The History of Skateboarding

How did skateboarding start? When did it start, where did it begin, and who were the first skateboarders? What did the first skateboards look like and where did the inspiration come from? All of these questions are the reason I wrote this post. Here, we’ll dive into a brief history of skateboarding so you can understand how far this alternative sport has come.

Skateboarding has evolved over the years to become an integral part of youth culture. It’s predominantly a thing the youth rather than grown-ups do, but some adults enjoy it.

Considered to be an extreme sport, skateboarding allows you to express yourself as the unique individual you are. Skateboarding is pretty much an art. And each skateboarder uses their skateboarding skills to practice various skateboarding tricks or even sculpt their own tricks.

Skateboarding Grew Out of Surfing

Skateboarding is similar to surfing in many ways. In both surfing and skateboarding, the person having fun stands on some board and rides it, deriving lots of joy and thrill.

But there’s one fundamental difference between surfing and skateboarding. A surfer rides their board on water (rides waves) while a skateboarder rides their board on the sidewalk, skate park, on the streets, and such other places. In fact, skateboarding was initially called sidewalk surfing.

Another difference between the two is that a skateboard has wheels attached to it while a surfboard lacks wheels.  Because a surfboard doesn’t need wheels at all.

The Earliest Skateboards Were Homemade Contraptions

These days, pretty much every retailer carries skateboards, some of which are known to break down in a day. But that wasn’t always the case. The very first skateboards weren’t made by established skate brands. Rather, the earliest skateboards were crafted by hand by individuals who wished to ride a skateboard but couldn’t find one anywhere.

So, the earliest skateboarders got busy with their hands and creativity, designing and building an extremely basic version of the skateboard. Usually, the skateboard they created was nothing more than some board coupled with worn rollerskate wheels. If you’ve been wondering what activity preceded the other, now you know rollerskating emerged on the outdoor scene before skateboarding.

The First Commercial Skateboards

In the 1960s, surfing was growing fast in terms of popularity. Naturally, companies wanted to benefit economically from a trend they predicted would become an entire market. But the first ever commercially produced skateboards emerged in 1959.

Makaha and Hobie were the first companies to try to capitalize on the emerging trend. These two early skateboard manufacturers realized that surfing could be done on sidewalks when there weren’t any waves to ride.

So, these firms started making the so-called sidewalk surfboards, which everyone today calls skateboards. This seems to be a perfect example of when an entity creates a new market where none existed before by presenting a product people probably didn’t really need but would need if someone showed it to them.

The First Skateboard Team Ever Formed in 1963

The earliest skate brands knew they needed to promote skateboarding as an enjoyable and cool activity. They realized that that was the only approach that could get as many people as possible skateboarding and growing the new activity.

In 1963, Makaha put together the first professional skateboard team ever. Coincidentally, the year 1963 was the same year that the first-ever skateboarding competition took place. And that skateboarding contest happened in Hermosa, California.

If you’ve ever wondered where skateboarding is most popular, wonder no more — California it is. Did you know that about 10 percent of kids in the age range 6 and 17 residing in Los Angeles know how to ride a skateboard? North America boasts about 6,200,000 skateboarders according to the IASC, and most of these riders live in California.

California Gave the World Skateboarding

Many people associate California with surfing, and surfing did become this state’s official sport in 2018 as is the case in Hawaii. And did you know that it was Hawaiians who introduced surfing to California? They did, but Californians toyed with the idea and eventually birthed skateboarding.

In other words, surfing is native to Hawaii while skateboard originated from California. But it really surprises no one that the Golden State gave Americans and the rest of the world this wonderful pastime skateboarding. I mean, California is the tech capital of the United States. This state is home to about 2,000 tech corporations including Apple, Google, Cisco, Oracle, Intuit, Hewlett Packard, and Uber.

Skateboarding’s Popularity Started Waning

But soon, fewer and fewer people were skateboarding. And the main reason for the waning interest in this pastime was that the skateboards the companies made sucked at maneuverability. So, people just didn’t enjoy riding those skateboards all that much.

Another reason people rode less was safety warnings from concerned and mostly well-meaning safety professionals. These safety professionals pointed out that that skateboarding was a dangerous activity. And it does seem that quite a few riders took that advice and acted on it, which adversely affected skateboarding’s popularity.

But skateboard manufacturers weren’t going to sit around and watch a potentially lucrative market die off. These companies needed to act, and act with haste, and that’s exactly what they did. Were it not for these early skate brands’ consistent innovation, skateboarding would probably have vanished.

Innovation Halted the Declining Interest in Skateboarding

During the mid-1970s, skateboard manufacturers started making significant design changes to their skateboards. These changes were intended to make the skateboards more maneuverable, which meant easier to use and more fun to ride.

It’s during this skateboard revival period that polyurethane wheels emerged. These wheels boosted maneuverability to quite some extent, and they’re pretty much what modern skateboards use.

Another critical design modification of the 1970s skateboard was the addition of the kicktail. The kicktail is that raised part of a skateboard rear end that makes landing skateboarding tricks possible.

