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How the Skateboard Has Evolved

author image Frank Whittemore
In Jacksonville, Fla., Frank Whittemore is a content strategist with over a decade of experience as a hospital corpsman in the U.S. Navy and a licensed paramedic. He has over 15 years experience writing for several Fortune 500 companies. Whittemore writes on topics in medicine, nature, science, technology, the arts, cuisine, travel and sports.
How the Skateboard Has Evolved
The ability to do daredevil tricks on skateboards reinvigorated the sport. Photo Credit Benis Arapovic/Hemera/Getty Images

Skateboarding originated from the homemade scooters constructed from fruit crates and soap boxes, with metal roller skate wheels nailed to the bottom. These scooters, popular among kids during the 1940s and 50s, set the stage for the skateboard craze to come. Since then, skateboarding has grown into a mainstream sport with wide recognition. The skateboard has changed over the years to accommodate the growth of the sport, becoming a highly specialized, precision piece of sports equipment.

Sidewalk Surfing

The 1950s and 60s saw the growing popularity of surfing among young people. Surfing greatly influenced skateboarding, which could provide a similar experience on land. Small manufacturers began producing limited quantities of skateboards, sometimes referred to as "sidewalk surf boards." These new boards were narrow, only 6 or 7 inches wide, and continued to use metal wheels similar to those on adjustable skates.

The Skateboard Was Born

With the introduction of the "Roller Derby Skateboard" in 1959, the term skateboard was coined. By the 1960s, surfboard makers Hobie and Makaha and other manufacturers began producing boards with clay wheels. Better trucks and boards, now known as decks, made skateboarding easier, and later innovations would revolutionize the sport.

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Bigger and Better

Two significant improvements revolutionized the sport of skateboarding in the early 1970s. In 1971, Richard Stevenson invented the kicktail on a skateboard deck. This upturned back end provided a higher level of control over the board itself. During this time, the polyurethane wheel was also invented by Richard Nasworthy. The urethane wheel was tough and resilient, with good traction and better shock absorption than the older metal or ceramic wheels. Over time, the skateboard deck was also widened to 9 inches or more to provide a more stable platform.

Going Airborne With Ollies

As interest in skateboarding waned in the 1970s, a small group of enthusiasts began developing new tricks that pushed their skills to the limit. Alan "Ollie" Gelfand figured out how to get his skateboard airborne, developing the trick called the "Ollie." This new style of riding and performing tricks opened up a new world for skateboarders. The National Skateboarding Association was established in 1981. During the 1980s, manufacturers of skateboards responded with improved decks featuring custom-designed artwork. New trucks, bearings and wheels were made to exact specifications and higher tolerances suitable to riding and performing tricks.

After the X-Games

In the 1990s, skateboarding became widely recognized when ESPN sponsored the 1995 X-Games, with skateboarding as a featured competition. The acceptance of skateboarding into the mainstream sporting community continues to increase its popularity, influencing manufacturers to produce faster, more maneuverable and durable skateboards. Decks have become thinner, narrower, concave and more flexible with upturns on both ends. Trucks and bearings have also improved. Many professional skateboarders have moved into a design and development role, continuing to create innovative changes to keep the sport alive.

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