The History of Skateboarding in Australia

By OliviaStill
Apr. 28, 2017

2016 will probably go down as one of the most important years in skateboard history.

So if you’re living under a rock, let us fill you in – last year, during the Olympic Games in Rio, the committee announced that due to “vast youth appeal”, certain games like karate, surfing and yes – skateboarding will be included as events in the 2020 games.

Some people were caught off guard, but professional skateboarders weren’t as surprised – this was long time coming. The reactions from the skating community vary from optimistic to mixed, but we’ll have to wait for another three years to see will this have a positive or a negative effect on the sport as a whole.

And while skateboarding has officially become an Olympic sport, most cities in Australia are still full anti-skating devices in the form of small knobs on rails, steps and garden beds.

The Current State of Skateboarding in Australia

Over the past few decades, thousands of kids grew up skateboarding around the streets of Sydney, the city (like many others around the continent) hasn’t really progressed with skateboarding and clearly lacks important infrastructure.

So why are steps around the country full of tiny little knobs and why are so many people against skateboarding in public, you might ask.

Well, according to a council spokesman from the City of Melbourne, people usually complain about the noise (from skating at unreasonable hours of the night), lack of pedestrian safety and anti-social behavior expressed by skateboarders.

However, a community survey of 387 people revealed that anti-social behaviors such as vandalism and public drinking are typically reported as “rarely or never occurring.”

Taking a Closer Look at Australia’s Skateboarding History

So why does skateboarding have such a bed rep in Australia? The sport’s popularity is now rapidly growing in the rest of the world, and with the growth, we’ve seen a major shift in attitude towards skateboarding.

Now, let’s take a quick look at the history of the sport in Australia and maybe we’ll be a little bit closer to getting to the bottom of this issue.

· Back in the 60’s, long before you could find longboards in Australia, people were actually riding surfboards (and in some cases – ordinary wooden boxes) with roller-skate wheels strapped to the bottom.

· During the initial skateboarding boom, when the sport started spreading across Australia, most people viewed it as something fun you could try after surfing. And not surprisingly the trend came and went in just a few short years.

· In the early 70’s , thanks to Frank Nasworthy’s invention of urethane wheels and the rising popularity of the legendary Z-Boys, skateboarding took an evolutionary step toward the sport we know and love today and in turn, received more mainstream attention than ever before.

· In the late 70’s, skaters in US started looking for new challenges and empty swimming pools provided the right one and a new form of sport was born. At the same time, a small number of Australian riders started organizing small “Bowl-Riding” championships.

· In the decade spanning the mid 70’s to mid-80’s, skateboarding’s popularity went from a worldwide craze to virtual extinction. But in Australia, despite zero sponsorship and a lack of competition in the scene, a small number of skaters (including Noel Forsyth) kept riding.

· By the 90’s, skateboarding basically became a street sport and became more “edgy.” During that period, a number of Australian skaters rose to fame, including the Pappas brothers (who became known as two of the world’s best skaters at one point). The two became international stars overnight, but their careers unfortunately ended tragically.

· In the late 90’s the popularity of X-Games brought skateboarding into the mainstream on a global level and Australia got a number of its now-famous skate parks including Martin Place. And since the start of the millennium, Australia saw more parks, skate schools and skateboarding started to become a viable, sustainable business.

What the Future Holds

And how’s the future looking for skateboarding in Australia? According to some, things are definitely starting to look bright.

For instance, as the world-renown sports photographer Atiba Jefferson notes, Sydney is very similar to LA (the birthplace of skateboarding) in terms of weather, temperature and culture, so it’s naturally a giant hub for skateboarders. Jefferson has faith that the city will continue to nurture great talent.

The public perception is also slowly changing – the ABS estimates that around 21% of young people in Australia are actively engaged in the sport. And with the grown concerns about the obesity rates in the country, some official are now encouraging skateboarding instead of sanctioning it.

And who knows, maybe in a couple of years, people will stop commenting that 95% of skateboarders won’t be able to compete in the Olympics because of the drug testing… Just maybe…