Skate Culture

Skate Culture

Most Culturally Important Skateboards in the 70s, 80s & 90s

Introduction

In a previous article on the Most Iconic Skateboards of the 1980s, we tried to develop a rationale and list of those boards that had the most popular familiarity and thus could be considered iconic.
 
As noted in that article, these boards aren’t necessarily the “best” skateboards, nor that they had the “best” skate art, nor that they were the most important in terms of the skate culture — and neither was it to say they weren’t any of these things either.
 
However, there is no doubt that the widespread familiarity of the boards listed ties them to that particular period.
 
The purpose of this article is to divert your attention now to other considerations, focusing this time around on a reflection of which boards were the most culturally important — “culturally” in the sense of “skate culture.”
 

Once again, we’re going to tread into the ever-dangerous waters of coming up with a personal list. 

Of course, such lists will create controversy and be disputed and debated, but frankly, that’s part of what makes them fun, and the conversations they spawn can be just as meaningful as the original list itself.

Again, we will state clearly that my list cannot avoid subjectivity. Still, we hope that establishing some sort of criteria about what makes a board culturally important to skateboarding might at least mitigate that somewhat. So let’s dive right in.

What makes a skateboard Culturally Significant?

For a particular board to be considered culturally significant, we have leaned on the following criteria:

  • That the skateboard was groundbreaking in some fashion, did it shape the future of skating in any way?
  • The skateboard should tie to some important aspect or event in skateboarding history to achieve cultural significance.
  • The board may have become a symbol associated with skateboarding identity.
  • Finally, it might also be the case that it had some technical importance in its shape/design.

For myself, it could be any of these things that make it “culturally” important.

So with those considerations in mind, here’s my list of the boards that we think were particularly important to the history of the skate culture.

Dogtown Skates Skateboard - Wes Humpston, Jim Muir & Ray Flores

In my opinion, the hand-drawn, early Dogtown boards have legendary status and place all on their own.

Here we had boards that included designs other than just a corporate-style branding attached to that Mecca of modern skateboarding, Venice and Santa Monica.

These boards were individually unique, and it doesn’t matter which one you pick; they are all part and parcel of a critically important piece of skate culture.

ALL of these boards are culturally important.

1980s Dogtown Skateboard Deck
Rayflores Dogtown Skateboard

Zephyr Skateboard

What can be said say about the Zephyr boards

The board itself and its graphics are simple by later standards, of course, but their place in terms of what skateboarding would become and their link to the Z-boys, Jeff Ho and Skip Engblom, makes their cultural importance indisputable, we think.

Zephyr Skateboard
This is said to be the first ever Zephyr board produced
Zephyr Skateboard

Z-Flex Skateboard

The “Z” in Z-Flex relates to the old Zephyr team. Z-Flex came about as a project of Jay Adams’ stepfather, Kent Sherwood.

It is said that Jay Adams was often seen abusing one of these boards at the request of his stepfather to test their strength and durability.

The board appears quite regularly under Jay Adams’ feet in some early pool session videos.

Accordingly, it has taken on an iconic status by way of association with those early sessions.

1980s Z-Flex Skateboard

Makaha (Kick Tail) Skateboard

Can you imagine a completely flat skateboard?

Neither can I, and that innovation is precisely why the Makaha kicktail is so important and makes this list.

Larry Stevenson is credited with inventing the kicktail in 1969, and it forms the foundational basis of everything from the ollie to numerous other skateboarding tricks.

The kicktail made a skateboard more than just a plank to roll around on and rather a tool for self-expression and technical artistry.

1980s Makaha Kick-Tail Skateboard

Alva Skates Skateboard, 1977

For me, Tony Alva remains the skateboarder who most exuded pure style — surf or otherwise.

We know Jay Adams is often crowned with that title, but when you watch recordings of Alva, he flows with a grace and a style that seems unmatched to me, at least.

The lines he’d carve in a pool or on a bank combined his body mechanics; they all worked together in pure harmony and synthesis; it was true poetry in motion.

His particular prominence as a skateboarder certainly helps to rank his eponymous brand, Alva Skates, right up there in terms of cultural importance.

Still, it is also because it represents a pioneering moment that would foreshadow something that would become a more common occurrence: a skateboarder with his own company and brand.

That, combined with his importance as a member of the Z-boys, certainly make his 1977 board of particular importance, we think.

1980s Alva Skates Skateboard

Rip City, Black Flag Skateboards

The first Black Flag boards have a particular distinction as boards.

Black Flag is not only attached to Santa Monica and legendary skate shop Rip City Skates, but they also bring to life the tangible link between the skateboarding subculture and the punk subculture, especially in those years of the later 1970s and the 1980s.

In addition, of course, Black Flag has an exceptionally prominent position in the skate community and skate culture.

One of these boards — one signed by members of Black Flag — had the distinction in recent years of being one of the highest-selling boards of all time—a testament to this board’s cultural and historical importance.

