Skateboarding: To the Extreme!

Skateboarding: To the Extreme!

by Bill Gutman

Paperback(First Edition)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312861537
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 05/28/1997
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 120
Product dimensions: 8.06(w) x 10.02(h) x 0.29(d)
Age Range: 13 Years

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To the Extreme!
By Gutman, Bill

Tor Books

Copyright © 1997 Gutman, Bill
All right reserved.

The concept of skateboarding is such a simple one that it's amazing it wasn't discovered much earlier. After all, roller skating became a real sport in the 1860s, nearly one hundred years before the first skateboards began to appear. So it's pretty safe to say that someone must have tinkered with a broken pair of roller skates and attached the wheels to a solid board back then.
That's actually how the first boards appeared. They were homemade creations that probably didn't last very long. There are reports of crude skateboards appearing as early as the 1930s or 1940s. Certainly, there must have been some boards appearing in the 1950s, especially in the warm-weather climates of Florida and California.
Henry Hester, who would someday become a world champion in the skateboard slalom competition, remembers his first skateboard:
"My dad took a piece of two-by-four and nailed some roller-skate wheels onto it," Hester said. "It was maybe twenty-two inches long, only four inches wide, and real simple. I guess I was in junior high school then and a number of my friends had similar homemade boards."
That was in the early 1960s and just about the time the first skateboard revolution was beginning to take place. It all started as a crossover activity. California surfers saw the skateboard as a way to practice their primary sport during bad weather or even at home whenthey couldn't get to the beach. So the first skateboards were substitute surfboards.
Sidewalk surfing became a fad in California around 1962 and lasted about three years. There was even a hit song about it by the then-popular duo Jan and Dean. For the first time, several companies began to manufacture skateboards and the first boards sold like hotcakes. One estimate said that by 1965, there had been some fifty million skateboards sold in the United States.
"We would paint little dots on the streets and slalom in and out of the dots," Henry Hester recalls. "By then we had manufactured boards, but sometimes still fooled around making our own. We made the boards out of plywood and bought what they called 'super surfer' boards that had clay wheels. Sometimes we would glue sandpaper on the tail of the board so we wouldn't slip off and we started doing wheelies and things like that."
But the skateboarding fad of the mid-1960s was short-lived. It crested in 1965, then took a nosedive. There were a number of reasons cited for the rapid decline. The quality of the early boards was not good. Many snapped under the pressure of heavy usage and more daring skaters. The boards were flat and not designed nearly as well as later models. In addition, the small, clay wheels couldn't handle rough surfaces and skaters often wiped out if they hit a rough patch of sidewalk or road. Besides poor traction, the boards simply didn't have enough mobility.
At the same time, the public perception of skateboarding had soured. The sound of the wheels on concrete surfaces was noisy and harsh on the ears. With skateboards cruising up and down the sidewalks, weaving in and out of pedestrians, more people began to fear they would be slammed into by an out-of-control skater. They didn't want to compete for sidewalk space with these often daring and quick skaters.
The fear factor went a step further when the California Medical Association released statistics that showed skateboarding accidents were becoming more prevalent than bicycle accidents as a major cause of injuries to children. In addition, nearly one-third of skateboarding injuries involved adults.
With all of that, a backlash against the sport developed rapidly. Many cities from coast to coast began to pass ordinances that banned skateboarding on public streets and sidewalks. And at the same time the youngsters seemed to lose interest. Too many accidents; too many broken boards. The kids and young adults all seemed to quit around the same time. Like the Hula-Hoop, skateboarding was looked upon as a fad that had come and gone with breakneck speed.
"Hardly anyone skated after 1965 or 1966," Henry Hester remembers. "It had been almost solely a sidewalk sport then. But I remember seeing an early movie about that time called Skater-Dater. It was a boy-meets-girl, boy-leaves-girl kind of movie and all the kids were skating barefooted, going downhill.
"There were even some early big names then. We all knew about Torger Johnson, Bruce Logan and Davey Hilton from Hilton Hotel fame. For awhile, we skated every day. Then it just faded away."
There was even a new skateboarding magazine that came out about that time. It lasted just four issues and folded. Skateboarding was out.
* * *
