The History of Skateboarding

A few weeks ago we had a look into how Surfing came to be. This time we're looking into the other board sport that we froth at Anchorchief. Skateboarding! We've been skating for years and absolutely love cruising down to the shop, or whipping out a trick board and smashing through the park. Skating is a relatively new activity, and today we're going to look at how it went from the first plank with wheels to kids hitting hardflips at the local.


The first boards

Originating in the 1950s, skateboarding first began through the means of surfers! During times when the beach was flat and the surf uninteresting, bored surfers got the idea to attach metal roller skate wheels to planks of wood. Dubbing themselves 'Concrete Surfers' these groups of surfers in California and Hawaii had just invented the very first skateboards. This trend was popularized throughout the 1950s with more and more surfers hopping onto the skateboarding bandwagon and giving more attention to skating than surfing. During this boom of popularity, the economic sector of the USA was also witnessing a massive boom. This helped to incorporate skateboards being manufactured by the toy industry. A brand called 'Roller Derby' picked the design up and created what could be called the first 'commercial' skateboard. After using this skateboard design for a few years, skateboards began to see new innovations in deck shape, wheel material, truck enhancements, and the addition of bearings to once-solid wheels. As you can see in your skateboard today, that thing is vastly different from the plank with wheels below. 

Changes to the design

Very obviously, skateboards don't look like that death trap anymore (except Penny boards, which are better known as Death Traps). So, from a plank with wheels to a more sophisticated plank with wheels, let's look at the innovations the skateboard itself has undergone.

  • 1960's - Boards get longer, wider and new shapes emerge. Still flat pieces of wood on top of all metal wheels. Clay wheels introduced in mid-'60s.
  • 1969 - Larry Stevenson pioneers the 'Kick-Tail' skateboard: having the tail of the board bent upwards to allow more control and maneuverability.
  • 1970's - Skateboards get wider again
  • 1972 - Poly-urethane wheels invented and bearings added.
  • 1970's - Board rails invented and used for grinding and sliding and on coping. 
  • 1970's - The classic 'Old School' skateboard shape is dominant. Short wide noses, hammerhead around the front trucks and squared off wide tails.
  • 1980's - Most boards using cruiser wheels and with super-wide shapes
  • 1990's - Trick deck shape is invented, the classic bent tail and bent nose, all one width and thinner than cruiser decks, smaller wheels allow for flip tricks and more exciting styles. 

Since the invention of the classic 'Trick Deck' skateboards have remained relatively unchanged in overall creation. Of course, they are now highly customizable with so many different makes of wood, types of wheels, bearings, trucks, etc. But at its core, the trick deck shape is the staple skateboard of today.


The beginning of a new culture

With these developments of the board itself over the years, there was another major part of skateboarding also being developed. It's culture. As it originated from surfing the first 'culture' that skateboarding found was in itself surf culture. Small boardshorts, bleach blond hair, striped shirts and bold colours, no shoes and no worries. But as the board became more advanced and new tricks arose and the core of skating changed so did the culture surrounding it. In 1964 the first skateboarding magazine 'The Quarterly Skateboarder' was started, and this was where skateboarding started branching into its own. Adopting new styles such as baggier clothes, more denim, more of a 'street' style, the fashion of skating became its own. Some of the most famous brands we know today, such as Vans, Converse and DC were created to tailor to skate styles. As skating became more popular so did the brands and clothing surrounding it. Over the years as skating changed from cruising, to small vert comps and into street skating and bigger competitions the ideals around skating began to form. 

As with most athletes or anyone dedicated to their craft, skating became synonymous with dedication and perfection. This led to seeing people pushing themselves to larger tricks, wider gaps, higher drops and harder to skate locations. Due to this skating was labelled as 'dangerous' and 'criminalistic'. Throughout the 80's and 90's skating was banned in a lot of areas and went from a recreational activity and comp sport to a fringe culture on the outskirts of mainstream society. Now whether it was that skating was pushed here from the mainstream and then found it's place, or that skating was inherently against the grain and should of been an underground movement from the get-go is widely debated, but at the end of the day there is no doubt that this is where the true skate culture originated.

Skate, Punks, Hip Hop, Crime. 

After skating had widely become outcast and outlawed, the movement went into the underground. Transitioning from the streets and parks to emptied pools in backyards and abandoned buildings or construction sites skating became a symbol of anti-establishment and rebellion. As skaters continued to pave through in the underground scene, skating became associated with crime, graffiti, drugs, tattoos, punk music and hip hop. Street skating became a game of cat and mouse with police officers and security guards and less about skating and more about skating in the places you weren't allowed to. 

Skating tied itself to hip hop and punk music, although quite different genres they both share the same ideals. The constant struggle between individual artistic expression, credibility and authenticity in an unsupportive and rigid social environment. The connection between skating, punk music and hip hop was from a life on the streets, outcast and looked down upon. Through this bond the cultures between the three all became synonymous with one another, particularly on the East and West coast of the USA, with Californian skate-punk bands emerging in vast numbers and East Coast hip hop predominantly featuring in skate clips and collaborations between rappers and skaters. 

How did skating make its comeback?

Today, skateboarding is a household activity. Everyone knows about it, participates in it, and enjoys it. It also still holds it's connection to punk music and tattoos and against the norm imagery, but how come it's so popular?

To understand this we have to look at Grunge music. So I don't go down a rabbit hole here, the short version is this. Grunge was created to be a genre that was underground and away from the mainstream. And somehow this ideal of being 'underground', was so popular that grunge bands like Nirvana, became more mainstream than ever anticipated. Kind of like reverse psychology in a way. But also not. Anyway this same effect happened to hip hop, to punk and to skateboarding. Something so against the grain and against mainstream society had shifted itself into the limelight. With its resurgence skateboarding saw televised worldwide competitions with huge prize money and massive skate films being created, even to the extent of video games like Tony Hawks Pro Skater and Skate 3.

One of the largest turning points for these cultures to boom was music festivals. If you look at festivals these days such as Splendour, FOMO, Coachella you'll see a lot of Rap and Hip Hop artists dominating the lineups, and with Festivals like Unify, Vans Warped Tour and Soundwave (RIP), you'll see mostly punk and metal bands. Take a look at Vans Warped tour, a massive touring festival, run by arguably the biggest skate brand in the world, promoting all Punk/Metal/Hardcore bands. Combine this with the boom of the technological age, you get so much media content involving skating and alternative music thrust upon the world. With the evolution of skating in video games, skating in mainstream tv and film, skateboarding competitions and skate specific products and brands it's no wonder it's one of the biggest industries today. 

I'll wrap it up here and leave you with a psycho skate part: Til Death from Nyjah Huston for Nike's SB.