The History of Skateboard Culture
Since the beginning of time children have found creative ways of building personal transportation. In early times children would ride goats or ponies. Sometimes they would build rafts or float on logs and go exploring down their local waterways. In the winter they would build sleds and go careening down the icy slopes. This is all part of the wonderful world of make believe. In modern times children have bikes, scooters, and roller-skate. But one of the most influential of all is the skateboard.
In the early twentieth century, bicycles were extremely popular. However many families could not afford to buy their child a bike. Roller-skates were an affordable alternative. However skates were small and poorly made so it was not uncommon for one of the skates to get lost or broken. In theses situations, through the unlimited ingenuity of children, they found a way to salvage the remaining skate. They would cut them in half and nail each truck to the end of a two by four. Then they would attach a fruit crate for handlebars to construct a makeshift scooter. Sometimes they would ride them without a fruit crate. This in essence was the “first skateboard.” This has tremendous importance in the years to come. It was these simple scooters that were the precursors to all that would come after them. They set the foundation for a revolution that would change our culture forever.
In the late fifties and early sixties in California, surfing was experiencing a huge boom in popularity. During the middle of the day when the surf was bad the surfers had to find some other distraction to occupy their time. At some point somebody thought to take a homemade scooter and remove the handle bars. As you might expect this was very dangerous. They had no turning ability whatsoever and the metal wheels would stop on the smallest of pebbles leaving you kissing the pavement. It took a number of attempts just to be able to stay on the board. The first commercial skateboard was manufactured in 1959 by the Roller Derby Company. By 1960, skateboarding had built up a sizable following among the surf community as an after-surfing activity. In those days surfing was everything and skateboarding was just an extension of that.
The very fist “skate shop” was opened on October 6, 1962, in North Hollywood, California. The Val Surf Shop was started by Bill Richards and his two sons Mark and Kurt (ages 15 and 18). They were some of the first people to recognize skateboards as more than just toys. They arranged a deal with Chicago Roller Skate Company to sell them just the trucks. At first high school students would shape there own boards and mount the trucks themselves. They sold a few complete boards but not more than ten a week. With time the business started to take off. Aside from walk-in business they offered skateboards by mail-order. This was the beginning of the skateboard industry that now represents a large portion of sports manufactures today.
The Val Surf Shop joined forces with Hobie Alter, the renowned surfboard shaper. Hobie began making surfboards in his garage in 1950 and in 1954 he went into business. He originally focused on high performance surfboards but changed his direction toward skateboards when he saw their sudden rise in popularity. He worked with the Val Surf Shop on a popular line of skateboards in 1964, but his biggest successes would come later. Skateboarding has always been supported by small shops and hardcore local which is one of the reasons it never vanished into obscurity like the hula-hoop or the yoyo. I has always had its hardcore riders to carry on the sport through the bad times progressing and taking it to new levels.
It sounds strange, but one of the most influential skateboard companies in the sixties didn’t start out as a surf company. The Vita-Pakt Juices Company was looking to expand their financial horizons. They had recently purchased a roller skate manufacture, but Ed Morgan had other plans. Since they were located in Covina, California, they were influenced by the beach crowd. He noticed how popular skateboards were getting and saw a potential profit. The Vita-Pakt Co. was owned by Baron Hilton, owner of the Hilton Hotel Chain. His sons Dave and Steve were devoted skateboarders and supported the skateboard idea. In 1964, Hobie Alter joined with Vita-Pakt in a marketing manufacturing partnership. He was already a notable figure in the surf community and brought a great deal of respect. They spent a lot of money on a massive publicity campaign. A Hobie super surfer team was put together with top riders, including a young Dave Hilton. This was the true birth of the skateboard team as we now recognize it. They were some of the first to start doing the flat land tricks that defined the 60’s style. Nowadays is common place for kids to be getting paid millions of dollars to skate professionally. In the words of Skip Engblom it was “like Nike coming to you and telling you they would give you a million dollars to go around town and spray graffiti”.
