Skateboarding, both as a free means of conveyance and as a pastime or sport, has made a big comeback in recent years. Today, skateboards are nearing the popularity they had in the 1980s and 90s when interest in the four-wheeled vehicles peaked. But precisely what is a skateboard? How does one ride it? Also, is buying one worth your time and money?
In the following article, we’ll explore skateboards, their history, and the physics behind how they work to best answer that question. In the end, you’ll know everything you need to about this fun, fast-growing pastime.
The Short Answer
There's no secret behind the not-so-cool name of the skateboard. For the majority of their history, these vehicles were nothing more than roller skate wheels attached to the underside of a flat board. Despite the direct relation to roller skating, the sport came into existence because of surfing, and was even initially called "sidewalk surfing."
As one might expect, this surfing-inspired mode of transportation got its start in California. What might surprise you, however, is that they date back to the 1950s! They grew slowly in popularity throughout the 1960s and 70s, until exploding into pop culture during the 1980s and 90s, when they became featured in movies, TV shows, and competitive sports.
One of the biggest questions regarding skateboards is how effective they are a mode of transportation. We’ll attempt to answer this, and other frequently asked questions, in the following article.
Things to Consider
While the answer to the question “what is a skateboard” is pretty straightforward, if you don’t know what a skateboard is, you’ll likely have a lot more questions. For instance:
How do you power and steer a skateboard?
Powering a skateboard is quite simple. With one foot on the deck, the rider kicks their foot against the ground to build up momentum. Once the rider is moving, they can put the other foot on the deck until more speed is needed. The rider can steer the board by leaning to one side or the other, while sharper, more complex turns can be executed by pushing on the tail of the deck.
Skateboarding requires quite a bit of balance and can be challenging to master. Due to the rather small wheels, skateboards are not ideal for rocky trails or roads with lots of holes or dips. However, once the user figures out the basic physics of riding a skateboard, they can begin learning all sorts of tricks, flips, and maneuvers to enhance their experience.
What are skateboards made of?
Skateboards are comprised of wood, plastic, or fiberglass decks, metal attachments for the wheels (called “trucks”) and rubber or polyurethane wheels.
Most original manufacturers made their decks out of maple wood, but different brands have come to utilize several different materials. They vary in length and width, with wider boards tending to offer the rider a bit more stability. In almost all cases, decks feature a sandpaper-like covering known as grip tape that helps the rider’s shoes maintain reliable contact with the board.
Trucks are made of metal and attached to the board by means of a baseplate. The part that holds the wheels is known as a “hanger.” Between these two elements is a small rubber piece that helps facilitate the turning of the skateboard. Though too small to provide shock resistance, this piece (called a “bushing”) is essential to the function of the board.
Skateboard wheels are usually made of plastic, though some feature of a rubber material. Wheels affix to the axel of the hanger with ball bearings, which facilitate rolling more smoothly than wheels along would.
Are there any laws associated with skateboarding?
Skateboards as a product are not regulated and can be sold to virtually anyone regardless of age. The riding of skateboards, however, it regulated quite stringently by state and local laws, which vary widely from place to place. Most cities have made riding a skateboard on the sidewalk illegal, though how often these laws are enforced varies from place to place.
The most common rules and regulations associated with skateboarding related to property owners (both private and public) who have made it illegal to ride boards on their property. It has initially become quite popular for architects to include anti-skateboarding elements into their designs to keep skateboarders from using their buildings for tricks or stunts.
Are skateboards safe?
Like any vehicle, skateboards are associated with accidents and injuries, some of which are severe. Such injuries are much more common in those who compete in sports that utilize skateboards or those who spent a lot of time at “skate parks” practicing tricks. Though not usually required by law, most manufacturers recommend knee pads, elbow pads, and helmets when riding a skateboard.
How expensive are skateboards?
Skateboards are not typically very expensive, though those used by professionals can cost several hundred dollars. For instance, one might consider this NPET Pro Skateboard very affordable, while this Kryptonics Krypstik features a much higher price point. There are also electric skateboards, like this Boosted Stealth model, that cost in the thousands of dollars.
What is a Skateboard?
So, what is a skateboard? The answer to this question depends largely on what the rider wants the skateboard to be. By itself, the board is nothing more than four wheels, some hardware, and a flat plank. Put into use, it can be any one of the following:
Skateboards are Vehicles
Skateboards are an ideal way to get from place to place, providing that the area you’re traveling in is not full of uphill stretches – or downhill stretches for that matter. As the vast majority of skateboards still operate thanks to the energy of the rider, they are considered entirely green, environmentally friendly, and a very inexpensive way to get from A to B.
That said, it takes quite a bit of physical effort to power a skateboard, especially when encountering one of the aforementioned uphill slopes. When traveling downhill, the danger factor increases dramatically. This increased danger is because skateboards do not have breaks and are not known for their ability to steer accurately.
If you're considering a skateboard as a mode of transportation, you'll have wanted to ensure you live in an area where traveling by skateboard is practical.
Skateboards are Sports Equipment
Professional skateboarding is a multi-billion-dollar industry, and the men and women who compete in it have become superstars on par with soccer players, football players, and other athletes. Skateboarding has also become a staple in the Olympics as well as various other extreme sports competitions.
This information lends credence to the argument that skateboards are not only vehicles but sports equipment. Like motocross, bike racing, and other vehicle-driven sports, competing takes a lot of endurance and necessitates a near-mastery of the board. For many people looking to buy a skateboard, competing professionally is the end goal.
Skateboards are a Culture
Over the decades since their introduction, skateboards have come to be associated with various cultural movement and subcultures, with the term “Skaters” becoming a subculture all its own in the 1990s. These subcultures often prize skateboard for its perceived “extreme” elements and have been known to use the bottom of their boards for artistic expression.
Today, many of the people associated with the original subculture build boards, design new skateboard types, and otherwise participate in the sport.
Skateboards are Toys
There’s no escaping the fact that skateboards are fun. The original intent of the design was to bring surfing to land, and many skateboarding enthusiasts look at riding their boards more as a type of recreation than anything else. To this day, young children are getting into the sport at a very early age, while grown adults are taking it up for the first time later in life.
Though it does have a high tendency of injury, skateboarding is no more dangerous than other “extreme” recreational activities like surfing, rock climbing, and mountain biking. Just like any of these, it can be as rewarding as it is fun, and can be a great way to spend time with friends, family, or co-workers.
It's not hard to see why skateboards have remained so popular over the years. Not only do they provide a fun outlet for fans of extreme sports, but they also offer low-cost, green transportation for people all over the world. On top of this, learning how to skateboard can actually be directly tied into a career, as many ro skaters have become quite wealthy for showcasing their skills.
No matter how you define a skateboard, it’s how you use it that determines what it is to you. However, before purchasing your own board, remember to consider investing in the proper safety equipment to ensure your learning experience will be free of scrapes and bruises.