Skateboarding is an activity that has seen more evolution in its history than perhaps any other sport. First bursting onto the scene in California in the 1950s as a new way to "surf on land", skateboards have gone through countless stages since the original prototype--a simple wooden plank with two roller skate trucks nailed to the bottom.
In the early days, skateboarding was considered an off-shoot of surfing. Often referred to as "sidewalk surfing", skateboarders used their basic wooden planks and wheels on land to emulate the feel of riding the waves. It wasn't until the rest of the country caught onto this new fad that it just blew up and became what we now see it as today--a highly competitive sport consisting of ridiculous stunts, tricks, and maneuvers using skateboards with perfect dimensions and intricate artwork.
Shortly after the Skeeter Skate came out, in 1947, a San Diego native and surfer named Peter Parken was the first person to ride on a wooden plank with roller skate trucks mounted on. It was the first true appearance of the modern skateboard.
In 1963, the first recorded skateboard contest occurred in Hermosa, California at the Pier Avenue Junior High School. The contest was sponsored by Makaha, which was the very first company to produce professional skateboards, available through mail order for about $11 total.
Skateboarding continued to get more and more widespread as the decade wore on. Professional skateboarders sponsored by Makaha go on short tours in other countries across Europe, especially in the U.K. The first skateboard movie, Skater Dater, is created and later wins an Academy Award. The sport continued to evolve and expand as skaters were moving on from skateboarding on sidewalks and driveways to riding them in empty pools, a crude form of what we now call "vert skateboarding".
The 1960s proved to be a pivotal decade for skateboarding as the National Skateboard Championships are created in Anaheim, CA and are featured on ABC's "Wide World of Sports". Skateboarders even get their own quarterly magazine issue called The Quarterly Skateboarder. The magazine appeared to be a hit so they started issuing them bi-monthly and changed the name to Skateboarder Magazine.
In 1967, it became apparent that Canada was starting to catch on to the skateboarding craze as well as The National Film Board of Canada released a short documentary entitled "The Devil's Toy". The movie was about how skateboarding had really picked up steam in Montreal. As the title implies, it was also very revealing about what the general public saw skateboarding as at this time. While the sport did have its fair share of fans, it was heavily looked upon as a dangerous, rebellious activity--a stigma that has followed skateboarding for years and helped influence the very culture it created.
The designs of the skateboards themselves also see a nice little upgrade in 1969 when Larry Stevenson invents the kicktail. These allowed skateboards to be easier to control, and easier to "ride wheelies" with. The kicktail also opened up dozens of doors for the future of trick skateboarding.
The 1970s was also the decade in which safety gear for the sport was implemented consisting mainly of hockey equipment. Skate parks began springing up all over the U.S., but most were short-lived due to insurance issues and the fact that skateboarding still had not reached the point of being a highly profitable sport.
In 1978, the ollie was invented by Alan Gelfand. For the first time ever, skateboarders were figuring out how to jump with their boards without using their hands. The ollie was the single-most groundbreaking skateboarding trick ever invented, and it paved the way for the sport to expand beyond what anyone ever thought possible.
Skateboarding tricks became a lot more advanced during this period as well. The new street-style sweeping the nation combined with all of the performance-enhancing upgrades happening with skateboards gave skaters many more options to work and compete with.
In 1996, there were less than 10 public skate parks in the entire United States. Thanks to a few legislators and IASC director, Jim Fitzpatrick, over 2000 more skate parks were built across America by 2004.
The Pioneers of Skateboarding
Alan "Ollie" Gelfand was the inventor of the ollie, a no-handed jump with a skateboard. The Ollie paved the way for skateboarding to evolve exponentially over the next 3 decades, giving skaters a whole new aspect to expand upon.
George Orton & Tony Alva
Pioneers in pool skateboarding, Orton and Alva made their claim to fame by being the first skateboarders to air out of empty pools and do tricks. These two were both part of the Z-Boys and even had a movie dedicated to their achievements and life called "Lords of Dogtown". Alva was professional skateboarding's first world champion, earning the title in 1977.
Steve was a skateboarding prodigy who earned his first sponsor at the age of 15 from one of the most popular companies at the time, Powell Peralta. Caballero enjoyed many years of success in the sport despite his scoliosis, and even invented some influential tricks like the frontside boardslide and the Caballerial, also known as a Fakie 360 ollie.
By now Tony Hawk has become a household name. Everyone and their mother knows Tony Hawk, and that just goes to show how much he has truly impacted the sport of skateboarding. Tony not only invented a laundry list of tricks for vert ramps, he also has set numerous world records and single-handedly brought skateboarding to the mainstream with a series of massively popular video games and even his own clothing line. Without Tony Hawk, who knows where skateboarding would be today.
Rodney Mullen was one of skateboarding's unsung heroes for many years. Rodney is arguably the best skateboarder to ever live, having invented almost every single flatground trick there is, including the most basic ones like kickflips. Mullen is looked up to by just about every professional skateboarder and for good reason. Go ahead and watch one of his skate videos and try to keep your jaw from dropping...it's pretty much impossible.
Natas Kaupas and Mark Gonzalez
Heralded as the kings of street skateboarding, Natas and Gonzalez took skateboarding to a whole new level, away from the traditional vert-style that dominated the scene in the 1980s and prior. Thanks to these two pioneers, street skateboarding opened up countless doors for the future of the sport and created yet another off-shoot of what was once simply known as "sidewalk surfing".
Street skateboarding consists of riding around on paved areas such as streets, playgrounds, schools, and malls. This style didn't exist until the late 1980s, and completely exploded in the decades that followed. Street skateboarders are very versatile and will do tricks down sets of stairs, grind on handrails, ollie off of big ledges and over long gaps, and use common things like sewers, ledges, sidewalks, and parking curbs as obstacles. For years after its conception, street skateboarding was heavily frowned upon and even outlawed in many areas. The rebellious nature of the skateboarding culture proved to be too intense for the general public, not to mention the property damage involved for a lot of the tricks. This style of skating still thrives to this day, however, and has been a pivotal aspect to the growth of the sport.
Vertical skateboarding, or "vert", is the term used to describe skateboarders who ride on half pipes, quarter pipes, bowls, and pools. This style consists of going back and forth on the inclines and doing tricks either on the lips and coping, or airing out of the ramps themselves and coming back down into them. Vert was the first true off-shoot of skateboarding with pioneers like Tony Alva, Tony Hawk, and George Orton pushing it to new heights. Most popular in the 1980s, the style still lives on today and is featured in all major skateboarding competitions.
Trick (Technical) Skateboarding
The rise of street skateboarding also played a big part in the stigma, as the majority of the general public saw those skating in the streets as a bunch of hooligans with nothing better to do with their time than destroy public and personal property.
Music has always been a large part of the skateboarding culture. Punk rock, heavy metal, and even some forms of hip-hop have some very strong ties to the skateboarding culture. The reason music is so influential to the skateboarding culture is because many of these genres are looked at in the same way--a rebellious youth movement. These types of music also have a certain quality to them that attracts skateboarders. Between their lyrics, guitar riffs, and beats, skateboarders find them very easy to not only relate to, but also use as their own personal soundtrack while they are skateboarding. The music itself often used as an ambiance for skateboarders to "find their rhythm" and ride more comfortably.
Nowadays, the culture has taken some major leaps and the sport is widely accepted as a positive outlet for young kids and teens to spend their time practicing. No longer looked upon as a rebellious activity, parents are now more liable to buy their kids a skateboard to help keep them occupied, give them a productive hobby that they love, and eventually can become very good at. The professionals are also a big reason why the sport is so highly respected as the vast majority of them are great, positive role models.