They were thinking about different ways to promote skateboards when Hobie had an idea. He had recently seen the surf film Endless Summer and many surf shops would run clips of it in the shop. He talked to the man who created it, Bruce Brown, about organizing a skate tour. He rented a bus and set out across country. They traveled from California to New York. The trip cost about $5000 but it paid off in full. They would stop in towns all along there bus route, perform skate demos, and have free showings of the movie Endless Summer. Hobie recalls they had over 10,000 people at one showing. Hilton owned the San Diego Chargers football team and commissioned the Hobie Super Surfer team to perform at their Thanksgiving game. Promotion has always been a challenge for Skateboard companies. They want to stay true to there hardcore roots but they don’t want to scare off new skaters with images of the dirty surf grunge lifestyle. However they have always found creative ways of promoting their sport.
Due to the amount of publicity, the skateboard team was helping sales to soar. But they needed to improve the product if they wanted to keep the business of the thriving new skateboard community. They came out with the first pressure mold skateboard which gained instant popularity. They were also the first company to manufacture skateboard trucks instead of ordering them from a roller skate company. However the product, even with the new innovations was still fairly unreliable. Over time, as it is said necessity being the mother of invention people took the old ideas and improved upon the. The when those ideas became old they were improved upon and so on and so forth.
Larry Stevenson was one of the very first people to promote skateboards in the surfing community. In 1961 he was working on Surf Guide magazine. Surfing was exploding in popularity at the time, especially in California. He realized that he was in a position to endorse any product he felt was exceptional. When he was young he had played with homemade scooters similar to the “fruit crate cruisers” of old. He noticed many kids riding on boards with roller-skate trucks nailed to the bottom. He realized that by riding without handlebars you could imitate many surfing maneuvers. He began writing articles about skateboarding. Pretty soon it began catching on with the surf community. This was said to be the real reason that skateboarding became to be connected to surfing. In it’s root form modern skateboarding takes it’s style from surfing. Though it has been influenced by many other sports it’s style and aesthetic comes directly from the simulation of wave riding on concrete.
In 1963, Stevenson started Makaha Skateboards in Santa Monica, California.. They started out with a few different models. The Standard was 29” long and the shorter Malibu was 18”. Because they were shaped like surfboards they were more popular with surfers than many other boards on the market. They cost about $7.77 to make and were sold for $12.95 a piece. He experimented with alternative materials, such as plywood and foam. He even tried making wheels out of nylon. They were also the first to sponsor a skateboard competition. It was held at Pier Avenue Junior High in Hermosa, California, in the fall of 1963. Makaha Boards grew to over 10,000 board orders a day. By 1965 they had sold over $40,000,000 worth of boards. They were also revolutionary in that they were the first company to sponsor a skate team. However, when the Hobie team came about with is radical, hip new image many of the team members left Makaha to join Hobie.
In 1965, Surfer Publications released the first skateboard magazine. Its original name was The Quarterly Skateboarder. The first cover featured Dave Hilton doing a high jump maneuver. In the first editorial, John Serverson predicted the future of skateboarding with surprising accuracy. He predicted that it would become a true sport. He predicted that it would become a more “’measurable’ sport” than surfing because it was more accessible and therefore would lend itself to a wider audience. He said the new breed of skateboarders coming up would be the pioneers of the sport and would have an enormous impact on the world of sports. Here is a reproduction of that article:
Whenever a new sport comes into existence or an existing sport suddenly gains popularity, its thrills are often compared to other sports. People compare the thrills of surfing to skydiving, bull fighting, skiing, and other exciting individual-participation sports. These same comparisons will be made and are being made in the sport of skate- boarding. It’s similar in many ways to surfing and to skiing, not only in maneuvers and techniques, but in many cases, in terms as well. Many of the same surfing positions are used in skateboarding, as evidenced in our “SURF/SKI/SKATE” article in this issue. Several months ago LIFE Magazine ran an article entitled “Sidewalk Surfing?” Sure, that’s what it is, but we predict a lot more for skateboarding. We predict a real future for the sport — a future that could go as far as the Olympics. It’s a much more “measurable” sport than surfing and therefore lends itself more to competition. In the slalom, there’s no question about who the winner is — the fastest time through the gates. Flatland stunts and performance will be a matter of judgment, but at least the asphalt isn’t moving — everyone gets an equal opportunity. Competition should be big in skateboarding, but it’s going to take organization and support from the participants.
