This article is about the skateboard as an object of everyday life, I wrote it a couple of years ago when I was in Iceland.
Like a wooden skatepark, a board it self starts with boards of plywood. Composed of seven wooden plis glued together by a press wich is giving of a concave to the board . The last step is shaping this piece of plywoods pressed together a “deck” on with two parts the front and the back : the nose and the tail.
It is also composed of two trucks made of aluminum which are a link from the wheels to the deck, there is two wheels on each side of the axle truck and two bearing on each side of the wheels.. The wheels can be of different size and hardness, and are usually made of polyurethane. All those gears holds together under the feets of a skateboarder due to the screws but not only.
The Grip tape plays an undispensable for the skater to make tricks and stay on his board. The Gum of the skate shoes is going to be scrape against the board as the other foot makes a pressure on the tail or the nose in order to “pop” the trick.
After a few sessions the skate shoe gets used, for skaters this is a social way to recognize themselves.
This object is use to practice an urban activity semi sport semi artistic called skateboarding which is the skateboarder making tricks in the street, in a skatepark or on a ramp. Skateboarding reflect the general characteristics of modern american society. It illustrate the increasingly prominent role played by the technology in american sports.
To begin we are going to talk about the beginning of the skateboard with it’s invention, it’s first phase of decline and new manners to see the sport . In a second time we will show the creation of the products more adapted to the demand, the construction of skateparks and the mediatisation of skateboard. Building, commercialisation and marketing of the skateboard products. Afterward we get into the infatuation for the skateboard in Europe, the importance of the us and the detachment of european skateboarding of america. And to finish we get into the relation skateboarder to their environment.
The firsts kind of skateboard were in fact scooters for poor kids in the 1930. Recovering an old skate sawed and nailed the two pieces with a crate and they were the handlebar bracket. Subsequently, they got rid of the handlebars, the latter having a limited function to support and not to direction as on the real scooters, the direction being provided by the system of axles skates. In the movie Back to the future there is a nod to the history of skateboarding when the hero is pursued by his enemies in the 1950s, we see pull the handlebars of one of these scooters.
The wood madden board, with trucks and wheels that we call nowadays Skateboard appeared at the end of 1950’s invented by Californian surfers. The firsts industrious skateboards were sales by a company called Humco in 1956. Soon the skateboard will be called «sidewalk surf» or «roll-surf» and will become more and more popular. In Billy Wilder’s film released in 1966 and shot in 1965 the fortune cookie, a scene shows childrens riding on skateboard. In May the skateboard is descripted like doing a «National tidal wave». Now it’s no just the California who’s concerned by the influence of skateboarding. It developed its own cult with it´s own music based on the surf culture. Magazines entirely dedicated to skateboarding appears, (one of the first skateboard magazine: Quarterly skateboard), several contests and championships are organized in 1965. For example in Princeton and Wesleyan Connecticut and a National championship with a prize-money of 500$. The skate business increased a lot in these years and Skateboards companies appeared.
In 1964 the brand Makah, surf skater and Bun Buster sale more than 50.000 boards in south California. The craze was so important that toys firms has been producing a lot of low-end skateboards at a derisory price from 1,99$ to 14,99$ for the most expensive one. Those numbers shown that almost everybody had access to skateboarding in this period even if came with the lowest quality.
In 1965 a citrus production company called Vita pakt based acquired roller skate firm transform it to a skateboarding factory promoted the activity with an acrobatic skateboard team, they successfully did it and the demand increase sufficiently to open two factories more in baltimore and Chicago. They did $100 millions in sale for 1965. The skateboard phenomenon spread to Europe the same year and an Italian producer report the sale of 50.000 board in one month. The sale of 50.000.000 skateboards in 1965 encouraged the companies to produce more. In 1966 The national safety council’s report a lot of injuries ranging from “minor abrasion to death” . Some cities published ordinances to banned the skateboard, like Montclair, New Jersey and Jacksonville, Florida. The skateboard were not build in attempts of the consumers, they were more like toys than real sport material. The skateboarders seen really quickly its limits and were probably disappointed about it. Moreover it was really dangerous to ride with that kind of skateboards because of the wheels who were “unable to absorb a shock of rough-riding surfaces and likely to throw a skater who encounter a pebble”. A couple of more experienced riders were trying to use “ wheels made of plastic, paper and finely-ground walnut shell , to provide a smooth and easily controlled ride” but those wheels were to soft and worn out too quickly, making them economically undesirable. The issue was also the saturation of the market with really cheap low-end and really breakable products which put on danger everybody who use it skateboarders or non-skateboarder, because really breakable.