The status quo didn't change until 1973. The biggest initial innovation in the comeback of skateboarding was the use of urethane wheels. Urethane is a soft, durable plastic that was used on roller-skate wheels first. These wheels were softer than clay and as a result gripped the skating surface better. But they were also slower and roller skaters didn't like them. With skates on both feet, roller skaters didn't have the same traction problems that skateboarders had.
Fortunately, the wheels weren't discarded. It took a surfer named Frank Nasworthy to think of using urethane wheels on skateboards. Nasworthy was from Encinitas, California, and before long his idea was put to use by several skateboarding companies. Urethane wheels gave the skaters a safer, smoother ride. Combined with new, flexible fiberglass boards, skaters now had a piece of equipment they could push to its limits. Skateboarding began to take off once again.
This time the sport really grew quickly. It wasn't just a bunch of kids surfing on the sidewalks. This time it had a real sense of purpose and organization. Skateboard parks began opening around the country--places where people could go and skate half-pipes, in bowls, and on ramps. They could practice downhill and slalom racing or just plain have fun.
There were more competitive contests springing up all over, with skaters competing in downhill racing, slalom racing, cross-country, bowl-riding, and freestyle. More and more youngsters took up the new sport and many became outstanding skateboarders in a relatively short period of time.
By 1976, skateboarding had become a $300 million-a-year business, with both large corporations and small entrepreneurs turning out skateboards at a fast pace.
Rodney Mullen, who would become a world-champion freestyler, began skating at about this very time.
"My father was a doctor and was fearful that I would get hurt on a skateboard," Mullen said. "But finally in January of 1977 he relented and bought me my first board. I was just ten at the time and thought skateboarding was a cool thing to do."
Mullen was so good at it and practiced so much that within two years he won the amateur championship of California and a year later was a world champion in freestyling. He was just thirteen years old at the time.
Mike McGill began skating on a borrowed board when he was nearly twelve. He began on his driveway in Florida and before long had his own board and was building a driveway ramp. From there it was on to a skate park in Tampa, Florida, where he began to excel at vertical skating. Before his fourteenth birthday he was representing his park in contests against other skate parks in the area.
"Back then there was a lot of bowl-riding, flatland freestyle, and snake runs, which was like a cross-country course," McGill said. "This was about 1980 and stuff like the downhill and slalom was already starting to die out by then."
Mike McGill would become a world champion at vertical skating (ramps and bowls), but by that time the sport was changing once again. In the early 1980s, skateboarding inexplicably went into another down period. This one is tough even for guys like Mullen and McGill to explain. It just seemed to happen. Not many youngsters were taking up the sport. But then in the mid-to-late 1980s it began growing once more, and spread to Europe and to the Scandinavian countries, even to Australia.
"I remember about 1985 and 1986 I began going out on a lot of tours, giving demos all over the place," said Mullen. "By 1986, it was huge again and we were all stars."
It was the age of the VCR and skateboarding videos were popping up all over, enabling more and more youngsters to observe the sport in their own living rooms. There were new and better skateboards, with new ideas and new models being tried and sometimes discarded. But the latest boom didn't last, either.
The sport was changing again. It had been a real speed sport during the boom of the mid-1970s. Skaters were running hills, racing in the downhill and slalom and over cross-country courses, trying to beat the fastest time. But by the time of the resurgence of the mid-1980s, most of the speed aspects of the sport had disappeared. New skaters were more interested in technique, and streetstyle slowly evolved.
In the early 1990s, skateboarding was in another state of flux. Once again interest dropped, though not to the extent it had during the other down periods. One of the problems was the disappearance of many skate parks. Problems with liability insurance and lack of interest caused many to close. And many towns and cities still ban skating on most public sidewalks and parking lots. Sometimes a kid just doesn't have a lot of places to skate.
The disappearance of the popular early disciplines (downhill, slalom, flatland freestyle) has eliminated many choices for skaters. The most popular style of skating in the early 1990s is streetstyle. That can be very technical and sometimes devoid of movement.
"I've seen a group of maybe six, seven, or ten skaters just working on one structure or obstacle," said Henry Hester. "Maybe it's a pipe, a curb, or a handrailing. But they'll just stay there and work that thing for two or three hours, trying different technical tricks."