Today’s skateboarders are founders in this sport— they’re pioneers — they are first. There is no history in skateboarding — it’s being made now — by you. The sport is being molded and we believe that doing the right thing now will lead to a bright future for the sport. Already there are storm clouds on the horizon with opponents of the sport talking about ban and restriction. Skateboarding is not a sport of speed; it’s a sport of skill. It’s not a sport of destruction — of others or yourself. It’s a sport of control. It’s up to you to see that skateboarding does not become a sport of rebels and radicals. It’s a sport for young sportsmen. We look forward to a great future in skateboarding and we ask you, the pioneers, to make it great.’
This publication was canceled at the end of the first wave of skateboard popularity, but it has been reincarnated in different forms over time. In 1975 they restored the Quarterly Skateboarder. It depicted the second wave with stylish and artful images. Though California was the epicenter of skateboarding, they also showed skateboarding in other parts of the world. However, most people did not have access to a skate park and if they did they were often poorly maintained. For this reason they started to run issues featuring other sports such as skiing, BMX, and roller-skating. In the years following the second wave, skating began to take on a more aggressive underground style. It became associated with punk and new wave music and started to transition from slalom and downhill to city parks, backyard pools, and homemade ramps and half-pipes. Skateboarder Magazine (the name had been shortened) had a hard time coping with the outlaw culture and they started to lose sponsors. In 1980 they renamed themselves Action Now Magazine. Unfortunately many of its readers took it as a direct insult to their sport and promptly stopped reading it. After that it was all downhill. The magazine stopped printing in 1982. Magazines have always played a part in shaping the culture of skateboarding. They provide an example of the way skateboarding should look and inspires new skaters to try new tricks and do wilder stunts. They dictate the fashion, music, and even the style of skating.
On of the biggest skate revolution of the seventies was the invention of the urethane wheel. Urethane is a petroleum-based product developed in 1930’s in Germany. The man responsible for bringing urethane to skate wheels was Frank Nasworthy. Nasworthy grew up in Norfolk, Virginia, where he got caught up in the first skateboard craze. Though he was an avid skateboarder, surfing was his true passion. In 1970, he was visiting his friend’s father’s urethane shop on a trip with his surfing buddy, Bill Howard. He noticed a tub full of roller-skate wheels. He realized that they could be used for skateboard wheels and brought thirty of them home with him. Keep in mind that these were not yet the high performance wheels of today with grease-injected, high-performance bearings. They utilized a loose ball system where the balls we held in only by the nut on the end of the axle.
Soon after that, Nasworthy decided to move to California after visiting on a trip. However, the idea of urethane wheels was not forgotten. He contacted Creative Urethanes to see if he could have another set of wheels made for him to market. They told him he could not use another customers design and he would have to come up with his own and that the minimum order had to be at least 1000. He got back in contact with his friend Bill Howard, who now lived in Los Angeles.
They decided that they needed to bring an heir of prestige to there skateboard wheels. So in 1972 Cadillac Wheels started production. Frank took his wheels around southern California peddling them at the different surf shops. At first there was some resistance to the new wheels. They were almost as expensive as a new skateboard which at the time retailed for about $8.00. To arouse more interest he began giving away free demo wheels so that people could try them out. He started getting larger and larger orders. Two thousand, four thousand, the numbers just kept rising. In 1974, Frank took over Cadillac Wheels full-time. By this time they were getting enormous orders (over $50,000 to be exact) and people started to take notice.
Roller Sports, the company who made the original order of roller-skate wheels, bought Creative Urethanes and their entire wheel-making operation. They when on a huge marketing campaign to compete with Cadillac. Cadillac Wheels began a partnership with Bahne Skateboard who were experimenting with different kinds of flexible skateboards. Bahne boards and Cadillac wheels were a huge success. Now that people had urethane wheels people had a much larger range of skateable area. They could ride down hills that would have broken bones before. It even allowed skaters to stick to the walls of pools. Without the invention of the urethane wheels vertical skating would never have been possible.
However, a problem began to evolve with the way the bearings fit in the wheels. Skaters wanted super soft wheels, but if the wheels were too soft, the bearings would pop out of the racers. They decided to start molding a polycarbonate hub inside the wheel but the molding system they use made the wheels less smooth. They also began facing competition with Road Racer Wheels which incorporated the first sealed bearings. After a time Road Racer began to replace Cadillac in the wheel business. Nasworthy and Bahne pulled out of the wheel business.
