Skateboarding is a recreational sport that has steadily gained popularity since the 1970s. However, skateboarding actually originated as early as the 1920s. There is much to learn about skateboard history.
The documented history of skateboarding dates back to the 1920s and 1930s. More notably, devices like the Skooter Skate were invented and mass-produced in the 1930s. The Skooter Skate was arguably one of the first blueprints or interpretations for a skateboard.
Nearly half a century later, skateboarding was popularized on the California coast by surfers that needed a way to practice while the waves were flat. They even called it sidewalk surfing. Many questions regarding the origin of the first skateboard remain unanswered. However, we have been able to answer many of them.
Some believe that the first board was actually a scooter that children would take the handlebar off of. Others say that surfers invented the first skateboard. Let’s take a deep look into the evolution of skateboarding. Here is the ultimate skateboard history timeline.
Looking At Each Decade In Skateboarding
- 1930s: The Skooter Skate was introduced and children took the handlebars off of them. It was the first real prototype for a skateboard.
- 1940s: The Skeeter Skate came out with axles that could turn on both sides.
- 1950s: The first commercial skateboard came out, a board with four wheels and axles that allowed it to turn.
- 1960s: Skateboarding gained a lot of popularity in the early 60s but was on a big decline near the end of the decade.
- 1970s: Skateboarding made a huge comeback due to new polyurethane wheels and the efforts of all of the competitive skateboarders. The 1970s saw amazing strides in innovation within the sport of skateboarding.
- 1980s: The early 80s saw another rise in skateboarding. Street skateboarding and culture came to the foreground of the sport, which continued to do better than ever.
- 1990s: A recession hit in the early 90s that seemed to cause a lot of waves in the skateboarding industry.
- 2000s: More skateparks were built across the world in the 2000’s than ever before. This made skateboarding more accessible for more people around the world.
- 2010s: Like so many times before, skateboarding saw a slump during the 2010s. However, near the end it began to go back on the rise just like so many times before.
- 2020s: Skateboarding joined the Olympics and became globally-recognized as a sport.
1920’s – Is That Really A Skateboard?
A hundred years ago, in the 1920′s, the first object to somewhat resemble a skateboard was introduced. It was a three-wheeled metal device used to practice cross-country skiing on the road, called a roller ski.
The device was sold in pairs. It had three wheels from a pedal car, a heel cup, and an adjustable metal toe clip. It also came with poles which would be handy for pushing along on flat ground.
Unfortunately, it lacked any means of steering. It was dangerous to attempt bombing hills on but was very akin to cross-country skiing, just pushing along at a slow pace on the flat ground. That wasn’t much fun for kids, though. They got creative and rode only one of them at a time, which has been considered by some the invention of skateboarding.
1930’s – The Skooter Skate
In came the 1930s and with it, the Skooter Skate. This device is often referenced as one of the earliest forms of skateboarding. The Skooter Skate was a three-wheeled board and is best described as a hybrid between a skateboard and scooter.
It was essentially just an aluminum or steel board with divots for feet to stand on either side and a bolted-on handlebar for balance. It could not steer and was presumably uncomfortable due to the large hard wheels and lack of trucks and bushings.
Even so, children would remove the handlebar to skateboard before it was even a thing. So with that being said, it’s hard to deny that skateboards evolved from scooters.
1940’s – The Skeeter Skate
In 1945, a device called the Skeeter Skate was introduced. It was a four-wheeled device made from aluminum that featured a removable handle and had axles that allowed it to turn.
The Skeeter Skate introduced a unique innovation, the first steering axles, which allowed skaters to turn for the first time. This was also essentially the very first appearance of trucks. Before the Skeeter Skate, steering wasn’t even an option.
1950’s – The First Mass-Produced Skateboard Hits The Market
By the end of the 1950s, the first commercial skateboards were on the shelves of many toy stores in America. And in 1959, the first Roller Derby skateboard was introduced, the very first mass-produced skateboard.
The connection between surfing and skateboarding was eminent. It gave surfers a way to practice their skills when the surf was low. So as we now know, surfers didn’t invent skateboarding, but they contributed a lot to the culture and helped make the sport more mainstream.
