Skateboarding has come a long way since its inception in the late 1940s and early 1950s in California. While the popularity of the sport has ebbed and waned over the years it has rightfully earned its spot as a popular pastime among those who love carving on four wheels.
There are approximately 11 million skateboarding enthusiasts worldwide. It will be part of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, and the skateboarding market is worth an estimated $4.8 billion in annual revenue. Over the years, many professional skaters and skateboard companies have called San Diego, California, their home.
Surfers are credited with creating skateboarding during their downtime when they were unable to surf due to lack of waves. Several small surfing companies emerged during the ’60s Southern California such as Jack’s, Kips’, Hobie, Bing’s and Makaha were the first companies that manufactured skateboards that looked like tiny surfboards.
Makaha founder, Larry Stevenson, put on one of the first skateboard exhibitions in 1963 at the Pier Avenue Junior High School in Hermosa Beach, Calif. Some of the teams who participated in the exhibition also appeared on the 1964 TV show Surf’s Up, which spotlighted the sport and showed viewers how fun it could be.
Freestyle & Slalom
ABC’s Wide World Of Sports was the first network to air a skateboarding competition, the 1965 National Skateboarding Championships, in Anaheim, California in 1965. At the time, there were only two types of skateboarding: freestyle and slalom downhill racing. In freestyle skating, a smooth, flat surface is required along with music and choreography. In the ’60s, many tricks were inspired by gymnastics and dancing. The surfers would mimic their water-based moves on the skateboards.
In slalom, skateboarders race down a course that is usually marked by plastic cones. The object is to finish the course as quickly as possible while knocking down the fewest number of cones.
Not Just A Boy’s Sport
Patti McGee was the first female professional skateboarder. In 1964, she set a record for the fastest girl on a skateboard, going 47 mph during Dick Clark’s World Teen Fair at the Orange County Fair Grounds. She was featured on the cover of Life magazine and Skateboarder magazine in 1965.
Hobie/Vita Pak paid McGee to travel around the country and perform for audiences on the Hobie skateboard. She was so popular during that time that she was even a guest on The Johnny Carson Show. McGee was the first woman to be inducted into the Skateboarding Hall of Fame and has been listed one of the most influential skateboarders of all time.
Other popular surfer-style skateboarders in the 1960s were Danny Bearer, Torger Johnson, Bruce Logan, Bill and Mark Richards, Woody Woodward, and Jim Fitzpatrick. During the sport’s peak, Makaha reportedly sold $10 million worth of skateboarding merchandise between 1963 and 1965. However, skateboarding’s popularity didn’t last.
In 1966, many people started believing that it was too dangerous (particularly with high-speed crashes in the slalom). Many shops stopped stocking skateboards because they didn’t want to promote a risky activity, and parents were uneasy about buying skateboards for their children. Sales plummeted, and Skateboarder magazine folded. The sport’s popularity waned for several years.
Better Wheels & Skateboarding’s Comeback
In the early 1970s, skateboarding’s popularity started to grow again. A man named Frank Nasworthy moved from Virginia to Southern California in 1971 to learn how to ride the waves and saw surfers skateboarding when there was no surf. He had an idea to create soft polyurethane wheels, which lasted longer than the traditional clay and composite wheels that would wear out in as little as seven or eight hours.
The polyurethane wheels offered a smoother, more controllable yet fast ride. After selling them to surf shops in California, news spread of their efficiency, and by 1975 he was selling 300,000 sets of wheels per year. At the same time, Skateboarder magazine began publication again.
The Escondido Reservoir
Skateparks didn’t exist in the early 70s, but skateboarders were creative and used places such as the Escondido reservoir in San Diego to practice their skills. Skateboarding locations were given nicknames such as Tea Bowl, the Fruit Bowl, Bellagio, the Rabbit Hole, Bird Bath, the Egg Bowl, Upland Pool and the Sewer Slide. The development concepts of some terrain skateparks were directly influenced by the Escondido reservoir.
Photo: Brad Logan in the Escondido Reservoir
In 1976, companies started making trucks (axles) specifically for skateboarding. Professional skateboarder Brad Logan told Tracker in 2016 that the trucks “changed it in all terrain: flat, slalom, vertical and pipes. You could climb the side of pools much more efficiently with Trackers because of the way they pivoted.” Robin Logan added, “The Escondido reservoir was the best with them. The rough terrain and going around the bowl, it was true surfing.”
