars. Kids are realizing that you don’t have to become a doctor or lawyer to make a buck.” Now that skateparks have begun to be incorporated into city landscapes, there are more places than ever to practice. Plus, digital technology is making it easier than ever to record skateboarding tricks. Products like Blast Action Replay make it easy for skaters to play back recorded highlight reels of their tricks with overlaid metrics. This gives them the opportunity to analyze their movements and discover technical improvements they can make, as well as share their footage via social media through the Blast app.
It may have taken a half-century, but skateboarding has proven that it’s more than just a passing fad. As one of America’s favorite extreme sports, the tricks have become more impressive, the famous names have become well-known, and the championship prizes have become even bigger. It’s no wonder that skateboarding remains both a popular pastime and a potential athletic career choice.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]