How California Propelled the Skateboard Industry Into Profitability

Not all billion-dollar Golden State industries originate in Silicon Valley. Some, like skateboarding, get propelled into profitability by a bunch of So Cal preteens with too much adrenaline. While rudimentary forms of skateboarding have been around for years, it turned into a revenue-making industry right here in California.

The Evolution of Skateboarding

1920’s -1930’s: DIY Skateboards

No one really knows who made the first skateboard. Different models have evolved over the last 100 years. Early innovators started by slapping old roller skate wheels onto a wooden crate or drawer. Just hop on and you’re flying. If you think that sounds dangerous…you’re right.

DIY skateboards were made by slapping old roller skate wheels onto wooden crates.

1959: The First Commercial Skateboards

But, not everyone can ride a homemade contraption. So, sensing a huge opportunity, Roller Derby created and released the first commercial skateboards in the late 1950’s. The clunky red skateboards were a hit, even if they were better in concept than reality.

1960’s: Newer Versions & Skateboard Movies Create Big Sales in California

In the 1960’s, California skateboard companies updated the boards, prompting profitability. Big events in the 60’s included:

  • 1963-Larry Stevens founded Makaha Skateboards in his garage in Venice Beach, California. Makaha featured updated skateboard models and held an exhibition in Hermosa Beach, California to show them off.
  • Between 1963 and 1965, Makaha reported $10 million in sales.
  • 1966-The Academy of Motion Pictures nominates skateboard film Skater Dater for an Academy Award. Makaha, Hobie and other skateboard companies report selling almost 50 million skateboards.

However, sales halted when a group of safety experts released a report on the dangers of skateboarding. Parents responded by refusing to buy them. Eventually, the skating hype died down.

Frank Nasworthy invented polyurethane wheels, which made the ride smoother

1970 – 1975: Skateboarding Sales Soar with A Trifecta of Skateboard Upgrades by California Companies

Sales revenue improved in the 1970’s with updated wheel, truck and body style innovation.

  • 1971-Makaha founder Larry Stevenson patented the kicktail improving maneuverability and control.
  • 1973Frank Nasworthy rocked the industry with the invention of polyurethane wheels. Replacing the old clay and steel wheels made the board glide. Frank’s company, Cadillac Wheels helped restore skateboarding’s popularity.
  • 1975-Bennet Truks released the first trucks made specifically for skateboards. The new type of trucks enabled better turns and carving.

1975: Meet the Z-Boys of Santa Monica, California

In the early 70’s, a group of skaters with cool tricks and huge egos shook up the industry. They came from Santa Monica, California with enough charismatic swagger to ignite a new generation of skateboarders and spark profitability. The group included Tony Alva, Stacey Peralta and Jay Adams who started as members of the Zephyr Surf Team, AKA the Z-Boys. They started skateboarding to recreate the feeling of riding the waves. The Z-Boys became notorious for their rowdy behavior, questionable antics and brilliant surf moves performed on their skateboards. They stole the show at surf competitions by running their fingers on the pavement like professional surfer Larry Bertlemann, who dragged his fingers over the waves while surfing.

Drought struck southern California in the 70’s. So, homeowners drained their swimming pools to reserve water; many pools around the state sat empty. This opened up a whole new world to the skaters who saw the pools as new skate territory to perfect their aerial moves. When the Z-Boys snuck in to the empty pools, they confirmed their status as disrespectful skate punks.

Skateboarding Revenue Soars in Southern California

In 1976, Skateparks in Carlsbad, California and Port Orange, Florida opened for public use. The parks were built in an effort to emulate the pool skating experience in a safe, legal environment. Reports of California’s skateboard revenue piqued investor interest. By 1982, more than 200 skateparks were built in the US.

Alva, Adams and Peralta spent hours looking for empty swimming pools where they could practice new aerial maneuvers

Skateboarding’s popularity soared due to industry innovations. California companies Hobie (Dana Point) and Free Spirit Skateboards (Santa Ana) struggled to keep up with demand. Skateboard fever spread from across the US until…

Concerns over skateboarder injuries and property damage prompted new restrictions throughout Southern California. Newport Beach banned skateboarding on streets with a grade of 6% (or higher). Police officers stood ready with citations for violations. In addition, the skate parks struggled to find affordable insurance to cover what many considered a dangerous sport for minors. Although hard core skaters never slowed down, the sport as a whole had trouble just finding a place to practice.

1980’s Skateboarding Movies Introduce Pro Skateboarders & Increase Profitability

But nothing could totally demolish Skateboarding. Movies like the ones listed below created new industry buzz and helped launch pro skaters like Tony Hawk into World-wide sensations. The films inspired the next generation of thrashers. Some of the films even made money.

80’s Skate Films

  • 1984 “The Bones Brigade Show, starring Stacey Peralta, Tony Hawk, Mike McGill, Steve Caballero and Rodney Mullen.
  • 1986 Thashin’ starring James Brolin, Pamela Gildley as members from rival gangs falling in love. Also features Tony Hawk, Tony Alva, Christian Hosoi and Steve Caballero.
  • 1986 The Search For Animal Chin starring the Bones Brigade search for wise man Won Ton Animal Chin, performing tricks along the way.
  • 1989 Gleaming the Cube starring Christian Slater as a skater determined to find the real reason for his brother’s death. The film takes in a cumulative $2,777,280.

Obviously, the wave of increased popularity brought profitability to California-based skateboard companies. Brands like Powell Peralta and Santa Cruz made further body-style modifications with skinnier planks and shorter tails. Skate shoes by brands like Vans and Vision raked in skater revenue. Professional skaters like Tony Hawk started clothing lines, selling millions in hats, shirts and shorts. In short, skateboarding and skateboard products became a lifestyle obsession.

Skaters crafted homemade ramps and copied the pros

Soon, skaters crafted homemade ramps and copied the pros while their friends video taped. True to the sport skaters displayed personal style and bravery that bordered on insanity.

1990’s X Games Break the Skateboard Sales Slump

After yet another slump in the early 1990’s, skateboarding surged in popularity again. With video access to cool tricks and widely televised competitions, the sport became known worldwide.

1995-Skateboarding was featured at the Inaugural X Games, created and produced by ESPN. Well known sponsors and famous athletes helped the first competition to be a big success. As a result, 500,000 fans attended.

Consequently, the number of skateboarders increased 60% from 1999 – 2002 from 7.8 million to a whopping 12.5 million.

2000 – Present Skateboarding Respected Sport

Today, the skateboarding industry is worth an estimated $1.9 billion. In 2006, more kids rode skateboards than played baseball. In addition, more city governments began to see the wisdom in giving skaters their own space to skate safely. A conscious move to drive skaters to designated spots and away from urban areas resulted in the construction of new skate parks.

Skateboarding has become a respected world-wide sport with its own Hall of Fame

As you can see, the skateboard industry grew in profitability through California brands, competitions and pro athletes. What started as a quirky pastime for a few adventure junkies has become a worldwide obsession with the sales to prove it. However, the ultimate nod to skateboarding has yet to take place. In 2016, the Olympic Committee announced that skateboarding would have a spot in the 2020 Olympics. Of course, this has been postponed due to the Corona Virus Pandemic. But, what else would you expect? That’s skateboarding.

Published by Michelle Kratzer

I like to write. I love the ocean. I live for babies and dogs and giggles.

2 thoughts on “How California Propelled the Skateboard Industry Into Profitability

    1. Hey thanks for the feedback. I used so many sources for that post (movies, books, internet). I will try to put something together for you. Such an interesting topic!

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