History of Skateboarding: 8 Fascinating Facts — 2021 Edition

If you want to get into skateboarding, you’ll want to know where it’s headed.

Skateboarding lessons are fun, but no one wants a declining (or illegal!) hobby (more on that later).

To understand skateboarding’s future, we need to look at its past.

Skateboarding has a rich history. Here, GOSKATE wants to honor all the ups and downs. Here let’s highlight some of the key events and people that made skateboarding what it is today.

After reading, you’ll come away with more knowledge about things like:

  • How skateboarding started.
  • The names of a few skateboarding trail-blazers and their contributions.
  • Some common skateboarding tricks, like the famous ollie.

Now, let’s dive in and see how wild this sport’s history was. Because it is a sport, in my humble opinion. Decades of debate regarding this may finally be coming to a close, as you will see by the end of this article.

1. Skateboarding began with California surfers and surf shops.

Surfing was especially popular back in the 1950’s, particularly in California. But the waves weren’t always great, and surfers wanted to stay busy even when the tides were low.

Originally imagined as a way for surfers to keep their skills sharp even on land, the first manufactured skateboards were made by a Los Angeles surf shop. The shop’s owner, Bill Richard, attached sets of skate wheels directly to wooden boards.

That’s right, skateboarding came from surfing.

The popularity of these early skateboards exploded. The way that surfers used them closely resembled actual surfing. Many didn’t even wear shoes, like with actual surfing.

It’s no surprise that early skateboarding was called “sidewalk surfing”, huh?


Early skateboarders didn’t need skateboarding lessons. They already knew how to skate from their time as surfers.

2. How polyurethane kicked off a new era of skateboard tricks.

Old Skateboard with Clay Wheels

Skateboard wheels evolved from clay and metal to synthetic materials.

Though skateboarding was wildly popular in the 50’s and 60’s, it had a serious problem: metal and clay wheels broke easily, endangering the mostly-barefoot original skateboarders.

Thankfully, the development of polyurethane for the wheels allowed better maneuverability and speed.

This new material was also much more durable and greatly reduced accidents caused by broken wheels.

The inclusion of the kicktail, the raised back part of the board, then allowed a new generation of skateboarders to develop entirely new techniques.

The surging popularity of the new and improved skateboards encouraged young people all over the country to push their tricks to the limit.

Today, skaters continue to skate on polyurethane wheels.

3. The origins of the ollie, the key to all skateboarding tricks.


A young Alan “Ollie” Gelfand demonstrating an early form of the famous ollie. The trick we know today started off as no-handed aerials done at the edges of skating bowls and pools.

Of all the tricks created since the sport was born, it was the ollie that really revolutionized skateboarding.

Alan “Ollie” Gelfand invented the ollie in 1978 when he practiced no-handed aerials in bowls and pools in Hollywood’s skate park, Skateboard USA. Scott Goodman, another Hollywood skateboarder, witnessed Gelfand’s aerial maneuvers and gave him his nickname.

Gelfand loved skateboarding and took every opportunity to show it.

We can list only a few of his greatest contributions below:

  • Helped found the Bones Brigade skateboarding team. Many famous skateboarders would join throughout the years, including the legendary Tony Hawk.
  • Helped transform vert, freestyle, and street skateboarding using his signature technique.
  • Built a near-perfect skating bowl called Olliewood in Hollywood, California.

Now there’s a man who loves skateboarding!

Gelfand was also a master of many other skateboarding tricks. With enough practice, you can be one, too.

Check out GOSKATE’s article for five easy tricks, besides the ollie, you can start working on today.

4. Patti McGee —The first female pro and the fastest woman to ever use a skateboard.


Patti McGee’s signed copy of her LIFE magazine, held at the Smithsonian Museum. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian.

There are lots of iconic skateboarders, not least of which is Patti McGee. This rowdy young lady was the first ever woman in professional skateboarding.

Patti was also the fastest woman ever to use a skateboard professionally. In the 1964 Dick Clark’s World Teen Fair held in California, she reached a whopping speed of 47 miles per hour. Yes, teen’s fair. She was only 19 at the time!

Patti was a speed freak. She didn’t just go fast on the board, but through life, too.

Following her success, Patti quickly went to work for the surf and sailing entrepreneur Hobart Alter.

She traveled the country and showed off the Hobie skateboard. Patti’s fame would earn her time on national television on both The Johnny Carson Show and What’s My Line?