When skateboarding appear it is for the californian who have the sea and the waves an alternative to the day without waves and for the other who don’t have sea close to their places it is a new manner to express themselves like the surfers does on the sea, In a different way than football, baseball or others typical americans sports. Has a skateboarder say in the documentary untitled Skateboard stories:”here we don’t have waves, we maybe don’t have blue sky, but for sure we are going to skateboarding”. Don Hoffman manager of the pipeline skate-park say about the skateboarders: “a lot of them have never surfed, but they are surf oriented . They’re into the same ideal, the same subculture surfers are, but they didn’t have the advantage of having an ocean to express themselves in, so they did into skating”. What Don Hoffman says is really representative of the demand of new things by the youth, to express themselves. That is also why the skateboard fail in 1966 because it was not able to bring enough liberty of movement and many possibilities of tricks. The improvement of the techniques to build the skateboard material bring new outlook to skateboarding in the beginning of the 1970’s.
In the beginning of the 1970’s skateboard come back with force with a new public of youth peoples who embrace a new generation of skateboards. But after the crash of the skateboards firms in 1966 like vita pakt as we seen it before because of the unfitness of the products and the states who forbade the skateboard, the companies were not really confident anymore. They were afraid that the trend of skateboarding go away a new time and that they find them in a overproduction of board that they do not know how to do with it. Skateboarders begins to be really actor in the skateboarding industry for example Franck Nasworthy, a skateboarder and freshman of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, discovered that the cast molded polyurethane wheels provided remarkable traction and control for skateboard. He create the Cadillac Wheels company and commercialize this wheels in 1973 in all the coast. It’s totally a revolution for the skateboarders of the coast, as we can see in the movie Lords of Dogtown realized by Stacy Peralta him self in 2007, a merchant come to the local surfshop with the new polyurethane wheels that he keep like a tresor to try to deal with the man of the shop called Zephyr surfshop, and the skate team (a band of young skateboarders/surfers all friends and passionate by the ride and tell the story of three of them, considered now as the pioneer of skateboarding Stacy Perralta, Tony Alva and Jay Adams ) of the shop turned crazy when they see that and moreover when they tried it .
As the big companies as been burned by the crash of 1966, new little companies created most of the time by skateboarders appears. In 1975 there were 200 manufacturers who produced skateboards equipments. The most famous and most important were Bahne, Hobie, Hang ten, Gordon and smith for the boards; Sure Grip, Bennett, X-caliber and Chicago who build the trucks, and the companies who molded the wheels were of course Cadillac, Roller sport and Metaflex. In the same year 10 millions boards were sold. The better construction of the skateboard material product the fact that the number of skateboarders grow up greatly, in 1976 the people who practice skateboarding were 10 millions and in 1977-78 The number of skaters were the double reaching the large number of 20 millions practitioners as the same time that the craze came to Europe and even the soviet union. But the progress in skateboarding material was just at his beginning. A new type of polyurethane was invented. This New component of the wheels permit to built different size, color and hardness. For Roby Jamieson professional freestyler at the time this evolution change almost everything:” So with the progress of urethane wheels, that just totally stoked me; you could do so much more on a skateboard, surf moves espacially, you could carve your turns and stuff without sliding, that change everything a lot”. The progress is also made in trucks, manufacturers improved trucks to absorb more shock to achieve more strength, flexibility and to provide more balance. The boards knows a lot of modifications and a lot of kind of board were build wich provide a big choice for your board depending of how do you want to use it: freestyle skating, slalom racing or ordinary recreational street riding. Board with single, double or no kicktails, in aluminum, fiberglass, polypropylene, laminated wood and fiberglass or laminated hard wood. Generally wood was used for speed and fiberglass for tricks. The question of the security and danger of skateboarding spring up again with the new rise of skateboarding in the middle of the 70’s. The consumers products safety commission estimated that over 375000 injuries occurred in 1977, twice the number of 1976 and four time the number of the year 1974. Moreover article who draws skateboarding like an “evil” and too dangerous, showing it like a menace for the childrens in family newspapers and magazines like family health and ladies home journal. This is evident that the number increase because of the growth of practitioners, but after the crash of 1966, the skateboards companies has to do something to avoid a new prohibition therefor a new decline of skateboarding. The response from the manufacturers was to show awareness in launching safety campaigns to sensitize the youth. They began to produced more safety gears, to sell or to rend it in the skate-parks and to make it compulsory.