The 50s saw a crude form of skateboarding develop, similar to skateboarding today. Kids made their own homemade skateboards by nailing roller skate wheels and axles to the bottom of wooden planks. Then late in the decade, surfers discovered skateboarding, embracing the feeling of riding a concrete wave.
1960’s – The Rise of Skateboarding
Val Surf became the first surf shop to sell skateboards in Hollywood in 1962. They produced self-made skateboards with trucks and wheels from roller skates and a surfboard-like shape board.
During the same year, Patterson Forbes began producing complete skateboards with improved trucks. Then the very next year, Larry Stevenson of Makaha Skateboards invented the kicktail. He is also credited for producing the first quality skateboards.
Throughout the 60s, several surfing manufacturers started building plastic skateboards that resembled surfboards. The new and improved boards led to the first skateboard competitions, which consisted of downhill slalom and freestyle. Skate legends like Torger Johnson, Woody Woodward, and Danny Berer made themselves known at these competitions, paving the way for future pros.
Skateboarding began to pick up momentum and popularity. In 1965, teams began to travel across the United States for skate competitions. And in that same year, international championships were broadcast around the world. The sport became so mainstream that over 50 million skateboards were produced and sold within the span of three years.
To really understand the scope of how popular skateboarding had become, Makaha, the powerhouse brand, had made $4 million in board sales from 1963 to 1965. That was a considerable feat considering the value of a dollar during that time. But with that being said, all good things must come to an end. In 1966, sales took a steep decline, and skateboarding was no longer the sport that everyone had their eyes on.
1960s – Skateboarding Loses Popularity
The 60s saw a downfall in popularity due to low-quality parts and overproduction. Instead of focusing on making improvements to the boards, wheels, trucks, and bearings, companies focused on mass production.
But the skateboards still had many issues that needed to be addressed and fixed. The most significant problem was the quality of the wheels. During the early 60s, skateboard wheels were made out of clay or steel, making them uncomfortable and prone to breaking.
The poor quality of skateboards during this time resulted in many accidents and bad falls. In turn, cities across the United States began to ban skateboarding due to health and safety concerns. This cost manufacturers vast sums of money as the demand grew quickly and rapidly and then stopped just as fast.
The year 1965 saw the first skatepark, Surf City in Tucson, Arizona. In December 1966 (ironically the year that Vans was established), skateboarding vanished from public view, not just because it was winter. However, a few dedicated skaters refused to throw in the towel and fought to keep the sport alive. They built their own skateboards and fine-tuned them over time.
1970s – Skateboarding Makes A Comeback
A new era of skateboarding arrived in the 70s, shortly after it had encountered its first death. And there is one man to be thanked, Frank Nasworthy. One of the most significant breakthroughs in the world of skateboarding came about, the polyurethane wheel. A company named Creative Urethane discovered the new material, but Nasworthy further developed and repurposed it for skateboarding.
Nasworthy asked Creative Urethane to make him a few sets of wheels, and since they were failing marketing to roller skate companies, they took the bait. Nasworthy tested them himself. They were smoother, faster, and had more control than the clay and steel predecessors.
He began marketing the polyurethane wheels to skaters and started his own company, the Cadillac Wheels Company.
1970s – New Skate Companies Emerge With Fresh Designs
As the 1970s continued, so did the innovation for skateboard parts. More companies emerged onto the scene and began to produce new components for skateboards designed for the current tricks. Growth and innovation fueled even further growth and innovation.
As tricks evolved, more board control was required. The boards got wider to allow for more control, and other parts of the skateboard, such as trucks, were designed with new specifications to compensate for the wider board sizes.
Slowly, the board design improved. Companies tested new board composites like fiberglass and aluminum. But in the end, no material was as good as maple plywood, which is still the case today. If a board is made too rigid, the energy transfer will be off, but maple has the perfect spring and flexibility for skateboarding tricks.
All of the new skateboard developments allowed riders to invent new tricks, which brings us to California in the summer of 76. The Zephyr Skateboarding Team (Z-Boys) began riding the vertical walls of swimming pools. Many pools were left empty due to the California drought.
They invented a new form of skateboarding, vert or vertical skateboarding. The polyurethane wheels gave them more control which led to new tricks such as airs, slash grinds, and many old school tricks.
1970s – Golden Age of Skateboarding and the Second Decline
The late 70s saw a golden age of skateboarding. The sport regained its popularity, and hundreds of skateparks were built across the world.