She was also featured in the 1965 edition of the Lifemagazine. She was the first woman on the cover of Skateboarder Magazine, and in 2010 she was inducted into the Skateboarding Hall of Fame.

Patti is an icon in skateboarding and paved the way for women all over the world.

5. The skate park purge of the 1980’s almost killed vert skateboarding.

The 1980’s saw a fall in popularity for skateboarding. The huge popularity of the sport started to wane, partly because of all the injuries common to skateboarding.

This caused many skate parks to close and made vert skateboarding a rare sight.

Thankfully, skateboarders took the sport elsewhere. Street skateboarding, the sport’s original form, came back in style. Equipped with technological advancements, the new generation of skateboarders took the world by storm.

In short, the 1980’s was a time of transformation and innovation for skateboarding.

So, where did they go skating if not in parks? Everywhere! Up to and including:

  • Curbs
  • Stairs (the more steps, the more thrills)
  • Handrails
  • Parking lots

All these new environments would then birth many new genres and styles of skateboarding, such as the aptly named park skateboarding and freestyle skateboarding.

This became Street Skateboarding, as we know it today – An Olympic Event!

6. “A Public Menace” — Norway’s 11-Year Crackdown on Skateboarding.

The ollie became famous in 1978. It was in that same year that skateboarding made its way across the ocean to Norway.

But along with the excitement came news of the injuries skateboarders suffered. The Norwegian government took action. The sale, use, and even advertisement of skateboards became illegal.

Skateboarding, and those who practiced it, was declared a public menace.

The Norwegian authorities implemented stiff penalties and laws against skateboarding.

Naturally, this didn’t actually stop skateboarders. People smuggled in boards from Germany. Ramps were built inside forests, out of sight of the police.

For nine painful years, Norwegians had to skateboard in secret.

It wasn’t until 1989 that the sport was finally decriminalized. Almost overnight, thousands of skateboarders across the country took to the streets in celebration. Imagine the celebrations!

7. Skateboards were considered for use as a tactical device in the United States military.

In 1990’s, the US Military considered the combat applications of skateboards. Seriously.


Lance Cpl. Chad Codwell of Baltimore, Maryland, with Charlie Company 1st Battalion 5th Marines. Skateboarding lessons and classes taught the usage of experimental combat skateboards. These were used for moving inside buildings in order to detect tripwires and sniper fire in direct support of Urban Warrior ’99.

When people think of the American military, most would imagine a highly advanced fighting force supported by the largest arsenal of weapons in the world.

Few would believe that the World’s most powerful military once considered using skateboards for combat scenarios.

But that was exactly what happened in the 1990’s.

The Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory developed the combat skateboard to help American troops move around in urban environments.

These boards were used in the Urban Warrior 99 program to safely detect tripwires and other traps inside buildings. They were also used to draw sniper fire!

While the initiative had mixed results, the marines were able to design new protective equipment more suited to urban combat zones thanks to their experimentation with the humble skateboard.

The trial was eventually abandoned.

8. Skateboarding finally becomes an Olympic sport.

Skateboarding gains international recognition in the Olympics.

As you can see, skateboarding has had its fair share of ups and downs over the decades. Now, it is bigger and better than ever before.

It even has a whole day dedicated to it. Check out all you need to know about Go Skateboarding day here.

But the true highlight of skateboarding’s triumph is in its inclusion in the Olympics. After so many decades, it’s about time!

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics were delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It will push through this year, and skateboarding will make its debut.

After all the challenges of the pandemic, the Tokyo 2021 Olympics are finally scheduled to take place. Skateboarding will make its debut in the largest sporting competition in the world.

GOSKATE is thrilled and will be watching eagerly when the Olympics finally come around. Make sure to check out everything you need to know about Olympic skateboarding in our dedicated article.

A Bright Future for Skateboarding

Now that you’ve learned more about the history of skateboarding, you’re all set to appreciate the even better days soon to come.

Skateboarding won’t be the same after the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, and we at GOSKATE can’t wait to see how things develop.

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Andre Aquino

Andre Aquino has always been interested in writing. Ever since obtaining his BFA in Creative Writing in 2018, he has passionately sought out new topics to learn about and share with others. He is also passionate about skateboarding in his free time. Follow him on Twitter to check out his most recent work."