Since its inception, the tools and tricks behind this thrill-seeking sport have revolutionized to better suit its athletes. As a former pro-skateboarder himself, Brandon Novak understands that skateboarding is a lifestyle for many. Keep reading to learn more about the history of skateboarding and where it's at today.
The skateboard's origin began in California and Hawaii, two places where surfing is a common sport. The 1930s was the beginning of skateboarding, and surfing was at its source. Skateboards were first invented in Southern California when a skate-scooter was made out of wooden crates with wheels attached to the bottom. Recognizable skateboards were later developed in the 1950s by surfers who had the idea to transfer the feeling of riding water to the streets to stay moving during times of gentle swells. This new idea coined these entrepreneurs with the nicknames of "asphalt surfers'' and "sidewalk surfers." But if this was a new sport, how were skateboards made? After crate scooters, the first-ever skateboards were made out of wooden boxes or boards with roller skate wheels attached to the bottom. They also attached metal wheels to surfboards, but they didn't even use bearings. However, it wasn't until after World War II that skateboarding peaked.
After World War II, also known as the post-war period, the economy in the United States boomed, which also affected the toy industry. At this time, the toy-making sector became aware of the interesting new concept of a board with wheels. In 1959, the Roller Derby Skateboard was released, providing a more updated model of the rudimentary fruit crate scooters from the 1930s. The Roller Derby Skateboard was made from wood, with a rounded tip on one end and roller-skate wheels. The grooves and grip surfaces on skateboards weren’t applied. It was just a wooden board with some red paint and wheels.
Between 1959 and 1965, skateboarding increased in popularity in the U.S., particularly on the east and west coasts. As the skateboard design progressed, its status changed from toy to sports equipment, and people of all ages were now able to join in on the fun. In 1962, Val-Surf, a surf shop in Hollywood, California, sold their first self-produced skateboards. These boards had a basic skateboard shape with fixed roller skate trucks, so the skateboard started being sold as a complete piece. However, the company responsible for producing and marketing this new complete and updated version of the skateboard was Patterson Forbes in 1963. In the same year, Surf Guide Magazine printed its first advertisement for the skateboard. Clothing industries also caught onto this growing trend, and brands like Vans Off The Wall, Converse, DC Shoes, and Etnies began producing footwear and clothing catered to skateboarders.
Skateboarding wasn't just about cruising anymore. Another pivotal moment in skateboarding was the first skateboarding contest held in 1963 at Hermosa Beach, California. Skateboarders showed their skills at this contest, and various companies took notice and began sponsoring them. In response to skateboarding’s popularity, the first skateboarding magazine, The Quarterly Skateboarder, was published in 1964. Then, the shape of the skateboard was further developed in 1969 when Larry Stevenson invented the kicktail, the piece located at the end of the board that curves upwards. This tail enables skaters to launch the board off the ground with their feet. Without this vital piece, the many aerial tricks and maneuvers that define skateboarding today wouldn’t be possible.
As with any trend in life, change is inevitable. Things that don't adapt with time are often left in the dust, and the same goes for skateboarding. Another trademark moment for skateboards was in 1972 when Frank Nasworthy invented urethane wheels. Nasworthy started Cadillac Wheels, a company that produced new wheels that would allow smoother, faster, and more comfortable rides for skaters. Various skateboarding styles like freestyle, downhill, and slalom all benefited from this change. In 1975 more skateboarding magazines like Skateboarder Magazine were published, and new skateboarding events were created. Then in 1976, the first artificially created skate park was developed, and other parks followed suit with new elements like vertical ramps and kickers.
Skateboarding eventually traveled overseas to Germany in the mid-1970s by way of American soldiers. By 1976, Munich became the first skateboarding hub in Germany. Also in Germany, the first skate park was built in Munich Neuperlach, the first German skateboard magazines were published, and the first German skateboarding championships were held in Munich in 1978. As more riders joined the skateboarding community, tricks and styles developed. The skateboard shape changed as boards became wider and more concave, and a nose and tail were also added. Additionally, in 1978, Alan Gelfand invented a move called the Ollie, which revolutionized the skateboarding league. Rodney Mullen was one of the first riders to execute the Ollie for different maneuvers, spreading a new skateboarding style, and thus street skateboarding was born.
