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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A skateboarder performing a frontside lipslide
A skateboarder performing a frontside lipslide

Skateboarding is the act of rolling on or performing tricks with a skateboard. Someone who skateboards is called a skateboarder or skater.

Skateboarding can be an art, hobby, sport or a method of transportation. It is often portrayed in the media as an extreme sport, although this is criticized by some skaters.[1] Because of its creative aspects, it can also be seen as an art form. Skateboarding has been shaped and influenced by hundreds of skateboarders throughout the years. A 2002 report by American Sports Data found that there were 12.5 million skateboarders in the world. Eighty percent of skateboarders polled who had used a board in the last year were under the age of 18, and 74 percent were male.[2]

Skateboarding is a relatively modern sport it originated as "sidewalk surfing" in the American state of California in the 1950s. A key skateboarding trick, the ollie, was only developed in the late 1970s.[3]


A child learning to skateboard
A child learning to skateboard

The first skateboard

The first skateboard originated sometime in the 1950s and coincided with the initial popularization of surfing in California. The earliest skateboards were homemade and constructed of flat wooden planks attached to roller-skate trucks and wheels. Skateboarding was originally called "sidewalk surfing" and early skaters emulated surfing style and moves. Skateboards may or may not have evolved from "crate scooters." Crate scooters preceded skateboards, and were essentially similar except for having a wooden crate attached to the front, which formed rudimentary handlebars. In the film Back to the Future, Marty McFly is seen confiscating such a scooter from an unsuspecting '50s youth, and ripping the crate off to fashion an improvised skateboard.

In the mid 1960s skateboarding became something of a craze. A number of surfing manufacturers such as Hobie and Makaha started building skateboards that resembled small surfboards and assembling teams to promote their products. The popularity of skateboarding at this time spawned a national magazine, Skateboarder Magazine and the 1965 international championships were broadcast on national television. The growth of skateboarding at this time can also be seen in Makaha's sales figures which quoted $4 million worth of board sales between 1963 and 1965 (Weyland, 2002:28). Yet by 1966 sales had dropped significantly (ibid) and Skateboarder Magazine had stopped publication. Skateboarding's popularity dropped and remained low until the early 1970s.

Second generation

In the early 1970s, Frank Nasworthy started to develop a skateboard wheel made of polyurethane. The improvement in traction and performance was so immense that the popularity of skateboarding started to rise rapidly again, and companies started to invest more in product development. Many companies started to manufacture trucks (axles) especially designed for skateboarding. As the equipment became more maneuverable, the decks started to get wider, reaching widths of 10 inches and over in the end, thus giving the skateboarder even more control. Banana board is an term used to describe skateboards made of polypropylene that were skinny, flexible, with ribs on the underside for structural support and very popular during the mid-1970s. They were available in a myriad of colors, bright yellow probably being the most memorable, hence the name.

Manufacturers started to experiment with more exotic composites, like fiberglass and aluminum, 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 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. Contrary to vert skateboarding a new style, freestyle, emerged with noticeably skinny boards, this style consisted of very technical flatground tricks. Skateparks increasingly had to contend with high liability costs that led to many parks closing, Vert skaters therefore started making their own ramps and freestylers didn't need skateparks. Thus by the beginning of the 1980s, skateboarding had died again.


Third generation

The third skateboard generation, from the early/mid eighties to early nineties, was started 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 1976 [4] made it possible for skaters to perform huge airs off vertical ramps. While this wave of skateboarding was sparked by commercialized vert ramp skating, a majority of people who skateboarded during this period never rode vert ramps. Because most people couldn't afford to build vert ramps or didn't have access to nearby ramps, street skating gained popularity. Freestyle skating remained healthy throughout this period with pioneers such as Rodney Mullen inventing the basics of modern street skating; the flatground ollie, the ollie kickflip, the heelflip, and the 360 flip to name a few. The influence freestyle had on street skating became apparent during the mid-eighties, yet street skating was performed on wide vert boards with short noses, slide rails, large soft wheels. Skateboarding, however, evolved quickly 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, and the threat of lawsuits forced businesses and property owners to ban skateboarding on their property. 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.

Current generation

The fourth and current generation of skateboards is dominated by street skating. Most boards are about 7 to 8 inches wide and 30 to 32 inches long. The wheels have an extremely hard durometer (approximately 99a). Additionally, very high durometers offer the benefit of reduced drag on hard surfaces which results in an overall faster ride. The wheel sizes are relatively small so that the boards are lighter, thus making tricks more manageable. Today, modern wheels are currently around 48 to 60 mm in diameter and advances in technology have made them extremely light compared to the wheels of the eighties. Most decks are still constructed out of Canadian Maple, with 7-plys being the industry standard for strength and durability. 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. During the 90s ramp or vert skateboarding dropped in popularity.

