Just as surfers catch an ocean wave and ride it to the end on their surfboards, sidewalk surfers are riding their "boards" in greater numbers.
Skateboarding has become a hobby, a business and a way of life for millions of North Americans.
The sport of skateboarding has evolved from a very primitive beginning to a sport that today nurtures its own subculture. Michael Brooke wrote The Concrete Wave: The History of Skateboarding. He notes that the ancestors of today's skateboards actually resembled scooters.
The boards, which date back to the early 1900s, featured steel roller-skate wheels nailed to the bottom of a wooden board. The boards usually had a milk crate nailed to the top, with handles sticking out for control.
As the years passed, the look of the scooters changed, including the removal of the milk crate. The first major modifications were made in the 1950s, when the trucks -- the devices that hold the wheels to the board -- were changed to improve maneuverability.
While skateboarding has enjoyed several periods of accelerated growth since the 1960s, that growth appears to be cyclical. Mark Stosberg is a spokesman for Skatepark.org. He says skateboarding popularity has gone in 10-year waves.
"If that trend continues, we are somewhere near the peak of the third wave," says Stosberg. "Realistically, I could see the popularity dipping some in the future, but I predict a general growth trend."
According to America Sports Data, there are currently 9.3 million skateboarders under the age of 18 participating in the sport in Canada and the U.S.
Skateboarding is a sport that can be enjoyed by all ages. But most participants are in their teens and early 20s.
At present, over 90 percent of the skateboarders are male. Brooke feels more must be done to encourage female boarders. That's a sentiment echoed by skateboarder Denise Williams.
"I think it would help if there was more publicity for female skaters, so new skaters could have really visible role models," says Williams. "I mean, it's just not a 'girl' thing to do, so why would girls pick it up as readily as they would any school-sanctioned sport?"
There are two types of skateboards being used today: long boards and short boards. The long boards are bigger and have larger wheels. Because of their size and stability, they are a more popular form of transportation for the skateboarding public.
The short boards are more popular for skateboarders who enjoy frequenting the skate parks and ramps and doing tricks.
The skateboard itself is broken into three main components. The deck is the main piece of wood that the skater stands on. The deck is usually covered with grip tape, a sandpaper-like sticker sheet that prevents the skateboarder's feet from sliding off the board.
On the bottom of the decks are the trucks. Trucks are the mechanisms that attach the wheels to the deck. The wheels come in a variety of sizes and degrees of hardness.
The long boards are generally sold as a complete package, with the deck, trucks and wheels already assembled. The smaller short boards are commonly sold as individual components. Skateboarders choose the decks, trucks and wheels that suit their specific needs.
The job opportunities in the skateboarding industry are quite varied. They include being a:
- Professional skateboarder -- earn sponsorship money from skateboard-related companies and compete for prize money at skateboarding competitions all over the world
- Manufacturer and seller of skateboards and accessories
- Writer and photographer employed by the many magazines and online publications covering the sport
The cost of getting started in the sport can be relatively low. Skateboards can cost anywhere from around $20 to over $100.
However, as with many sports, there is virtually no limit to how much you can spend. In addition to newer and more expensive boards and accessories, the skateboarding culture has also spawned its own style of clothing and shoes.
Beginner skateboarders are also advised to purchase a helmet, knee pads and elbow pads. These items are required at many skateboard parks.
While skateboarding doesn't require a lot of strength, it does call for good balance and agility. The balance is needed whenever riding a skateboard, either on the street or in a skateboard park. The agility is necessary when attempting one of the growing number of skateboard tricks.
United Skateboarding Association
Northern California Downhill Skateboarding Association (NCDSA)
P.O. Box 16190
International Association of Skateboard Companies
P.O. Box 37
The Concrete Wave -- The History of Skateboarding,
Skateboarding: Surf the Pavement,
L. M. Burke
Learning How: Skateboarding,
Jane Mersky Leder
Skateboarder's Start-Up: A Beginner's Guide to Skateboarding,
A skateboarding and snowboarding magazine
Includes product reviews and message boards