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Skateboarding - 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 2’x4’ 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 wasn’t 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 ABC’s “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 former heights.

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 hand’s 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 America’s sixth largest participatory sport, as there are more than 6 million skaters across the country. Hawai‘i 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 rider’s 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

Caution: Skateboarding can be dangerous. As there are no lifeguards at the ramps and parks, remember to always wear your protective gear, and skate responsibly.


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