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What is the History of Skateboarding?

By J. Beam
Updated May 17, 2024
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The history of skateboarding encompasses decades of change, invention, and development. The dawning of the sport as it is today began in the 1950s when surfing was at its peak, and though skateboarding has had its share of negative connotations, it is one of the most evolutionary sports to date.

The very first skateboards were born of the old wooden scooters without the milk crate fronts and handles. Essentially, they were two by four pieces of wood attached to roller skate wheels. Most of the very first skateboarding participants were also surfers, and when they realized they could simulate wave riding on the street, skateboarding began its evolving history. The Roller Derby Skateboard was the first retail board in 1959, followed by mass produced skateboards, which were inspired by surfboards.

In the years between 1960 and 1963, over fifty million skateboards were sold. Skateboarding was one of the fastest growing sports trends ever until it came to a crashing halt in 1965 due to safety concerns raised to and by the public from numerous sources. Companies up until this time had struggled to keep up with the demand for skateboards, and little if any research had gone into safety. There had been numerous accidents and even fatalities, which inspired safety advocates to discourage the sport, and it entered a slump that ended the craze – but only for a short while.

In the mid-1970s, skateboarding was revitalized after Larry Stevenson invented new decks with kicktails and the urethane wheel was introduced. More attention was given to deck design, trucks, and wheels, and the sizes and shapes of skateboards became more varied. Street skating became rampant once again, while some more daring skaters sought out thrills by skating empty swimming pools and other vertical surfaces. During this decade, skate parks emerged, but by the end of the decade, soaring insurance rates and lack of attendance caused most to close.

Skateboarding went almost underground in the early 1980s, with kids being forced to create terrain and ramps in their own backyards as skateboarding had been outlawed in many public places. However, by the end of the 80s, skateboarding began to shift from a rebellious pastime to an accepted sport. Vertical skaters like Tony Hawk and Steve Caballero and street skaters including Mark Gonzales and Mike Vallely gave skateboarding a professional sporting image.

In 1995, when ESPN covered skateboarding at the first X-Games, the sport began to be viewed as professional, and skateboarding has been included in the X-Games ever since. Many cross-training skateboarders have also been featured in the Winter Olympics competing in snowboarding. Today, it’s clear that skateboarding has carved its own niche in society and in sporting history. It carries its own style and attitude that has gone from rebel to mainstream.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By ShadowGenius — On Jan 13, 2011

Growing up as a skater, I found the peer groups which develop based on how many tricks you can do irritating. I was often disgusted as all my friends would look on in stunned awe as an older person did a flawless kickflip. So I started skating for speed and for fun. It was definitely more dangerous than standard skateboarding, but it was also a blast.

By BioNerd — On Jan 11, 2011

The older boards which originally raised concerns with parents due to their speed and potential for injury, are now becoming more popular again. Longboards, designed like surfboards and made for speed, as well as shorter versions of these, are many people's skateboarding reality. A lot of people have been riding these for years and don't know a single trick.

By Renegade — On Jan 10, 2011

Growing up, I inherited a great skateboard from my father which was a relic of the 60s. This board was different from any skateboards my friends rode in that it was built for speed. I didn't try to spend my time doing tricks, but would race down the roads of my neighborhood at top speeds, using the special larger wheels and ball bearings. Unfortunately, when I started trying to do stationary tricks with that board, it broke, and my dad was upset.

By anon34489 — On Jun 23, 2009

Skateboarding *was* underground during the early 1980's.

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