As the end of the decade neared, insurance rates grew so high that many skatepark owners couldn’t afford to stay in business. Demo teams came, destroyed the parks, and skateboarding died along with it again. But even with the parks gone, the real skateboarders would find other avenues. They skated in empty pools and built their own backyard ramps, keeping the sport and culture that they loved so much alive.
Tom Stewart built the first halfpipe in 1977 in Encinitas, and Alan “Ollie” Gelfand invented the first interpretation of the ollie in 1978. Both of which helped to revolutionize skateboarding. Due to health and safety concerns, skateboarding was pushed down and frowned upon by the government. At that time, and still, to today, the sport held an anti-establishment attitude.
1980s – Skateboarding Keeps Making Comebacks
Skateboarding was still in a slump at the beginning of the eighties. Most of the scene was underground as kids took to street skating and building their own wooden ramps. This caused many of the large companies to suffer substantial losses.
Even so, Thrasher Magazine was founded in 1981 by Fausto Vitello. It was the first skater-only magazine, with Kevin Thatcher as the editor. Then Transworld Skateboarding Magazine hit the scene in 1983. And they are still the most significant skateboarding publications in the world.
Dozens of new skateboard manufacturers started to spring up, not to mention countless vert champions, including Tony Hawk, Christian Hosoi, Lance Mountain, and Neil Blender. Or the street skaters like Mark Gonzales, Natas Kaupas, and Tommy Guerrero. Rodney Mullen also began to dominate the freestyle competitions.
Skateboarding began growing faster than ever before.
This revolution to the skateboard industry was lucrative for professional skaters, raking in up to $10,000 per month. And popularity soared even further as the National Skateboarding Association held contests across North America, and eventually, across the globe.
1980s – Skateboarding Continues To Evolve
Throughout the 80s, more and more skateboard companies were started by some of the best skaters of the 70s. Most notably was Tony Alva with Alva Skates, and Stacey Peralta and George Powell, who owned Powell-Peralta. When skaters owned the companies, more people began to trust them, which turned into further growth.
A lot of shoe companies began to create and market shoes designed for skateboarding. Airwalk, Etnies, Simple, and DC were among the first companies to enter the market. Converse had been the original skate shoe, and in the 80s, they doubled down on the market, sponsoring Rodney Mullen and Christian Hosoi.
By the mid-80s, skateboarding was making another comeback. Powell-Peralta created the first skateboarding video in 1984, The Bones Brigade Video Show. Thanks to C.R. Stecyk and Stacy Peralta’s creative talents, the film featured all the Bones Brigade skaters and helped propel skateboarding to new heights.
The Bones Brigade skateboarding team included Tony Hawk, Stacy Peralta, Mike McGill, Steve Caballero, Lance Mountain, Rodney Mullen, and many more pro skaters.
1980s – The Shift Towards Street Skating
Skateboarding in the 1980s saw a shift towards halfpipes and tricks focused on aerial maneuvers. That being said, not everyone had access to halfpipes, and those skaters concentrated their efforts on building their street skating skills. At this point, a lot of pro-street skaters began to emerge like Rodney Mullen, The Gonz, Mike Vallely, and many more of the best skateboarders of all time.
Street skaters took vert tricks and brought them to the streets. Ollies, flip tricks, and grab tricks were quickly adapted to the flat streets. This was also the birth of freestyle skateboarding, which focused on flat ground tricks that also impacted the future of street skating.
The style of street skateboarding made a massive contribution to the evolution of the designs of skateboards and what would be seen as the modern skateboard. The boards came to see longer noses, shorter tails, and a decrease in board width. The modern skateboard took shape due to the popularity and needs of street skateboarding.
1990s – A Recession Calls For A Decline In Skateboarding
Even though skateboarding was at its peak of popularity in the 80s, the sport saw a slight decline in the early 90s. For two main reasons, the limited amount of skateparks and increased scrutiny of skateboarders by the police officers.
In the early 90s, pro-skateboarder Mark Rogowski murdered his former girlfriend. It was tragic and also tarnished the image of skateboarding and skateboarders everywhere. There is still somewhat of a stigma on skateboarding to this very day.
A worldwide recession began in 1991 that took quite a hit to the skateboarding industry. Many companies suffered dramatic financial losses, sending them belly up. Then in 1992, skateboarding popularity took another dive.
