What’s the History of Longboarding?

History of LongboardingLongboarding: an athletic pastime and earth-friendly way to commute. An iconic symbol of today’s youth and a subject for many songs, longboarding has taken the millennials by storm, though they are following in the footsteps of the generations before them. What are the origins of this phenomenon and how did it get so vastly popular? What are the differences from skateboard and where did the two split? Those are questions we are going to dig into as we explore the history of longboarding.

The 1940’s: The birth of street surfing

Longboarding was actually born out of skateboarding, but that is not the complete origins of the history of longboarding. Skateboarding was created by surfers in the 1940’s who wanted to surf the sidewalk on days the sea was too rough, or there were no waves.

The very first street surfboards were created in backyards out of 2 x 4’s and roller skate parts. They were an interesting sight when they first hit the streets in Hawaii and California.  These were not very safe or stable boards, but they did just what the surfers wanted, and that gave way to this new craze called street surfing.

Street surfing was what skateboarding was called before. As the craze caught on, the surfers who had made their own boards learned how to make them better and several started businesses, producing these boards for other surfers. Originally, this was supposed to supplement the desire to surf during downtime, so the moves were mostly emulating that which was done on the water, and many surfers skated barefoot.

The 1960’s: The rise and fall of skateboarding

As the 1960’s rolled on in, street surfing became more popular, with several companies making these boards across the California coastline. The first exhibition of these boards, which were more like small surfboards on wheels than skateboards, was in 1963 in a Junior High school in California, and it spawned a television show called ‘Surf’s up’ to help promote the new sport as something fun to do.  By now, they had adopted the new name, skateboarding, and the moves were moving away from surfer tricks and toward the base of modern day tricks.

But with new toys come new problems and by the end of the 1960’s the skateboard craze was waning because of how dangerous it was. A variety of sources spread the dangers and that made parents and shop owners alike concerned about having them on the streets. They were not that stable and with metal and clay wheels; they would often fall apart, sending the rider face first into the street. This caused the popularity of skateboarding to almost bottom out.

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The 1970’s: The reinvention of the wheel and dividing of the sport

Then, in the early 70s, the polyurethane wheel was created by Cadillac wheels. These safer wheels provided more traction and performance. This was the breath of life that skateboarding needed. The 1970s is also where the divide between skateboard and longboards began.  They were a cult-like existence at first, at the fringes of skateboarding popularity. They sought to bring back some of the surfer techniques and wanted longer boards to reclaim that surfing the streets feeling.  It fell into an underground hobby, where longboards were custom made in garages with parts from both skateboards and rollerblades.

The major differences for longboard riding, as opposed to the growing popularity of skateboarding, is that longboards were made for riding on streets and cruising, and the primary focus of the skateboard was tricks and maneuvers. These differences would only grow as time moved on.

The 1990’s: Longboards surface from the underground

It wasn’t until the early 90s that longboards were formally produced by a company, and that company was Sector 9. Sector 9 helped to revolutionize the longboard construction by making reverse kingpin trucks. This development made longboards that were more stable and with more control. 

Another development in the 90s was the internet, which allowed small groups of like-minded individuals to meet when location would normally prevent it. Longboarders began to build online and offline communities and share tips, tricks and construction ideas amongst each other. This helped to grow the sport even further.

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The 2000’s: Developing of the sport

As the 90s moved into the 2000s, longboarding gained traction, becoming more and more popular as a street sport. It was still smaller than skateboarding, but it was growing quickly. Many sub-branches of longboarding began to emerge, and some of the best longboard styles emerged. Shalom or obstacle riders, downhill longboarders, dance, free riding, sliding and many others became different aspects of the longboarding sport.

Now the sport was picking up speed, and while the skateboarders were grinding and doing half pipes, the longboarders were reaching speeds of 80 mph as they downhilled through the streets. Speed and distance became the trademarks of the longboard like the Ollie and board grab became go-to for skateboarders.

The 2010s:  Going Pro and Getting to Class

As the current decade has rolled in there has been a dramatic increase in longboarding popularity and acceptance. Many of these sub-branches have moved on to become professional sports, with downhill longboarding being perhaps the most popular. Longboarding began appearing in sports and leisure magazines as well on television and sports broadcasts.  As they gained more exposure and more people interested in the sport, more companies began to create longboards, including the established skateboard companies.

Longboarding has entered a phase of acceptance and normalcy in our current generation. More often than not there are young adults and teens longboarding to classes, using the longboards ability to go long distances to create a more active, healthy and eco-friendly commute.  It is not an uncommon site to see an adult, suit, and tie, commuting with the board through busy city streets between different forms of public transit.

Longboarding has come a long way from its surfing roots over the past seven decades, with major improvements happening all the time to improve the performance of these boards and the skills of the riders.

And that is the rich storied history of longboarding.

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