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Okay, a little dose of reality: The skateboard turns 40 this year.
The horror! How can something so kewl be such a lame age? Of course it can't be so. But it is.
Back in the 1930s and '40s, kids attached roller skates onto two-by-fours -- try riding that down a railing -- but it wasn't until 1958 that the skateboard we know was born. Naturally, it was in a California surf shop. A surfer's gotta surf, even when the ocean's as flat as Nebraska. So shop owner Bill Richards and his son Mark made a deal with the Chicago Roller Skate Company to produce sets of skate wheels. Then they mounted them to square wooden boards. Soon kids were rolling down hills acting like they had caught a tsunami. "Sidewalk surfing" was officially a craze, although some preferred the more academically correct "terra-surfing."
It started with a boy, his board and a stick
at the first
National Skateboard Championship in 1965.
Everything fell into place. Jan and Dean released the record "Sidewalk Surfing." Kids held the first skateboarding competition at a junior high in Hermosa, Calif., and 100 people showed up. The next year, 1965, the first National Skateboard Championships nabbed a spot on ABC's "Wide World of Sports." It was one sweet ride, culminating in a 1965 splash on the cover of Life magazine. Inside, the skateboard was described as "the most exhilarating and dangerous joy-riding device this side of the hot rod."
Uh-oh. When they're saying those sorts of things about you in Life, you can feel the hipness slip. Get ready for the backlash. Sure enough, before the year ended, the American Medical Association declared skateboards "a new medical menace." Skateboarding was dead, at least for the first time.
But you can't keep a rebellious leisure-time
activity down. In 1966 a movie titled Skater Dater was nominated for an Academy
Award. It had no dialogue, only images of skateboarders performing insane but
beautiful stunts. We've all seen enough X-Treme Games commercials to be a little
jaded about this, but back then kids were ... well, they were stoked. Within
a few years the board was back with a vengeance, thanks largely to the street-level
vision of two men. The first was Richard Stevenson of Los Angeles. Driven to
save the skateboard, he gave it a tail. Technically, he designed an upward curve
called a "kicktail" at the back of the board that made it more maneuverable
-- more like a real surfboard. In 1971 Stevenson, the less-than-famous "father
of the skateboard," received a patent for a "skateboard with inclined
foot-depressible level." Two years later a man named Frank Nasworthy reinvented
the wheel. Actually, he made it out of polyurethane. He designed the wheel for
roller skates, but it worked like a charm on skateboards.
So began the golden years. In two years, during the late '70s, more than 40 million skateboards were sold in America. Parks designed exclusively for skateboarding opened around the country -- 300 at one point. Other kids flocked to empty swimming pools, where sloping concrete surfaces served as launch pads. Skateboarders performed on the "Tony Orlando and Dawn" TV show. A man named Guy Grundy, wearing motorcycle leathers and a crash jacket, set a speed record as he hit 68 mph on an Anaheim Hills' street. "Skateboard clothing" went on the shelves at JCPenney Inc. Fred Astaire, of all people, broke his wrist when he fell off his board. (Cut him some slack, he was 77.)
Then came another seminal moment, one that would catapult skateboarding out of the world of surfer boys. In the late 1970s a Floridian named Alan "Ollie" Gelfand invented a new move -- soon to be known as the "ollie." He tapped the tail of the board down and jumped in the air with the front foot sliding forward. This launched the board over immovable objects, such as benches and walls. Why surf when you could fly, if only over a curb?
This move may have had something to do with skateboard's next phase: Death Number Two. Fearing an epidemic of injuries (followed by lawsuits), city councils around the country began banning skateboarding on public streets and sidewalks. The entire country of Norway made it illegal. More boarders turned to skateboard parks, but soon they had their own problems -- the heartache of liability. By the mid-1980s almost every skateboard park in California had shut down.
But skateboarding came back again, only this time in new clothes. Gone were the surfer trunks and vinyl "radwear." Instead, kids draped themselves in XX-large shirts and shorts that grazed their shoe tops. Skateboarding went hip-hop; eventually, rap would become its soundtrack. Celebrating the new look was Thrasher, a magazine designed to make a subculture out of a street sport. Skateboard companies provided the cult heroes, turning post-pubescents into touring pros. Kids heard tales of Tony Hawk, Thrasher's skater of the decade, who turned pro at 14 and bought his own house when he was a high school senior.
