Skateboarding, once just simple extension of the after school go-kart fad, has steadily progressed into a legitimate profitable sport that attracts advertisers, international competition and fame. Once considered a sport for kids, skateboarding has elevated its popularity into a multi-billion dollar industry that attracts even the active over 40 crowd.
According to Rob Meronek, president of Skate Park of Tampa, who has kept accurate figures of his clients since 2004, the numbers of skateboarders who visit his park have both grown in size and age over the years.
“Back in 2004, the only kids who skated at my park were aged 13 and 14,” said Meronek.
Today, 19 percent of skateboarders who visit his park are over the age of 40. That represents a 138 percent increase in the over 40-year-old demographic since 2004. The result of this surprising demographic evolution is that the older the skateboarding crowd, the more money is made through the sales of tennis shoes, shirts, and shorts.
“The surprising thing is that these people aren’t buying skateboards, they’re buying peripheral stuff like clothes,” said Meronek.
Skateboarding has even become the center sport for huge, well-sponsored events like X-Games and Plan-B/Nike where the top performers can expect to make over $20,000 a month through prize money, advertising, magazine, video shoots, and signature products.
Skateboarding’s origin is impossible to trace, but experts believe it started with an inventive kid who decided to nail metal roller skating wheels to the bottom of an old piece of wood. In the late 1950’s manufacturers like “Roller Derby” quickly grabbed on to the fledging fad and began producing ready-to-roll skateboards for stores. Skateboarding quickly joined the ranks of the hula-hoop and yo-yo. Before long clay wheels replaced metal wheels and the sport continued to grow. The first skateboarding contest was held in Hermosa Beach, California in 1963. However the luster of skateboarding was soon to fade after slippery and hazardous wheels were blamed for hundreds of injuries and even deaths.
According to Cameron Lawrence, research writer from the University of Arizona, it was not long before long before police departments across the country began discouraging stores from selling skateboards. Retailers acquiesced and soon suppliers could not give away their product.
“By the mid-1960’s the sport was virtually gone…dead,” said Lawrence.
Then nearly ten years later, in 1972 a man named Frank Nasworthy introduced the first urethane wheels that were made from a polymer compound. Suddenly new energy was infused into skateboarding. Overnight, the loud, slippery sport became smooth and silent. In addition, the boards could now skate on banks and even culverts because the new wheels could grip concrete. Skateboarding suddenly became safer, more fun and began its ascent from fad to profitable sport. California grabbed the spotlight when the Ocean Festival in De Mar hosted the first slalom and freestyle contest.
“That day the skateboarders rode like no one had ever seen and they showed the world what skateboarding could be,” said Tony Owen, veteran skateboarder during an interview with Skateboarding Magazine.
During the 1970’s, surfboard shops began making skateboards out of colored fiberglass and designing the decks in experimental shapes. The new design caught fire with the local surfers. A serious drought in the late 1970’s forced many Californian’s to drain their swimming pools, and before long, the newly designed wheels and shapes were taken to the empty pools. Kids were now elevating the boards off the edge of pool decks, and spinning in the air. Almost simultaneously, kids began constructing makeshift ramps in their backyards and attempting aerial acrobatics like never before.
“The invention of the VHS in the 1980’s was responsible for recording these new techniques so kids all over the world could see the new sport,” said Owen.
The step in the sport’s evolution was the construction of the first public skate park. However, many of these first skate parks were forced to close because of prohibitively high insurance rates. Kids took the sport to the streets, using handrails and sidewalks to demonstrate their skills. The gritty, skateboard culture of modern times caught the eye of broadcasters, and in 1995 ESPN hosted its inaugural X-Games.
“The event changed the way the sports industry viewed action sports athletes and the business of action sports,” said Forbes reporter, Alana Glass.
The event was a huge success, and in 2014, the organizers of the X-Games signed a long-term agreement with the City of Austin to ensure games will be hosted in the Texas city for the next four years, cementing the path in the evolution of skateboarding from fad to highly profitable sport.
By Vincent Aviani