Skate Culture

The Most Iconic 1980s Skateboards: Ultimate Skate Decks

What makes 1980s skateboards iconic?

Over time, many people have shared their opinion of the most iconic 1980s skateboards. This is, of course, somewhat subjective and controversial because there was so much awesome 80s skate art and decks which influenced 80s skate culture.

What ARE the objective criteria that make a skateboard deck iconic? Do we consider it from the perspective of board sales, for example? What about the perspective of the iconic value of the art itself? Or perhaps the particular popularity of the skater who was the board’s namesake?

Being “iconic” doesn’t necessarily mean being the best or the greatest, so when you consider the list below, think about what makes a board iconic to YOU!

In my opinion, being iconic simply refers to the most recognizable and popularly identified with a particular era and its character.

On our question of criteria for determining the icons of the 80’s skateboard era then, where we seem to end up is a combination of some or all of the factors mentioned below. 

If we had a board that sold very well, that was attached to a top-rated skater or brand. Which had particularly good or distinctive board art, then we seem closer at least to some criteria that might help us determine the most iconic 80s skate board.

Influential skaters makes 1980s skateboards iconic

The influence of the skater could be a consideration, but on the other hand, not every bit of popular 80s skate art was associated with a particular skater; some were team/brand decks. 

Further, the popularity of a particular skater is one thing, but it doesn’t necessarily tell us which boards are the most iconic.

The popularity of the skater indeed weighs into things — to draw people to their board — but it only takes us so far.

Skate Brand Popularity makes 1980s skateboards iconic

The volume of sales for particular boards may be relevant to the question. 

Boards that sold well were undoubtedly more likely to be visible on the street, skateboard shops, and skate magazines.

Furthermore, as something is more visible, it is more likely to become iconic. So here we seem to find a relevant consideration sometime, but certainly not always. 

That all said, mass production can also churn out, to paraphrase Craig Stecyk, “a cheap piece of garbage that no one particularly cares about.”

Notorious Skate Art makes 1980s skateboards iconic

So then, what of the art itself? To say the least, it is certainly a factor in what makes a skateboard deck iconic.

The work of Jim Philips at Santa Cruz, VCJ at Powell Peralta, and Bernie Tostenson are examples of great skate artists. These artists produced some fantastic pieces of skate art, yet even here, we cannot simply utilize that as the sole criteria.

When it comes to skate art, just because it is good, maybe even great, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is iconic.

For example, take Tostenson, and his work was among some of the finest out there; a master of the screen printing process, he created some of the most complex pieces of skate art ever to exist. What’s more, Tostenson had an artistic style that closely mirrored that of another master illustrator: Robert Crumb. Yet, despite all that, Tostenson’s work is not likely to be familiar to many, and that certainly puts a significant strike against it as far as being iconic is concerned.

My Top 4 Iconic 1980s Skateboards

#4 - Vision Mark "Gator" Rogowski Skateboard Deck

Gator was undoubtedly was of the most high-profile skaters of the 1980s, which would lend itself to a high volume of board sales, something this board indeed had.

Along with the Gonz, he was the staples of the Vision brand in those days.

But, of course, Gator’s former prominence would later turn to infamy after his admission and conviction in the assault, rape, and murder of a young woman in the early 1990s.

Despite the transgressions of this board’s namesake, however, this deck, which Greg Evans designed, indeed stands as one of the iconic of the 1980s — showing that a deck design doesn’t have to be particularly graphically complicated, irreverent, or controversial in content to become famous. However, what the board lacks in graphical complexity, it often makes up for in bright and varied colorways.

Although I cannot deny just how iconic that Vision swirl is, admittedly, the Vision Gator doesn’t do a whole lot for me.

#3 - Rob Roskopp Face Skateboard Deck

Santa Cruz had some of the most stylistically recognizable deck art out there in the 1980s, all due to the amazing work of Jim Phillips.  

Phillips’s work is iconic in its own right and has been the subject of various knock-offs over the years — a testament to his immense artistic influence.

 If there were anyone artist who, taken on art alone, is identifiable with skateboarding in the 1980s, it has to be Jim Phillips.

The Rob Roskopp face is one of those decks that just sticks with you. 

It has a strong graphic design presence. Roskopp was himself an immensely popular skater as well and the Roskopp series of decks was one of the all-time, best-selling series of decks at NHS — so there is that combination once again.

This particular design has seen various reincarnations over the years, which I think testifies to the reality of just how iconic this deck is.

#2 - Vision Psycho Stick Skateboard Deck

On the left is Vision’s famed “Psycho Stick,” designed by Andy Takakjian.

Psycho Stick is the board that single-handedly eliminates for me the popularity of the skater as a requirement in ascertaining how iconic a board was and is. 

There is, of course, no particular skater attached to the Psycho Stick. It’s a team deck.

This particular deck’s iconic status seems to rest on its unique board shape, its utterly classic (and utterly 80s) board art, as well as its bright colors. 

Without a popular skater attached to this board to draw interest, it relies on brand name appeal and also on factors like art and design to succeed — as well as good marketing.

#1 - Tony Hawk, Chicken Skull 1980s Skateboard Deck

Did anyone expect that the Tony Hawk Chicken Skull wouldn’t be #1? 

It almost seems a cliche to list it as number one, but that’s precisely the reason why this board was (and is) so iconic.

Even back in the 80s itself, it was an icon.

It certainly meets our triple criteria.

It was attached to a popular brand, a popular skater, it sold immense numbers of boards, it appeared all the time in skate mags — and it also helps that the graphic was around for quite a while. 

It is one of possibly two skateboards (the other is right above) that would most likely transcend the barriers of the skater and non-skaters worlds and be recognizable outside the usual crowd.

I should note that I am specifying the bottlenose edition in particular, rather than the earlier pig edition, both because it lacked the bottlenose’s distinctive board shape and the graffiti-like effect made up by the various iron crosses of the board’s backdrop.

The board was designed by VCJ — Vernon Courtlandt Johnson.

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