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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 2009 report found that skateboarding market is worth an estimated $4.8 billion in annual revenue with 11.08 million active skateboarders in the world.
Since the 1970s, skateparks have been constructed specifically for use by skateboarders, Freestyle BMXers, aggressive skaters, and very recently, scooters.
Skateboarder in Grants Pass, Oregon
Skateboarding was probably born sometime in the late 1940s or early 1950s when surfers in California wanted something to surf when the waves were flat. No one knows who made the first board; it seems that several people came up with similar ideas at around the same time. These first skateboarders started with wooden boxes or boards with roller skate wheels attached to the bottom. An American WAC, Betty Magnuson, reported seeing French children in the Montmartre section of Paris riding on boards with roller skate wheels attached to them in late 1944. The boxes turned into planks, and eventually companies were producing decks of pressed layers of wood—similar to the skateboard decks of today. During this time, skateboarding was seen as something to do for fun besides surfing, and was therefore often called “sidewalk surfing” and performed barefoot.
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.
By the 1960s a small number of surfing manufacturers in Southern California such as Jack’s, Kips’, Hobie, Bing’s and Makaha started building skateboards that resembled small surfboards, and assembled teams to promote their products. One of the earliest Skateboard exhibitions was sponsored by Makaha’s founder, Larry Stevenson, in 1963 and held at the Pier Avenue Junior High School in Hermosa Beach, California. Some of these same teams of skateboarders were also featured on a television show called “Surf’s Up” in 1964, hosted by Stan Richards, that helped promote skateboarding as something new and fun to do.
As the popularity of skateboarding began expanding, the first skateboarding magazine, The Quarterly Skateboarder became published in 1964. John Severson who published the magazine wrote in his first editorial:
Today’s skateboarders are founders in this sport—they’re pioneers—they are the first. There is no history in Skateboarding—its being made now—by you. The sport is being molded and we believe that doing the right thing now will lead to a bright future for the sport. Already, there are storm clouds on the horizon with opponents of the sport talking about ban and restriction.
The magazine only lasted four issues, but resumed publication as Skateboarder in 1975. The first broadcast of an actual skateboarding competition was the 1965 National Skateboarding Championships, which were held in Anaheim, California and aired on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports. Because skateboarding was a new sport during this time, there were only two original disciplines during competitions; flatland freestyle & slalom downhill racing.
One of the earliest sponsored skateboarders, Patti McGee, was paid by Hobie and Vita Pak to travel around the country to do skateboarding exhibitions and to demonstrate skateboarding safety tips. McGee made the cover of Life magazine in 1965 and was featured on several popular television programs The Mike Douglas Show, What’s My Line? and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, which helped make skateboarding even more popular at the time. Some of the other well known surfer-style skateboarders of the time also included Danny Bearer, Torger Johnson, Bruce Logan, Bill and Mark Richards, Woody Woodward, & Jim Fitzpatrick.
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). By 1966 a variety of sources began to claim that skateboarding was dangerous, resulting in shops being reluctant to sell them, and parents being reluctant to buy them. In 1966 sales had dropped significantly (ibid) and Skateboarder Magazine had stopped publication. The popularity of skateboarding dropped and remained low until the early 1970s.
A skateboarder in Tallahassee, Florida
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 Skateboarder magazine, and proved immensely popular in promoting the new style of skateboarding.
In the early 1970s skateparks hadn’t been invented yet, so skateboarders would flock and skateboard in such urban places like The Escondido reservoir in San Diego, California. Skateboarding magazine would publish the location and Skateboarders made up nicknames for each location such as the Tea Bowl, the Fruit Bowl, Bellagio, the Rabbit Hole, Bird Bath, the Egg Bowl, Upland Pool and the Sewer Slide. Some of the development concepts in the terrain of skateparks were actually taken from the Escondido reservoir. Many companies started to manufacture trucks (axles) specially designed for skateboarding, reached in 1976 by Tracker 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.
