What was once perceived as a hobby run by rebels on wheels in abandoned pools has become mainstream. Skateboarding, once a culture that signified the comraderie of misfits with a newfound skill, will debut as an event at the Summer Olympics for the first time in 2020.
“Every time I think I’ve seen all you can do on a skateboard, someone does something that totally blows my mind,” local skateboard legend Jack Smith said. “And the person who’s doing it is getting younger and younger.”
Skateboarding is ever-changing. The first generation of skaters watch in support as the current generation moves the medium forward with a new flare.
Smith, founder and curator at the Morro Bay Skateboard Museum, first started skating in the 1970s — the decade urethane wheels revolutionized skating and allowed skaters to smoothly practice new tricks that mirrored surfers on waves.
“We used to skateboard at Cal Poly in the 1970s before it was outlawed,” Smith said. “It was a great spot. On weekends, no one would be there, so we had it all to ourselves.”
Smith’s generation was among the founding fathers of skateboarding. Some people believe skateboarding was done as early as the 1920s, but the hobby rose in popularity in the late 1950s and early 1960s in Southern California, according to Smith.
Without an older generation to learn from, these skaters self-taught everything we know about skateboarding today.
“In the ‘70s, there were no adults involved,” Smith said. “Nowadays, you have Mom and Dad taking little Johnny or Jessica to skateboard camp. We didn’t have that. We had to learn as we went along.”
Today, what was once a merely newfound hobby has transformed into a sport, an art, a form of transportation — a lifestyle. And now, skaters have the support of older skaters, according to Morro Bay Skateboard Museum docent Eric Terhorst.
“For the first time, there are adults who skated when they were kids who can understand,” Terhorst said.
As skateboarding transcends the original demographic and rises in popularity, cities like San Luis Obispo have responded. Publicly-funded skate parks have provided skaters a free, unfenced space to practice their skills.
The San Luis Obispo Skate Park was constructed in 2015 after a decade of planning and fundraising, including a $50,000 donation from the Tony Hawk Foundation. The foundation ensured the park would be free to the public for all to enjoy.
When the park celebrated its third anniversary in February, ambassador and former professional skateboarder Kevin Rucks reflected on its role in the skate community.
“This park is for the kids of the future,” Rucks said. “Just in this three-year period, I’ve seen kids who have really excelled in their ability and skill. There are a lot of kids here in San Luis [Obispo] who have the potential to be pro skateboarders. They’re that good.”
Business administration sophomore Aiden Drugge agreed. He has been skating since first grade in skateparks throughout Santa Cruz, California, near his hometown. When he came to San Luis Obispo, the skaters’ skill levels exceeded his expectations.
“There are so many good skaters here,” Drugge said. “I don’t know where these people come from. You would think in a small area like this, there wouldn’t be very many people who shred, but there are.”
Along with their boards, each skater brings their individual style to the park — one of the many ways skateboarding differs from a traditional sport, according to Rucks. Most skaters do not have a coach to help perfect their skills.
“You can have 15 guys doing the same trick and they’re all gonna do it differently. You’re out there dancing on wheels,” Rucks said. “It’s not like football where you need to get a touchdown or you need to throw the ball a certain way. In skateboarding, there are no rules or regulations.”
Skateboard competitions are judged, not scored.
“A lot of skateboarders are very athletic, but they may not like being told what to do or how to do it,” Drugge said.
The interconnectedness in the skateboarding community sets the sport apart. Surprise visits from professional skaters are not so far-fetched in the skateboarding world, according to Rucks.
“The chances of seeing Kobe Bryant or Shaquille O’Neal or Stephen Curry show up at your local basketball court is pretty rare,” Rucks said. “But at a skate park like this, pros show up all the time.”
X Games Champion Paul Rodriguez and Street League Champion Nyjah Huston, among others, have stopped by the park to meet aspiring skaters and show off their skills on camera. Drugge was at the San Luis Obispo Skate Park one afternoon when the film crew for “Thrasher Magazine’s” “King of the Road” appeared.
“It’s one thing to watch the people here who are good, but watching the pros is unreal,” Drugge said. “They have so much control and power.”
The future of skateboarding
Electric skateboards have brakes, and subsequently, they are the only skateboards permitted for riding on Cal Poly’s campus. However, according to Drugge, many skaters can stop just as quickly on a traditional skateboard. The electric skateboards can be just as slow to stop.
“I understand the rule because campus is mostly hills, but I think you should be able to skate on the parts that aren’t hills,” Drugge said.
The early skaters in the 1970s sought something new. Terhorst predicts the future of skateboarding will mirror the original generation of skaters’ yearning to cross new territories. They will continue to move it forward.
“They are always looking for another way to skate that hasn’t been stepped on yet,” Terhorst said.
From street to transition skating, and downhill to freestyle skating, new styles move skateboarding forward. According to Drugge, it is a sport, an art and a way to get around, all in one.
“That’s why it’s the best,” Drugge said.