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Big Moments In The History Of Skateboarding

Updated on March 6, 2014

Can you imagine getting down to the beach and the waves are flat? You’re not best pleased, so you walk back surf-less and decide to rally up some wooden boxes and attach roller skate wheels to the bottom of them.

Hardly the thrill seeking experience of riding a 10 foot wave but nevertheless a person’s inability to surf gave birth to skateboarding (skateboxing).

It was in the mid 40s where boxes were reportedly replaced by planks of wood. A female army corp named Betty Manuson supposedly saw French children in the Montmartre area of Paris riding on boards rather than boxes.

Early Skateboard
Early Skateboard

When admirers caught wind of this newly improved construction they indeed invested in the idea, thus early skateboard design began developing with various companies trying to create better performing decks using pressed layers of wood. In this early stage these new rolling planks were not made as equipment for 'skateboarders' but tailored towards surfer’s who couldn’t quite quench their thirst out at sea. This alternative surfing activity was aptly named 'sidewalk surfing'.

The key influence from surfing was also reflected by the way in which users would manoeuvre their boards. A surfer’s stance would see boarders carve up bends rather than attempting modern day skateboarding tricks. Flatland freestyles and slalom downhill racing was the name of the game back in the 60s. This is where skateboarding acquired a bad name for itself due to its dangerous fast paced nature. Many shops actually stopped selling skateboards in efforts to decrease the number of accidents around certain areas; America hosted prominent skate regions with California bearing the brunt of this fresh thrill seeking activity. Although New York also saw all sorts of people get involved in skateboarding. This early photograph by Bill Eppridge conjures up those bygone skating eras.

The 70s is where the explosion of skateboarding took place, and many would say its successful reign since this time is down to one man and that man is Frank Nasworthy. Up until the early 70s skateboards consisted of clay or metal wheels, but Frank Nasworthys’ intervention saw improved traction and performance in the shape of polyurethane wheels, enabling skaters better control and more opportunity to travel on rougher terrain. Before this massively influential change, metal and clay wheels saw riders fly through the air if they came up against uneven pavements. Some argue that the Nasworthy invention is the most pivotal turning point in skateboarding history.

The introduction of polyurethane wheels also led to the new phenomenon of pool riding, this initial form of street skating saw enthusiasts dry out swimming pools and drop into their natural oval circumference. This type of skateboarding enriched the need to gain ‘air’ - the trick of coming off a structure and hanging in the air for as long as possible before returning to the ground on the board.

Pool riding also gave birth to vert ramp riding, a style which steered away from street scenes which were offering sporadic spots into a single location offering bowls, half pipes and other ramped constructions. This form of skateboarding was notoriously helped by avid skaters such as Ty Page and the Z-Boys who broke into swimming pools during the 1976 Californian drought.

The Z Boys
The Z Boys | Source

Although ‘vert’ skating, pool riding and high speed slaloms were big movements in the late 70s to early 80s, it was hard for people to find money and land space to build personal ramps. With independent skate companies flourishing and the ‘freestyle’ era transforming into a more disciplined approach to skateboarding, up stepped Alan Gelfand, the brainchild of the ‘Ollie’ or no-hand aerial, showing skaters it was possible to perform airs on vertical ramps. It took the raising of the ‘nose’ (front of the board) and a push and scoop motion at the back to perform this airborne action.

Inspired by this new form of board aviation Rodney Mullen set the foundation of a blossoming new trick scene. Although predominantly a flatland freestyler Mullen helped to explore the idea of gaining air from a stationary position. This required popping the board from the back and pushing forward with the front foot resulting in a sharp airborne motion. Modifications to the front and back of skate decks also aided the action of a ground based Ollie.

Due to the rising interest in skateboarding, some skate parks were developed and opened, yet only a few catered for locals within decent distance. This subsequently saw many skaters taking to shopping centres and private properties to learn the art of street skating. In the mid to late 80s businesses that held appealing apparatus to this newly invigorated street scene began to put up an opposition towards skaters using their grounds. This was the start of the war against street skating, which is certainly visible today, with clamped stairs and metal attachments fixed to handrails to deter skating activity. However using ledges and rails was still very much on the back burner for later dates, popular skate films such as Thrashin’ still represented skateboarding as a gliding, streamline and concrete tobogganing kind of sport.