These days, skateboarding is all about urban acrobatics. And it's likely to stay that way, at least through this generation. The skateboard companies don't seem to mind -- $100 boards wear out much faster on asphalt than in plywood skateparks. And riding down railings -- while dodging overzealous cops -- is too much a part of the thrasher mindset. "Skateboarding is anti-school, anti-MTV, anti-Sara Lee pound cake," concluded writer Trip Gabriel in Rolling Stone.
Even so, skateboarding, according to the latest statistics, is America's sixth largest participatory sport. There are more than 6 million skateboarders in the country. But some things never change. Almost half of them live in California.
The Day They Invented The Skateboard (by Bob Schmidt)
You may remember the 70's. But I was 9 years old in 1961, and I was there the day they invented the skateboard, at least in my neighborhood.
We took an old metal roller skate and strapped it to a short piece of 2x4, hopped on top and took off. It was wobblier than hell, moved way too fast and vibrated on the asphalt enough to jar every bone in your body and loosen every tooth. It was more like getting electrocuted than anything else. We're not talking any hundred dollar baby here. Maybe more like a buck ninety-five. Figure maybe $5 bucks today for inflation. These were the days when we had hula hoops and Schwinn bicycles. We had Frisbees and yo-yo's and whiffle balls. But we would have traded in any of 'em for our skateboards.
We had a big old hill on Hatherleigh Rd. in the Stoneleigh community between Baltimore and Towson, Maryland. We all took turns trying it out on that hill. Only a couple of us lived to tell about it. The rest, well, they belong in the skateboard hall of fame. There was me, and Bob Filer, and Hammond Brown, and Barry and Buddy French, Jack Tuttle, and Mike McClellan.
Every one of us fell on our ass and broke at least three bones every year. A leg, an arm, a wrist, a couple of fingers. You couldn't help it. From top to bottom it was a block and a half long. It started out easy, then started curving over until it got a good deal steeper -- cars can't get up that hill in the winter after a snow, that's how steep it is.
You had to start down that hill sitting down. Everybody started by sitting on it. There was no way you could go all the way down the first time, even sitting down. You had to get good enough to ride down all the way on your seat, lying flat, trying to keep your feet from hitting the ground. Then starting at the bottom standing up, working your way up a couple of feet at a time, getting your nerve up. It took at least a good two weeks to get it right cause you'd have to heal up for a couple of days every time you tried. After a while, there was always somebody walking around with a cast hobbling on crutches and as soon as you saw them you knew it was the Hill.
When you went down the steep section, you got to feeling like you were flying. Then you'd hit a little bump. It wasn't anything you'd even notice on a bike or just walking down, but, man, on a board, look out! If you made it over that bump you'd fly up and just about everybody crashed right there. But once you learned how to twist a little to get past it, well the rest of it was pretty easy. Unless a car was turning into you just as you got down to the bottom. Then you'd have to veer over the curb, bailing out at just the right time so you could run it off onto somebody's lawn.
That hill became the Challenge. You had to beat the Hill. Then you had to beat it three times in a row. And then, well, by then, if you were still alive, you didn't have to do anything. You were ok. And that's all there was. We didn't jump over curbs. You couldn't anyway, with just a skate underneath. About the only tricks we ever tried was hanging ten off the side or going down on one foot. One guy tried standing on his hands but he fell over and get really messed up by the time he rolled the rest of the way down. A couple of guys tried to be pulled down behind a bike, but they could never do it. Oh, there was a hot dog who tried it every which way, trying to sit on his hands, go down on his belly and stuff, but nobody was impressed.
We were determined to make a faster skateboard you could stay on. We spent months tinkering, smashing down the metal heel at the back of the skate, pulling apart the wheels and mounting them here and there until we got a better balance front to back. We tried every piece of wood we could find. Everybody who was anybody had one of their own they had made. Every one was different. We tried painting them, then we found out the girls liked 'em that way, so we decided that was for sissies and we soaked off the paint and left them plain. But the girls got mad mostly because it was usually one of their skates we were using!
We strapped 'em together. We glued 'em. We nailed 'em. We screwed 'em together. We tried everything. Nothing would hold more than a few times without breaking or coming loose.
Wheels? That was whatever came on a roller skate. Strictly metal. And they only went so fast. Going down the Hill, at some points gravity would be pulling you faster than the wheels could go and half your body would be falling over and that's when you'd get all banged up. Once a wheel was shot, you had to start over. Just about the time you'd get good, you'd have to put another skate on and start all over. And a spare skate wasn't always available. It's not like you could just run up to the store and get one roller skate.