Nasworthy moved to Florida to pursue his next big dream. He wanted to build the first real skateboard park. When it opened in 1978, it was completely state of the art. Plus it was enormous. Unfortunately, because it was outside, it was frequently shut down and it closed a year later.
The trucks are an often overlook but essential part of the skateboard. The same is true of the history of the skateboard truck. In the late fifties and through the sixties the Chicago roller-skate company was the only major producer of trucks. However, after the introduction of the urethane wheel in 1972, a whole new breed of truck manufacturers arose. Companies like Bennet, Gullwing and Tracker were coming up with new ideas that revolutionized the way that trucks were designed. With the new improvements in truck technology skaters could turn faster and therefore skate faster. Skaters started adopting more aerodynamic skating stances because they didn’t have to carve so much.
Tracker trucks started in 1974 after a carpenter named Dave Dominy tried a skateboard equipped with Cadillac wheels. He realized with these new extra wide wheels the trucks were just too scrawny with the narrow a wheel base. He took a pair of Sure Grip trucks and modified them to make them more “stable and strong”. The downhill racing community embraced the new design immediately but others were more skeptical. Many shop owners did not believe that they would be able to turn quick enough. However, after a demonstration, they were convinced and many board manufacturers began selling them on their boards.
Bennet trucks was started by an architectural engineer, Robert Bennet, in Orange County, California, in 1975. Bennet was on a mission to revolutionize the skate truck. His design had the kingpin--the rod that pivots when the truck turns--mounted below the axle. This meant that it would not rub on the ground or on pool coping. They also incorporated locknuts with a special “rubber compound” that provided softer steering and less slippage.
In late 1975, a skater of some repute named Mike Williams would put his mark on the world of truck design. His design incorporated a split axle that allowed you not only to adjust truck tension but steering radius also. Over time the design was refined and eventually the famous groove in the axle was replaced altogether.
In the late seventies, truck designs became more and more complex with elaborate spring turning systems. The designs got wilder and wilder with independent kingpins and suspension systems. During this time period there were two young skaters making names for themselves in northern California. John Hutson was ruling the downhill slalom, while Rick Blackhart was pushing the limits of vertical skating. Hutson, as a sponsored skater for Santa Cruz Skateboards riding on Bennet trucks, was under a lot of pressure to switch to Tracker. He became involved in testing the independent suspension truck along with his friend Rick for Jay Shuirman. It was incredible. It turned more without hanging up.
At the same time a movement toward more aggressive skating was taking place. This was due in part to the influence of Tony Alva and other former Z-Boys coming out of Santa Monica, California. Work began on making a tougher more durable truck for this new breed of “extreme” skates. Oddly enough, the end result, which had nothing to do with independent suspension, was called the Independent truck. After it was released in 1978, it experienced a huge explosion of popularity, especially after Bobby Valdez did the first inverted front side roll in at a contest in Newark, California.
The Tracker Trucks Company introduced a lighter magnesium truck with a plastic slide plate called a “coper.” Independent launched the Grind Master as a spoof of the coper but ironically it became more popular than the original. (At this time “grinding” meant just stalling for a second on the pool coping. It was not until the eighties that people began sliding down handrails.) Nevertheless the introduction of the Independent was a great leap in the progression of skate technology.
In the 1960s Santa Monica, California, was the epicenter of the aggressive movement. Skateboarding had all but died out in the rest of the country, but it survived in California, especially in surf communities as a form of entertainment when the surf was bad. The most influential skaters came from a grungy rundown part of town known as Dogtown. Dogtown spawned skaters like Tony Alva, Jay Adams, Stacy Peralta, and Shogo Kubo. In 1968, maverick surfboard shaper Jeff Ho, artist Craig Stecyk, and Skip Engblom, who had a long history in the world of skateboarding, came together to form Zepher Surf.
In Dogtown, if you were on the Zepher team, you were one of the best surfers around. Many of the kids that hung out around the shop liked skateboarding. They would practice in front of the shop on Bicknell Hill and on banked slopes off leveled local school yards. Their skating was an extension of their surfing and they practiced the low aggressive style that was popular at that time. With the introduction of urethane wheels they were able to take their skating to a whole new level. The Zephyr Surf shop started selling custom boards which incorporated a rocker design and their signature ribs on the bottom.