While street skateboarding remains popular, there is a resurgence of other types of skateboarding brewing. Longboarding, pool skating, slalom and ditch skateboarding are thriving all over the world, albeit, below the radar.

Learning to Skateboard

For the vast majority of people, learning to skateboard involves regular practice, a tonne of determination and more often than not the helping hand of fellow skateboarders. Whilst you may be able to learn to ollie (see below) within a few months, progressing at skateboarding requires years of practice (and often pain) in order to build up a repetoire of different tricks. As the old maxim goes "Crash and Learn".

In the past decade however, a few companies and organisations have begun to provide structured skateboard lessons to the public. In the UK, the largest and most active provider of skateboard tuition is through Rubicon Skateboards who rather than working out of a single skatepark as is traditionally done on a smaller scale, they have their instructors travel the country and provide skateboard lessons on site. By bringing all the necessary equipment with them, it has opened up skateboarding to anyone who wants to learn both on a regular or one-off basis. As lessons are structured and conducted in a safe environment with full insurance, primary and secondary schools in particular have been big customers of their services. The government too, through county councils have used their services to provide lessons in disadvnatged areas to promote sports and positive attitudes.

The International Skateboard School Network covers 5 countries - Canada, England, Germany, Japan and the USA. Whilst there are many skateparks in these countries that provide lessons for visitors, there are few companies such as those on the site that have taken skateboarding to the people.

Another company, established in 2003 is the Southern California School of Skateboarding. Regarded as the birthplace of skateboarding, this company like the Rubicon Skateboard School provide lessons to a wide range of people.

Since the instructors have years of experience, learning through a skateboard school can dramatically shorten the learning time (and pain) - whether you're a total beginner or a more experienced rider looking to progress.

Trick skating

See Skateboarding trick for detailed description of trick skating maneuvers

With the evolution of skateparks and ramp riding, the skateboard began to change. Early skate tricks consisted mainly of two-dimensional maneuvers (e.g. riding on only the front wheels (nose manual), spinning like an ice skater on the back wheels (a 360 pivot), high jumping over a bar (sometimes called a "Hippie Jump"), long jumping from one board to another (often over fearless teenagers lying on their backs), and slalom.

In 1976, skateboarding was transformed by the invention of the first modern skateboarding trick by Alan "Ollie" Gelfand. It remained largely a unique Florida trick from 1976 until the summer of 1978, when Gelfand made his first visit to California. Gelfand and his revolutionary manoeuver caught the attention of the West Coast skaters and the media where it began to spread worldwide. An ollie is performed by popping the tail of the skateboard, sliding the front foot towards the nose and lifting up the back foot to level the skateboard out. This results in the skateboarder, along with his or her skateboard, lifting into the air without the aid of foot straps or the skateboarder's hands.

The ollie was reinvented by Rodney Mullen in 1981, who adapted it to freestyle skating by ollieing on flat ground rather than out of a vert ramp. Mullen also invented the ollie kickflip, which, at the time of its invention, was dubbed the "magic flip." The flat ground ollie allowed skateboarders to perform tricks in mid-air without any more equipment than the skateboard itself. The development of these complex tricks by Rodney Mullen and others transformed skateboarding. Skateboarders began performing their tricks down stair sets and on other urban obstacles - they were no longer confined to empty pools and expensive wooden ramps.

The act of "ollieing" onto an obstacle and sliding along it on the trucks of the board is known as grinding, and has become a mainstay of modern skateboarding. Types of grinds include the 50-50 grind (balancing on the front and back trucks while grinding a rail), the 5-0 grind (balancing on only the back truck while grinding a rail) the nose grind (balancing on only the front truck while grinding a rail), and the crooked grind (balancing on the front truck at an angle while grinding). There are various other grinds that involve touching both the trucks and the deck to the rail, ledge, or lip. The most common of these is the smith grind, in which the rider balances over the back truck while touching the outer middle of the board to the grinding surface in the direction from which he or she ollied. Popping and landing on the back truck and touching the inner edge of the board, i.e. popping "over", is known as a feeble grind. Boardslides, lipslides, noseslides, and tailslides are other variations of grinding that are characterized by sliding on an obstacle while balancing on the (usually wooden) deck of the skateboard, rather than on the trucks.


See also: Skate punk

Skateboarding was originally tied to the culture of surfing. As skateboarding spread across the United States to places that were unfamiliar with surfing or its culture, it developed an image of its own.

The image of the skateboarder as a rebellious, nonconforming youth has declined in recent years. This rift between the old image of skateboarding and the new one is quite visible: magazines like Thrasher portray an image of skateboarding that is dirty, rebellious, and still firmly tied to punk, while magazines like Transworld Skateboarding portray a more modernized, diverse, and controlled image of skateboarding stars.