Bearings? What the heck are those? We heard about 'em from somebody's father who was an engineer. But they were kind of sealed into the wheel and you couldn't get at 'em without totally destroying it. But sand and dirt had no problem getting in, and any that did and you were a gonner for sure. You'd lock up and go flying at the worst possible time, usually just when you were trying to avoid the handlebars of a bike or a parked car. And we didn't have no truck with trucks. The roller skate was its own truck. You were stuck with it. They never wore out, but they didn't have any cushioning in them either.
Half pipes? What's this wood crap? When we found a half pipe, it wasn't a half pipe at all. It was a giant size concrete sewer pipe, about 8 to 10 feet in diameter. And when you fell onto that, you knew it. They were hard to come by and we hardly ever got to try one. Even then it would only be for a few days or maybe a week during construction.
There was no such thing as a skateboard park. And it was so new, the parents and neighbors didn't even know what to make of it. But they sure knew we were there. Those wheels made a hell of a racket, especially when they needed oil!
And we didn't have any helmets or knee pads, though we probably would have worn 'em if we had 'em. The only padding we had was our own skin and bones.
Yeah, like I tell my son, you can argue about when it was invented, and you can so it ain't so, but I was there the day they invented the skateboard, at least in my neighborhood.
Summer 1976. The Bicentennial. Elton John. Chevy Vans. Skateboarding... (by Michael Brook)
For movie trivia buffs out there, you may know which film had this promotional tag line: "Where were you in '62?" Well, I wasn't even born in 62, but I guess a lot people reading this article weren't born in 1976. But that's the year I started skateboarding. I was 11 years old.
Strangely enough, I can still remember my first ride on a skateboard. The board belonged to some kid who had traded a knife for it. My neighbourhood wasn't rough, but this kid wasn't from the neighbourhood... Anyway, I jumped on thinking that I'd crash bigtime and was amazed I didn't fall. That was it. I spent about 5 minutes fooling around on this skate without knowing how much impact the sport would have on my life.
My first board cost about 15 bucks and was a birthday present. The dimensions of the plank were about 6" x 24". Needless to say, the board was great fun and the only drawback was the clay wheels. Clay wheels? Yes, wheels made from baked crud. Mighty slippery and guaranteed to get your knees and shoulders shaking! I think in the end I painted the board gold and took apart the wheels and trucks. It was high time to move on up and get into plastic.
Ah, plastic. Believe me, going from clay to urethane plastic wheels was like moving from a Lada to a Lexus. I went through a series of boards and in hindsight, all were equally poor in construction and design. All had loose ball bearings - precision bearings were too difficult to find. Despite all the lame boards, I kept practicing.
Back in the 70's, freestyle skating meant tricks. Handstands, 360's, nose wheelies. Radical meant pulling a "coffin" at high speed. What's a coffin? Well, jump on your skate, lie down on your back, put your hands together like you are praying and your doing a coffin. Ollie North was probably stuck behind some desk in Iceland shredding documents. It was only 1980 that the word ollie as it relates to skating would enter skating vocabulary.
In 1978 my world changed with my parents trip to Oregon. There at an appropriately named shop called "California Pro" they picked up the Rolls Royce of skateboards - a Gordon and Smith Fiberflex with Bennett Pro trucks and Road Rider Wheels. How did I know this was the ultimate? Well, Skateboarder Magazine for one thing. Each magazine had slick ads and editorial featuring all the pros riding this equipment. There was also a guy in my hometown who had picked up a board with same the setup and it was a dream board compared to my plastic crud My first run out with this board just happened to coincide with the entire neighbourhood receiving a fresh face of asphalt. Needless to say, it was as close to nirvana as a 13 year old skater could get.
People often ask me what is the worst accident you've ever had skating. Well, apart from the near misses from cars and bikes (which would have ended my career pretty effectively) the worst accident was when one of my trucks broke while I was rolling down a hill. I land right on my tailbone. I was in quite a bit of pain but got so bored waiting in the hospital emergency department that I just got up and walked out. A few days later I was back on the board.
Of course, in the 70's one way to avoid cars and pedestrians was to go to a skateboard park. Of course, you had to live near a park and many states were blessed with several. Unfortunately, it would take until 1979 until they put wooden ramps in a hockey arena near my house. In fact, I was even a member of the freestyle demo team and we went to shopping malls to perform. I went to a few parks in Toronto (one was across the street from Honest Eds!) and they were amazing but small. II do want to mention my mindblowing time at "Skatopia" on a 1978 trip to California. Imagine a skatepark with landscaping to rival any golf course - including a waterfall. Of course it was the lengthy half pipe and snake run that were outstanding.