In 1975, the Zephyr skate team went to the National Skateboard Championships in Del Mar, California. There were really only California skaters there, but it didn’t matter. The Z-Boys, as the team was then known, blew away the competition. Their low aggressive style was a world apart from the upright style of the day. They rode around doing Bertleman slides and looking like rock stars, intimidating all the parents. It wasn’t just their skating, but there whole image. Unlike the few other teams competing at the time they had a uniform. They looked like a street gang with worn out levies, dark blue vans shoes, and navy blue shirts with the zepher logo silk screened on them. They came in and stole the show. The judges had never seen anything that could compare to what the z-boys were doing. They had the figure out how to judge them within their judging criteria. In the end at least one z-boy paced in every category. They were some of the first skaters to adopt an outlaw image. Their influence is still everywhere in the skating world.
During 1976 and 1978 California experienced the worst drought in recorded history. People had to stop watering their lawns and pools started drying up. It was this drought that made skateboarding what it is today. They would ride around the neighborhood searching for new places to skate and someone came up with the idea to skate in the dried-up pools in people’s backyards. It was like a wave made of concrete.
They got it down to a system. They would find a target, wait until nobody was home, go in with pumps and brooms and such, pump out any excess water, and be skating in a matter of hours. They started getting more and more extreme, even getting up onto the coping on the side of the pool and doing stalls. There is a famous picture of Z-Boy Tony Alva doing a front-side air about a foot above the lip of a pool. It was this moment that forever changed the world of skateboarding, bringing it off the walls and into the air.
Then Z-Boys helped to spark a second wave of skateboarding larger than the first. Besides the aggressive new style of skateboarding, there was something else that came out of Santa Monica that changed the face of skateboarding forever. Wes Humpston was a skater in the Dogtown area for many years. He was also a good friend of Jim Muir from the Z-boys team. He was never really as good as some of the guys he rode with, but that’s not surprising considering he was skating with people like Tony Alva, Jay Adams, and Stacy Peralta.
Humpston found his niche in making new boards for his friends. He also found he could trade his work for other parts he needed such as trucks and wheels. He started experimenting with simple graphics on the bottoms of the decks. He incorporated the Dogtown Cross design--originally developed by Craig Stecyk of Zephyr--and adding wings and scrolling text. Humpston’s designs began getting more complex and elaborate, eventually filling the whole board like a mural. Humpston and Muir were the only people at the time who put graphics on there boards so they can truly be credited for this tradition that still carries on today. In today’s world where all skateboards are practically the same shape the graphics are really the only thing that makes them distinguishable from each other. Without the work of Wes Humpton and others today's skateboard world might be radically different.
Skateboard magazines have always played a great part in molding the culture of skateboarding. After the demise of Action Now Magazine in the late seventies, there were no skateboard magazines and readers were craving information. In the early eighties, Fausto Vitello, the manufacturer of Independent trucks, thought someone needed to publish an all-skateboarding magazine. Unfortunately, the magazine industry was not receptive to this idea, and he had to look elsewhere. He gathered some investors and started Thrasher magazine, named after the angry rebel tone skateboarding had taken at the time.
Thrasher was published by skaters for skaters, an idea that was very well received. It was originally printed on large newsprint but has since moved to standard-size glossy paper. The magazine promoted the outlaw lifestyle and the incorporation of structur\es such as handrails, ledges, stairs, and ramps in skating. They were heavily involved in the promotion of skating as a lifestyle and not just a sport. Since they were published near San Francisco they could expose their readers to everything cutting edge in the world of music. They tried exposing their readers to every genre from Punk/Thrash to New-Wave to Hip Hop to Heavy Metal. Many famous skaters submitted their own writing and photographs to the magazine. With the introduction of the world wide web they extended their audience around the world. Whether or not its influence was good or bad for the sport, Thrasher’s influence is indisputable.
For many parents of young skaters, the graphic, hardcore nature of Thrasher was too intense. So they opted for the more “family friendly” magazine Trans-world Skateboarding. It was much more up-beat and kid-friendly, opting to show skateboarding as a sport such as skiing or roller skating. It offered retailers something to show parents that wouldn’t scare them away from the sport. It had interviews with pros and articles about different skate spots, and it served as a catalog for different manufacturers.