Canadian Skate Park Sign
Canadian Skate Park Sign

Street / Trick skateboarding was still a fairly niche scene that lacked mainstream attention and appeal but the 90s soon changed that. In the 90s skateboards became more and more advanced, changing their shape to 7-8 inches wide and 30-32 inches long, wheels were made smaller for a lighter feel as well as the wheels rotation becoming quicker making tricks easier to perform. Skateboards were mostly modelled on the early 80s freestyle boards but they were stronger, slicker and much more functional for tricks, a model that has become the standard deck, two trucks and four wheels that we see today.

The real commercial boom in skateboarding came courtesy of the late 90s to early 2000s; this era saw a younger budding audience become captured in the street and trick skating style. The likes of television channel Extreme Sports, the X games competitions and the release of video games such as Tony Hawks Pro Skater saw a major increase in active participants and fans. Skateboarding was no longer an underground dirty individual it was now being warmly welcomed as an official sport and in 2001 10.6 million people under the age of 18 rode skateboards in comparison to 8.2 million people playing baseball.

Skateboarding was starting to be referenced a lot more in common places. Merchandise such as fingerboards (finger skateboards) which were once only sold as key rings in skate stores got a total mechanical revamp. In the late 90s kids around the globe bought into these newly designed fingerboards, they featured rotating wheels, trucks and decks as well as equipment that let you chop and change the boards designs. They were small and easy to pull out of your pocket, leading to many school teachers confiscated this new fad and locking them away inside their desks.

People were starting to embrace skate teams and different skateboarders more than ever. Tony Hawks impressed onlookers as he landed a 900 degrees aerial spin off a vert ramp, whereas DC Shoes ambassador Danny Way helped to bring excitement to a wider realm with stunts such as the longest distance jump over the Great Wall of China. Both street and vert skating started to develop either side each other, local councils caught onto the fact that skaters wanted a place to learn and perform; this prompted a bigger and more planned development of skate parks in a way to keep skateboarders content but also discourage them from using private land or business properties.

In trick skating’s humble beginnings Rodney Mullen invented the ‘Magic Flip’ around 1982, this was later renamed as the kickflip, other tricks such as the 360 pop shove-it and heel flips were also practised soon after. Fast forward to the 2000s and there were bags full of new tricks and combinations for skateboarders to try to land. This included different grinds and slides on railings, variations of airborne flips and board rotations as well as new hand grabs for vert riders to practice.

Competition began to grow within skating communities, laying down difficult tricks and manoeuvres to stamp down their authority as a skater. This saw a rise in sponsorship deals with local skate shops and well known skate brands poaching talented boarders to sign up to their team. The advancing nature of technology also helped to improve the image and acceptance of skating. Local skate crews and thirsty individuals used camcorders to record and capture various tricks and skate sessions. This enabled people to add their own personal touches to their skate adventure, seizing local landmarks on their camera and implementing their own music to the video whilst editing scenes and shots.

Skate Film
Skate Film | Source

To this day there are over 50 professional skate teams out there, each pushing their very own brand designs, some concentrate on performance and function whereas others tap into the more fashionable side to skateboarding which saw a big increase in its more popular years. Skateboarding is no longer an activity carried out by bored surfers who can’t catch a wave so they turn to long downhill roads. It’s no longer seen as a rebellious urban sport where people who skateboard damage properties, make loud noises and strike fear into approaching vehicles or bystanders. It’s a well celebrated lifestyle, with even people who’ve never picked up a board becoming part of its legacy by wearing skate brand clothing.

Although on a whole skateboarding has become commercially accepted it is still an activity that excites the hardest of skaters from the most remote of locations. Hunting down and discovering new spots to skate will still provide an adrenaline rush for any modern day skater, just like all those years ago when the Z-Boys crashed newly found swimming pools.


Unusual Foreign Skate Spot
Unusual Foreign Skate Spot | Source

Did You Know?

- More than 13,500,000 skateboarders will take to U.S streets this year

- In 2012 female participation in skateboarding increased 67.7%

- Skateboarding is the 3rd largest participant sport in the U.S

- In 2012 30 skateboarders died in the U.S from skating accidents

What Would You Say Is The Most Influential Moment In Skateboarding?

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