1990s – Another ‘Nother Golden Age
Skateboarding re-emerged on the scene again sometime in the mid-90s. It was shown on television, in movies, skateboarding films, and documentaries across the world. Skateboarding was becoming cool again, and with it, the old public skateparks as well as some plans to build new parks.
That being said, the width of the decks changed from 9 to 10 inches to an average of 7 to 8 inches. What is sometimes referred to as popsicle stick board shapes gained popularity.
In the fall of 1997, a law was amended for the state of California where the cities could no longer be held responsible for any injuries that may occur on a public skatepark. Previously, insurance and liability were the main reasons that skateparks and skateboarding were so frowned upon.
2000s – Skateboarding In The New Millenium
The 2000s brought skateboarding to a global audience. The success of X Games carried through from the 20th Century into the new millennium, and the Tony Hawk Pro Skater video games were such a success that they brought fresh skaters to the sport in droves.
Skateboarding lost some of the stigma, and the perception of danger and disobedience started to change. The sport was no longer viewed as a rogue sport or unlawful. Because many counties and cities banned skateboarding in public areas, they had to push skaters to designated areas. With that, skateparks designed specifically for street skaters were built across the globe, paid for by the cities that didn’t want people skateboarding on their staircases.
2000’s – Evolution of the Skatepark
The Skatepark Project, previously known as the Tony Hawk Foundation, has awarded over $10 million to over 600 public skatepark projects in the United States and $150,000 to support the Skateistan program in Afghanistan, Cambodia, and South Africa.
“The Skatepark Project believes the process of getting a park teaches kids in the community valuable lessons about perseverance, and that working with their city leaders can be a positive experience.” – Tony Hawk.
A more recent development in skatepark design has become known as the skate plaza. Essentially, it is a skatepark that looks more like a courthouse, park, or plaza. The reasoning is simply because skateboarders often seek out cool skate spots in public areas. So, skatepark designers began building skateparks that blend in with the city around them.
Indoor and outdoor parks were built in the masses across the world. It was hay-day for skaters everywhere, whether they were a vert, street, freestyle, or park skater. Want to ride wooden halfpipes and ramps? Go to an indoor park. Want to ride concrete? Outdoor it is! The options and opportunities were endless.
With the surge of skate park projects, older styles of skateboarding resurfaced. Bowl skateboarding became popular again, as did slalom and bombing hills with thanks to the increased popularity of longboards.
Shortly after the middle of the decade, skateboarding declined once again. This time, because of increased interest in scootering.
2010 to 2020 – Vision is 2020
Skateboarding was in a tough place again for some time in the earlier years of the 2000s. Some people blame social media and video games, saying that kids were more occupied with their phones and consoles than outdoor activities. Others argued that children need way more instant gratification these days, so they gave up the sport. Either way, as we’ve seen, skateboarding has always had its ups and downs.
Then, in 2010, a new competition was introduced known as Street League Skateboarding. Many criticized Street League Skateboarding (SLS) as an attempt to make huge profits off of skateboarding.
Huge companies like Nike and Adidas jumped at the opportunity, making it difficult for smaller core skate companies to compete. A lot of skaters often blame the large corporate brands for not making contributions to the sport.
In 2016, skateboarding was announced to become an Olympic sport in the 2020 games. This caused a lot of debates within the skate community. Some call skateboarding a form of art, and therefore it should not be judged. While others say, it will inspire a new generation of future skaters.
Either way, skateboarding is on the rise again.
2021 and the Future of Skateboarding
We’ll never really know what the coming years will bring to skateboarding. Market data shows growth, and COVID-19 saw more searches for skateboarding topics in Google than ever before. Will this be another golden age for skateboarding? Perhaps the Olympics will skyrocket the popularity of the sport even though it has been postponed. None genuinely know for sure, but the future does look bright.
Many skateparks remain closed due to the coronavirus, and yet skateboards are selling like crazy. Skateboarding has seen many ups and downs, but one thing is for sure, true skaters will never let the sport die.
Skateboarding is a unique sport with a rich history. From its humble beginnings to the present day, it has always been a source of fun and creativity. It has seen many different styles come and go, but the one constant is that skateboarding will always be cool. So whatever your style is, get out there and start skating!