Where have we been, where are we now and where is skateboarding going ?
If we’re going to try to figure out the future, it’s probably a good idea to head back first and see how this thing started.
It all began in the fifties, when Californian surfers started attaching roller skate wheels to planks of wood and riding down their local streets. Skateboard manufacturers started springing up in the early sixties and a new lifestyle was born.
Urethane skateboard wheels were invented in 1972 and are still used today. The mid 70s saw the first skateboard parks begin to appear which naturally spawned new styles of riding, new tricks and new boards as skaters went vertical. Also in the mid 70s, a new competitive scene was born when a slalom and freestyle contest was held at the Ocean Festival in Del Mar, California .The famous Zephyr team turned the skateboarding world on its head with their new aggressive approach to freestyle skating. In 1978 the most famous skate trick of all, the “Ollie”, was invented by Alan Gelfand (the 70s were a big decade for skating).
The 80s were a comparatively slow decade for skateboarding although there was a boost that came with the popularity of the VCR when the first skateboard videos were introduced. The Bones Brigade Video Show was particularly popular and made Steve Caballero, Tony Hawk, Mike McGill, Lance Mountain, Rodney Mullen, Stacy Peralta, and Kevin Staab household names amongst the skating fraternity.
The first Extreme Games were held in Rhode Island in 1995 and the skateboarding competition received a lot of attention leading to increased interest in the sport and raised its profile in the broader community. Skateboarding was also part of the first Winter X games in ’97 and competitive skateboarding had truly become mainstream.
The biggest thing to hit skateboarding in the 2000s is the massive popularity of the video game console. Skateboarding games lend themselves well to the format and there have been smash hit video games every year in the 2000s. A new generation of skaters was born as kids traded their console controllers for the real thing.
The Future of Skateboarding
Competitive skateboarding will be established as a legitimate mainstream sport in much the same way as surfing and surf culture. Just a few decades ago, surfers were looked down upon as untrustworthy reprobates. These days parent don’t think twice about wandering into the surf stores that exist in every shopping mall and loading up on clothes with surf labels for their offspring, who mightn’t even know what a beach looks like. Kelly Slater, Mick Fanning, Rip Curl, Quiksilver and Billabong are all trusted global brands now. Like it or not, watch for skating to go the same way. We’ll see mindblowing tricks leveraging energy and athleticism that would seem unimaginable today. Skate heroes will go mainstream and expect to see a much more advanced global competitive scene. Once again it’s instructive to take a look at surfing’s path. The competitive surfing scene floundered for decades before getting its act together in the late 80s, when the brave step was taken to give ultimate control of the sport to a single governing body. A new man-on-man format was introduced and contests were taken to the best waves at the best time of the year. The overall good of the sport finally overcame parochialism and commercial interest and poor, uncompetitive contests were discarded. Now, surfing has hit the big time – it has sophisticated, multi-tiered competitive scene with massive media coverage. Can skating go the same way ? Yes, if it allows itself to.
When it comes to local ramps and skate parks, expect bigger walls, bigger bowls and more of them. As the current generation of skaters grows up and gets its turn to have a say in council spending and infrastructure, well it’s good news for skaters who like parks and ramps.
Technology will impact skateboards in the same way that it’s hitting so many other products. Stronger, lighter materials will appear and the rapid distribution of information means that board and truck design will advance even faster. The impact of the internet is both a challenge and an opportunity for the local skateboard shop. Ecommerce growth rates are huge and more people are keen to buy skateboards online. The web allows a distribution model that effectively puts the consumer closer to the skateboard warehouse. If you long for the old days of the 70s wooden plank, then this mightn’t do much for you but if you’re kid on a limited budget, it’s all good news. Expect better, more technically advanced products at lower prices.
If skateboarding follows the same lines as other markets, then we might see further consolidation amongst the big brands, similar to Billabong’s acquisition of Sector 9. Other big players in today’s skateboard market are brands like Birdhouse, Girl, Zero, Plan B, Element and Blind. There’s a fair chance we could see a large company buy up a stable of big skate brands to get the pricing benefit that comes with volume, which can obviously help with product pricing but doesn’t always result inoriginal product design and creativity (when was the last time Ford or GM came out with a cool product ?). In any market, if the big get bigger, then opportunities arise for small players to carve out their own niche for local markets and buyers who are less brand conscious.
Maple is still the premium construction material for decks but surely the day is approaching when maple will be superceded, at least for some styles of board. New styles of boards will continue to emerge – the humble skateboard of the early days has already evolved into longboards, cruisers, retro boards, pool boards, old school and mountain boards. As well as lighter, stronger trucks and better quality wheels, there’ll be new deck plan shapes and original artwork.
So there you have it, a quick look at the past and a peek into the future – and the future looks good!