As skateboarding received more attention, magazines and other outlets geared themselves towards this unique and growing community. Thrasher Magazine was founded in 1981, representing street skateboarding, the core scene, and the punk rock lifestyle. Their famous slogan, “Skate and Destroy,” says it all. In 1983, another popular skating magazine, Transworld Skateboarding Magazine, was established, followed by more magazines and new skate shops. As a result, skateboarding became a more common sport. It seemed like a global community had developed, and new tricks and maneuvers were recorded on VHS and spread like wildfire.
Titus Dittman was an influential person in the development of skateboarding in Germany. He imported skate products from the United States and organized various skate-related events. The “Münster Monster Mastership” was one of his creations and became one of the biggest international skateboarding competitions in the 1980s. From the mid-1980s on, skaters could begin earning money doing what they loved, causing the industry to skyrocket in the U.S. Companies like Powell Peralta, Santa Cruz, and Vision dominated the internal skateboarding market in the late 1980s. Because skateboarders relied on solid footwear, brands like Vans, Converse, and Vision became staples for the skateboarding community.
Now that skateboarding was established in the U.S. and Germany, the industry saw further development when street skateboarding was replaced by vert skateboarding, a form of skateboarding done on an incline or skate ramp. As a result, the number of skaters increased significantly, and the sport slowly grew just as famous and official as baseball or football.
Thanks to TV and other digital platforms, skateboarding maintained its public presence. From the mid-1990s, modern skateboarding became more concrete, and major events like the X-Games were held and televised. With the help of skateboarding magazines, events, videos, and, of course, the internet, the sport became worldwide. Brands like Chocolate, Girl Skateboards, and Flip Skateboards developed skateboarding hardware, giving skaters more access to buy high-quality equipment.
Additional indicators of the sport's growing success in the 1990s were events, including Street League Skateboarding, a contest series for international professional skaters. Only the best of the best, like Nyjah Huston, Eric Koston, Paul Rodriguez, Andrew Reynolds, Ryan Sheckler, and Torey Pudwill, participated. The $200,000 cash prizes for winners and $10,000 for visitors at Street League made skateboarding a professional sport.
In the early 2000s, skateboarding was officially considered a professional sport, and skaters became massive celebrities. Eventually, shows like Rob and Big, which starred pro skateboarder Rob Dyrdek, were released and became a success. Brands like DC Shoes, Etnies, Supra, Hurley, and Quicksilver that once were staples in the skating community eventually failed to gear towards current skating trends. Competitors like Nike and Adidas eventually took over the skateboarding world, making it difficult for the once mainstay brands to stay afloat and forcing them to set their sights on surfing and other water sport related gear.
One thing that could explain skateboarding's slight decline in popularity is reality. The sport's internet presence inspired many to go out and buy skateboards and test their skills but, all of a sudden, progress seemed to stop. It is believed that at this point, people may have realized how difficult the sport is and how much practice is required. Additionally, skateboarders are now able to make money doing other things aside from skateboarding. Many have created their own brands and models for brands, explaining the decline in skateboarding's public presence. It wasn't until recently that skateboarding was accepted as an Olympic event. It will debut in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, which was postponed to 2021 due to COVID-19.
But is skateboarding dead? No! While public recognition for skateboarding varies, there’s a huge skating community dedicated to the craft.
Brandon Novak is a pro skater who fell into a life of heroin addiction. Fortunately, with the help of Banyan Treatment Centers, he recovered and turned his life around. He’s currently over six years sober and dedicates his time to helping others as both a recovery advocate and certified intervention specialist (CIP). If you’re interested in setting up an intervention or finding a sober living facility for a loved one battling addiction, call Brandon now at (610) 947-5587 for more information about his drug and alcohol interventions and Novak’s House. .