Skateboarding remains ever-changing and evolving. Its history is by no means complete. Because of the unpredictable nature of the sport, there is always a chance that future skaters will once again fly down hills, or zigzag their way through a slalom course or simply perfect new flatland freestyle routines. For that reason, none of those skating techniques should be forgotten.
For in skateboarding, the next chapter in its history could begin tomorrow.
Skateboarding today is a very loosely organized sport, so much so that it may be more accurately described as simply an activity. This may not sound encouraging to newcomers or even to those who have given years to spreading the word and trying to foster increased participation in skateboarding. But the organization or lack of organization has been the result of the uneven history of the sport.
For example, there were once many organized downhill and slalom races throughout the United States. That's how Henry Hester became a champion. But with the decline in downhill and slalom riding by new skateboarders, the competition and organized contests have also disappeared. You can't hold a competition if no one wants to compete.
Flatland freestyle competition is what made Rodney Mullen a champion. In the 1990s, flatland has been replaced by streetstyle. Unless the former flatlanders want to move over to streetstyle, they will no longer be a part of any overall or national organization.
Streetstyle skaters are often technically brilliant. They can do an outstanding number of tricks utilizing natural obstacles such as curbs, handrails, benches, walls--anything that is out on the street. But there is another inherent danger that this style of technical skating presents.
"A lot of kids begin practicing these technical street tricks almost as soon as they get on the board," said Rodney Mullen. "They often end up doing the tricks, but other than that they can't skate at all."
If that's the case, the kids won't ever be able to downhill or slalom, or even skate safely down the street. That's why learning the basics of the sport are so important, and why every aspect will be described in the course of this book.
"I would make every kid starting in the sport learn how to take hills, pop off curbs, really get the feel of the board and not be afraid of a little speed," Mullen continued. "That way he'll get some confidence in what he's doing. He also should be able to switch his stance, push with both his right and left foot. That's important.
"Then when he has all those skills he can begin doing streetstyle tricks if he chooses. With the basic skills he'll learn the tricks much faster and really be able to tear them apart."
Further evidence that the uneven evolution of the sport has hurt it nationally comes from Henry Hester in speaking about the National Skateboard Association. There was a time when the NSA seemed well on its way to becoming the one governing body for skateboarding. Not so in the early nineties.
"Even in the middle 1980s the NSA was running contests in major areas of the country, putting up lights and constructing lavish ramps," Hester said. "They had a vision of a real big blowout type of thing with a big production. But within five years the NSA has become almost a mom-and-pop type of organization.
"The people who run it move around a lot and don't hold as many contests. When they do, it's become more of a backyard kind of thing. Sometimes, for instance, they'll just have a pool-riding contest in a private backyard and they won't even let many spectators in."
Rodney Mullen said that even the judging of existing contests is not always uniform.
"It's vague," he said. "There's no real system for judging. Most of the judges are older skaters who don't really know the latest tricks and maneuvers. It's difficult for a judge to evaluate a skater doing new tricks that he hasn't seen before. The only positive thing is that somehow it usually works out. The winner is usually the person who deserves to win."
In other words, skateboarders are not required to perform certain set maneuvers or tricks. Figure skaters, for instance, must all do the same compulsory figures before their free-skating program. Skateboarders can pretty much do whatever they please.
* * *
The lack of a real organization has also hurt skateboarding in many areas. The result is that many towns and cities continue to ban the sport from public places. In fact, in some small towns, the kids have almost nowhere to skate. They practice tricks in their garages and basements. And while they may become technically proficient, they can't get out in the open spaces and really skate, creating the situation that was described above by Rodney Mullen.
Why is this happening and what can youngsters who want to skate do about it?
Henry Hester feels part of the problem is an old one--the noise level and fear of the unknown.
"The wheels today are harder and noisier," Hester said. "When a group of kids skates down a sidewalk you can really hear it. People who own shops don't want the ruckus and the possibility of skaters running into customers or people walking on the street.
