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c. 1950-1976

Introducing the skateboard

Hey everybody! Let's go "sidewalk-surfing"

Downhill is more fun.

The lethal weapon known also known as “the skateboard” is essentially a short plank nailed to a roller-skate—and that is precisely the form in which it emerged in 1950s California. But the activity for which it was used was initially known not as skateboarding but “sidewalk surfing.”  It was a version of beach surfing for those times when the surf was flat—and for those people who didn’t want to get wet.

Firms first began to sell skateboards in 1959, and by 1964, with the first skateboarding magazine, the skateboarding trend had begun to take hold. A year later came the inaugural U. S. National Skateboard Championships. Although, perhaps surprisingly, the first high profile advocate for the sport was a woman: Patti McGee, who even appeared on the cover of LIFE magazine.

Reenergized, the sport returned from the underground. In 1976, the first two specialized skate parks were built, with 200 in existence by 1982. Many closed when insurance premiums became unsustainable.  All, perhaps, to the good for the sport, which still today retains some its edge and counter-culture cool.

Skateboarding took a nosedive at the end of the 1960s. Parents protested its dangers, and shops were reluctant to sell them as a result. But this all changed in the early ’70s, with the introduction of much faster wheels. The danger of collision was the same, but the reward of excitement was greater.

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1945
Three young boys riding on their stomachs down a grassy hill on a skateboard.
Lambert / Getty Images
1950
A DIY skateboard.
Keystone-France / Gamma-Keystone / Getty Images
1964
Children whiz down a hill in a Denver park.
Floyd H. McCall / The Denver Post via Getty Images
1965
The Nash brand of skateboards had their own team. Here, a member tries a free jump over a hurdle.
Bill Ray / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1965
Youths riding skateboard.
Bill Eppridge / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1965
Two RC Christian Brother teachers, Brother Simon & Brother Ambrose , each exuberantly trying out a ride on a skateboard while clad in clerical robes.
Carl Iwasaki / The LIFE Images Collection / Getty Images
1965
19-year-old old Patti McGee doing a handstand on a skateboard in California.
Bill Eppridge / Time Inc / Getty Images
1965
A small teenage boy riding down a hill in Manhattan, New York.
Bill Eppridge / Time Inc / Getty Images
1965
A woman holding a skateboard from which boy has fallen in New York City’s Central Park.
Bill Eppridge / The LIFE Premium Collection / Getty Images
1965
Four boys balance on their skateboards as they skate along a sidewalk in Chicago.
Bettmann / Corbis / Getty
1976
Dave Allen of the University of Colorado Police Department said he is faster than anyone on foot, as long as the fleeing person stays on the walk.
Denver Post / Getty Images
1976
In “Charlie’s Angels,” Jill (Farrah Fawcett-Majors) mastered the skateboard as she eluded a racketeer’s henchman.
ABC Photo Archives / ABC via Getty Images

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