Del Mar National Championships
By 1975, skateboarding’s popularity grew enough to warrant one of the largest competitions since the 1960s. The two-day Del Mar National Championships included an estimated 500 competitors and was sponsored by Bahne Skateboards and Cadillac Wheels (Nasworthy’s company).
Most of the competitors were clean cut and well mannered. Freestyle spinning skate legend Russ Howell won the main event. He had been skating since 1958 and at one point set two Guinness World Records for a two-minute handstand on a skateboard and the most 360s on a skateboard. But it wasn’t Howell that made the biggest impression at the event. It was the Zephyr Competition skateboarding team, also known as the Z-Boys.
Jay Adams was just 15 when he and other members of his team stunned the crowd at the championships by performing explosive, improvised routines that were modeled after Hawaiian surfers Larry Bertlemann, Buttons Kaluhiokalani and Mark Liddell. Their innovative and progressive style would change the face of skateboarding forever.
Adams, Tony Alva, Peggy Oki, Stacy Peralta, and eight others were from a part of southern California known as Dogtown, an area encompassing Venice, Ocean Park and part of Santa Monica. Dogtown was dubbed a “seaside slum” by Skip Engblom, who co-owned a surf shop that sponsored the Z-Boys.
Carlsbad Skatepark in San Diego County is considered the first skatepark in the world. It opened to the public in March 1976. Carlsbad was designed and built by Jack Graham and John O’Malley. The pair designed dozens of skatepark projects, including the Concrete Wave in Anaheim and Shady Acres in Long Beach.
Graham and O’Malley were the impetus for the construction of skateparks all over Southern California, the United States, and eventually worldwide. Carlsbad has been dubbed the “Cooperstown” of skateboarding. Today, the skatepark is no longer in use. It was covered with dirt in the early 1980s, and there was a campaign in the early 2000s to restore it. The current Carlsbad skatepark is not related to the iconic one.
Skating transformed in 1976 due to an unlikely source — the California drought. The Z-Boys along with notable skateboarders such as Ty Page, Bruce Logan, Bobby Piercy, and Kevin Reed, began skating the vertical walls of empty swimming pools. This style became known as “vert.”
Vert skateboarders were able to skate faster and execute more dangerous tricks, such as slash grinds and frontside and backside airs. As a result of this trend, skatepark owners became concerned with liability and insurance costs and many closed. Vert skaters responded by building their own backyard ramps, and freestyle skating became a separate discipline that focused on flat-ground tricks.
The Anti-Skateboarding Movement
The popularity of street skating increased in popularity in the 1980s because many enthusiasts did not have access to vertical ramps. There were only a few skateparks still in existence during this time, so skaters resorted to using public spaces such as shopping centers, city streets, and parking lots to practice their tricks.
The general public and local governments were against skateboarders using their properties for their personal enjoyment. By 1992, the sport’s popularity waned again as the number of vert skaters dropped and there were only a few skateboarders who engaged in the highly technical version of street skating.
Tony Hawk was born in Carlsbad and was raised in San Diego. He was a highly energetic child, so his parents were fully supportive of his skateboarding obsession, which began at the age of 9. He became a professional skateboarder in 1982 when he was just 14, and at 16 he was considered the best competitive skateboarder in the world.
By 1993, he had competed in 103 pro competitions, winning 73 and placing second in 19. He was just 25 years old. Hawk’s record seems nearly unbeatable. He was also the vertical skating’s world champion for 12 consecutive years.
Hawk Makes History At The X Games
While Hawk traveled the world in the late 80s for skating demos and contests, by 1991 the sport had seemingly run its course and was no longer popular nor profitable. Things started to change at the 1997 X Games. During Hawk’s final run, he landed all 17 of the tricks he tried. He also landed four 540s in a row. His performance is considered one of the greatest runs of all time.
At the 1999 X Games, after Hawk’s time ran out during the competition, he landed the first 900 in skateboarding. He was 31. Hawk later told reporters he was determined to land the 900 — or be carried off the ramp on a stretcher.
Hawk Lands A 900 At Age 48
Hawk was the first skateboarder to land a 900, a trick that had eluded him for 10 years. Coupled with his Tony Hawk Pro Skate video game franchise, he became a mainstream celebrity and put on demonstrations and exhibitions all over the world.