As with any sport that is not mainstream, it evolves quietly yet forcefully. Although I was into punk and new wave, I missed out on the crucial connection of hardcore and skating. Thrasher Magazine and all the music that was a part of the scene was not really happening in my small hometown. It was only when I moved to start university in Toronto in 1983 that I got seriously back into skating.
Back in 1983 skating started to take off bigger than ever before. In Toronto, there were very few places to get skateboarding stuff. However one shop called Rudy's stocked everything. It was here where I saw a video on the new freestyle. Skinny decks with tiny trucks and wheels. A guy called Rodney Mullen was pulling off tricks I never thought were imaginable. Four years later I would get a chance to meet Rodney at a demo. Live or on tape, he is probably skateboardings most impressive freestyle skater. Nice guy too.
Over the years I met a lot of people skateboarding. The best part about being older than the current generation of new skaters is when I hop on a board and pull a nose wheelie for 50 meters. There is a mutal respect between two generations. I can't believe some of the tricks kids are doing and they can't believe an older geezer like me can actually skate.
Before the Internet started taking over my life, I once tried to coordinate a freestyle pen pal service. It received mention in both Thrasher and Transworld Skateboarding. It had some success but the postage was murder. Now, once I have time, I may just reactivate "Freestyle International" via the Internet.
Although I've ridden ramps and halfpipes, I remain first and foremost a freestyle skater. This is probably due to the fact that ramps and halfpipes are not as accessible as a driveway or tennis court. As I enter my 20th year of skateboarding, there is only one thing I'm really looking forward to: teaching my baby girl g-turns. Hey, at my age, you're allowed to get sentimental! If there are any other geezers out there who remember the 70's, send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ps: the movie was American Graffiti
GRAB THAT BOARD (by Murray) Thrasher Magazine
I often feel that skateboarding has painted itself into
a curious corner. It is almost it's own worst enemy in that it has become over
overspecialized- almost elitist in attitude. Sure, at one time there were skateboarders
everywhere. Enthusiasts numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Parks began springing
up in cities and suburbs all across the U.S. and Europe. New products appeared
on the market every day and the skater was hard pressed to keep up with the
new developments. Soon there
was a professional pool riding contest circuit and media hype to go along with it. Skateboarding even surfaced occasionally during a weekend of television sports programming.
Through all of this, have we, at times, lost sight of what skateboarding really is? And, what about Jon Q. Public, the non-skater, the one who dismissed skateboarding as just another "born-again" fad? How many times have you heard someone say "Skateboards- Yeah, I used to ride them back in the sixties." The problem here is a lack of understanding of what skateboarding is all about. The average individual was never properly exposed to the unlimited possibilities of a platform with four wheels under it- a simple basic mechanical device which serves as an energy-efficient mode of transportation, a basis for a valid sporting activity, and as a vehicle for aggressive expression.
Meanwhile, at the height of the skatepark explosion, the skaters have been virtually swept off the streets and deposited in the parks, where the action is radical but lacks the inspiration of a knock-down, drag-out backyard pool session or a skate cruise down the boulevard with the crew. The fact is skateboarding can survive without the parks, but the parks will never last without skateboarding as a whole to support them. Many times I have wired a new trick in the street only to find myself the next day at the park trying to perfect it on the vertical. Skateparks are fun! Street skating is fun, and also visual. The whole world is out there waiting to be entertained, but they want it delivered to their doorstep. So let's deliver!
Thrasher was born out of a need for intense and objective
reporting on an activity that has established itself as a major pastime for
many people and a rewarding experience for countless others. Thrashing is an
attitude, a skate attitude. Thrashing is part of a lifestyle, a fast-paced feeling
to fit this modern world. Thrashing is finding something and taking it to the
ultimate limit- not dwelling on it, but using it to the fullest and moving on.
Skateboarding has not yet reached it's maximum potential, and who can say what
the limits are? To find out- Grab that board! You don't have to be a super talented
professional skater- Grab that board if you're a novice just having some fun
on a Saturday afternoon. To the kid hanging out at the Stop'n'Shop with his
gang- Grab that board! To the college student who needs a vehicle to get from
dorm to class- Grab that board! And how about the dad who calls his kid crazed
for riding a skateboard all the time - Grab that board! There's no rule saying
you have to go fast or skate vertical. Just being outside or in the skatepark
practicing maneuvers and balancing is a lot of fun. Remember, there are
tons of asphalt and concrete being poured every day, so- GRAB THAT BOARD!