All this improvements bring to skateboard pushed the price range of the bests components as high as 200$ for a complete deck and 100$ dollars for an average board. At this time skateboard is not a toy anymore and it becomes inaccessible for the lower category of the population. The skaters becomes middle classes males principally mid-to-late teens. With the increasing of the quality of the material providing more and more possibilities in skateboarding and so the increasing a practitioners the level rise a lot. This fact product a new demand of area for skateboarding and to insure the safety of the activity. Some people realize that the skate-parks were like “golden mines” and permits spectacular profits for skate-parks owners, William Yates owner of a park in Jacksonville, Florida “it’s damn a gold mine, I’m pretty sure that I can get my money back In less than one year” . Of course the rise of skateboard Is an opportunity for some people to do a lot of money, even if skate-parks are protecting the sports it goes in an aspect of exploitation of youth hobbies to make money, because of course those places were not free. Don Sapatkins deputy at the moment: “Skateboards… are riding a wave of popularity, proving once again that if yougnster like to do something, adults will tried to make money from it.” A lot of park were build in the end of the 70’s, from the first construction of a park in 1976 to 1978 almost 100 parks were build in the US. The skate-parks were also a way to distribute the skateboard material like trucks boards and wheels but also the derived products like T-shirts decals and safety equipments. Really quickly the level increase again and skaters were asking for more technical skate-park often inspired by the empty swimming pool called bowl but really deep as we can see in the Lords of Dogtown, or bobsled runs . The building of these type of skate-park required special skills. That is why specialist of skateboard were additional to the concrete workers. These types of skate-parks were source of worrying in the beginning a lot of people considered it like too dangerous. Don Hoffman described the description of the badlanders reaction at the opening of the new Pipeline skate-park: “the big bowl was dug out… and they just died. They couldn’t believe it… They keep saying “somebody ‘s going to die in there! This is intense! No way you can ride this … “. After the building of this new kind of modules the insurance companies were really reluctant to insure the skate-parks and a few company were in to insure them. The increasing of difficulty of skate-parks was reserved for the best practitioners reducing a lot the attendance and of course the profits. It show that the skateboard begin to be a really serious thing that not all the people can do and they have to practice a lot if they want to be able to go in that kind of skate-parks.
As skateboarding became more and more spectacular its began to be mediated, differents magazines specialized In skateboarding appears wich attract more and more people and a larger public. The revolution occurs in all sectors attending to skateboard industry. Those peoples were at the origin practitioners of skateboard and same people who bring all the amelioration to the skateboard. The market of skateboarding invade also Europe almost immediately, the boom of keen interest for skateboarding happen in 1978 and take big proportions in the society and in the media. Skateboarding made the first page of several magazine in France and in Europe, show business singers and famous people take over the skateboard. Thierry Dupin the first professional skateboarder in France by Banzaï in 1976 was doing demonstrations behind the big sports stores and all kinds of events. Merely at the back to school 1978 all sponsors like Coca Cola were disinterested by skateboarding and the guys like Thierry Dupin were forgotten. This lost of interest for skateboarding close a page of its history with the freestyles contest who looks like a ballet where skateboarders were doing all kind of turn and where judged like in ice-skating also on the choice of the music, to a new page completely different and a kind of return to the source of skateboarding.
The market of skateboard and the way to conceive skateboarding evolute considerably during the the 80’s. The emergence of promotions videos in the middle of the 80’s is a cape in history of skateboarding. The first video called The Bones brigade video show is produced in 1984 by the brand Powell and shows Stacy Peralta and Craig Slicyk doing crazy tricks on a ramp. It is a real amazement in the skateboard community and after that the video become a obligatory way to make the promotion of a skateboarding company. Fred Mortagne a famous french camera man and video maker, explain in the documentary skateboarding stories that it was for him like a revelation and he became crazy take he’s board and doing all kind of tricks when he saw his first video. The video has always been a commercial object but, for the skateboarders it take a really important part of their lives, we are going to discuss that further later in the next part. This videos create a cleavage between the elites of skateboarders who skate ramp and making tricks in the air , and the skaters who have only sidewalk and street to express themselves. The invention of the ollie in the end of the 70’s and its adaptation on a flat ground by Rodney mullen revolutionize the practice of skateboarding. The ollie permit to jump on the board without putting one foot on the floor or without grabbing the board. In the video Hokus Pokus of 1989 Mark Gonzales and Natas Kaupas are sliding on rails, curbs… and jumping over stairs, the real “street skateboarding” is born. This is the moment when the skaters break off with the surf industry and the big multinationals wich were holding the skateboard because the skaters decides to build it by themselves. From the biggest part of the skate business is developed around street skating consequently the promotionals teams videos also. The shape and the building of skateboards evolve therefor in this way.
