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Eric Dressen bluntsiding on skateboard Since its invention and popularization, the skateboard has become a standard item of equipment for young Americans. Today, with skateboarding as popular as it has ever been, the skateboard can be seen as an icon of youthful energy and adventurousness.

The skateboard was originally conceived as a means of surfing outside of water. In the late 1950s, Californian surfing enthusiasts, frustrated that the weather and waves were not always suitable for surfing, began nailing the bases of roller skates to the front and back ends of wooden planks. Unstable as they were, these boards allowed for "sidewalk surfing" along streets and down hills.

Daniel Haney 50/50-ing on skateboard It was not long before the fad spread through the major metropolitan areas of the US. Nor was it long before challenges were added, such as curb-jumping and climbing banked surfaces: this was "street surfing." By the early 70s, bicycle manufacturers and toy companies were producing stable, unbreakable boards with more speedy and reliable urethane wheels on flexible mounts. Riders' abilities improved along with the equipment.

Skateboarding developed a set of standard maneuvers, such as the 180 and 360 (a half and a full rotation of the elevated front of the board while the grounded back spins in place) and the "Ollie," invented by Alan Ollie Gelfand, a leap into the air during which the board stays flush with the feet. The earliest preferred venues for freestyle skateboarding, namely empty swimming pools and construction sites featuring giant sewer pipes, were succeeded by specialized skateboarding parks, in which formal competitions could be held.

After suffering lapses in popularity at the end of the 70s and 80s, skateboarding has recently made a comeback as both a pastime and a sport, thanks in part to the popularity of its kindred sport of snowboarding. At the moment, skateboarding is the nation's sixth largest participant sport, and is likely to remain a centerpiece of American youth culture.

[June 1997]

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