The California Kids Who Got Bored and Played a Huge Part in Skateboarding History.

Amancay Tapia

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Before skateboarding became the mainstream sport it is today, it was all rather marginal, almost criminal. Hence the popular motto “Skateboarding is not a crime”.

In 1963, Jack’s, Hobie and Makaha were already doing skate competitions in California but the style back then was freestyle. Think ice skating on a skateboard. By 1965, skateboarding was pretty much a dead sport and many companies closed down.Those who wanted to skate had to make their own skateboards.

In 1972, Cadillac Wheels invented urethane skateboard wheels, which are very similar to the ones skaters still use today and the sport changed for the better.Skaters had more control as the wheels made skateboarding smoother and new tricks were born.

However, it was the severe draught of the mid 70's in southern California that inspired kids to create a new sport when the swimming pools were emptied to save water.Those kids didn’t have the sophisticated laminated boards of today but rusty wooden boards with 4 wheels. Instead of swimming, the kids used the pools as playgrounds to skate. Skaters like Tony Alva, Steve Olson, or Jay Adams started skating in empty pools during the drought that gave birth to bowl skating.

By 1975, a slalom and freestyle contest in Del Mar, California (first big skateboarding competition since the 1960s) skyrocketted the popularity of the skateboarding subculture.The talented Zephyr team (Z-Boys) from Santa Monica and Venice, whose members included amongst others Tony Alva, Jay Adams and Stacy Peralta took part in their Zephyr shirts and Vans and revolutionized skateboarding for good. They had started as surfers in Dogtown, an area of southern Santa Monica and western Los Angeles that includes Venice and Ocean Park beaches.

Steve Alba, aka the Godfather of Pool Skating, was the one in charge of finding pools and cleaning them, way before skateparks were established.

1975 was also the year that saw legendary female skater Laura Thornhill win the first place in slalom and freestyle at a Steve’s South Bay contest. She was the second female skater ever to get her own signature model skateboard, and the first girl to get a Who’s Hot in Skateboarder.

Three years later, Alan Gelfand (nicknamed "Ollie") invented a trick that changed skateboarding forever, the ollie. Most tricks today are based on an ollie and Alan Gelfand was inducted into the skateboard hall of fame in 2002.

Move forward to another golden period in skateboarding, the early 90s. San Francisco was a favourite city for skaters then,and the home of the U.S. most iconic skate spots. Professional skaters, such as Zero Skateboards founder Jamie Thomas (The Chief), began their careers in the Bay Area. Many of the street skate spots 90’s skaters used to frequent, have sadly been demolished but they remain alive in their memories.

The city has always had many links to the sport. It is the home of skateboarding magazine bible, Thrasher magazine, which since 1990 has been naming the “Skater of the Year”, a prestigious accolade announced many times over the years by the great San Francisco legend and editor of Thrasher magazine since 1993, Jake Phelps . He sadly passed in 2019.The first “Skater of the Year” was Tony Hawk, a now worldwide skateboarding legend.

There were also other major skateboarding publications in California, such as the now disappeared “Transworld skateboarding magazine” in Carlsbad.

Skateboarding culture created a sense of community, a sense of belonging, a shared philosophy and a positive outlook on life.Skating is more than a sport, it is a lifestyle, a philosophy, an art form. Skaters have their own rules, their own take on life and even, their own fashion. A fashion that has gone mainstream just like anything that once was niche.

These popular videos from the 90’s in San Francisco with 90’s kids wearing their loose t-shirts, baggy trousers and Vans, are rather similar to the younger generations of today but those skaters, together with the ones that came before them, were the pioneers. Respect!

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