The production of a board need an industrial organization to realize the pressing of the boards and outface to the concurrence in therm of price as far as the capacity of production. Almost all the press of boards were in USA or Canada now there is also , there is one in France in the basque country but he quality in inferior. There is a few manufacturers and excepted three great american brand all the boards are build by the few same builders for example: Ps-Stix build the board for Girl, Alien, Plan B, Platinium, New Deal, Mad Circle, Planet earth, rhythm… Taylor built for Chocolate, Expedition, Real, Stereo, Think, Birdhouse, Anti-hero, Invisible… Watson built for Toys machine, Zero, Maple, Foundation, Cartel… and Prime wood for world industrie, Blind, shorty’s flip… The boards are then routed to their own factory’s brand and they decide wich design they are going to put. That’s why The product are relatively standard in fact the skateboarding products are highlighted by their technical and aesthetic attributes. Some boards are designed by well known artists which is an other argument of sale. A few difference exist between the products of different manufacturers because of the same building process and almost the same material. On an other hand there is specificity for each board not depending on the brand. There is different concavity, width, length which permit to the skaters to choose their “size” of board depending on their practice, level and size. The European companies make them board in north America to be sure to have a good quality.
Europe is late of twenty years compared to the US. When the craze of skateboarding spread again it was American products imported by a few distributors. In France for example in 1995 Jean-Michel Vaissette an old freestylers create his own company of distribution of American products. This National firm Hold the great majority of the principal american companies. But V7 was no able to deliver all the skateboards brand given the number really important of them. The distributors Hoff and Templar were distributing the brand that V7 couldn’t distribute. The sale of skateboards is in great majority selective distribution, namely specialized shops, principally skateshops and less surfshops. The products are distributed by the distributors named before. Almost all the skateshops, at list the skateshops enough importants has a “team” to promote the shop. The skateboarding material and clothes are expensive. Certain European skaters were bored by the fact that all skateboard material was american, so they decided to create their own companies like Jeremie Daclin who create the company Cliché in 1998 wich is now the most popular brand of boards in Europe and regroup essentially riders from Europe: Spanishes, Germans, Frenches… Hugo liard who create the brand antiz also specialized in the production of boards. The european skateboard become to be really developed in 1998. Skateboard magazines are created (the first one are sugar an tricks) and 900 000 boards were sold this year. According to a study of Transworld skateboarding business in 2000 skateboarding is in a new phases of increasing. The number of skateboarders know a constant grow.
Recovery by the media image of skateboarding and the abundance of skate brands (Black Label, Blind Enjoi, DVS, World Industries, Element, Chocolate, ES, Lakai, Supra, etnies, carhartt, Jart, Flip, Girl, Globe, Independent, Matix, Osiris, Spitfire, Venture, Volcom, WESC, circle, Cliché, Emerica, Matoël Blend, Baker Skateboard, Anti Hero, Vans, Bones, Altamont Apparel, Carhartt, DC, BoardBreaker, and so many others) was also the “skater style” fashion in itself. Indeed, the stylistic habits of followers, from popular culture and American urban California, are reproduced by a multitude of young people, which for most of them are not even interested in skateboarding. Having developed this style in fashion, the paraphernalia of skaters is expensive, leading sometimes to situations where only the “layers” are actually dress with skate clothes, while practitioners do not necessarily see the interest. The recovery of this mode is a way to show its adherence to a philosophy, even more than a discipline in itself. The spirit of skateboarding has greatly inspired the next generation, becoming a social phenomenon, and a reference among the young. Preference is given to and t-shirts and long pants “baggy” (loose pants down under the buttocks and exposing the underwear), style that we call “Big pants, small wheels” (literally, big pants, and small wheels) or trousers “Slim” with fine shoes and tight T-shirt. The skate shoes, for their part, are very specific. Designed to take the best on a skateboard and damaged as little as possible, they are large and equipped with thick laces. However, the brands of skate shoes are now more discreet models or more traditional, symptomatic of the adoption of skater style by people not practicing. Amalgam is often so and it includes all underground styles under the name skater.