The Third Strike, by Pete Pan
Thrasher, June 1986
Unavoidably, the third death of skateboarding approaches with imminent swiftness. The death throes begin with the introduction of the "back to the Future" mass-production Sears catalog goon set-ups, mass-merchandised by trash merchants like Lechemere's, Ann and Hope, Caldor, and other discount heavens. When the first polyester leisure-suited dork bearing Roller Toy equipment entered my shop, I knew it was coming quicker that I anticipated. He was but the first of many to crush out the butt between his orange- stained paws, and smile through his yellow, cavity-filled chops, trying to tell me what "everyone" is buying. Picking him up by the seat of his shiny bell-bottoms and tossing him out on his fat belly is one of my few pleasures of business.
The third death is here when my 8 year old kid spends
hours putting together a fanzine and our skateshop has a stream of little weiners
coming in with their own crude renderings. One out of every 10 of these zines
is worth using for toilet paper. Basically, they are showcases for the little
poser egos... full of skate photos of themselves.
The third death is here because soft-bellied little whiners waddle into the shop, spieling off irrelevant facts about their idols and equipment rather that going out and riding the street. When everyone claims hardcore connections there is no hardcore. The dorks rule the street.
The third death is here because poser salesman and poser store owners are playing up to the soft-bellies with their pseudo-skater routine, when in reality, they have never tasted the pavement through two layers of bloody skin. Nothing sickens me more than listening to phony dorkers tell me what to ride, when they have never ridden anything but a skin flute.
The third death is here, but that's okay. Pretty soon, Bicycle Bob, True Value Hardware and the local bakery shop will have to unload all their "Back to the Future" $49.95 professional models, or eat shit. All the little eunuchoid hairless soft-asses will turn to BMX or soccer, or computers, and old Harvey "the Pro" Gleckman will be getting just what he rightfully deserves... to eat all his protruded inventory and suck in his fat stomach.
The third death is here because town recreation departments are building ramps and 2nd graders wear high fashion rubber band pants with Velcro fasteners. The "Back to the Future" deck plunged the Rambo knife into the back of the serious skating scene. We started skating in '63 as a sadistic way of crashing on pavement at high speeds. Hitting primitive hills at Roger Williams Park and Garden City with rock-hard roller skate garbage wheels was another way of getting bloody. It died in the late 60's, never really approaching fever status. When the craze came back in the mid-70's, it was stronger, producing some quality skaters. It was easy to predict it's second death when toy plastic skates went into the Sears catalog and other fast bucks were pumping out pultruded suicide for $9.95. Skateboarder Mag went from a Cosmopolitan size to a racing form format. The final death rattle was quite evident when the mag turned into Action Now, clutching for diluted dork readership. It was soon totally abandoned by the skaters, followed by the BMX and bodyboarders. When the 3rd wave came it was very weird. There was always the original crew and the few that continued after the craze died in the last 70's. Before you know it some airhead in a hardcore band decides to carry a skateboard on stage during a concert and a few little dorks pick up on it. More dorks pick up on the band and more bands pick up skateboards to pick up more dorks. So began the third craze.
A microcosm of the skate scene can be summarized by the East Side of Providence, home of the chic and debonair Rhode Island rich. It was officially reborn by several college band members at the Rhode Island School of Design, and then spread to various prep schools that dot the area. Since it wasn't fair that only the rich little geeks could afford those expensive set-ups, we can thank the corporate board manu's for spreading self-destruct, non-repairable models to Cranston, Warwick, Barrington and other suburban hot spots.
As local stylist Bill Gaza points out. "Judgment day is near when you see Mr. B come from the depths of Hell." Skateboarding is becoming baseball. The kids know more about contest results than they do about skating. Skate heroes are being made because of this. Skating should not be talked about. It should be done. Facts and figures won't help you in the street.
I might be an old fart, but I've been skating and surfing since 1963, and will continue until I drop dead. I've seen posers come and go for 23 years. I will feast on the third death of skateboarding. It will clean the foul air of the fakers and phonies who pollute our pavements. The next class of prep schoolers will find another sport to poison. As lame as I am, I will still be looking for banks to ride, while they forget what a skateboard is. In three years I'll be riding some bank with my kid and the next generation of posers will laugh and tell us what a kook sport skating is. I've heard it before, and I'll hear it again.
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