Rip City Black Flag 1970s 1980s Skateboard

Powell Peralta Skateboards - Bones Brigade Series (1985-1988)

We debated whether it wasn’t important to put up the very first Powell Peralta board, but honestly. Although at the same time, that was important for them as a company, from the perspective of the cultural importance of skateboarding, it was the Bones Brigade itself.

Specifically, the iconic boards produced by Vernon Courtlandt Johnson for Tony Hawk, Steve Caballero, Mike McGill, Tommy Guerrero, Lance Mountain and Rodney Mullen from the period of 1985 through 1988 are genuinely the most culturally important to skateboarding in general, we think. 

These boards are at the heart and center of the skate culture as they hit their mid to later 1980’s prime.

The Bones Brigade’s videos revolutionized how skateboarding was brought to young skaters, no longer just in photographic stills but also in moving video — and these were the boards that were under their feet. 

Also, wrapped around all of this are Craig Stecyk’s unique ads, which, we think is fair to say, revolutionized how we viewed skate culture, and they indeed defined the skate mags by their playful irreverence.

Powell Peralta, Bones Brigade Series 1980s Skateboard

Jim Phillips, Santa Cruz Skateboards

Talk of the most culturally important boards cannot fail to mention Jim Phillips’ work for Santa Cruz. 

We will cheat a bit here, though and say it is not any one particular skateboard in this instance. It is just the body of Jim Philip’s work taken as a whole in how he defined a style and shaped and influenced an entire vocabulary of skate art. Phillips brought an entirely different approach to skate art from his peer over at Powell Peralta. 

Whereas Powell Peralta had more of a skate rock-type theme going on with skulls and daggers, Phillips brought a more cartoonish and comic book-like angle to his work.

We will narrow it down further to say that we think the very most important of Phillips works were the pieces that include faces and figures like the Jessee Neptune and Sun God, for instance, or the Roskopp Face, the Slasher and of course, the blue screaming hand. Like the Bones Brigade, it’s hard even to fathom skateboarding absent of Jim Phillips’ work.

As such, it has to be considered culturally importantWE 

Santa Cruz 1980s Iconic Skateboard Decks

Natas Kaupas Skateboards - Skip Engblom, Santa Monica Airlines

The original models of Natas Kaupas’ boards are, to me, also culturally important for a few reasons. At the level of the company itself, SMA was one of the original “small companies.” In fact, SMA even marketed themselves that way.
Santa Monica Airlines 1970s 1980s skateboard

The “true” SMA Natas boards are the yellow dips and those with the leaf fade and these are the one’s we’re specifically thinking of here. 

Why are they culturally important to skateboarding? 

In the first instance, they represent a bridge between the old Dogtown and Z-boys roots and the 80’s scene with Skip being integrally involved in their production.  

In the second instance they also tie to a skater, Natas Kaupas, who was integral in influencing the rise of street skating. Prior to him (and Mark Gonzales), most skating was focused on pools and ramps. 

Don’t get me wrong, pools and ramps are great (in fact pool skating is my favorite form of skating above all), but the issue is that empty pools  are not accessible to most; neither are ramps. 

The advent of street skating suddenly made skating accessible to every urban teenager, all of whom ad access to curbs, benches and parking blocks. That’s a big thing.  Natas represents that and these boards tie to those early street skating roots.

Santa Monica Airlines 1970s 1980s Skateboard Decks

Mike Vallely Skateboards, World Industries Barnyard

If the Makaha kick-tail was important, then certainly the Mike Vallely’s 1990 World Industries Barnyard, which introduced the double kick tail, is equally so, being the standard for board design ever since.

 Mark McKee’s graphic was a new approach as well, but it is the shape which makes it one of the most culturally important skateboards of all time.

Mike Vallely Barnyard 1970s 1980s Skateboard Deck

Blind, Powell Peralta Spoof Skateboards

As part of a feud with Powell Peralta, Blind/World Industries famously spoofed three Powell classics, the Ray ‘Bones’ Rodriguez skull and dagger, the Tony Hawk Chicken Skull, and the Per Welinder Nordic skull.  

The cultural importance of these Blind decks is twofold we think. 

In the first instance it represents the development of skateboarding toward smaller, skateboarder owned companies as seen through this tension and rivalry as they started to emerge. 

In the second instance, the skate art of the early 90’s is synonymous with skate graphics that either flirted with or outright flaunted copyright. 

The Blind spoofs certainly fall into that category. Both aspects represent the direction skateboarding took in the 1990’s: rebellious, edgy, daring. This was a springboard to all of the other edgy and controversial graphics done by the likes of Marc McKee and Sean Cliver through companies like World Industries, Blind and 101.

Blind, Powell Peralta Spoof 1990s Skateboard Decks
Blind, Powell Peralta Spoof 1990s Skateboard Decks

Conclusion

Culturally Important Skateboards of the 70s, 80s and early 90s

We can think as well of many boards that we think were particularly popular for their art, the associated skater, developments like the slick, etc. but a line has to be drawn somewhere. Where would you draw it?

What we have missed, forgotten or not included in this list that you would include?

What wouldn’t you include in the list that we have?

Let’s hear your thoughts.

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