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San Diego: A Birthplace of Skateboarding

Home of the West Coast’s first skate park

Through all the ups and downs that skateboarding has experienced over the last 70 years, San Diego has been a lifeline that allowed the sport to continue progressing, becoming a global phenomenon and finding its place among traditional sports like football and baseball.

San Diego Milestones in the Evolution of Skateboarding

While there are stories of roller skate wheels being added to wooden boards as early as the 1920s, skateboarding as we think of it today began in the late 1940s or early 1950s when surfers in California were looking for something to do when the waves were flat. 

Skateboarding quickly became the rage throughout Southern California and spread across the nation. In 1964, San Diego’s surfboard pioneers Larry Gordon and Floyd Smith (co-founders of Gordon & Smith Surfboards) used their manufacturing experience to develop a revolutionary new skateboard process that combined Bo-Tuff (a fiberglass-reinforced epoxy) with a maple wood core. Known as the Fibreflex skateboard, it was the first laminated board created for the skate market. 

After a significant decline in popularity in the late 1960s, the introduction of urethane wheels and other innovations in the early 1970s brought about a renewed interest in the sport and a search for more challenging places to ride. For a few years in the early 1970s, an empty Escondido Reservoir became the hot place to skate in Southern California, and its terrain influenced the design of future skate parks.

Skateboarding’s widespread comeback was hastened in 1975 when Del Mar hosted one of the largest skateboarding competitions since the 1960s. The Del Mar National Championships, a two-day competition with up to 500 competitors, introduced the world to a new way to ride by the Zephyr team from LA, which included Tony Alva, Jay Adams and Stacy Peralta. The team had developed their style in empty swimming pools during heavy drought years in California. Instead of riding in the smooth, gliding style of longboard surfers, they brought an aggressive, attacking nature to their skating, similar to the style revolution that happened when short boards were introduced to surfing. Known as the Z boys, they were featured in the 2005 film Lords of Dogtown.

That same year, a La Costa housing tract became the most popular local skate spot in history. With a years-long delay in construction, the already-completed streets and sidewalks became a mecca for skaters from all over Southern California. 

In May 1976, the Carlsbad Skatepark opened to the public. It was one of the first two skate parks in the world, both of which opened that month.

As interest in skateboarding again ebbed and high insurance costs forced the closure of most skate parks by the early 1980s, the Del Mar Ranch Skate Park became a focal point of California skateboarding, attracting a contingent of hardcore skateboarders from around the world.

Today, there are more than 35 formal skate parks throughout San Diego County, and you will see skateboarders, young and old, wherever you go. What began as a way to kill time when the surf was down is alive and thriving, and has now become an iconic Southern California tradition. 

SAN DIEGO NOTABLES

TONY HAWK

Skateboarding legend Tony Hawk was born in Carlsbad, raised in San Diego and is now an Encinitas resident. At the age of 16, Hawk was considered the best competitive skateboarder in the world. During the 1997 X Games, he landed four 540s in a row, a feat that is widely recognized as one of the greatest runs of all time. By 1998, Tony Hawk had won the National Skateboard Association world championship for twelve consecutive years and invented more than fifty tricks. In 1999, he cemented his legendary status by completing the first-ever frontside 900, two-and-a-half mid-air revolutions. Following in his father’s footsteps, in 2013 on his 21st birthday, Riley Hawk turned pro and won Skateborder’s Amateur of the Year award.  

SHAUN WHITE

Although Shaun White is best known for his snowboarding prowess, he is also a skateboarder. Mentored by Tony Hawk, whom he met at a San Diego skate park when he was 9, White turned pro in skateboarding at the age of 17. His skateboarding achievements include first place at the Dew Action Sports Tour’s Right Guard Open, Action Sports Tour Champion and winner of five Winter X Games medals. He is the only skater to land the frontside heelflip 540 body varial.

PATTI MCGEE

In 1964, San Diegan Patti McGee set the female speed record at 47 mph. As the first women’s national skateboard champion in 1965, she was featured on the covers of Life and Skateboarder magazines, and became the first woman inducted into the Skateboarding Hall of Fame.

BRYCE WETTSTEIN

While still in high school, this young Encinitas skater competed in the Tokyo Olympics for the U.S. team in the first-ever women's park event, as skateboarding made its debut in the Summer Games. She finished sixth overall in a strong global field. Wettstein was also the 2019 U.S. national champion in women’s park.

DON’T MISS SAN DIEGO SKATE PARKS

  • A free public park funded and maintained by local skateboarders, Washington Street Skate Park is widely considered one of the best skate parks in the world.
  • The first skateboard park built by the City of San Diego, Robb Field Skateboard Park in Ocean Beach was designed with input from top local skateboarders, such as Tony Hawk.
  • Set on the shores of San Diego Bay in Coronado's Tidelands Park, the city-run Coronado Skatepark offers concrete ramps, bowls, jumps and more across an expanse of 16,000 square feet. Members of skateboarding royalty such as Stacy Peralta and Tony Alva have dropped in here.
  • With a wooden bowl, concrete bowl, vert ramp, mini ramp, street course and bmx park, the 60,000 square foot Krause Family Skate and Bike Park in Clairemont has something for all ages and skill levels, and many of San Diego’s best skaters practice there regularly.
  • A great all-around, free, community skate park, Memorial Skate Park in Logan Heights is another of the premier skate parks in San Diego County. 
  • Local skateboard pro Willy Santos was instrumental in getting the Rancho Penasquitos Skate Park approved and built in 2005. An impressive array of street and ramp-styled features keeps it challenging but with something for everyone.
  • Carmel Valley Skate Park is a huge, world-class skate park designed with the help of pro skater Chris Miller.
  • The 34,000-square-foot Encinitas Community Park Skate Park is known by locals as "Poods" in honor of Ian "Poods" Barry, a skater from the Leucadia neighborhood of Encinitas who died at age 22 in 2012. The park offers a backyard-style bowl and street plaza plus banks, handrails, rail slides and more.
  • A favorite of locals, Alex Road Skatepark in Oceanside (AKA Prince Park) includes street features, two bowls and two snake runs, and is great for all skill levels.
  • Featuring an 80 foot vert ramp from the 2003 X Games and two of the county’s best pools, Magdalena Ecke Family YMCA Skate Park in Encinitas is challenging, fun and a home base for many local pros through the years.

SKATE INDUSTRY COMPANIES

  • Gordon & Smith Surfboards began making skateboards in the 1960s and became one of the industry leaders with their Fibreflex skateboards. They are also known for their surf and skate apparel.
  • Birdhouse Skateboards is a skateboard company in Vista co-founded by ex-Powell Peralta professionals Tony Hawk and Per Welinder.
  • Since 1993, Sector 9 Skateboard Co. has been known for their longboards for surfing, skating and snowboarding.
  • Muir Skate Longboard Shop, founded in 2005 at a shop in UCSD’s John Muir College (hence the name) and now located in Miramar, and Soul Grind Skate Shop in Pacific Beach both offer a wide range of skate products and accessories, plus free first-hand buying advice.

CLASH AT CLAIREMONT

Hosting more than 45 of the world’s best Action Sports athletes, the annual Clash at Clairemont is Southern California’s premier action sports fundraising celebration, uniting the biggest names in skateboarding and BMX to crush cancer and support the YMCA.


Check out the skateboarding scene in San Diego today, then grab your board and visit a San Diego skate park!

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