Skateboarding, originally named ‘Sidewalk Surfing’, first appeared in Southern California the 1950s with one simple idea in mind, to surf the streets. Surfers wanted to create something they could use to surf the streets when waves were low, or it was no longer surfing season. The first creator of the skateboard goes unaccredited due to all the attention skateboarding received, meaning the first handmade skateboards were all built within the same time period. There is a story of a Bill Richard, of the Chicago Roller Skate Company, who first attached wheels to the bottom of a wooden board, however, there isn’t much consensus on whether this is the beginning of skateboards. Early skaters built their first skateboards out of wooden boxes or boards with wheels attached to the bottom, until the 1960s when companies started mass-producing skateboards using wood planks until pressed layers of wood, similar to the skateboards seen today, began production.
In 1972, Frank Nasworthy invented the first urethane wheels, which paved the way for a new era of skateboarding. The urethane wheel, compared to clay wheels, rode much smoother and became safer, allowing skaters to experiment with new tricks, styles, and competitions. Up until the 1975 skating was considered relatively clean-cut and tame, considering early participants were well-dressed and upper class, then it all changed when the Z-boys entered the Del Mar competition. The Del Mar skating competition is considered a main event in creating the popularity of skateboarding, because of the non-traditional style of skating introduced by the “Z- Boys”.
The “Z- Boys”, formally known as the zephyr team, was a skate group consisting of twelve members who revolutionized what it meant to skate, and be a skater. Contrary to mainstream skating at the time, the Z-boys didn’t dress properly, they listened Led Zeppelin, and they rode their boards in a style never seen before. The Z-boys rode and competed with a style that amazed the audience, so much so that after the Del Mar competition the popularity of the skateboarding subculture begin to skyrocket, with the help of the Dogtown Articles. After this display of skateboarding by the Z-boys, the image of skateboarding transformed from “conformist” to more edgy and “anti-establishment”. With the growing admiration of the Z-boys style and flare, skating’s new meaning was shaped by Craig Stecyk, a Z-Boy, author of the Dogtown articles. The Dogtown articles are a sort of subcultural media, which aims to spread the style and values of the refashioned skating subculture. (Olivio, 2015) The Dogtown articles would share photos, quotes, descriptions, etc. of the Z-Boys skating in different settings, some photos of the Z-Boys breaking into the homes of the wealthy to skate in their empty pools.
Types of Skating
There are two types of skateboarding, vert and street skating. Vert, formally known as vertical skateboarding, revolutionized by the Z-Boys, consisted of skating in an empty pool, which switches from horizontal to vertical surfaces, which launch the participant to the edges of the pool, much like surfing. The Z-boys pioneered the vert style, by discovering one could skate in an empty pool, and the creation of Ariel and sliding tricks in the pool. Vert became so popular that a style of vert was created, in the 1980s, to nurse an inclusive environment, for participants who didn’t have access to an empty pool, so a ramp was created to offer the similar experience of the empty pool. A second style of skateboarding is street skating, which consists of utilizing public spaces as a means of creative freedom, where the skater can use the space to perform tricks. Freestyle skating spurred attention in 1978 when skater Alan Gelfand invented a trick called an ‘Ollie’, which lifts the board of the ground for a few seconds. The Ollie was a fundamental factor in increasing street skating’s popularity because now most street skating tricks are based of the Ollie. In 1995 there was a large upswing in skateboarding popularity with ESPN airing the X-games featuring skateboarding as one the activities, since then the skateboarding has maintained popularity and has become a multi-million dollar industry.
The Skating Demographic
Skating appeals to individuals who didn’t find their place in other sports because they felt restricted by the structure, or simply didn’t enjoy the sport. Skateboarding offers freedoms to its members, freedom from the mandatory practices of a regular sports, freedom from the supervision of a coach or parent, and the freedom to participate in any way the individual sees fit. With the freedom to participate in any way the participant chooses, comes the idea of Individualism. Skateboarding allows its members to express their individuality in many ways, from the clothes and shoes they wear, to the wheels on their skateboards, or a signature skating style. Skateboarding allows the individuals to represent themselves in way that matches their identity.
The members of the skateboarding subculture can be separated into four separate groups according to participation: “Hardcore/ Serious Skaters”, “Skater”, and “skater affiliates” that differ have in the levels of participation and knowledge about the subcultural history and objects. Hardcore skaters are considered so because of their skating frequency, ability to build their boards, and friendships within the subculture. The divide between the skateboarding subculture and the sport begins at the central values that all subcultural members share, which are freedom, authenticity, and individualism, in addition to an anti-authoritarian sentiment. Skateboarding subculture represents a larger “youth subculture” which holds aspects of freedom, the self, and non-responsibility central.
The skating subculture is a more than concentrated group of participants scattered around the US, rather it is a global phenomenon with an estimated membership of 12 to 20 million, mainly consisting of white youths between the ages 8-22. (Moore, 2009) The appeal of the skateboarding subculture, which invites global participation, is the inclusivity and the ability to define one’s own experience. In becoming a skater, participants claim an identity through their attitude, physical style, and appearance. The aspect of self-identification is favorable to potential members because of their already ostracized or rejected identity within the popular culture. Due to the centrality of individuality, overlap between musical subcultures (punks, Goths, etc.) becomes more evident. On a personal level, this allows the participants of the subculture to agency, social opportunities, and the ability to practice something for as long they decided purely out of love for the sport. Consequently, Skaters have negative stigma that can affect their daily life such as being characterized as: potheads/heavy drug users, criminals, and slackers(contradictory to popular work ethics.