"But that doesn't really happen very often. Skaters usually have pretty good control of what they're doing. If you see a group of five skaters coming toward you there's not much chance you will be hit. In fact, I've never seen anyone on a skateboard hit someone who was walking. Yet I can also see the concern, especially with older people.
"So there's still a kind of prejudice against skateboarders due to the fact that it's noisy and loud."
There have been periods when the image of skateboarders wasn't a good one. Rodney Mullen agrees that the anti-skateboarding feeling isn't always based on fact.
"There's a big bias [against skating] and it's a pain," he said. "There was a time in the eighties when skating was tied to punk rock. It resulted in an image of skaters wearing mohawk hairstyles and looking terrible. I think that negative image has played a big part in skating being banned. Some of the skateboarding magazines didn't help, either.
"But there are plenty of straight, clean-cut kids skating and they shouldn't have to pay the price."
There have also been cases, however, where young skaters don't show much regard for private property. Doing their maneuvers against a bench or a wooden planter, or even a piece of soft marble, can cause damage. And as Henry Hester said, many skaters don't have an appreciation for property because of their age.
The problem of liability insurance has also caused other public places--like parking lots and playgrounds--to ban the boards. It seems strange in that kids have been riding bicycles in these places for years. Anyone can certainly take a bad fall from a bike. But bikes have been around a long time. They are almost part of the landscape. Skateboarding is not.
Again, the solution in a rather loosely knit sport seems to be in one word: Organize.
"In my city, Carlsbad, California, they recently tried banning skateboards from the streets," said vertical-skating champ Mike McGill. "But they left it up to the property owners to post signs if they didn't want skating on their property. So I tell young kids to stay away from areas that are posted.
"But people should try to organize. Kids should get their parents involved. Liability is a problem. No one wants to pay for it. Yet if there are enough kids skating and they have their parents behind them, they should be able to get their city or town to build a place for them to skate. After all, look at all the baseball and football fields around.
"Kids can also go to organizations like the YMCA or Boys and Girls Clubs for help. We don't have enough places now, but if you go through organizations, or have a group of parents speak to the city councils and explain the situation, it can help. How can you allow a kid to ride a bicycle but not a skateboard? What's the difference?"
Henry Hester said that skating was banned in many places in Virginia Beach, California, but that many of the surf shops and businesses that were losing money because of it got together and built a public facility for skaters.
"That's kind of rare right now," Hester said, "but it proves it can be done. The parents helped, too."
Rodney Mullen feels that skateboarding will always be on the edge and never be a fully organized nationwide sport.
"The image just isn't good," he said. "In fact, over the years many of the skateboarding magazines have tended to push the eccentric character of the sport. For those reasons you'll never see it in the Olympics. Yet it's come back to cleaner kids in recent years, without the attitudes and attempts to be cool. There's a lot of normal kids out there who like to skate and they should have a place to do it."
The image Rodney Mullen refers to is that of an outlaw sport where kids often defy authority, skating in prohibited areas and then using their skating skills to flee. Some have indeed seemed to revel in that image. But you will get people like that in any activity.
It seems the key should be playing by the book. Don't flout the rules or the law in order to skate. Instead organize, get together, form a town club or group. Then find a sponsor, maybe a group of parents or some local businessmen. Make a sincere and honest appeal for a place to skate, citing the healthful merits of the sport and the desire of your group to participate together. Maybe even organize some local contests and try to get others interested as spectators.
Skaters won't serve themselves or the sport well by going it alone, by being maverick athletes who flout the rules and rebel. It won't work if they want skateboarding to grow slowly and evenly. If the organization is strong the word will get out. More youngsters will try skating and become interested in the activity. Then, maybe skateboarding will be able to avoid the ups and down that have characterized its history and sabotaged its attempts to organize on state and national levels.
Copyright 1997 by T. D. Media, Inc.


Excerpted from Skateboarding by Gutman, Bill Copyright © 1997 by Gutman, Bill. Excerpted by permission.
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