I came across a video of a guy who owns 5000 vintage skateboards. The guy’s name is Todd Huber and he is a skateboard collector and founder of Skatelab, which is a museum, a shop and an indoor skatepark.
Here’s the video:
What was the most interesting to me was not the number of skateboards he had, but how much the history of skateboarding was present in the collection.
Because this sparked my interest, I did some reading. That is why I compiled a short history lesson for you guys. At the end you’ll find some pointers of what I learned in the process of writing this article.
The 50s mark the invention of skateboarding. As a spontaneous movement of multiple people, kids started making their own skateboards from planks of wood, nailed with roller-skates. Back then, if you wanted one you had to make one and kids started messing around in their parent’s garages.
In 1957, Alf Jensen’s “Bun Board” was the first commercial skateboard to be produced. The number of boards sold was manageable, and the metal rollers mounted on this board never broke through. The board served as a model for the first skateboard that was produced in 1959 by the Californian company Roller Derby Skate in large numbers. ~ Alex Lenz in his upcoming book The Lost History of Longboarding
By the 60s, clay wheels got introduced and replaced the metal wheels used before. The trend of skateboarding was high, but it soon kinda died. You can imagine why – skating on clay composite wheels was probably horrendous.
Back then, skateboarding wasn’t considered as a sport, nor a hobby, it was just something a few kids did and the majority of adults were not paying attention to it. Multiple companies at that time separated from skateboarding because too many kids got hurt and it wasn’t good for their image.
In 1964 Jim Fitzpatrick, the first member of Makaha Skateboard team, which at the time produced the clay-wheeled skateboards, went on a two month tour, travelling all over Europe to promote skateboarding and his brand.
He was also the first person to skateboard underneath the Eiffel Tower. In an interview I found, he said he skated there for about an hour while people gathered around him in a circle clapping. Later he carried his board to the top of the tower. In the ”Cult of the longboard” article in Trasher July 1995 magazine issue the author mentions Fitzpatrick as someone who personally introduced skateboarding to Europe.
During the sixties kids were skating barefoot as griptape wasn’t jet invented. Some of the wooden boards had grooves for extra traction, but you guys can guess how little that helped. The Randy 720 was the first shoe designed for skateboarding back in 1965. But the evolution of skate shoes has its own history.
Around that time Patti McGee was featured on the cover of Life magazine, the first skate magazine popped up called SKATEBOARDER magazine (which only put our four issues, but got renamed and relaunched in 1975), people started skating pools, vert and the first skateboard organisation was formed.
In contrast, many shops stopped selling skateboards as they were considered too dangerous by public officials and cities started banning skateboarding on the streets.
In ’69 Larry Stevenson, the founder of Makaha Skateboards mentioned above, patented the kicktail enabling the evolution of skate tricks we know today. He however didn’t get much out of it as only a few companies decided to pay the royalties. Because of this, his patent later got ruled as invalid.
By the early 70s Frank Nasworthy introduced a small batch of the first urethane wheels named Cadillac Wheels. The Dogtown and Z Boys era began and Alan Gelfand performed and named the first ollie.
Thought the seventies trucks also got their prime time when Ron Bennett built one of the first trucks specifically designed for skateboarding. Freestyle and slalom was a popular thing and the invention of the Stoker trucks created something for downhill. With the invention of the reverse kingpin trucks in 1977, longboards were as stable than ever.
Based on the info I got from various sources, the sport split into two branches: skateboarding and longboarding somewhere around this time period.
The story returns back to Jim Fitzpatrick. He worked for Powell Peralta in the 80s and 90s on the Bones Brigade and with the invention of the VHS the first skate movies got recorded. He also worked as a writer and production assistant for what came to be known as “The Savannah Slamma,” produced by Thrasher Magazine.
In the early 90s longboarding took off as mass producion of the boards started in the US. Around that time sub-disciplines like freestyle, slalom, long distance and downhill gained momentum.
With the invention of the World Wide Web in 1990 by Tim Berners-Lee the promotion of skateboarding soon wasn’t limited to only word of mount and printed magazines.
The bottom line
And what can we take out from this brief history lesson? Well quite a few things actually…
Be an active member in the community.
The influence of skateboarding teams and individuals was huge. Skaters back then did skate demos, talked with people and portrayed the sport the best way they knew how. Like some brands and individuals do today, organising skate sessions, beginner classes, longboard events and other meet-ups, still has massive value.
Attending local and international events is also has importance. Normally this is the only way to skate in a controlled environment and push your limits without the risk of ongoing traffic. It’s also a great chance to meet other skaters and make new friends.
Promote responsible and safe skating
By putting out media, one can be responsible and educational by raising awareness about safety gear and skating within your limits. Posting videos of one nearly escaping a collision with a car might get a lot of views, but the bigger picture is more destructive than positive.
Connect with the media outlets you like
Why not can connect with and support the magazines, websites and blogs you like? They are there to distribute and present your content, support the sport and present it in an objective manner to a wider public. If you want to promote longboarding to the masses, don’t just settle with your limited circle on socials.
Help and support beginners
Every skater also has a chance to educate others. So many times beginners bought a cheap longboard, road it once and then stopped because it wasn’t what they expected – just like the situation with the clay wheels.
Be open minded and connect with others. If you have a newcomer on your local skate spot, teach him/her a thing or two so they get a push in the right direction. With the basics they can start practising on their own just like you did and actually learn a lot faster.
Together we can provide a positive environment without hate or judgement and show newcomers and the general public that longboarding is not as dangerous and as lawless as it looks at a first glance.