Seventeen years after he landed the 900 for the first time in competition, Hawk decided to attempt the trick again at the age of 48. He fell several times before finally landing the trick. The 900 was caught on film, and Hawk is seen hugging his son Spencer and telling the camera that it would be the last time he’d ever attempt to do it.
Danny Way’s Extreme Skateboarding
Professional skateboarder Danny Way started skating in the ’80s and is known for his extreme skateboarding stunts. He won the first skateboarding contest he entered at the age of 11 in 1986. In 1997 he set the world record for “Biggest Air,” a 12-foot high kickflip, and was the first skateboarder to drop into a ramp from a helicopter.
Thrasher magazine named him “Skater of the Year” in 1991 and 2004. He was also the first and only person to ollie over the Great Wall of China in 2005. In 2009, Way set the world record for land speed on a skateboard with assistance from professional skateboarder Rob Drydek.
While Shaun White may be predominantly known for his snowboarding skills, he is also a skateboarder. He was born in San Diego and was inspired by Tony Hawk, whom he met at age 9. White won first place at the Dew Action Sports Tour’s Right Guard Open in skateboard vert in 2006. He is the only skater to land the body varial frontside 540.
White has said his favorite tricks are huge backside airs and the backside 540 but has also admitted he has a difficult time getting a trick back when he hasn’t practiced it in a while. White is the first and only person to win both a summer and winter Dew Cup. In 2010, Ubisoft released the Shaun White Skateboarding video game.
San Diego Skate Companies
San Diego is home to several skate shops. Sector 9 was established in 1993 out of co-founder Dennis Telfer’s house. He and pals Steve Lake, Dane Klimkiwicz, Dennis Telfer, and Tal O’Ferrell started creating their own boards after their favorite deck was stolen.
Soul Grind was also established in 1993. After selling skateboards at San Diego’s Spring Valley swap meet for over 20 years, Pablo Smith and artist Phil Goodrich opened a tiny brick and mortar store that later evolved into a much larger space. The MuirSkate longboard shop was founded in 2005 and started out in a 400-square-foot space at UCSD’s John Muir College. It later relocated into to a 7,000-square-foot warehouse where longboards are assembled by hand.
The World’s Largest Skateboard Ramp
Bob Burnquist is a Brazilian-born professional skateboarder with a huge passion for the sport. At his home in Vista, just north of San Diego, he has the largest skateboard ramp in the world. The massive wooden structure is longer than a football field (approximately 360-feet long) and as high as an eight-story building (75 feet at its apex). The ramp is so unusual, many pilots specifically fly over it to take a look.
Photo: An aerial view of the ramp.
The ramp cost $280,000 to build. It is the world’s only permanent Mega Ramp. Tony Hawk once said of Burnquist: “Bob has this ability that transcends traditional vert skating. He can spin like no one else spins. He’s comfortable upside down. He’s the only one that can actually start backwards on the Mega Ramp.”
The Best Skating Spots In San Diego
With nearly perfect weather and beautiful beaches, it’s not hard to see why San Diego is the perfect place for skateboarding. The city has been featured on the cover of many skateboard magazines over the years, and there are plenty of places to skate downtown, including Washington Street Park, University of Southern California, San Diego and the Patrick Henry 18 rail. Other options include skate parks such as “Poods Park” in Encinitas, Rancho Penasquitos and Carmel Valley Skate Park.
Photo: the Washington Street skatepark
Harrison Beres told the University City High School Commander: “Living in San Diego offers a big advantage for skaters, because the terrain and obstacles apparent here in Southern California are amazing compared to places like the midwest, where everything is flat, and there’s just sidewalks and roads; but here, you can go anywhere and still be able to find spots.”
Clash at Clairemont
Pro skateboarder Andy Macdonald, the YMCA, Grind for Life and industry sponsors created the Clash at Clairemont in San Diego in 2007 to benefit the Mission Valley/Krause Family Skate & Bike Park and Grind for Life cancer charity. The event was a celebration of the newly acquired ramp and park renovations and to help raise money for a good cause.
Photo: Tony Hawk, Clash at Clairemont, 2015
Ten years ago, 45 action sports athletes were featured at the event, and it has grown exponentially. The family-oriented event combines love of sports with a charitable cause.