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Skateboard Decks – History and Construction

Featured in movies and commercials, or seen on the side of the road and in skateparks, skateboarding is a relatively new sport that has found its way into mainstream American culture. It used to be hard to find or create areas to skate, but now cities are full of designated skateboard areas to accommodate skateboarders. Despite the huge number of skaters and skateboard companies today, the origin of the skateboard and the invention of the skateboard are shrouded in mystery.

It has been claimed that the first skateboards appeared in the 1930s and 1940s, when children drove carts with soap boxes attached to skates (or boards on skates). Removing the box from the board would leave a board on wheels or what could be called a skateboard deck. However, others suggest that the skateboard was an adaptation of a disassembled rollerskate—that is, the wheels were removed from a rollerskate and then added to a board, a move influenced by surfers and their desire to recreate the motion of surfing on land. Both possible origin theories have been advocated in historical texts, magazines, and even on the big screen in documentaries as well as on the road.

However, we do know that 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 refurbished in the 1960s. The blank, or deck, was often made in the shape of a surfboard from solid wood or plastic. Some metal boards were also created. The wheels were often made of clay or steel and were less sturdy than today’s version of wheels.

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

The average deck size is 8 inches wide. Some can be as small as 7 inches and others as long as 10.5 inches. Width mainly depends on style and preferences. Street skating typically requires a deck that is 7.5″-8″, while wider decks are used for skating. Average board length is 29-33 inches. 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 over long stretches of road or downhill.

On top of the deck, grip tape is used. It gives the skater the ability to “grip” the deck by creating friction. On one side of the grip tape is an adhesive, which adheres to the deck. On the other side is a sandpaper-like top. While the overall feel and shape of a skateboard is quite common, the main difference in boards is in the bottom of the deck. Decks can range from solid colors and patterns to graffiti-covered projects. Styles can include logos, phrases, 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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