Skateboarding: Collecting the New Olympic Sport

Skateboarding, an activity that started with a wooden board on roller skate wheels, will now be competing internationally for an Olympic gold medal.

Of the five new sports expected at the 2020 Summer Olympic games in Tokyo, Japan, apart from the usual basketball, mountain bike racing, equestrian, and baseball, one will be the new Olympic sport of skateboarding. A local activity that started with a wooden board on roller skate wheels will now be competing internationally for an Olympic gold medal.

Even its name says it simply, “skates on a board.” Apparently, you can’t surf in California all the time, so in the late 1940s or so (the early history isn’t clear), the surfers invented a way to surf on land during the time you couldn’t surf in the water. Simply attach roller skate wheels on a short piece of wood (sometimes with a handle) and maneuver it as you would a surfboard with your feet, but on land. Sidewalk Surfing really took off – for a while. Then it died by 1965. Why? It was dangerous to life and limb. “The clay [later steel] wheels they used were everything but safe and lead to many injuries,” according to “The Evolution of Skateboarding: A History from Sidewalk Surfing to Superstardomby Skateboarding Magazine, March 5, 2013.

So Frank Nasworthy changed the wheels to polyurethane in 1972 for his Cadillac Wheels Company, which immediately created a smoother glide. The reinvention of the wheel reignited the sport by 1975.  With a better wheel came better maneuvers. Alan “Ollie” Gelfand “…would slam his back foot down on the tail of his board and jump, thereby popping himself and the board into the air,” continues the article. The idea was that you would both come down at the same time and you would continue skateboarding. This tricky maneuver has been called “the ollie” ever since. Most “tricks” start with the “ollie” with injuries consistent with the learning curve.

Skateboarding again slowed to a trickle by the end of the decade relegated to the “anti-establishment” types until the 1980s brought VHS tapes. Now kids everywhere (and they were mostly teen boys) saw how others were doing fancy maneuvers and wanted to do the same. “Vert” skating, maneuvers on inverted ramps like the sides of below ground swimming pools, dominated for a time, but again, because of the injuries, was limited to a relatively small audience. “No skateboarding” signs were everywhere.

By the 2000s, though, competitions were held for prize money, merchandise companies proliferated, specialized clothing and shoes catered to the most serious skateboarder, safety was highlighted, and parks were built (by the local government no less), specifically to keep the skateboarders from tearing up the sidewalks. According to recent statistics in 2009, about 11 million, mostly younger teens and 20s, participate in skateboarding representing nearly $5 billion in business. And so now they can watch for Olympic gold. The history of skateboarding is certainly a persistent one, but how collectible is skateboarding in general?

Early skateboards were made of maple plywood, according to Wikipedia on skateboarding by early companies like Jack’s, Kips, Bings, Hobie, and Makaha beginning in the 1960s. Today those early surfboard style skateboards auction from a high of $1,200 for a wooden Hobie Super Surfer or $800 for a Makaha down to a reasonable $25 or so, depending on condition and material (fiberglass or aluminum ones of the 70s are at the low end). A curious vintage early 1970s skateboard, or scooter really, with handle (a type seen in Back to the Future or Leave it to Beaver) sold for nearly $5,000 in 2012.

Artist Andy Warhol created colorful “decks” in his own style that sold for $3,000 for a set of 9 commercial reproductions in 2014.

If skateboarding represents individuality itself, then your “deck” reflects who you are. In the beginning skateboard art was limited to the skateboard company logo. “Dogtown Cross” may be the earliest recognizable skateboard art from the 1970s created by Wes Humpsten and Jim Muri. Later, the artist Andy Warhol created colorful “decks” in his own style that sold for $3,000 for a set of 9 commercial reproductions in 2014. Artist Jeff Koons also created his well-known Monkey Train “decks” that sold for $2,200 for a set of 3 in 2010. Early skateboard art from Jim Phillips of Santa Cruz Skateboards, Vernon Courtland Johnson for Powell Peralta from the 80s and 90s are all well-known deck designers. Interestingly a lot of specially designed decks are intended as wall art which explains their collectability.

Personalities make up any sport and skateboarding has its legendary skaters like Woody Woodward, Danny Berer and Torger Johnson of the 1960s, the Zephyr Team like Tony Alva and Jay Adams of the 1970s, to Tony Hawk, Stacey Peralta, Steve Caballero, Mike McGill, Rodney Mullen and others that made up The Bones Brigade Video Show in the 1980s. Their autographs can fetch from $100 to $500, especially if it is on a sponsored skateboard deck.

These early skateboarders invented the tricks and performed them in competitions, in personal appearances, and VHS videos for resale to novice skateboarders everywhere. The Bones Brigade gained their fame during early competition like the X-Games shown on the sports channel ESPN. Merchandise from The Bones Brigade include individually signed or sponsored skateboards, VHS tapes, shirts, stickers, photos, toys, programs and figurines that are easily accessible from $10 to $100.

Also follow the history of early skateboarding through the short lived publication The Quarterly Skateboarder that was published beginning in 1964 out of Dana Point, California with only four issues through 1965. It was revived as Skateboarder in the 1970s, but ceased publication as an online issue in 2013. The first three issues were auctioned in 2015 for $2,400 while individual issues range from $109 to $1,500 depending on condition.

The skateboard is even combat ready for military missions.

With the advent and accessibility of the internet, skateboarding has become more mainstream from younger ages to the professional young at heart, no longer relegated to the “punk” scene or the hyper individualists of the 70s and 80s. The skateboard is even combat ready for military missions.

Persistence has paid off. Skateboarding has come a long way from barefoot surfers and clay wheels to become big business with valued collectibles and – soon – Olympic gold medals.  

Anyone can succeed as a skateboarder – as long as the medical insurance holds out.

Tom Carrier is a General Worthologist with a specialty in Americana, political memorabilia and he has been the resident WorthPoint vexillologist (flags, seals and heraldry) since 2007. Tom is also a frequent contributor of articles to WorthPoint.

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