“Don’t be afraid to try the greatest sport around
(Bust your buns, bust your buns now),
It’s catchin’ on in every city and town
You can do the tricks that surfers do
Just try the Wise-a-moto or the Coff-in-2
Why don't you grab your board and go sidewalk surfin' with me?”
Jan and Dean were responsible for putting the radical new ride to song in their 1958 homage “Sidewalk Surfin’.” When the waves are low, and surfing is bad, what does a surfer dude do? Well, he slaps some wheels on that plank of wood and goes sidewalk surfing!
That’s what Bill Richards and his son Mark did in 1958, when they were looking for some action outside the water. The father/son duo partnered with Chicago Roller Skate Co. to produce skate wheels for their new ‘skateboards,’ and within a couple of years, skateboarding was the hottest hobby around.
By 1965, the first National Skateboard Championships were held, covered by both Life magazine and ABC’s Wide World of Sports, but by the end of the year, skateboarding would see its first demise. (The sport has as many lives as Morris the Cat). The new fad was deemed unsafe, “a new medical menace,” by the American Medical Association, and parents banned the board. But that didn’t stop a determined few.
In 1971, the skateboard was given a second chance by Richard Stevenson, the man responsible for improving the board’s control and maneuverability by giving it a tail. Stevenson, considered the ‘father of the skateboard’ because of his improvements to a flat strap of wood, catapulted the sport back into the spotlights, and kids eagerly hopped back on, even against their parents’ wishes.
They say you can’t reinvent the wheel, but skateboarding has never been the kind of sport that listens to what ‘they’ say. Frank Nasworthy created new polyurethane wheels that gave better traction and were safer than the old clay wheel, and the loose ball bearings inside gave greater control. The skateboard once more hit the street, and as the first round of skate pros like Stacey Peralta, Mike Weed and Alan ‘Ollie’ Gelfand started to shred up the scene, skateboarding gained style.
As more surfers ditched the waves for the street, the baggy beach style of t-shirts and shorts in colorful patterns and bold graphics made the skate dogs’ closet. During the 60’s, skate clothes were just normal clothes, casual comfortable wear much like anybody else wore. But when the sport took off in the 70’s, fashion became more than functional: every air crunchin’ scaw needed a pair of shorts (not the big baggies worn in the 90’s), a t-shirt with graphic logo, a pair of striped tube socks, and hi-top sneakers to grip the board and protect the ankles.
Shoes always were, and always will be, king when it comes to skating. Converse’s canvas hi-tops ruled the scene in the beginning (and still remain the cult classic), Nike invaded in the late 70’s, and Vans ruled the 80’s. Shoes were more than mere footwear: they garnered control of the board and maintained a grip when you were catching air. They were the anchor that kept you firmly planted to your board.
The early 80's were dominated by wacked fabrics in geometric checkerboard prints, and fluorescent glow. Surfer style segued into skating’s own when specialty shops opened, offering apparel and shoes made specifically for skating. Skating was in-your-face aggression as opposed to surfing’s laid-back ease, but even surfers borrowed the colorful streetside kickers made by Vans for their own style.
Skaters perfected their style in skate parks, grand skating wonderlands made out of concrete and wood planks. This form of skateboarding is called vert, for the vertical ride up the sides of walls (as opposed to the street skating popular in the 90's). Working out new tricks like the ollie, handplant, and McTwist (inverted 540° revolution) turned skateboarding into the first extreme sport for boys seeking an adrenaline kick.
Thrasher magazine pumped the new generation of skaters with tales of cop dodging, drained pool cruising, and cult heroes. 80’s-era skate idols like Tony Hawk, Christian Hoisoi and Natas Kaupas became the new guard, filled with attitude and action.
Helmets became a necessary accessory when doing tricks, and especially when biting it. Yes, they might give you helmet hair, but helmets were regularly worn because these guys were hardcore and wanted to keep their smarts. They listened to 80’s punk like T.S.O.L. and Agent Orange, grew their top of their hair long to make a frontal wave, and dressed in Vision skatewear. Vision was street tuff, offering the best in skate shoes and clothes. Now that skaters had complete head-to-toe style, they broke out from the skate parks and hit the streets.
This new street skating wreaked havoc in parking lots as skaters took over the curbs, the sidewalks, stairs, railings and benches as their personal playground. Skaters traveled in packs like wild dogs, taking over the pedestrian friendly parking lots and turning them into obstacle courses. Skateboarding was banned from public places, and the sport was once more in danger of dying out when BMX and inline skating took over skating’s speed. The diehard skateboarders had to go underground, or at least back alley, to get their kicks.
Skaters fought back to keep their ride mean and clean. “Skateboarding Is Not a Crime” became a common mantra, heard around the world as law enforcement cracked down upon the sidewalk surfers, banning them from the public thoroughfares that had been their home. But despite the skaters’ protestations, according to county ordinance BS5428C, skateboarding is a crime (Norway even outlawed skateboarding throughout the entire country).
Again the sport rose from the flames, this time with a whole new look. Hip-hop took over, and skaters turned renegade now that their sport was illegal. Massive baggy pants pooled around their ankles, and oversized t-shirts in XXXL made by Jive and others hung off their bodies. Airwalks were the latest in footwear savvy, and skating was now broaching extreme fashion instead of function.
They had to fight for their right to catch air both on the streets and the skateparks (which were going the way of the dinosaur, too). Rap and ska became the new soundtrack, though 90’s punkers like the Offspring and Rancid still had an influence.
The rise of the X-Games and other pro skate competitions gave some public legitimacy to skateboarding, but the sport still retains its air of the taboo. Ostracized from the populated world, banished to make their own ramps or steal air in an abandoned suburban pool, skaters keep shredding against the greatest odds.