Skating may seem to some folks like a relatively recent novelty ‘sport’ that appeals only to snotty teenagers with an anti-social bent. But you may be surprised to learn it actually has roots as far back as the 1950s. Of course nobody was jumping the Great Wall of China on a board back then, in fact most kids struggled to stay upright. the primitive boards had metal wheels so slippery they were like riding banana peels.
Seen as a youth fad in much the same way as hula hoops, or somewhat unfairly as a land-based division of surfing, skating meandered along with no real structure until the early sixties when companies such as Makaha and Hobie started making decent mass-produced rigs. Just as it was gathering momentum, skating suffered one of its many hiatuses in the mid-sixties when alarmed parents and teachers decided it was simply too dangerous for rugrats. Indeed it wasn’t until 1972 when the urethane wheel was invented that riders finally gained control of their boards, and all sorts of new wam-bam tricks were possible. Once again, the industry flourished.
I’m not here to tell the whole story of skateboarding, you can find that elsewhere, but I am trying to set the scene before we document one often overlooked element of the sport – the footwear. Everybody knows about Vans, but what about the brand that preceded them? Paul Van Doren was Executive Vice President at a company called Randy’s, who were the third largest manufacturer of shoes in the USA in the early sixties. He quit and started the Van Doren Rubber Company in 1966 to give his previous boss, not to mention Keds and Converse, some stiff competition. The company became known as Vans and cemented a reputation as the pioneering skate brand. For the next ten to fifteen years, they would dominate until the arrival on the scene of the traditional sports giants such as Nike. Later, a second wave of companies surfaced in the eighties who took the sport to a new level. Along the way there have been more than a few gimmicks, dead ends and brand disconnects, which is where we pick up the story....
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