As we know already a great part of skateboarders are young people leaving in the city, in the suburbs or close to a city. With the urbanization since the 1950’s, the number of the yougn peoples in the cities has strongly increased and the representation of the youth has changed a lot and has evolved. In fact the teenage years appear in those years and more importance is giving to the youth and the adult life come later. The youth are searching for activities sportives culturals and intellectuals. Skateboarding is a research of liberty and rolling on skateboard is a kind of liberty. Skateboarding is a way of life for the great part of the skateboarders. The skateboard become a part of your body, You dress like a skater (even if there is a lot of different style in skateboard fashion) The skateboard is also a really good conveyance in the city if you control it enough goodly and if it’s not raining, it is some time faster than the bus and the sensation of fast procure adrenaline which is the skater drug. Skaters are always watching skateboards videos and sharing it with other skaters who are friends, with internet and the community website it is easier for example the Icelandic skaters has a group on facebook where they share all kinds of videos, promotions videos or videos of themselves. The relation to video is really important, we can probably say that it is one of the Background of the modern skateboard. It permit to learn new tricks, to see your default when you are skating, it is a proof of what you done and provide you pride, if you are really good it can also make you famous and it’s a way to admire the beauty and hardness of the tricks made by the “pro” skaters. The discussion are always round skateboarding, about tricks, spots, material… Skateboarding bring to travel and to create links with other skateboarders. It doesn’t the place where are you going the if you are a skateboarder dialogue is really easy with other skaters. For example when I arrived in Iceland, I went to the spot skateboarding and I met more and more skaters as I go along my stay and now I know almost all the skaters of Reykjavik. The concept of group and brotherhood is really important. This is not a team sport but the skaters continually join themselves on the spot which becomes a place of exchange and communication in particular on the latest figures. Skaters are not sharing just videos but also knowledge about tricks, challenging in games of skate where one skater is doing a trick and the other one has to reproduced it, if the skater fail he get a letter, the first who get 5 later: S.K.A.T.E is eliminated. The skater on the spot is sharing its latest research and everyone leaves in his studio to dissect, analyze style, figure, to appropriate it and make it own key. Individuality premium but the confrontation and exchange group that creates the emulsion. those for and those against. Ask: “for or against the tennis? “We will answer this question often does not make sense when you get to skate almost always arguments going in one direction or another. It shows again that skateboarding is really different from the other sports. In other sports, the competition is part and parcel of sport: we appreciate a player based on their ranking. In skate, regulatory competition has never really found its place but the challenge and rivalry between practitioners are constant. Like the X-Games, the competitions are often seen as a festive event as opposed to a tennis championship, which operates as sort out competitors on the ATP tour. There are many champions but it does not look like what import more for the skaters. For example there is no number one and no world champion, each skater skater is different and has he’s own style. The skateboarders cultivates its difference but yet desire to be recognized from the beginning (by being sponsored). Many associations and clubs and a federation make great efforts in this direction. Today there is a state certificate to teach discipline, but most practitioners are not affiliated and do skate without any infrastructure. If the skate is still excluded is because it has difficulty uniting and that many of the skaters prefer to stay outside the conventional circuits in which they do not recognize.
To conclude we can say that the skateboard is a really good example to show how the society evolve these sixty last years and how much the technology can make the difference in this “technological sports”. Even if skateboarding do face to phases of decline its not an effect of fashion anymore and is still anchored in the american culture but with the European liberties. “the speed with wich technology has altered the relation of human to their environment maybe viewed by future historians as a revolution perhaps greater in significance than the agricultural or industrial revolution.”
It show that even if you try to be different in the capitalist society you can’t avoid the society of consumption and the business is a part of skateboard as we want it or not, you can’t build your deck by your self. The skateboarders are conformist in non-conformism because they are following rules of a “clan” of skateboarders.
Sébastien Crétin, la transition des savoirs du skateboard à l’épreuve des nouvelles technologies de l’information et de la communication, université de franche-comté, 2007.
vieille marchiset, Crétin S., les ambivalences des sports de rue dans les sociétés modernes le cas français en question, in loisir et société, Québec, 2006.
“The story of Skateboarding”, Skateboard, n°1, Octobre 1977.
Skateboard stories, Thomas Lallier, Arte.
Donnelly – 2008. Alternative and Mainstream: revisiting the sociological analysis of skateboarding, In: Atkinson & Young (eds) Tribal play: subcultural journeys through sport
Judith A. Davidson Sport and Modern Technology: The Rise of Skateboarding, 1963–1978
The Journal of Popular Culture Volume 18, Issue 4, pages 145–157, Spring 1985