Skateboarding, or "sidewalk surfing" as it was originally called, received its first big swell of popular attention during the late 50s and early 60s. By 1963, skateboarding had gained an impressive following among the surf crowd, and also with kids who had access to smooth sidewalks, crack-free pavement, and warm weather. Upstart companies like Makaha, Jacks, and Hobie formed teams and toured the United States promoting skating.
Essentially emulating surfers, pioneering skateboarders went barefoot, preferring direct foot-to-board contact. Additionally, during the early 60s, especially in warmer climates like America's West Coast, buying shoes was a luxury many parents simply couldn't afford. Consequently, many youth went barefoot in the summertime when schools were closed. It was only natural to skate barefoot as well.
By 1965 the skateboarding industry had crashed due in part to dysfunctional, inferior clay wheels, but also due to safety concerns over the dangerous nature of the activity. The 'extreme' culture was still decades away and parents in the mid-sixties appeared to be more vocally and actively concerned for the safety of their children. A few fatal accidents (involving automobiles) that received wide press coverage sealed the deal, and with the exception of a few hard-cores, skateboarding went underground for about 8 years.
It wasn't until the kick-tail deck and urethane wheels were invented in the early 1970s that skaters took the streets in large numbers once more. Equipment steadily progressed, and new terrain continued to be conquered by skaters through the 70s and 80s, who commonly wore Vans, Airwalk, or Vision shoes.
In the mid 90s Simon Woodstock and Jamie Thomas' barefoot stunts both garnered some attention with the skateboard media and even graced a magazine cover or two. However, barefoot skateboarding remained mostly in the margins.
Today, it is the norm to skate in shoes specifically designed for the activity. Skate shoes are marketed and sold by a dozen or so brands all manufacturing products in Asia. Even though most skate boarders today skate in shoes, a few purists remain. These outliers among their peers will occasionally kick off their kicks for a couple of runs on the mini-ramp or a quick barefoot push around the neighborhood.
Who knows what the future holds for barefoot skateboarding. Will Danny Way or Bob Burnquist ever feel the need to session the Mega Ramp™ shoeless? Probably not, but I do know that within the last couple of weeks , I've seen more than a few barefoot skaters sessioning the bowl at my local skatepark and having a lot of fun at the same time.
Thanks for reading! Now, Go Skate!
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