Synopsis of Toy

Skateboards, in their earliest forms, were made when resourceful kids attached their broken-down wagon and roller skate wheels to scraps of metal and wooden two-by-fours. In the 1940’s, notorious New York photojournalist Weegee snapped a picture of a couple of young street rascals sailing down a city street atop their motley handmade boards, grinning just as broadly as you please in the heat of that Brooklyn summer. And in the late 1950’s, a Southern California surf shop began attaching roller skate wheels to square wooden boards. When the waves were small, beach boys could “sidewalk surf” instead.

The Roller Derby Skateboard rolled onto toy store shelves on clay wheels in 1959. The years following saw Jan and Dean release a single called “Sidewalk Surfing,” the first skate contests, and a picture of a skateboarder right there on the cover of Life magazine. And back then, when you made the cover of Life, you were a part of pop culture Americana—instantly.

The early-to-mid-1960’s saw boards from surf company Hobie and several others, made of woods like oak, ash and mahogany, or sometimes with different combinations of these, in vertical and horizontal laminates. Around this time, riders left the sidewalks and made their first forays into empty swimming pools. On the U.S. East Coast, incidentally, the only time the in-ground pools were empty was in the winter, so hardcore riders there endured freezing temperatures while they refined their vert skating skills.

Then, in response to a skateboarding fatality and countless injuries (clay wheels were never known for good traction) skateboarding’s popularity de-railed, as it would do a few more times in its up-and-down history. Since cities started to ban street riding, devoted skaters had to go “underground” if they wanted to ride. But with the invention of urethane wheels in the early 1970’s, skateboarding was promptly revived. These new wheels allowed better pool riding, and paved the way for downhill slaloms, pipes and ramps. In addition to new wheels, boards acquired kicktails, bigger trucks, and increased board widths.

Thanks to these design improvements, the 70’s were very good to skateboarding. Vert skating was in its heyday, skate contests were more frequent and better attended, and the first skateparks opened. Instead of just mellow surf moves like hanging ten, carving and walking the nose, skateboarders added showy tricks to their repertoires: ollies (a no-hands aerial), grinders, fakies and rock & rolls among them—vertical movements that were made from horizontal land. For these acrobatics, wide boards and the better-gripping wheels were crucial, and manufacturers also started to put wild graphics under their boards. Skateboard culture intermingled with punk and new wave culture, and skaters enveloped themselves in a cult of personality that included music, fashion and attitude.

Yet another round of highly publicized injuries ensued in the early 80’s, and along with it, a civic distaste for the new generation of street skaters who were congregating wherever there were good steps and ramps (which often times meant fancy buildings like libraries and banks). As the pressure rose, skateboarding's popularity waned again. Because of the high cost of liability insurance, skateparks shut down en masse and so the skaters had to go underground once again. This time, they built launch ramps and half-pipes in their back yards and congregated in secret spots out of the public eye—and in these places, no one could tell them to skate away. And as a final nose-thumbing at public authority, skaters everywhere began plastering "Skateboarding Is Not a Crime" stickers anywhere the statement needed to be made.

The sport, in these more private domains, weathered the public’s disapproval. Wheels got smaller and lighter, and the shapes of the boards diversified to include longboards and smaller street shapes. The recession in the early 90’s didn’t help the sport any, but by mid-decade, it had regained its stride. The new ‘Extreme Sports’ trend spotlighted it constantly, and board companies (and skateboard-related merchandise too, like Vans shoe wear) were doing brisk business once again. Pro skaters began to develop their own board lines and by the end of the 90’s, longboarding had made a full-fledged comeback.

These days, skateboarding is an international sport. In the U.S., where skateboarding is the sixth-largest participatory sport, cities swarm with upwards of six million riders. The skateboarding champs don’t win those ubiquitous 70’s-era engraved trophies anymore, they win buckets of money. They tour constantly, they’re hungrily sponsored by big corporations, and they pitch their own products—and not just boards either, but clothes, computer games, and toys. So from humble two-by-four and roller skate wheel roots comes this tenacious, ever-evolving sport that, despite uptight opponents with their no-skate laws, just won’t go away. It’s gone from hobby to cult sport to pro sport to lifestyle, and now it packs its own rap/punk style, its own heroes, and of course, its own built-in, never-say-die dogma.

Release History of Toy

1959 - Roller Derby Skateboard
1970's - Urethane wheels replace clay wheels
1971 - the kicktail is patented

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