Although skateboarding is believed to have been invented in the 1930s, it was not until the mid 1950s that skateboarding began to develop into the sports/style pastime that we know it as today.
Skateboarders (skaters) originally took their dress of sneaker-style trainers, baggy shorts and shirts from the existing Californian surf culture. This was in marked contrast to rollerskating, which peaked in popularity in the 1970s. Rollerskaters were closely allied to disco and maintained a more mainstream presence, whilst skateboarders found themselves increasingly marginalised. This was in part due to the speeds that they travelled in pedestrian areas and the perceived damage they caused to public spaces and street furniture. Municipal attempts to contain skateboarding at the peak of the craze in the 1970s resulted in purpose-built skate parks like that currently found at the Level in Brighton.
Skaters today have many different dress styles usually affiliated to their music preferences. The skater outfit in Brighton Museum’s Renegade collection is more typical of the late 1990s logo-based style with loose fitting jeans, shirt and t-shirt and is perhaps more defined by the activity of skateboarding than by the wearer’s music taste.
When skating first began in the 1950s there was no clearly defined skater style. Skaters wore the same clothes as surfers, their sweatshirts, t-shirts and loose fitting shorts provided much-needed freedom of movement. Many skaters originated as surfers and it’s said that the first skateboard was invented when a surfer added wheels to his surfboard so that he could ‘surf’ on land.
With the big skateboarding revivial in the early 1970s skaters began to break away from the surfer style and create their own identity. While surfer identity was built around the natural environment of the sea and the beach, skaters were altogether more urban and their clothing developed to reflect this. During the 1980s skateboarding had a cult following, and they were catered for by independent specialist shops such as Slam City Skates in Covent Garden. By the 1990s skateboarding had generated a huge industry of label-based clothing and accessories that could now be found on the high-street.
The skater outfit in Brighton & Hove Museums’ Renegade collection is typical of the late 1990s logo-based style.
Skateboard Sneakers and Trainers
Vans sneakers are regarded as the first purpose-designed skateboard trainers. The company was established in California in 1966. The early Vans shoe, with canvas upper and a flat rubber sole with a waffle tread, was closer to a plimsole or canvas deck-shoe than to a performance sports shoe.
Tony Lord describes the footwear skaters wore in Brighton:
‘Before we started getting the American’s Vans skateboard shoes over here we wore Dunlop. Green Flash tennis shoes were the best ones cos they had quite a good grippy sole … but the original Vans skateboard shoes were briliant, they were just, you know, people wore them because they worked … They had this like waffle print sole which just seemed to be really, really grippy.’
Oral history interview in Brighton & Hove Museums’ Renegade collection, OH000183.
The modern skate shoe (above) by companies such as Airwalk, Duffs and DC is easily recognised by its chunky padded shape and thick flat sole designed to withstand the wear and tear of skateboarding. However, in recent years there has been a noticeable revival of the early style Vans skate shoe with its slimmer profile and coloured or patterned canvas upper.
Culture: skateboarding in Brighton
Brighton skaters Tony Lord and Alan Glass recall their experiences of skateboaring in the city:
‘The first skateboard park in the Brighton area was near Southwick Football Club. It was called the Barn Skateboard Park and that was great ‘cos they had a great big rectangular sort of like freestyle skating area… and then they had, the two best bits was they had a concrete bowl and they had an actual swimming pool bowl to emulate the Americans skating up the swimming pools … We probably spent more time there than anywhere else … The best bit about that was when I left school in ’77, for all the summer holiday … we went over there with our skateboards practically every day and [took a] ghetto blaster with tapes of The Stranglers and the Sex Pistols and The Clash on it and it was the most idyllic summer…
‘… After the Barn they then opened up a skateboard park in Brighton which was called The Cage which was actually in one of the sets of seafront arches and that was quite unusual ‘cos it was all made out of fibre glass. It had a huge bowl which was made out of fibre glass which … when you rode it, when you went from side to side made this wonderful sort of like whooshing thundering noise…
‘ …The other thing the council did was they actually allocated one of the seafront ramps for skateboarding as well … the one the Brighton side of the West Pier. The only thing you could actually do there was we used to do slalom racing which we used to set up a line of Coke cans … and you’d race head to head doing slalom through Coke cans, which was great fun and being a ramp you actually got up quite a bit of speed, if you misjudged the distance from the Coke cans you’d get one wedged in the front of the truck [wheel] that would stop the skateboard dead and you’d fly off hurtling down the ramp.’
Tony Lord, oral history Interview, OH000183
‘…[The Level] It’s a bunch of wooden ramps made by, mostly by the skateboarders. It kind of mirrors pretty much every other skate park. There’s I guess a fashionable template for skate parks these days. In the 70s it used to be bowls and curves and you know sort of pool shapes and stuff, these days it’s kind of flat banks from sort of rails and boxes and things that mirror objects in the street really. But it seems silly to have a skate park that mirrors what we already have in the street, but most skateboarders will tell you that, you know, skating the streets is a pain in the arse in terms of weather, other people getting in the way and hassle from security guards and whoever else, interfering old ladies and stuff.’
Alan Glass, oral history interview, OH000109
These excerpts are taken from oral history interviews that form part of the Renegade collection, which illustrates the history of subcultures in Brighton.
Explore more oral history interveiws with skaters in Community History