Skateboarding originated in the United States in the 1950s, when surfers made boards with wheels so they could ‘sidewalk surf’. In New Zealand skateboarding was briefly popular in the mid-1960s and permanently resurfaced in the mid-1970s after skateboards were first fitted with urethane wheels – these were smoother and more resilient than the old metal and clay wheels, and prompted a new skateboarding boom.
Skateboarding was seen as a craze and every kid wanted a skateboard. Like bikes for previous generations, skateboards offered freedom and thrills. The mid-1970s boom was not sustained once skateboarding’s newness faded. Nevertheless, a smaller, hardcore group kept skating throughout the 1980s. Skateboarding re-emerged in the late 1980s, gaining new popularity which was sustained in the early 2000s. It has primarily been a male pastime and sport.
Skateboarding is potentially hazardous. Skateboarders in New Zealand have died after falling off their boards or colliding with motor vehicles.
Our father which art on roads
Sidewalk surfer be his name
It will be done on asphalt
as it is on concrete
Give us this day our daily wipeouts
And forgive us our offences
As we forgive those who offend us
And deliver us from cops
For thine is the board
The trucks and the wheels
For ever and ever scarred. AMEN.1
The earliest skateboarders rode on urban roads, footpaths, car parks and in parking buildings. Once skateboarding became more established in the late 1970s skateboard parks were built by local councils, community groups and private operators. Some skaters built ramps at their homes so they could do vertical skating (skating up and down a vertical surface).
The arrival of purpose-built facilities did not take skateboarding off the streets, and once the craze ended some of the skateboard parks were demolished.
Uninhibited skating through urban environments was a core element of skateboarding culture and this caused conflict with less freewheeling members of the community. Local councils introduced new bylaws to control where people could use skateboards. Parks were built in the 1990s and early 2000s to provide skateboarders with new surfaces off the streets.
Skateboards are legally classed as vehicles and can be ridden on the road, but skaters do not have to wear a helmet. Skateboarders on footpaths have to ride carefully and considerately, and give way to pedestrians and mobility scooters.
Boards and equipment
The earliest American skateboarders made their own boards from wood and roller-skate wheels, but by the time skateboarding was established in New Zealand commercially made boards were available. Some locals put skateboards together using parts made by different companies. These skateboards were used for freestyle, vertical and street skating.
In 2007 and 2008, New Zealander Robert Thomson travelled through Europe, the United States and China on a longboard. His 12,159-kilometre journey earned him a place in the Guinness book of records for the longest journey by skateboard.
The quiet streets of new hillside suburban developments in the 1970s, such as John Downs Drive in North Shore, were perfect for longboards, which were made for cruising down streets and hills, and for racing. Longboarding became popular again in the early 2000s.
Some skateboarders wear protective gear including helmets and pads.
Competitions and sponsorship
In 1976 a group of New Zealand skateboard manufacturers, surf shop owners and skateboarders set up the New Zealand Skateboarders Association to, among other things, run skateboarding competitions. Businesses and radio stations also sponsored competitions and teams. Regular events were held at Auckland’s Glenfield Mall, watched by thousands of spectators. The three major professional teams of the era were Trax, Edward’s and the Radio Hauraki 1480 Kroozers.
In the early 2000s Cheapskates retail chain sponsored the ‘skateboard nationals’ and from 2008 Wellington hosted Bowl-a-rama, an international professional skateboarding competition. Results from this contributed to world cup skateboarding rankings.
Well-known New Zealand skateboarders
Peter Boronski and Grant MacCredie were the top skaters of the 1970s. MacCredie appeared on the cover of American magazine Skateboarder in December 1979 – a big deal in the skating world. Lee Ralph grew up skating at Auckland’s Skatopia skate park and became a top professional in the United States in the late 1980s. New Zealander Andrew Morrison rode for American company New Deal skateboards in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
In the 2000s well-known professional New Zealand skateboarders included Bjorn Johnston, Gareth Stehr and Tommy Fynn.