In 1975 skateboarding had risen back in popularity enough to have one of the largest skateboarding competition’s since the 1960s, the Del Mar National Championships, which is said to have had up to 500 competitors. The competition lasted two days and was sponsored by Bahne Skateboards & Cadillac Wheels. While the main event was won by freestyle spinning skate legend Russ Howell, a local skate team from Santa Monica, California, the Zephyr team, ushered in a new era of surfer style skateboarding during the competition that would have a lasting impact on skateboarding’s history. With a team of 12, including skating legends such as Jay Adams, Tony Alva, Peggy Oki & Stacy Peralta, they brought a new progressive style of skateboarding to the event, based on the style of Hawaiian surfers Larry Bertlemann, Buttons Kaluhiokalani and Mark Liddell. Craig Stecyk, a photo journalist for Skateboarder Magazine, wrote and photographed the team shorty afterwards and ran a series on the team called the Dogtown articles, which eventually immortalized the Zephyr skateboard team. The team became known as the Z-Boys and would go on to become one of the most influential teams in skateboarding’s history.
It was soon after that skateboarding contest for cash and prizes using a professional tier system began to be held throughout California, like the The California Free Former World Professional Skateboard Championships, which featured Freestyle and Slalom competitions.
A precursor to the extreme sport of Street luge, that was sanctioned by the United States Skateboarding Association (USSA), also took place during the 1970s in Signal Hill, California. The competition was called “The Signal Hill Skateboarding Speed Run”, with several competitors earning entries into the Guinness Book of World Records, at the time clocking speeds of over 50 mph on a skateboard. Due to technology and safety concerns at the time, when many competitors crashed during their runs, the sport did not gain popularity or support during this time.
In March 1976, Skateboard City skatepark in Port Orange, Florida and Carlsbad Skatepark in San Diego County, California, would be the first two skateparks to be opened to the public in just a week apart. They were the first of some 200 skateparks that would be built through 1982. This was due in part to articles that were running in the Investment Journals at the time, stating that skateparks were a good investment. Notable skateboarders from the 1970s also include Ty Page, Tom Inouye, Laura Thornhill, Ellen O’Neal, Kim Cespedes, Bob Biniak, Jana Payne, Waldo Autry, Robin Logan, Bobby Piercy, Russ Howell, Ellen Berryman, Shogo Kubo, Desiree Von Essen, Henry Hester, Robin Alaway, Paul Hackett, Michelle Matta, Bruce Logan, Steve Cathey, Edie Robertson, Mike Weed, David Hackett, Gregg Ayres, Darren Ho, and Tom Sims.
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 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.
Skateboarder at Skateistan in Kabul, Afghanistan
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 skating increased 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.
Skateboarding during the 1990s became dominated by street skateboarding. Most boards are about 7 1⁄4 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 wheels’ 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.
By 2001 skateboarding had gained in such popularity, that more participants under the age of 18 rode skateboards (10.6 million) than played baseball (8.2 million), although traditional organized team sports still dominated youth programs overall. Skateboarding and skateparks began to be viewed and used in a variety of new ways to compliment academic lessons in schools, including new non-traditional physical education skateboarding programs, like Skatepass and Skateistan that are used to encourage youth to have better attendance, self-discipline and confidence. This was also based on the healthy physical opportunities skateboarding was understood to bring participants for muscle & bone strengthening, balance and the positive impacts it can have on youth in teaching them mutual respect, social networking, artistic expression and an appreciation of the environment.
In 2003 Go Skateboarding Day was founded in southern California by the International Association of Skateboard Companies to promote skateboarding throughout the world. It is celebrated annually on June 21 “to define skateboarding as the rebellious, creative celebration of independence it continues to be.” According to market research firm American Sports Data the number of skateboarders worldwide increased by more than 60 percent between 1999 and 2002—from 7.8 million to 12.5 million.
Many cities also began implementing recreation plans and statutes, during this time period, as part of their vision for local parks and communities to make public lands more available in particular, for skateboarding, inviting skateboarders to come in off of the city streets and into organized skateboarding activity areas. By 2006 there were over 2,400 Skateparks world wide and the design of skateparks themselves had made a transition, as skaters turned designers, began to emerge in the field adding features for all levels of skaters. Many new places to skateboard designed specifically for street skaters, such as the “Safe Spot Skate Spot” program, first initiated by professional skateboarder Rob Dyrdek throughout many cites, allowed for the creation of smaller alternative safe skate plazas to be built at a lower cost. One of the largest locations ever built to skateboard in the world, SMP Skatepark in China, at 12,000 square meters in size, was built complete with a 5,000-seat stadium.
In 2009 Skatelab opened the Skateboarding Hall of Fame & Skateboard Museum. Nominees are chosen by the International Association of Skateboard Companies (IASC).
From the Wikipedia entry Skateboarding