The common belief is that the Midwest lags roughly two years behind the West Coast in terms of style and culture. It usually takes that long for the breaking fashions and societal trends to originate in California and travel halfway across the continent. And that sure was the case with the second coming of the skateboard fad.
The original skateboard boom began in the early 1960s when a handful of small companies began to market a new toy called the skateboard. It caught on quickly and enjoyed immediate success, much like the yo-yo and hula-hoop fads that preceded it. And like those trends, the skateboard allowed for an individual to express himself or herself by mastering a wide range of tricks or maneuvers. Soon, skateboard companies like Hobi and Makahah formed teams of talented young boys in matching uniforms to tour around and help promote the fledgling sport. In October of 1964, the hit single Sidewalk Surfing by Jan and Dean reached its peak on the Billboard charts and drove skateboarding to new heights of popularity. Only months later, the first issue of The Quarterly Skateboarder Magazine hit the newsstands showcasing skateboarding's stars and available skate-related products. It gave participants a common forum in which to gather around and added a real dash of legitimacy to the sport. The first ever Skateboard Championships were held in Anaheim in July of 1965 and a national champ was crowned.
But all was not well. There were underlying issues with the basic equipment of those early skateboards that did not bode well for skateboarding's long-term survival. First and foremost were the wheels. Many of the commercial skateboards from that era came with metal wheels, the height of stone-age technology. They were loud and simply didn’t roll all that well. Also, on hard turns, a skateboard equipped with metal wheels had the nasty tendency to slide right out from underneath its rider. Clay wheels, like on roller-skates, were an improvement, but would tend to shred on the harsh concrete of sidewalks and city streets. And both types of wheels would instantly lock-up on the smallest pebble. Open bearings were another major drawback. Their dated design allowed in dirt and moisture and once again they were loud and had a muted roll. Growing injuries from the poor equipment were a real problem and caused quite a bit of negative press. The boom began to fade and the end was in sight. The Quarterly Skateboarder folded in October of 1965 after only four issues. Thus began skateboarding's dark ages as it soon became almost impossible to purchase a commercially made skateboard.
All remained quiet into the 1970s. Then in 1973, an enterprising young man in California named Fran Nasworthy began to market a new kind of skateboard wheel made from the relativity new product called urethane, a durable type of plastic. Smooth and quiet, these new wheels would revolutionize the sport. They actually griped and held the concrete, allowing for tricks on a skateboard that were never capable (or thought of) before. Their rebound capabilities let the rider roll right over small rocks. This innovation was quickly followed by the addition of sealed bearings, which, like the wheels, led to much longer and quieter glides. By the mid-1970s, the boom was back and virtually overnight dozens of new California skateboard companies were formed to cash-in on the growing trade.
This second wave of skateboarding's popularity just happened to coincide with the great California drought. Water became a precious commodity. Restaurants were forced to serve water only upon request. With backyard pools in southern California being as common as garages here in Wisconsin, many of them sat empty, particularly if the home was for sale. Groups of young skateboarders, acting like urban guerrillas, quietly and eagerly sought out these oases of rolling concrete in which to ride. A whole new sub-culture of pool riding teens took hold. The summer of 1975 Skateboarder Magazine went back into production. Its pages bulged with underground action shots of skateboarding's new stars in the mist of dangerous maneuvers. Toss in the colorful advertisements by companies offering the latest in cutting-edge equipment and it really stoked the dreams and imaginations of a whole generation of young boys. Skateboarder quickly became the top-selling magazine at all West Coast Seven-Eleven stores. As the boom began to mature and spread, new concrete parks, specifically designed for skateboarding, opened in California and around the country. These new skate parks were the settings for popular “pro” contests, which garnered heavy coverage in the skateboard press.
Here in Mauston, a skateboard became almost required equipment for any city dwelling teen. And your peers harshly judged your equipment. A cheap commercial board from the big dime store did not impress anyone. You had to have the good stuff from a California company like Alva, Tracker or Sims, which were available through mail order or a hobby store in Madison. With the nearest skate park being in Milwaukee, local kids here had to make do with steep driveways, concrete banks or plywood ramps as skateable terrain. Each side of town had its own hot spot and neighborhood champ. My younger brother would ride a handstand down the entire length of the courthouse block. Any issue of Skateboarder or Skateboard World magazines that could be found was read over and over.
In fact, I even wanted to make my own skating newsletter. I daydreamed of taking photographs of weekend skate sessions and then whipping up some text on a typewriter. I could then cut and paste everything onto master sheets and run off some copies on a Xerox machine. A quick staple and they’d be ready to hand out. Had I accomplished such a feat, those old issues would be really something to read today.
Like its first go-around, skateboarding's second wave ended quickly. A maturing teen earning a drivers license was only one culprit. Skateboarder Magazine, its pages thinned by bankrupt companies, saw its last edition in July of 1980. By the early 1980s almost every skate park in America had closed. Skateboarding still had its loyalists, but remained popular only on the coasts.
In the 1990s, a new double kicktail design emerged. A new generation of kids invented a whole new array of tricks. Things really heated up with the birth of the X-Games in 1995. Skateboarders could once again be spotted on Mauston city streets. Even a few girl skaters too! And this popularity has remained to this day, with downhill longboarding currently seeing widespread popularity.
The turn of the 21st Century saw a wave of nostalgia hit the skateboard community. Pioneer 1970s skater Stacey Peralta, now a documentary filmmaker, released the movie Dogtown and Z-Boys in 2001. It detailed the exploits of a band of Venice, California (Dogtown) skaters who had been consistently featured in Skateboarder Magazine. Peralta tracked down many of those old stars for new sit-down interviews explaining how their lives had been affected by skateboarding. Additional commentary by magazine readers exposed just how deeply their renegade antics had affected young boys all across America. A flurry of old-timer skate reunions were held. Consequently, vintage skate equipment on Ebay became red hot and prices rose substantially.
To this day I can still remember the setups many of my friends had. Collectors who were fortunate enough to have held onto their old 1970s riders (I have mine) were looked upon with great envy. In the early 2000s, Mauston had a city skatepark, something my friends and I could have only dreamed of back when we were young.
Billing themselves as the Outlaw Skate Posse, the accompanying photo was originally published in the Juneau County Chronicle in September of 1977. Right on cue, the skateboarding craze hit Mauston hard that summer, two years after its 1975 California revival. The group was skating the alley between Ray’s Shoes and the old Mauston theatre. Except for one, all are my classmates (MHS Class of 1981) and about 14 years old. Left to right in back; Gary Schwedersky, B. J. Balaban, Kevin George, Jim Weimer, Dennis (Toad) George. Crouching in front; Dale Johnson, Mike Krueger, Vic Czajaka and Bob Morris.