These skateboard design improvements worked really well. But when skateboarding-focused magazines started going all out to promote skateboarding and skateboarders such as Stacey Peralta and Tony Alva, things really took off. And skateboarding became a wildly growing craze that set the entire world on fire.

The First Skate Park Ever Appeared in 1976

The first-ever skatepark was built in 1976 and guess where that happened? It didn’t happen in California as you might have expected — it happened in Florida.

Afterward, more skate parks began sprouting all over the place across North America, South America, Asia, and Europe. These skate parks were designed to give riders all kinds of sloping edges and banked surfaces, all of which were ideal for practicing different kinds of turns and stunts.

During this skateboard renaissance period, skateboarders started skating empty pools, and not before long, the half-pipe appeared on the scene. The half-pipe emerged because skaters wanted to explore the possibility of performing aerial moves and maneuvers on their boards. I refer to skating vert here, folks.

The Birth of Street Skating (Street Style) in the 1980s

Even though skateboarding had by now become quite widespread, its popularity didn’t endure. Safety concerns played a huge role in this second fall from glory. Another major contributing factor to the second decline of skateboarding was the ever-growing insurance premiums for covering skate parks. But it’s not like skaters didn’t wear protective gear such as helmets and pads at all.

For these reasons, skaters in different places started building their own half-pipes and ramps. It was an underground movement of sorts. Skating in urban areas was also happening at the same time. All these events brought into existence a new skating style— the street style.

Factors that Helped Shape the Skateboarding Subculture

One thing that greatly supported the development of the street style was a larger board size and better skateboard trucks. Video recording of young skaters as they expressed their individuality through performing daring skateboarding fetes further fanned this awakening.

People like the legendary skateboarder Tony Hawks and other street skaters like Mark Gonzalez and Steve Cabarrelo became overnight heroes.

Then there was punk rock and young skaters wearing clothing that was too loose. This music along with the new fashion style combined with the individualistic and risk-laden nature of the sport midwifed a new youth subculture.

Skateboarding Goes Mainstream in the Mid-1990s

But skateboarding didn’t evolve into a mainstream sport until well into the mid-1990s. Skateboarders have ESPN to thank for sponsoring X Games, a festival invented to elevate alternative sports.

The so-called X Games were first held in 1995. And that gave skateboarding tons of exposure and showcased the sport’s inherent commercial significance.

Another monumental occurrence that’s really helped skateboarding is the World Cup of Skateboarding, also called World Cup Skateboarding. Established in 1994, the World Cup Skateboarding is an international organization that organizes the world’s biggest street and vert skating competitions.

In the end, skateboarding grew into a professional sport. But that doesn’t mean the sport lost its defiant independence from conventional sporting activities. Skateboarding is what it is, and it’s never going to be like soccer or basketball.

While rollerskating was discovered before skateboarding, skateboarding has over the years developed into a more popular sporting activity. In fact, rollerskaters have borrowed heavily from skateboarders as far as techniques and even culture. Meanwhile, rollerskating has been waning a bit, but the activity is still alive and well across the world.

Snowboarding is another outdoor activity that’s benefited a great deal from the techniques associated with skateboarding.

The Modern Skateboard: The Ultimate Master of Maneuverability

Modern skateboards typically measure 32″ in length and 9″ in width. Today’s skateboards feature three main components namely the deck, the trucks, and the wheels. In the beginning, the deck was mostly constructed using wood, but a lot has changed these days. Aluminum, fiberglass, and plastic decks are now pretty common. By the way, the deck is what gives your feet support as you pull off various skateboarding stunts.

This skateboard also features a kicktail (described earlier) for performing tricks. But there’s one noteworthy addition the modern skateboard has — a nose on the front of the board. Just like the kicktail, the nose is another area of the modern skateboard that’s bent upward, and it’s designed that way to improve the board’s maneuverability.

The wheels of modern-day skateboards are produced using high-quality polyurethane. Unlike in the past, today’s skateboard wheels for street skating can be bought in different degrees of hardness/softness that affect ride quality in different ways. What’s more, the wheels come in all kinds of shapes and sizes so you can do all kinds of technical skating and regular skateboarding.

Improved Skateboard Trucks

The trucks have also seen tremendous improvement over the years. Today’s skateboard trucks come with real good shock absorbers, springy extras that dampen vibrations, dramatically improving ride quality.

Additionally, modern skateboard trucks are available in different sizes, and each truck-width translates into a distinctly nuanced ride experience. Making turns and other subtle moves has also become pretty easy thanks to vastly improved modern skateboard truck-construction technologies.

Taken together, these skateboard design enhancements have greatly improved maneuverability. Perhaps that’s why many people around the world still love skateboarding. Maybe that’s why there’s little indication that interest in skateboarding will wane any time soon.

Final Thoughts on the History of Skateboarding

Our history class is over, friend. I’ve handheld you through a brief yet detailed history of skateboarding, and hopefully you’ve learned something you didn’t know prior to reading my post.

But what are you waiting for? All these technological advances have happened so you, your friends, and your loved ones can have endless fun outdoors. So, grab some protective skateboarding gear and let’s go skating!