- an exhilarating and dangerous joyride
by Kurt Hueschen, Lifestyles editor
|Skateboarding has seen it all. The
sport has been at one extreme, the most lucrative craze to sweep
the nation, and at the other, totally outlawed in some places.
It has seen prosperity unparalleled since the Hula Hoop, and has
shown more staying power. This young sport of 50 years has survived
the test of time.
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The skateboard dates back to the early 1900s when four roller
skate wheels were attached to 2x4 planks, with milk
crates attached to give support and help steer. Even though
they began as scooters, changes came quickly as kids began to
remove the milk crates and handlebars and just ride the wooden
planks with steel roller skate wheels.
By the 1950s, the surf culture in California, and other parts
of the country, was in full swing. As surfing became more popular,
the spin-off dry land sport of sidewalk surfing
was also making waves. But it wasnt until 1958 that the
skateboard, as we know it, was born. California surf shop owner
Bill Richards and his son Mark made a deal with Chicago Roller
Skate Company to produce sets of clay skate wheels. Modifications
were made to the trucks (the device that attaches the wheels
to the wooden deck), and in 1959 the first-ever Roller Derby
Skateboard was made for sale.
|In 1963, the first-ever skateboard
contest was held in Hermosa, Ca. at Pier Avenue Junior School.
The first National Skateboard Championships in 1965 caught a spot
on ABCs Wide World of Sports. Later in 1965,
Life magazine ran a cover article about skateboarding. They described
it as the most exhilarating and dangerous joy-riding device
this side of the hot rod.
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Even the entertainment industry caught the craze. In 1966 the
movie Skater Dater was nominated for an Academy Award. There
was no dialogue in this movie, only images of skaters performing
moves that seemed almost impossible for the time. Magazines
such as The Quarterly Skateboarder were published. More than
50 million skateboards sold in the early 1960s. But, as with
anything, over-popularity can backfire.
The first major downturn for skateboarding came around the
beginning of 1966. Over the preceding years, manufacturers had
made skateboards as quickly as possible. Little research had
been done on product development. The clay wheels have little
grip and have been known to cause serious spills. There were
companies that had developed better wheels made of different
materials, but clay wheels were far cheaper to manufacture and
were still widely used.
|Due to inferior products and reckless
riding, the public began to see the sport as dangerous. The American
Medical Association declared skateboards a new medical menace.
After a few fatal accidents, cities began to ban skateboards.
The country of Norway placed a complete ban on skateboarding.
Manufacturers lost large amounts of money due to canceled orders
for the holiday season.
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During the next few years, skateboarding went underground. There
were only a few areas such as Santa Monica, California, where
skaters could still be seen shredding up the sidewalks. At the
same time, new innovations were being created to help skateboarding
make a come back.
Larry Stevenson designed a skateboard with an elevated tail
that could help the rider steer more like a surfboard. This
innovation, called the kick tail, was successful,
but it was still not enough to resurrect the skateboard to its
The industry needed new products and ideas. In 1973, Frank
Nasworthy visited a plastics factory where urethane wheels were
made for roller skates to be used on rinks. The urethane wheels
insured a nice grip and a smoother ride. Nasworthy decided to
throw a set of those urethane wheels on his skateboard. As expected,
the wheels were magnificent compared to clay. The urethane wheels
took a while to become widely accepted, but eventually they
helped rebuild the popularity of sidewalk surfing.
|Along with the urethane wheels, other
new products began to surface everywhere and the industry found
itself in the midst of a new boom. Tracker and other manufacturers
began making specifically designed trucks for skateboards. Road
Rider was the first company to sell precision bearings for the
wheels, ending the days of the loose and awkward ball bearing.
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By 1976, skateboarders in Florida opened up the first outdoor
skatepark. Within months, hundreds of parks sprung up all over
America. Slalom, downhill, and freestyle skating became hugely
popular, as well as other styles. The skateboard also went through
changes. Instead of a width of six or seven inches, the board
moved to larger than nine inches in width. Skaters began making
names for themselves, and the better ones began making money.
Tricks became more and more technical.
In 1978, Alan Ollie Gefland, a Florida skater,
invented an aerial move that basically changed the way skating
was done. The ollie, or no hands aerial, is
a technique that allowed skaters to maneuver the board in a
vertical direction while on a horizontal plane. This trick moved
vertical skating into the street and consequently changed the
sport forever. Skaters began to take their aerials higher and
higher, causing more and more liabilities for park owners. Insurance
for such parks rose at such a high rate that many owners were
forced to bulldoze the parks in order to keep skaters away.
By the end of 1980, skateboard manufacturers
were faced with another round of losses, and skateboarding nearly
died yet another death. There were still a few underground skaters
who built ramps in their back yards, and in 1981, Thrasher Magazine
began publication to give those skaters information about contests
and other events. The events were small in size, but set the
pace for advancement of the sport into the present era, which
began with vertical maneuvers on fixed half-pipe ramps.
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In 1982, aerial master Tony Hawk won his first competition at
the Del Mar Skate Ranch. Vertical, or ramp aerial skating became
the next craze, breathing life into the almost extinct 30 year-old
sport. This time skateboarding also came with a strong subculture.
The best pro-skaters were living the life of celebrities. Hawk
and Christian Hosoi reigned as the aerial kings as Natas Kaupas,
Tommy Guerrero, and Rodney Mullen became the lords of street.
European tours and $100,000 pay-checks inspired a whole new
industry. Clothing lines and skate shoes were the rage among
kids. Next up was the first-ever professional skate video titled
Bones Brigade featuring Hawk and others.
Eventually the big airs of the vert skaters gave way to a new
school of skateboarders. The board also changed during
this metamorphosis. The innovative kick tail was
duplicated so that the board could be ridden in either direction.
Ollies could be performed on either side of the
board, thus creating a whole new look to street skating. Tricks
and maneuvers became heavily technical as the board and skaters
alike, developed together.
Toward the middle of the 1990s, skateboarding received the
international spotlight again when ESPN 2 started the Extreme
Games coverage. Once again, big airs and technical street tricks
were brought into the homes of excited viewers, and once again
the sport has returned to national popularity. It is now Americas
sixth largest participatory sport, as there are more than 6
million skaters across the country. Hawaii is also feeling
the resurgence of the sport as the state is opening, or has
plans in place to open several new public skate parks. The boards
are again changing with developments in products and styles
of skating. A once-American sport is now being improved upon
by some European companies using different types of polymer
tips on either end of the board giving ollies more
pop. The wheels have changed materials and sizes, and the boards
have become more concave and contoured to the riders foot.
I see this sport changing and changing as the bar is
raised by each rider who comes up with a new trick, said
Christian Ekander, Marketing Representative for the Europe-based
Performance Skates AB. Skateboarding is still evolving,
he added. I believe the sport requires a blending of products
and materials to raise the level of performance. This equation
of innovation between rider and their board is a natural evolution.
Look how far we have come since clay wheels.
Source: The Concrete Wave Published by Warwick Books
Skateboarding can be dangerous. As there are no lifeguards at
the ramps and parks, remember to always wear your protective
gear, and skate responsibly.