Skateboarding

The skateboard was invented long before it was named. In fact, it was invented probably hundreds, of times, by boys attaching roller skates or skate wheels to some sort of wooden platform, often just a 2-by-4. But its modern history begins in 1958, when Bill Richards, the owner of a surf shop in North Hollywood, California, saw some boys riding surfboards to which they'd attached wheels. He ordered some wheels from a roller skate company, attached them to boards, and began selling "sidewalk surfboards."

Later that year, Jan and Dean recorded a hit song, “Sidewalk Surfing,” which gave the new sport nationwide exposure. It got a new name in 1959, when the Roller Derby Skateboard was introduced. ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” showed tape from the first national skateboard championship in 1965, and skateboarding was also featured on the cover of Life magazine that year. By then, more than 50 million skateboards had been manufactured.

But the boom didn’t last long. Those early skateboards had wheels of baked clay, so traction was poor, and there were many well-publicized serious accidents, including several deaths. The American Medical Association declared skateboarding “a new medical menace,” and hundred of communities banned it entirely.

Two improvements brought skateboarding back. Richard Stevenson in 1971 designed a skateboard with a kick tail, an upward curve at the back, that made it easier to control. In 1973, Richard Nasworthy created the polyurethane wheel for the roller skate and it was quickly adopted for skateboards as well, offering much better traction than the old baked clay wheels.

Manufacturers also widened the board from 6 or 7 inches to 9 inches and more, increasing stability. More than 40 million skateboards were sold in a two-year period. In response, skateboard parks were built across the country, most of them equipped with ramps, pipes, and obstacle courses. In areas without parks, skateboarders often performed in empty swimming pools.

The second boom also died quickly, primarily because insurance companies raised their liability rates, forcing most skateboard parks out of business. About the same time, many skateboarders helped create a new extreme sport, bicycle stunt riding, by transferring their skateboard skills to BMX bikes.

But there was yet another boom, brought on by two totally unrelated developments. In 1978, Allan “Ollie” Gelfand discovered that he could go airborne by stamping down on the tail of his skateboard. This seemingly simple maneuver, called the “Ollie” in his honor, enabled skateboarders to use curbs, rails, benches, and other urban obstacles like the ramps in skateboard parks.

In 1981, the National Skateboarding Association (NSA) was established, with help from the Boy Scouts of America. That gave the sport at least the veneer of respectability, spurring many communities to set up public skateboard parks in order to keep skateboarders off the streets. Other communities eased anti-skateboarding ordinances or simply turned a blind eye to skateboarding in public areas, so long as the boarders weren’t interfering with pedestrian or auto traffic.

Financed largely by skateboard manufacturers, NSA organized and sanctioned competitive events, many of which offered cash prizes. Professional skateboarders emerged, bringing the sport to a higher level. Several of them started their own companies to manufacture skateboards, accessories, and even apparel. The leader of the pack was Tony Hawk, who became a professional at 14 and earned enough money to buy a house while he was still in high school.

Skateboarding hit yet another downturn in the early 1990s, primarily because of the economy, but also because other, newer sports were beginning to cut into its popularity. Again, though, there was a revival. This one was led by the International Association of Skateboard Companies, which has worked with local and state governments to develop sensible legislation governing skateboard safety and assisted communities and entrepreneurs in building new indoor and outdoor parks for the sport.

In 2000, skateboarding was the sixth most popular participant sport in the United States and it ranked third in the 6-to-18 age bracket. There are more than 10 million active participants in the United States and more than 50 million worldwide.

The National Skateboarding Association became World Cup Skateboarding (WCS) in 1993. WCS conducts a professional tour with events in the United States, Canada, England, Germany, Czech Republic, France, Switzerland, Austria and Brazil. Another organization, the United Skateboarding Association (USA) was founded in 1998 to conduct competition in the United States.