Skateboarding is a pastime enjoyed by many, from youngsters learning on their first board, to seasoned pros whose performance and handling leave spectators in awe. It’s so popular, in fact, that it’s now an Olympic event.
The history of skateboarding is, unsurprisingly, rooted in a very similar sport: surfing.
Skateboarding got its start in the 1950s, in Hawaii and California, when athletes who sought the feeling of riding waves on dry land. It’s believed that skateboards already existed, in some form: crate scooters were already invented, and some people modified them to make wheeled boards.
Once surfers were involved, though, the sport really had legs. Early boards were rudimentary and comparatively slow to later versions, but this new class of “sidewalk surfers” loved them. Many even skated barefoot, the way they’d surf, and translate their maneuvers from ocean to land.
When the toy industry got wind that people were using a board to surf the streets, commercial skateboards came into fashion.
Roller Derby first launched the first mass-produced commercial skateboard in 1959, which marked its transition from “toy” to sports equipment. More companies followed suit, most notably surfing manufacturers who knew the sports’ crossover appeal was huge with current clientele.
Skateboarding competitions became more popular, with downhill races in San Francisco and other valley cities, but ultimately dipped in the mid-1960s when in- and outdoor roller derbies started.
The media painted skateboarding as dangerous, and the sport saw a decline in popularity.
Like any sport, skateboarding changed constantly to make it more fun, challenging, and more welcoming to newcomers.
Frank Nasworthy introduced the urethane wheel with the company Cadillac Wheels. These plastic upgrades glided along city streets, instead of gripping them like clay wheels. They also lasted longer and, most importantly, were smoother and much faster. Suddenly, skateboards were both safer and more exciting.
Skateboarders started magazines; competitions took root; and the first man-made skate parks—rather than abandoned or repurposed construction sites—were born. Riders with different styles began clamoring for more, and customization shops popped up.
The 1970s and 1980s also saw the advent of tricks like the ollie. Thus, modern skateboarding was born.
VHS cassettes featuring training techniques and new tricks became widely available. Magazines also detailed tricks and tips; new shops continued to pop up, offering new features on skateboards. Some boards became wider and longer. Depending on what you wanted, you could customize a board to suit your exact riding style.
Sponsorships, cash-prize contests, and the overall rising popularity of skateboarding made it possible for athletes to get paid skating.
The sport continued to spread, despite—or, arguably, because of—its reputation as a counter-culture activity: skate parks were now magnets for injury lawsuits, and boarding was banned in many public areas.
The introduction of the “Street League” for international racers helped skateboarding grow further as a professional sport, with cash prizes upwards of $200,000.
The televised X Games and its high flying aerials made skateboarding even more well-known. New skateboards and safety equipment meant newbies and seasoned skaters alike could attempt the tricks pro-skaters displayed on screen.
Now that skateboarding is a professional sport and mainstream, few innovations have occurred in recent years.
The sport itself has continued to grow, though, with training videos readily available on YouTube, more X Game-esque competitions, and video games like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater franchise, now boasting an impressive 21 titles.
Skateboarding is close to the height of its technical abilities, and has changed a bit for competitions like Red Bull’s downhill series, featuring serious downhill races on regular streets.
Tony Hawk is almost a household name, even if you don’t skateboard. Hawk landed the “Trick Heard Round the World” in the 1999 X Games by completing the first professionally landed 900 spin. That’s 2.5 revolutions mid-jump, a trick no skater had ever landed correctly in a professional competition.
Hawk is also well-known for his self-titled video game franchise, which was popular with skaters and non-skaters alike.
Rodriguez won a total of eight medals at X Games competitions, and later launched his own skateboard deck company, Primitive (https://primitiveskate.com/). He’s also a rapper and recording artist, as well as the owner of his own private skatepark.
Rodriguez last won a professional competition in 2012, and now focuses on acting, music, and his businesses.
Despite being featured in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games, Koston is part of the generation of skaters who came before Hawk. He placed first in the X Games in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
He was featured in many videos for the Girl skateboard company and garnered many sponsorships, including a Nike shoe named after him. Koston now owns his own business, Fourstar Clothing.
Skateboarding is now fairly mainstream and accepted (though you probably still can’t get away with skateboarding down the library rails). Its transition from a humble hobby to competitive powerhouse is, in large part, owed to professional skateboarders innovating both the equipment and the sport itself.