Films like Dish Dogz help improve the reputation of youths committed to skateboarding, depicting the individuals of this subculture as people with a positive outlook on life, prone to poking fun at each other with no hard feelings, and having a healthy competition of sportsmen. According to the film, lack of respect, superior thinking and hostility towards each other is generally frowned upon, albeit each of the characters(and as such, proxies of the "stereotypical" skateboarder) have a firm disrespect for authority and rules in general. Group spirit is supposed to be a heavy influence on each member of the community. Such presentations are devoid of showcasing criminal tendencies, and do not try to tie extreme sports to any kind of illegality.

Female skateboarders

Skateboarding has long been male-dominated, and remains that way today. As society changes and the cultural differences between the sexes blur, female skaters are increasingly being put into the spotlight. According to a 2002 demographic, 74% of skaters were male.[5]

For many years, there were only a few female skaters that would become well known in the sport. Pioneers like Peggy Oki from the Zephyr Team (known as Z-boys) were able to grab the spotlight, but were very rare.

During the skateboarding boom in the 90's, as well as an overall advancement for women's sports, more and more girls could be seen skating. Skaters like Elissa Steamer and Cara-Beth Burnside brought women to a new level.

Nowadays, competitions for women can be seen at all the major events, such as the X-games, the Gravity Games, and the Slam City Jam. The future of women's skateboarding looks bright, with stars like Lyn-Z Adams, Vanessa Torres, and Amy Caron.

There are also many female-only skate companies, sessions, and camps, helping to advance the progress of the female skateboarding movement. There is even an alliance of pro female skaters.[6] There have also been two major skate videos focusing on female skaters - Getting Nowhere Faster and AKA: Girl Skater.[7][8]

Skate shops

As skateboarding became increasingly popular, so did the need for more products. At first, local surf shops would be the only place to find boards. However, there was little variety in selection. As a result, skateboard shops started popping up in the west coast of the U.S., and then later on in the east coast. Today, there are many skate shops, to the point where many cities and towns have at least one.

Typically, as well as skateboards, skate shops carry accessories such as clothes, skateboarding tools, skateboard videos, stickers, and shoes.


A member of Charlie Company 1st Battalion 5th Marines carries a skateboard during military exercise Urban Warrior '99
A member of Charlie Company 1st Battalion 5th Marines carries a skateboard during military exercise Urban Warrior '99

Skateboard ban in Norway

The only country ever to ban skateboards was Norway, in the period between 1978 and 1989. The use, ownership and sale of skateboards were forbidden. The ban was said to be due to the perceived high amount of injuries caused by boards. The ban led skateboarders to construct ramps in the forest and other secluded areas to avoid the police. [9]

Military experimentation in the United States

It has been publicly reported that the United States Marine Corps tested the usefulness of commercial off-the-shelf skateboards during urban combat military exercises in the late 1990s. Their special purpose has been described as "for manuevering inside buildings in order to detect tripwires and sniper fire"[10] [11].

Further reading

  • Borden, Iain. (2001). Skateboarding, Space and the City: Architecture and the Body. Oxford: Berg.
  • Hocking, Justin, Jeffrey Knutson and Jared Maher (Eds.). (2004). Life and Limb: Skateboarders Write from the Deep End. New York: Soft Skull Press.
  • Weyland, Jocko. (2002). The Answer is Never: a History and Memoir of Skateboarding. New York: Grove Press.
  • Hawk, Tony and Mortimer, Sean. (2000). Hawk: Occupation: Skateboarder. New York: HarperCollins.
  • Thrasher Magazine. (2001). Thrasher: Insane Terrain. New York: Universe.
  • Brooke, Michael (1999) The Concrete Wave - the History of Skateboarding. Warwick Publishing
  • Mullen, Rodney and Mortimer, Sean (2003). The Mutt


  1. ^ Ocean Howell, Topic Magazine. Extreme Market Research. Retrieved on 2006-12-13.
  2. ^ John Fetto. Your Questions Answered - statistics about skateboarders. Retrieved on 2006-12-13.
  3. ^ Steve Cave, Skateboarding: A Brief History (page 2). Retrieved on 2006-12-13.
  4. ^ Snyder, Craig Gasbag, Transworld Skateboarding Magazine (October 2005, p. 44)
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ [2]
  7. ^ [3]
  8. ^ [4]
  9. ^ Criminals on wheels. Retrieved on 2006-12-13.
  10. ^ Defense Visual Information Center database / US Department of Defense. Retrieved on 2006-12-30.
  11. ^ The Role of Experimentation in Building Future Naval Forces (2004), Naval Studies Board. Retrieved on 2006-12-30.
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