by Tom Stratton

Skating and the Birth of Streetwear

Skating is now on your parents’ TV, it’s been unwillingly paraded o...
Skating and the Birth of Streetwear
Now that skating is officially in the olympics (the one on boards, not the winter one on blades) it's fair to say it's finally entered into mainstream consciousness. However, this sudden exposure can be a weird and sometimes awkward juxtaposition: something so defined by its counterculture status thrust into the corporate global limelight. More people than ever are getting into skate culture but that culture isn't, and never has been, defined by just skating; like hip-hop culture, it embodies a way of life, a style, and a movement, indefinable by its very nature.

Sidewalk Surfing

Skating is now on your parents’ TV, it’s been unwillingly paraded out to the masses, and willingly parading itself all at once. Skating, skatewear, skate culture is, and always should be, at odds with, not only the general public, but itself. 
Depending on how far you want to try and go back, you can find the seed of skating in the writings of early travellers who had seen surfers for the first time in Hawaii and the Polynesian isles. It would take a long while for it to reach foreign shores and even longer for it to move inland and become the (Olympic) sport we know today. As surfing moved from Hawaii to California it’s popularity was mirrored on TV and film as it was frequently included in features throughout the 50s. As more people started surfing demand was such that when waves were scarce, and conditions weren’t right, surfers were looking for new ways to fill the void thus ‘sidewalk surfing’ was born. 
Primitive roller skates had become popular at the time and it wasn’t long before innovative surf kids started taking them apart and fixing their wheels to plywood as a small street surfboard. As early as 1956 the first commercial skateboard was available. Despite the growing popularity there was one problem: wheels. The original skateboard wheels were made of clay so were only really suited to skating flat ground. Regardless, when Makaha skateboards opened in 1963 they reported ridiculous sales of up to 10,000 boards a day. With rapid growth comes a movement and skate fashion was soon to follow.

Vans are Born 

By 1966 skate wear was accidentally born with the first Vans shop opening in California. The hardwearing shoes were perfect for skating and soon the company would realise the potential for skatewear as a brand. Everything was starting to come into place at the same time and pretty soon the infamous Zephyr opened, paving the way for the culture and style to come into its own. The outcasts and outsiders that frequented Zephyr were the seed of a lifestyle that would go on to feed into music, fashion, and everything around them. 
Over the next few years modern skating would blossom around the heart of Zephyr and its team of Z-Boys. With the invention of urethane wheels in the early 70s came street and vert skating. Under the watch of Skip Engblom some of the most influential skaters of all time emerged at skating competitions. Due to the severe drought in California, swimming pools were emptied and the Z-Boys took it as their opportunity. They began to go to empty backyard pools to skate the bowls, revolutionising aerial skating forever. 

Slackers and Punks

The rebellious nature of the team shaped their skating style, their clothing, and all of skate culture. Skate uniforms at this point were entirely functional: short shorts, long socks, canvas trainers. As the seventies started to find its way after the end of the swinging sixties, new fashions were popping up along with new music. Slacker culture and punk lent itself perfectly to skate culture: if you skated, that’s what you did. You weren’t going to work in an office, you weren’t wearing a suit, you were wearing streetwear. Without knowing it, the skaters were starting to create what we now call streetwear.  
By 1976 Tony Alva and Stacy Peralta were working with Vans creating the first skater-designed shoe, the Era. This also happened to be the year that Tony Alva performed the first frontside air. Sponsorship deals started rolling in and skating was on its way to becoming the outsider sport that’s finally snuck its way into the mainstream. The eighties saw yet more revelations through influential skaters such as Rodney Mullen and Mark Gonzales and Bones Brigade groundbreaking skate videos. The structured horizontal skating and small shorts had made way for the era ahead: big pants, small wheels.   

Grunge and Tony Hawk

As grunge started to become popular it was the natural partner to skating: it was slacker culture in musical form. The rebellious, laid back artists were a mirror to the attitudes of the skate community. Airwalk and Etnes had gained popularity and now DC had started creating technical skate shoes. Jeans were baggy, much like the early uniforms they also had a practical edge to them: protection. Pretty soon the big brands were coming for skaters, Adidas, Converse, Nike SB were releasing skate wear. Skating was lucrative, especially at the turn of the millennium when Tony Hawk Pro Skater gripped a whole new generation of aspiring skaters.

A Way of Life

Grunge to hip hop, punk to hardcore, they all fit in with the whole skating ethos. Outsiders and rebels had something to bond over. Streetwear was skate wear: graphic tees, beanies, snapbacks were the uniform of choice for millions of kids with a shared passion. Work pants were soon at home alongside jeans for the look and that same practicality in falls. Now we have Supreme and Stussy and countless other high end brands that have taken that look and made huge business from it. Todays streetwear found its spark in those early innovators: their style, their ethos, but most of all their way of life.