The toy that became big business
The ritual of jumping on a twenty-eight-inch piece of wood and four tiny wheels is like religion to some, but you don’t need to nail a kickflip to understand the allure of skating. Like surfing, it’s an act of spiritual freedom. Plus, the clothing is dope.
It’s urban, it’s exciting, it's a challenge. It’s no wonder that skateboarding is a Members Only club. You need dedication to become a skateboarder, and for those who choose this path, it's a way of life. With no teams and no rules, the art of boarding attracts riders who like to do their own thing.
When did it all begin?
This unique, transgenerational, urban subculture, made an appearance as early as the 1950s, when surfers in California wanted something to do when the waves were flat. Nicknamed "sidewalk surfing" it was a new way to get thrills, with land-locked adrenaline seekers customising shorter surfboards and adding wheels for inner-city speed.
However, it didn’t take long for a toy manufacturer to pick up on the fad, and start making more technically advanced skateboards. The first boards were branded Roller Derby, and the craze quickly spread to the surfing community across the east and west coasts of the US. Sixty years on, and it still has a loyal fan base all over the world.
From sidewalk skating to getting towed behind cars, riding off of picnic tables, and ollieing onto them, skaters thrive on taking chances. The need to be flexible, and wear comfortable clothing is essential in order to undertake mind blowing aerial acrobatics performed in half-pipes that emulate empty swimming pools.
Tricks developed as the boards became more flexible, and when Larry Stevenson invented the “kicktail“, there were a lot more possibilities for skating rails, ledges or benches. Using the ultimate playground of the great outdoors, the concrete landscape of cities and the brutalist architecture of skateparks is a playground for anyone craving adventure.
The hands-free aerial known as the ollie is one of the most important tricks in contemporary skateboarding. It was invented in 1978 by Alan (“Ollie”) Gelfand, who discovered that slamming his foot down on the kicktail and simultaneously sliding his front foot forward caused the board and himself to jump into the air together.
A grind involves riding with the trucks against the edge or top of an object, and the higher you are the longer the fall. And although you can add as much flourish as you like, these go-to moves to show you can skate.
From the mid-1980s, it was possible to earn good money as a professional skateboarder with competitions launching careers and sponsorship. Nowadays, Shane O’Neill, Rob Dyrdek, Tony Hawk and Nyjah Huston are the names to know.
Skateboarding has its own fashion identity, and is synonymous with music and a nonconformist subculture; Cool streetwear is the uniform - t shirts, caps, hoodies and trainers, with cult brands like Vans, Etnies, Converse and DC Shoes leading the way, and new brands like Sorry Madre making waves.