Skateboarding Culture in the USA


3 minutes

Have you ever gotten air on a skateboard? There’s a moment, after the peak of the jump as you’re on the way down, where you feel euphoric and terrified at the same time. You’re flying! …But you also might land incorrectly and knock out all your teeth. This intensity is probably why skateboarding has been an important part of youth culture for decades. And it’s not just the sport itself: from Vans shoes to Tony Hawk video games, the culture surrounding skateboarding culture is just as intense. Although it’s now a global phenomenon, skateboarding has a very specific place in American popular culture. Read on to find out more!

Beginnings

Skateboarding culture was born in Southern California in the 1960s. Several of the clothing brands currently associated with the scene, such as Vans, got their start then, too. The 1960s saw a great cultural clash in the USA. The generation of adults that fought in World War II were at that time fighting the values of their children - now known as “Baby Boomers” - who took more liberal views on pretty much everything. This included sports and leisure activities. California’s Baby Boomer youth culture in the 1960s was marked by teenagers congregating outside in the state’s temperate weather. This meant cruising in cars - a novel thing for teenagers to own at this point in American history - and on skateboards.

Person on skateboard in skatepark with palm trees in background
Palm trees and clear skies are typical Southern California imagery. Note the Vans slip-on shoes as well!
Image courtesy of Pexels

In the late 70s, short plastic skateboards, known as “penny boards,” were introduced.

Young woman sits while holding skateboard
A penny board is a great way to accessorize!
Image courtesy of Pexels

Longboards - as the name suggests, extra-long skateboards - grew in popularity around this time as well.

Two men lean on railing with skateboard
A longboard goes with any outfit!
Image courtesy of Pexels

Growing Popularity

Whether it’s a longboard or short penny board, you may notice that these variants are not exactly aerodynamic. Accordingly, the early decades of skateboarding were less about people doing tricks and more about using boards as an aesthetic or quirky means of transportation. In the 1980s and 90s, however, skateboarding exploded in popularity. In the 80s, a cadre of young, serious-minded skaters grew up poised for success the following decade.

The 1990s were extreme! That is, marketing and advertising leaned on the word “extreme” in a variety of media - music, television, video games, and even fashion. This extended to sports: 1994 saw the debut of the “X Games” - televised competition of sports that had previously been out of the mainstream eye, such as snowboarding, surfing, and skateboarding. These were indeed extreme sports: success meant taking risks, and failure often resulted in injury.

Tony Hawk - famous for being the first to successfully land the skateboarding trick known as the 900 - rode the wave of this popularity. In 1999, Tony lent his name and likeness to what would become an increasingly popular and influential video game series: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. Most Americans of Generation X, and many Millennials, have at least heard of Tony. Similarly, all serious video gamers of these generations have played his games. (The first two were recently remade as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2.) Skateboarding’s popularity rolled into the 2000s.

Tony Hawk and a young boy at a skatepark
Tony Hawk was an inspiration to many young fans in the 1990s and 2000s.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Modern Skateboarding Culture

Whereas skater fashion was a distinct subculture in the 1990s and 2000s, in the 2010s the style started to blend with other cultures. By the late 10s, the “hypebeast” emerged. The hypebeast style blends skater clothes with other “streetwear” and a gritty, tattooed aesthetic. Popular hypebeast brands include Supreme, A Bathing Ape (or “Bape”), and Anti Social Social Club.

A young woman with tattoos sits on a concrete block
A hypebeast in the wild.
Image courtesy of Pexels

From a 60s California leisure activity to a legitimate sport - and now adorning the feet of teenagers across the world - skateboarding culture has drastically evolved from its humble beginnings. To know this culture is to know a bit more about young people in the USA. But don’t stop here! America has a fascinating range of culture to explore! Take a moment to learn a bit more about fun television shows. Or learn about American slang! Ready to visit? Check out InterExchange’s range of opportunities to visit the USA!

Matt Wallace

Matt Wallace is the Community & Digital Content Manager for the InterExchange Marketing team. He received a Master of Science in Global Affairs from New York University, and worked with the State Department and two New York organizations with missions to introduce young people to multiculturalism and international relations. He is excited to leverage this experience with InterExchange!

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