A Hop Skip and a Jump: From Surfboards to Skateboards to the Olympics

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Dogtown eric dressen skateboard deck 1 81899762e903726b4c8b72e3dc27ca9a
A signed Dogtown Eric Dressen skateboard deck sold for $1050 in August 2021.

If you’re attempting to pinpoint a date when the first skateboard hit the market, forget about it. The sheer number of sources available claiming to know this date is enough to make your head spin like Linda Blair’s in The Exorcist So, I decided to look for a consensus among the skateboarding community.

Let’s Play 1950s-1960s

This era marks a time when boys and girls used imagination to play a multitude of games. In addition, kids communicated face-to-face, without cell phones attached to their ears.

My favorite games were Hopscotch and Dead Man’s Box. These two games were played in city streets (could this be why our parents would tell us to, “Go play in traffic?”). All that was needed to play was two feet and some bottle caps.

The Skate Snatchers

During the mid-60s, I remember collecting my Barbies, a suitcase filled with clothes and accessories, and a blanket to lay on the ground. Then, arms full, I’d walk down the street to meet the girls at our rendezvous, and we played until dinnertime. 

Boys, however, liked to make things—especially the expensive toys their parents couldn’t afford. So they would organize a roundup to collect wood scraps and whatever they could find to make the most popular moving vehicles of the day.

Vintage retro 1960s metal union 1 26255a27a60ed039ca5bb302f3139fc6
Vintage 1960s Metal Union Hardware Co. clip-on roller skates.

Finding suitable materials (like wheels) required ingenuity. Somehow, they needed to snatch the wheels from younger siblings’ metal skates. This started a big skate-stealing crime spree. The victims of this injustice were comforted by moms everywhere. 

Here’s how the DIY evolution went:

  • First, skate wheels were attached to a board, and a milk crate was secured on the front end—the “boxcar” was born. 
  • In time, the milk crate was ditched, leaving just the board and wheels.
  • Next, a handlebar was added, morphing the vehicle into a scooter.
  • Finally, the handles were gone, and daring kids began flying around on a board with wheels.

These kids, relentless in their pursuit of defying gravity, flying, rolling, and gliding with their DIY projects, were skateboard pioneers.

An Ambiguous History

Let’s detour back to the 1600s when accounts of the first skateboard-like invention appeared in the Netherlands. It was labeled a “primitive form of the roller skate.” It was developed using wooden spools attached to a platform. Skate technology continued to improve throughout the years. In 1957, Roller Derby launched its new hot skate, Street Kings, an outdoor skate boot that sold 65 million pairs.

Although there are many accounts of the origin of skateboards, all agree that California is where the fad began.

Business-savvy inventors and manufacturers kept up with ongoing trends. Ever-evolving skateboard technology resulted from the genius marketing teams on the ground. They gleaned information straight from the skateboarders and hosted contests and exhibitions that bred countless loyal community members.

Shakers, Movers & Innovators

1963-1965 Larry Stevenson

  • In 1963, Larry Stevenson invented the first professional skateboard, the Makaha Phil Edwards model, shaped like a miniature surfboard. The board was designed in honor of Edwards, a professional surfer. The board had Chicago trucks and clay wheels. Stevenson named skating on this board “sidewalk-surfing.” Also, in 1969, he patented the kicktail and double kicktail

In 1965, the media reported the dangers of skateboarding and subsequent accidents; it came to a screeching halt until 1972. Then, too many injuries and increasing insurance premiums closed parks. In addition, Skaters felt that current boards had limited maneuverability.

1972 Frank Nasworthy – Urethane wheels

  • Second boon for skating
  • Safer with added speed
  •  Further upgrades – softer wheels for street racing, harder wheels for wall riding
Nos vintage apex mags skateboard 1 b69695f9431d4f968f31d04ab6f49915
Vintage Apex urethane skateboard wheels.

1973 Ron Bennett

  • First professional high-performance trucks, allowing “greater height between the board and the ground” and greater maneuverability.  

The 70s saw a massive wave of upgrades from board sizes, shapes, and materials to trucks, bearings, and more to accommodate new tricks by Dogtown surfers.

Second Crash 1980

In 1980 the industry experienced its second crash due to the influx of new, more dangerous maneuvers. In addition, insurance rates skyrocketed, forcing skate parks to close. However, skaters kept skating; some even went back to the old DIY approach and made their own boards and ramps. Skateboarding became an underground movement leading to skaters opening their own shops. Skateboarding was back on track.

The 90s brought in the new edgy punk rockers and stoners with bad attitudes igniting a new type of skater whose style was dichotomous to all previous skaters.

The skateboarding industry intrigues me because it began, ended, and started again with bare-bones boards. Fortunately, the pioneers’ tenacity overcame numerous hurdles. The dedication and creativity of manufacturers and marketers created a multi-million-dollar industry today in the US and introduced the newest Olympic sport.

Finally, skateboarding is a culture made up of many sub-cultures. Everyone does their own thing, their own way, whenever they want, and they accept all skateboarding communities. Today’s world should follow this model.

Upon going rogue from her extensive career in corporate marketing, Theresa Latona Reagan entered the world of freelance writing. She has written on several topics for various businesses, including a regular column for antiques. As her passion for collectibles grew, she enjoyed the time she rented space in a small antiques’ mall. 

When Theresa is not writing, she puts on her artist hat and heads down to the river to paint or goes thrift shop hopping, searching for that one priceless object. Theresa is in the process of writing and illustrating her first tabletop book.

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