Skip to content

The History of Skate: From Surf to Street

Picture it: a shabby piece of plywood, roller skates, a few screws and a drill. A dash of Macguyvering later and voila! You have just invented the skateboard. Now, let's be honest, it's hard to determine just exactly when and by whom the skateboard was invented. People have been attaching wheels to objects since the invention of… the wheel! But at some point in the 1950’s a group of SoCal surfers decided they needed a way to “surf the streets” while the waves were flat, bolted the above items together, and modern skateboarding as we know it was born.

We’ve obviously come a long way since the days of metal wheels (can you imagine?!) and rough-cut plywood boards, but how? Today we are bringing you the highlight reel of the history of skateboarding, so pack a lunch and come with us in our time machine, back to 1958…

Surfing culture is booming; The Beach Boys and Jan & Dean are about to be all over the radio; the beach boardwalk is the place to see and be seen. But anyone who surfs knows that you’re always at the mercy of mother nature. Sometimes the waves arrive, and sometimes they definitely don’t. But when the waves don't cooperate, why not surf the streets?! It’s around this time where people start building their own boards to do just that. But of course, the surf shops were watching.

Fast-forward a few years to the early 1960’s: surf shops start to get in on the skateboard action. While the first boards were crude hand-hewn plywood with metal wheels (ouch!), SoCal surf shop icons like Jack’s, Hobie, Kips’ start to manufacture more standardized boards that are slightly longer (the originals were square!), and outfitted with clay wheels, similar to roller skates. Skateboards are promoted right along with surfboards and quickly gaining popularity!

1964 brought the publication of the very first skate mag: The Skateboard Quarterly. Seriously, how legit is that cover? See our favorite modern skate mags here! But despite tremendous positive response, it lasted only four issues. At the start of 1965, a few news organizations began hyping injuries and accidents surrounding the sport. They claimed that skateboarding was inherently dangerous - to be avoided at all costs. The popularity of the sport began to decline, and skateboarding seemed to be a fad that had disappeared as quickly as it began. And yet, throughout the late 60’s and early 70’s there remained athletes faithful to the shred.

Noticing a lingering (albeit small) market for the sport, Cadillac Wheels began manufacturing the first polyurethane wheels in the early 1970s. This innovation was about to make skateboarding far easier and frankly more enjoyable than it had been with wheels of either metal or clay. Their release in 1972 was met with such fanfare that skateboarding began to again rocket in popularity as it had a decade previously - sales were through the roof! And with new wheels, new trucks were needed. It seemed an entire industry was born.

By the mid-1970’s, the sport of skateboarding was here to stay. No longer dismissible as a “fad,” skateboarding competitions were being held at boardwalks and parking lots all over Southern California and Florida. And skaters were looking for a place to gather, a place where they could skate without fear of being run off the property by security. Enter the skate park! Skateboard City (Florida) and Carlsbad City Skate Park were the first two skate parks ever to open. In addition, the mid 70’s in California was an arid time, and as many property owners sadly drained their swimming pools to save money, skaters found an exciting new skate spot, often in their own backyard!

The mid to late 70’s is the first time we see the distinction drawn between “vert” skating (literally from the word “vertical,” using pool walls, ramps, etc.) and street skating. Street skating was more of a mainstream interest, but just as in the previous decade, there began to be major pushback to this new “vert” trend. Cities worried endlessly about the liabilities associated with skate parks, and most of them were shut down over the course of 1976-1980 (If you too find yourself without a skatepark nearby, read here!). Just as it had done previously, skating declined, but it was not forgotten. Street skaters and vert skaters alike were perfecting their skills just waiting for the trend to come around again.

Depending on how you view it, the 1980s was either skating’s darkest hour or its best years. With declining popularity, and skate parks mostly shuttered, only those truly loyal remained in the sport. It’s during this time that some absolute legends of the sport began experimenting with their craft. After all, the 80’s brought us the LEGENDARY Rodney Mullen, who invents the kickflip, the heelie, the 360 flip and innumerable other moves upon which the rest of the sport has been built. Street skaters and vert skaters alike have no place to gather to skate. Parking lots and garages become popular with skaters and UNPOPULAR with property owners. It’s during this decade that skating takes on the “rebellious” culture that in some ways persists to this day. While the general popularity of the sport declined, those who remained honed and sharpened the sport for its rebirth…

With the emergence of the “Punk” scene in the 1990’s, it seemed skateboarding had found its perfect niche. Skateboarding became synonymous with 90’s punk culture and the associated grunge movement. It rose in popularity so quickly that by 1995 ESPN hosted the first ever Extreme Games (X-Games) sparking interest in the minds of kids all over the world and bringing the interest in skateboarding back to the general population.

Over the last 20+ years, skateboarding has only increased in reach and popularity. The industry now fuels several magazines, innumerable clothing brands, an entire niche market of accessories, and much more. Skate parks have reopened and are now more widely available than ever. And while we still like to think of ourselves as a little rebellious (isn’t that part of the fun?), skateboarding is now so diversified that kids as young as 2 or 3 and as old as 90 are taking part just for the fun of it.

From it’s surfing roots to its rebellious adolescence, to its present-day maturity, skateboarding is here to stay. We love that this sport continues to grow, but never ages. You know what they say about skateboarders, right? They never get old; they just shred away. Peace, skaters!

Image 1, Image 2, Image 3, Image 4

Previous article Best Longboard Brands: The Unsung Heroes of Asphalt Surfing

Compare products

{"one"=>"Select 2 or 3 items to compare", "other"=>"{{ count }} of 3 items selected"}

Select first item to compare

Select second item to compare

Select third item to compare