From Cali to your alley: Skateboarding’s winding road to the Olympics

For the first time, skateboarding will be part of the Olympics, where in 2020 it will be part of the Olympic games held in Tokyo.

The sport of skateboarding, and it’s culture have evolved in many ways since it found popularity in the late seventies. Now an Olympic sport, skateboarding is an important part of pop culture, and is popular in all parts of the world. Skate pioneers like Tony Alva, and Stacy Peralta helped bring skateboarding into the mainstream during the late seventies and early eighties. The sport found popularity in California through local competitions, and skating empty pools. After the invention and widespread construction of skateparks, skating split into two main styles. Street skating, and vert skating, both progressing during the late seventies and eighties, with many skater-run companies rising to mainstream popularity. Around this time, skateboarding broke into pop-culture phenomenon, becoming much bigger than just a West Coast hobby. People all over the world discovered the sport, and many gave it a try. 

An ad for a penny board from the late seventies. (skateparksupply)

With its newfound popularity, and an array of new skate brands on the scene, skateboarding was accessible to anybody anywhere. Needing only a skateboard and space, skateboarding was accessible to the masses. Teenagers all over the world heard about the cool new hobby, and many decided to try it. My father, Peter O’Toole, who grew up in Ireland, detailed the arrival of skateboarding stating, “it was a craze, everybody was into it, a lot of kids had boards.” With few parks not in or near California, most teens skated street, and learned flat ground tricks. Not having any skate parks in Ireland, they ended up skating a lot of “streets, parking lots, and hills,” said O’Toole. Different places soon began to form their own skate scenes, and develop their own styles. Some of these original styles can still be seen in the way people skate in different parts of the world.

Mr. Clay Bonham holding his skateboard during his childhood. Mr. Bonham was an avid skateboarder growing up in Ohio.

Mr. Clay Bonham is a former skateboarder, growing up skating in Ohio; which, like Ireland didn’t have any skate parks. When describing skating in his native state, he said it was “all street,” where he and his friends skated local spots like high school and malls. He and his friends learned flat ground tricks, like “the ollie” in their free time. New tricks were just being invented at this time, and those that were were often put into skate videos. One video Bonham remembers watching was the “Bones Brigade Video Show,” released on VHS. He said he and his friends watched “a lot of Bones Brigade,” then listed off a few of the featured skaters like Tony Hawk and Lance Mountain. Many of the skaters in the video even had their own signature boards, under sponsor Powell Peralta, which were popular among fans. Bonham skated a Mike McGill pro deck, with a skull and snake graphic on the bottom; McGill was a member of the Bones Brigade team for Powell Peralta.

Mike McGill signature deck, similar to the one Mr. Bonham used to ride.

Like Bonham, many other teens across the world were drawn into skating, and the culture, which was so far different from that of any other sport. The skate counterculture was nothing like other scenes, and added to the sport’s allure. Unlike fad hobbies of the eighties, skateboarding never lost its luster and thanks to its low starting cost, didn’t seem like a cash-grab started by corporations. Many skateboarding companies were skater-run, worked for by people who cared about skating and its participants. There were many economic and cultural factors involved in skateboarding’s quick rise to relevance. But the easiest explanation is just because it’s just fun.

Patrick O’Toole is a senior member of the Multimedia Journalism class, as well as a member of The Quill.