Powell/Peralta has been a landmark in the skateboard industry for many years and has brought us many of the products we use today. In 1974 George Powell was working for an aerospace company when his son asked him for a skateboard. He resurrected his old Super Surfer from their garage, but his son came back the next day and told him it was no good because it had clay wheels. Powell bought a plastic department store board but was not satisfied with the quality. He purchased a Fiberflex board and was amazed at how well it performed in comparison with his old Hobie. He realized the potential of boards equipped with urethane wheels and became obsessed with designing his own boards.
Powell began making his own wheels at home in his oven using premixed urethane epoxies and homemade molds. He first made rigid boards with aircraft grade aluminum and fiberglass but, after a chance encounter with legendary skateboard designer Tom Sims, his focus changed. He contacted Sims to see if he had any interest in the boards he was designing and, though Sims was not particularly interested, he was looking for something that could compete with the Fiberflex design.
Powell worked with his aluminum/fiberglass design until it was perfect. He asked former Z-Boy Rider Stacey Peralta to test it for him. Peralta was so impressed with the design and the way it bounced back when you pumped it in a turn that he offered to purchase a model on the spot. Powell deliberated leaving the aerospace industry to work on skateboards full time. His decision was made for him when he was laid off a month later, so he moved to Santa Barbara and plunged headlong into the skateboard industry.
In late 1976 Powell and Sims formally decided to market the Quicksilver ProSlalom deck. It had three different weight models the 50kg, 70 kg, and 90 kg, which offered the right amount of flex for each weight category The ProSlalom also had the option of having your name engraved on the top of the deck, which made it custom and also helped you to identify it if it was lost or stolen. Soon after they introduced the Quicktail which was stiffer than the Quicksilver and had a kicktail. At the same time they also introduced the first double radial wheels, which were made out of a denser urethane, that came out white and so they called them “Bones” wheels. They started experimenting with neon-colored boards called Brite Lites.
In 1978 Stacy Peralta joined forces with Powell. Stacy had been successful riding for other companies and his signature model pro boards, The Warptail I and II, were some of the biggest selling boards ever. One thing that Powell allowed him to do was to experiment. He could try different shapes and materials or what ever changes he wanted. His first Powell Signature board, the Beamer, was a huge hit. Many of the products he worked on were designed for vertical riding. Peralta started putting together the famous Bones Brigade Skateboard team with members such as Mike McGill, Steve Caballaro, and Allan Gelfand. Every one on the team had their own individual styles and talents. In 1982, when skateboarding started becoming popular again, Rodney Mullen joined the Bones Brigade team. Other riders followed soon after, such as the legendary Tony Hawk.
After the second “skatebust,” when skateboarding moved underground once more, Powell was one of the few companies that did not go bankrupt. After business started picking up again, George Powell started saving up to produce a video. They produced the fist Bones Brigade video in 1984. It was produced by Stacey Peralta and Craig Stecyk, formerly of Zephyr Surf Shop. It starts with an ignorant television host speaking generally about skateboarding. Peralta get so mad that he puts a pick axe through the TV. Then he pulls a skateboard from the wreckage and says the famous line “Now This Is Skateboarding”. It features skateboarder Lance Mountain as the host. The most talented members of the Bones Brigade traveled to different skate spots and showcased their talent. They rode mostly on backyard ramps, pools, and a few early skate parks, but there was a memorable sequence riding at high speed on a long downhill slide run. It cost just over $15,000 to produce and sold 30,000 copies. The team kept growing and they went on to make more movies, eventually containing real storylines. All of the videos reflected the beautiful artistry and brilliance of Craig Stecyk, who also designed most of their advertising campaigns. During the partnership of Stacy Peralta and George Powell they helped to bring skateboarding to a whole new breed of skateboarders.
