Who Invented Skateboarding? A Brief History of Skate Culture

Modern skateboarding was born in the United States in the late 1940s to early 1950s.

Legend has it that California Surfers wanted something to do when there weren’t rideable waves, and thus this popular sport was born, coined “sidewalk surfing”.

Another legend attributes the origin of skateboarding to children in New York City who were looking for something to do that was different from traditional organized sports.

Get the lowdown on the evolution of skateboarding.

Who invented the first skateboard?

In the early days, the very first skateboards were homemade and constructed from the boards of wooden crates.

Believe it or not, one of the first technological breakthroughs was creating skateboards with clay wheels for a smooth ride.

Later on, the materials were commonly recycled from other sporting equipment, like surfboards or roller skates. 

Though nobody knows for sure who invented the first modern skateboard (this is highly debated), there are two names that are popularly accredited: Bill Richard and Larry Stevenson.

Bill Richard

In 1962, Bill Richard and his three sons founded Val Surf in North Hollywood.

It was the first surf shop to sell skateboards seriously, rather than as novelty toys.

He was the first to order manufactured skateboards – from Chicago Roller Skate Company – to be sold in his shop.

In the beginning, Val Surf sold about ten boards a week, never producing more than they sold.

It wasn’t long before the business started booming through in-store and mail purchases.

Larry Stevenson

In 1963, Larry Stevenson, a California lifeguard and surfer, founded Makaha Skateboards in Santa Monica.

He is known for making the first high-quality model after experimenting with a wide variety of materials to discover what would create the best experience.

His company was the first to ever organize and sponsor a skateboard team and hold a skateboarding contest.

He invented and patented kicktails, which is named the most important functional design in the history of skateboards.

The invention of the kicktail inspired and allowed for many different styles of skateboards.

Evolution of Skateboarding

Skating, as it is known today, began somewhere between the late 1940s to early 1950s. Learn how it evolved over the decades.

The 1960s

By the 1960s, there were several surf companies that began manufacturing skateboards in Southern California.

Makaha’s sold skateboards that closely resembled surfboards to promote both products.

The first skateboard exhibition took place in 1963 in Hermosa Beach, California.

A year after, the first skateboarding magazine was born: The Quarterly Skateboarder. 

Patti MgGee, one of the first sponsored skateboarders, was paid to travel around the country to exhibit the sport and share safety tips.

She was featured in several popular magazines and TV programs, which spread the sport all over the nation.

And in 1965, the first skateboard competition was broadcasted from Anaheim, California, featuring freestyle skating and slalom downhill racing.

Skateboarding caught on like wildfire in the first half of the 1960s.

However, in 1966, several sources started publishing information about the sport being dangerous. Parents thought twice before buying them and stores were reluctant to sell them.

This led to a notable drop in sales and Skateboarder Magazine ended. This lull remained into the 1970s.

The 1970s

Early in the 1970s, Frank Nawsworthy started the production of polyethylene wheels and his company Cadillac Wheels.

These wheels greatly improved performance over clay and metal, which led to a spike in the popularity of skateboarding in 1972.

During this time, many new companies invested in the development of skateboards, which led to many models that gave skateboarders more control than the original models did.

A popular model during this time was the banana board—skinny, flexible, and often yellow in color. 

Skateparks weren’t around yet, so skaters found urban spaces to skate.

In 1975, the Del Mar National Championships took place, which was one of the largest competitions since the 60s, featuring 500 contestants.

Zephyr, a skate team local to Santa Monica, introduced a new era of skateboarding with a surf style, which had a huge impact on the history of skateboarding.

Soon after, contests with professional tier systems and prizes were taking place all throughout California. 

In 1976, two of the first two skateparks in the United States were built.

One in Florida and the other in Carlsbad, California.

Multiple journals published skateparks as a great investment, which led to about 200 parks being built by 1982. 

At this time, most skateboards were made out of plywood, but manufacturers started creating skateboards out of new materials, such as fiberglass and aluminum.

The new and improved skateboard constructions enabled skaters to start exploring new tricks.

In 1976, the drought in California left many empty swimming pools. Well-known skaters at the time started to skate the swimming pools’ vertical walls, which led to the beginning of vert skating.

The 1980s

Vert ramp skating continued to dominate commercialized skating in the 1980s.

However, many people still didn’t have access to local ramps.

Thus, street skating gained popularity.

Many skateboard companies were now run by skateboarders themselves.

Freestyle skating was popular during this era, in addition to vert.

Rodney Mullen invented the kickflip and many other basic tricks that laid the foundation of street skating.

The 1990s

By the 1990s, street skateboarding continued to dominate as the number of skaters who took part in highly technical skating and vert declined.

The extreme evolution of skateboard construction that took place from the 1970s to the mid-1990s slowed down with the widespread adoption of contemporary skateboards inspired by 80s freestyle.

Now, most boards were symmetrical in shape, narrow, and made from polyurethane with small wheels.

In 1999, Tony Hawk became the first person to land a 900 at the X Games V.

In that same year, the video game “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater” was released, bringing the sport to an even bigger audience.

By 2001, the sport grew so much that more Americans under the age of 18 rode skateboards than played basketball according to a study conducted by American Sports Data Inc.

Skateboarding was introduced in many schools and local communities as a form of physical education.

Many cities began incorporating skateparks in their recreation plans, moving skaters off the city streets.

In 2006, there were almost 2,500 skateparks around the world.

The sport remained popular and continued to evolve.

Electric skateboards rose to the top of the market in 2010.

Skateboarding Today

Skateboarding made its debut in the 2020 Olympics, establishing it as a recognized, legitimate sport even more than ever before.

You don’t have to be a professional to enjoy skating to get around or practice tricks in a park.

It’s easier than ever before to get started because of the diversity of different types of boards on the market and the availability of skateparks.

Whether you’re into old school decks or the latest technology, skateboarding today has a little something for everyone.

Learn more about how you can learn how to skateboard.

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