Skateboard Decks – History and Construction

Dorian Whitmore

Shown in movies and commercials or seen on the side of roads and at skateparks, skateboarding is a relatively new sport, which has found its way into mainstream American culture. It was once difficult to find or create areas in which to skate, but now cities are full of designated skate areas in order to accommodate skateboarders. Despite the vast amount of skaters and skateboard companies at present, the origins of skateboarding and the invention of the skateboard are shrouded in mystery.

It has been argued the first skateboards arose in the 1930’s and 1940’s when children would ride soap-box carts attached to rollerskates (or planks on roller skates). Removing the box from the plank would leave a plank on wheels or what could be called a skateboard deck. However, others suggest the skateboard was an adaptation of a dismantled rollerskate-that is, the wheels were removed from a rollerskate and then added to a plank, a move that was influenced by surfers and their desire to recreate the surfing motion on land. Both possible origin theories have been argued in historical texts, magazines, and even on the big screen in documentaries as well as out on the street.

However, we do know the first retail skateboard appeared in 1958 and was marketed by Bill and Mark Richards of Dana Point, California. It was then mass-produced and remodeled in the 1960s. The blank, or deck, was often made in the shape of a surfboard out of solid wood or plastic. Some metal boards were created as well. The wheels were often made out of clay or steel and were less sturdy than today’s version of wheels.

Constructed out of 7-ply cross-laminated maple, most decks are stable and can handle daily use and hard-play. However some decks are made out of fiberglass, resin, Kevlar, bamboo, aluminum, or carbon fiber or plastic components as well in order to increase rigidity.

The average size deck is 8 inches wide. Some can be as small as 7 inches and others are up to 10.5 inches. Width depends primarily on style and preference. Street skating usually requires a deck that is 7.5″-8″, while wider decks are used for trick skating. The average length of the board is 29-33 inches long. However, longer decks are known as longboards and are quite common. They are much longer and do not have “kicktails,” but instead are aerodynamic and intended for street-skating long lengths of road or downhill.

On top of the deck, grip tape is used. It provides the skater the ability to “grip” the deck by creating friction. On one side of the grip tape is an adhesive, which attaches to the deck. On the other side is a sandpaper-like top. While the general feel and shape of a skateboard is quite common, the main difference in boards is located on the bottom of the deck. Decks can range from solid colors and patterns to graffiti-covered art. Styles can include logos, phrasing, cartoon or movie or comic book characters, to original characters and themes such as aliens, music, animals, or skulls and crossbones.

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