There was one man who, more than anyone, changed the kind of content that was portrayed on skateboard graphics--Vernon “Court” Johnson. He was responsible for such memorable icons as the Tony Hawk bird skull, the Caballero Dragon, and the Rodney Mullen Skeleton. Court was Powell’s first employee. “Court had always been a great artist,” recalled Powell. Ray Rodriguez, one of the Powell riders, came up to him one day and asked him if he could draw a picture of a skeleton holding a sword. Court decided to use the style of Escher, the Dutch artist who was famous for his signature black and white optical illusions. The whole process took close to eight months to complete because they had to keep trying new ways of making the silk screening come out on the decks. The boards turned out to be a big hit. Johnson worked on almost every Powell project thereafter. His work began appearing on shirts, stickers, and posters as well. His style has been imitated may time by many different artists and, ever since, skulls and skeletons have been a part of skateboard culture and art.
During the third wave of skateboarding, something interesting happened. Many of the skaters who were getting too old to ride competitively began branching off into their own companies. At the start of the third wave in the early eighties, there were five big skateboarding companies: Powell/Peralta, Santa Cruz, Tracker, Independent, and Vision. Interesting enough, as these companies got larger and larger, they tended to become more conservative and corporate. Many skaters felt these big companies were deaf to their suggestions.
At the same time, skateboarding became increasingly technical and moved from ramps to street. Freestyle skating began incorporating ollies as a base for performing flip tricks such as kickflips and pop shuvits. Skaters began using smaller, harder wheels to increase their ollie height.
Today most people in the skateboarding world know of the board manufacturer World Industries. Less known is that this industry giant was once a small upstart company. This is the story of how World Industries came to be. Steve Rocco was a sponsored skater for many years. Rocco was the first skater to strike out on his own in the skateboard industry. When Vision bought out Sims in 1987, Rocco was kicked off the Sims team for his rebellious behavior. Just as he was considering leaving the skateboard industry for good, Rocco got a job at Skip Engblom’s company, Santa Monica Airlines. (They were located right next to the airport in Santa Monica.) The Rocco Division was born. Rocco joined with freestyle great Rodney Mullen. They went through some financial problems and Rodney eventually backed out due to pressure from Powell, Rodney’s sponsor. Santa Monica Airlines was leasing their name to Santa Cruz Skateboards at the time and when Rocco ran an ad saying that Santa Cruz’s “special formula wheels” were not, in fact, special (owing to the fact that they bought from their urethane products from the same place), Skip Engblom told Rocco he could not use the Santa Monica Airlines name any more.
At the same time, Rodney Mullen was having second thoughts about quitting the Rocco Division and told Powell he was quitting. George Powell got angry and told him he was an idiot for considering Rocco Division over Powell. After that Mullen joined forces with Rocco full time. They change the name to SMA World Industries as a joke, but Powell threatened legal action. So they removed SMA and became simply World Industries.
World Industries’ bizarre business practices turned the skating world upside down. They would run ads that had nothing to do with their products, make decks featuring cartoons characters, and decks that looked nothing like the boards of the day. These things may not seem so strange today but in those days they were completely unheard of. It was as if Nike had started making high heels and running commercials featuring the Simpsons. The cartoons represented a new wit and humor that the industry was lacking before. It was a breath of fresh air from the usual skulls and crosses. Rodney Mullen made his début as a board shaper. He utilized a blunt nose style that, though it looks strange today, was the true predecessor of today’s boards. World helped spawn many other companies such as Blind, 101, Plan B, Zero, Toy Machine, and Foundation. World industries stole the skateboard industry from the corporate money makers and brought a sense of humor and style to skateboarding.
In addition to World and its progeny, the nineties skating boom also witnessed the emergence of many other skateboard companies such as Alien Workshop, New Deal, Bird House, Shorty’s, Girl, Chocolate, and many others. But, interesting enough, the big winner in the nineties were not skateboard manufacturers so much as manufacturers of skating clothing and shoes. In the early days of skateboarding, many skaters wore Converse Chuck Taylor signature basketball shoes. They worked well because they were flexible and durable. The soles were extra sticky to provide better traction which was excellent for skateboarding. There were a few odd skate shoes during the sixties but they never really caught on.
