Skateboarding is an action sport which involves riding and performing tricks using a skateboard. Skateboarding can also be considered a recreational activity, an art form, a job, or a method of transportation.
Skateboarding has been shaped and influenced by many skateboarders throughout the years. A 2002 report found that there were 18.5 million skateboarders in the world. 85% of skateboarders polled who had used a board in the last year were under the age of 18, and 74% were male.
Skateboarding is relatively modern. Since the 1970s, skateparks have been constructed specifically for use by skateboarders, bikers and inline skaters.
The first manufactured skateboards were ordered by a Los Angeles, California surf shop, meant to be used by surfers in their downtime. The shop owner, Bill Richard, made a deal with the Chicago Roller Skate Company to produce sets of skate wheels, which they attached to square wooden boards. Accordingly, skateboarding was originally denoted “sidewalk surfing” and early skaters emulated surfing style and maneuvers. Crate scooters preceded skateboards, and were born of a similar concept, with the exception of having a wooden crate attached to the nose (front of the board), which formed rudimentary handlebars.
A number of surfing manufacturers such as Makaha started building skateboards that resembled small surfboards, and assembled teams to promote their products. The popularity of skateboarding at this time spawned a national magazine, Skateboarder Magazine, and the 1965 international championships were broadcast on national television. The growth of the sport during this period can also be seen in sales figures for Makaha, which quoted $10 million worth of board sales between 1963 and 1965 (Weyland, 2002:28). Yet, by 1966 the sales had dropped significantly (ibid) and Skateboarder Magazine had stopped publication. The popularity of skateboarding dropped and remained low until the early 1970s.
In the early 1970s, Frank Nasworthy started to develop a skateboard wheel made of polyurethane, calling his company Cadillac Wheels. Prior to this new material, skateboards wheels were metal or “clay” wheels. The improvement in traction and performance was so immense that from the wheel’s release in 1972 the popularity of skateboarding started to rise rapidly again, causing companies to invest more in product development. Nasworthy commissioned artist Jim Evans to do a series of paintings promoting Cadillac Wheels, they were featured as ads and posters in the resurrected Skateborder magazine, and proved immensely popular in promoting the new style of skateboarding. Many companies started to manufacture trucks (axles) specially designed for skateboarding, reached in 1976 byTracker Trucks. As the equipment became more maneuverable, the decks started to get wider, reaching widths of 10 inches (250 mm) and over, thus giving the skateboarder even more control. A banana board is a skinny, flexible skateboard made of polypropylene with ribs on the underside for structural support. These were very popular during the mid-1970s and were available in myriad colors, bright yellow probably being the most memorable, hence the name.
Manufacturers started to experiment with more exotic composites and metals, like fiberglass and aluminium, but the common skateboards were made of maple plywood. The skateboarders took advantage of the improved handling of their skateboards and started inventing new tricks. Skateboarders, most notably Ty Page, Bruce Logan, Bobby Piercy, Kevin Reed, and the Z-Boys (so-called because of their local Zephyr surf shop) started to skate the vertical walls of swimming pools that were left empty in the 1976 California drought. This started the “vert” trend in skateboarding. With increased control, vert skaters could skate faster and perform more dangerous tricks, such as slash grinds and frontside/backside airs. This caused liability concerns and increased insurance costs to skatepark owners, and the development (first by Norcon, then more successfully by Rector) of improved knee pads that had a hard sliding cap and strong strapping proved to be too-little-too-late. During this era, the “freestyle” movement in skateboarding began to splinter off and develop into a much more specialized discipline, characterized by the development of a wide assortment of flat-ground tricks.
As a result of the “vert” skating movement, skate parks had to contend with high-liability costs that led to many park closures. In response, vert skaters started making their own ramps, while freestyle skaters continued to evolve their flatland style. Thus by the beginning of the 1980s, skateboarding had once again declined in popularity.
This period was fueled by skateboard companies that were run 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 didn’t ride vert ramps. As most people could not afford to build vert ramps, or did not have access to nearby ramps, street skatingincreased in popularity.
Freestyle skating remained healthy throughout this period, with pioneers such as Rodney Mullen inventing many of the basic tricks that would become the foundation of modern street skating, such as the “Impossible” and the “kickflip“. The influence that freestyle exerted upon street skating became apparent during the mid-1980s; however, street skating was still performed on wide vert boards with short noses, slide rails, and large soft wheels. In response to the tensions created by this confluence of skateboarding “genres”, an rapid evolution occurred 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 (public opposition, in which businesses, governments, and property owners have banned skateboarding on properties under their jurisdiction or ownership, would progressively intensify over the following decades). 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 71⁄4 to 8 inches (180 to 200 mm) wide and 30 to 32 inches (760 to 810 mm) long. The wheels are made of an extremely hard polyurethane, with hardness (durometer) approximately 99A. 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.
Go Skateboarding Day was created in 2004 by a group of skateboarding companies to promote skateboarding and help make it more noticeable to the world. It is celebrated every year on June 21.