Vans were really the first skate shoe company. They had a factory in Anaheim, California, and they had retail stores up and down California. Vans shoes were popular with surfers who could appreciate high quality, long-lasting products. When the second wave hit California, Vans were the obvious choice for skateboarders. Many of the best skaters of the seventies refused to ride in anything but Vans. Their skaters included Tony Alva, Stacy Peralta, and Jerry Valdez. In fact, Vans were part of the official Z-Boys uniform. Because all the pros wore Vans, everybody else wore them too. Originally you could only get Vans in three colors. In the mid-seventies, Vans went to a two-tone red-and-blue look. Extra padding was added for improved comfort and durability. The “Off The Wall” model as it was called was very popular among boarders. They were available in low- and high-cut models and a special model with an ankle guard called a VANS GUARD. Though skateboarding was in a recession in 1982, Van got a lot of publicity in the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High, starring Sean Penn. His character Jeff Spicoli sported a pair of their black-and-white checkered model. Vans continues to be an important player in the skateboard world today, sponsoring the Vans Triple crown events and the Vans Warped Tour. They now market a wide variety of apparel and shoes as well as a alternative record label. They have also sponsored many skate videos and one documentary “Dogtown and The Z-Boys”.
Vision was one of the biggest skate-related companies of the past forty years. Vision was started during the second skate boom by a woman named Lou Ann Lee. She began making skate pants in her garage. They began becoming popular in the skate community. Lou Ann’s brother, Brad Lee, got involved in the distribution and marketing side of the business. Brad introduced The Space Plate, a plastic skid plate that protected the tail of the board from being worn off when you stopped. After the success of the Space Plate, business really started to take off and the decision was made to enter the board manufacturing business. They produced a few boards, eventually licensing a skater named Mark “Gator” Rogowski. His signature board was very popular and they soon signed another street skater name, Mark Gonzales. In the beginning of the eighties, Vision licensed the Sims trademark from Tom Sims and began making boards under the Sims name.
Vision also began producing a wide variety of soft goods. Other companies started asking them to produce products for them. Vision street wear was born. They made everything from shoes to shirts to hats to pants and jackets. They ran numerous ads featuring their new products. They licensed a couple of\other skateboard brands and began producing brands under other names. They produced a number of promotional skate videos including Skate Visions and Psycho Skate. Unfortunately, near the end of the decade, the focus of skateboarding was about to switch from vert to street and Vision was slow to catch on. Thought they vanished from the mainstream skate scene they helped to pave the way for many skate clothing manufacturers in the future.
Airwalk was started in 1986 by a man named George Yohn. Yohn had tried to break into the shoe business a number of times before hitting it big. He had tried tennis shoes, aerobics shoes, and jogging shoes all without much success. Airwalk was the first real company that made shoes originally intended for skateboarding. They were durable and flexile like Vans with similar styling. They were marketed directly to skateboarders which made them extremely popular in the skate community. They sponsored many famous riders, including Tony Hawk. They were designed to perform well doing ollie-based tricks which were the new craze among rides.
Airwalk decided to expand to the market of mainstream fashion, releasing a line of non-skate inspired shoes. Many skaters felt that by going mainstream they were abandoning their skating heritage. Many shops stopped selling their shoes. This affected their sales in a big way, but they resolved the problem by vowing to only market their skate line to “skate shops” and not sell to other sporting goods stores. However, they never completely recovered and from that point on they were always second best in the skate shoe industry.
Etnies were the first brand to challenge Vans and Airwalk. They were originally imported by French freestyle pro Pierre Andre. Eventually Andre was able to secure the trademark and now markets four brands, including Emerica and Es. Over time more brands popped up to challenge Vans and Airwalk. Simple, Axion, Duffs, Osiris, DC, and many others. Today most shoe companies market clothing lines as well. Many of the styles popularized by skateboarding have carried over to popular culture and other extreme sports. The skate shoe industry alone has now become larger than the rest of skateboarding combined.
In today’s world of X-Games and video games, skateboarding has become more popular and commercial than ever. We must remember that wasn’t always how it was. There are some who can still appreciate the wind in there hair as they carve down the road. It does not have to be about who can do an inverted airwalk 540º or who got sponsored at age twelve. There is a new movement in the world of skateboarding today. Skaters young and old are rediscovering the mostly forgotten art form of skateboarding. They are learning to appreciate the importance of style over tactical complexities. If you get dissatisfied and disillusioned with the state that skateboarding you can still learn to appreciate the feeling you get by bombing down a hill at 38 miles an hour. This is a thrill I know well and I’m going to go out and enjoy it. So remember, when life gets you down, there’s a manmade jungle outside your door just waiting to be explored. So catch yourself an asphalt wave and hold on for the ride of your life.