There is a mysterious phenomenon that occurs once in a while whereby our world becomes filled, seemingly overnight, with Super Balls or Hula-Hoops or Beethoven sweat shirts. You wonder where they came from and how every kid in town found out about them at the same time, and before you have it figured out they are gone, never to be seen again except at a garage sale.
Sometimes an item that starts out looking like a 90-day wonder becomes a staple. Like the Frisbee. But generally when a fad fades, the entrepreneur with a warehouse full of, say, puka shells, had better hope an esoteric industrial use for the things turns up, because he is surely never going to sell another necklace.
Ten years ago there were a lot of warehouses full of skateboards. The fad had started in Southern California's beach towns, where kids nailed roller-skate wheels to miniature wooden surfboards and whiled away the days when the ocean was flat, scaring the daylights out of passing motorists. The craze swept inland (to Southern Californians inland is the United States east of the Hollywood Hills), and for a year anybody who could tool up fast enough made money.
That was 1965. Fifty million skateboards were sold that year. Manufacturers sponsored teams; a promoter was able to sell out a park in Anaheim at $5 a head for what he called the International Skateboard Championships; orthopedists coined a term, skateboard fracture, for a shattered elbow. And by January 1966 it was all over. The skateboard was a good toy, but the kids had pushed it to its limits and were on to new challenges.
Today, against all odds, America is in the grip of a Great Skateboard Revival. At least Southern California is in its grip, and, as everybody knows, what's hot in Hermosa in August will be dynamite in Des Moines by Christmas. There may be as many as two million skateboards already rolling around Southern California alone and 2,000 to 5,000 more being turned out each day, says James O'Mahoney, publisher of Skateboard magazine. The first pro skateboard competition is scheduled for the LA Sports Arena this month and TV may cover.
The revival began because a freshman engineering student at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Frank Nasworthy, joined a political demonstration in 1970 and was suspended from school. Nasworthy is 24 now and lives in Encinitas, Calif. He describes himself as "basically a surfer," but in the annals of skateboarding he will go down as the man who invented the wheel. Out of school and disillusioned, Nasworthy took to hanging around a small plastics company in Purcellville, Va. called Creative Urethane Inc., which was bankrolled by a company called Roller Sports, Inc. One of Creative Urethane's products was a clear, amber-colored, cast-molded polyurethane roller-skate wheel for use on rental skates at roller rinks.
The urethane wheel had been around for several years, but it had not been a great success. Though durable, it was too slow for the tastes of rink skaters, who preferred hard composition clay wheels, brittle and fast. But Nasworthy realized that a modified polyurethane wheel, with its remarkable traction, could be adapted to skateboards, making them more versatile than they were with the old wheels of steel or clay.
By 1973 Nasworthy was in California and in business, having formed the Cadillac Wheels Company on $700 he had accumulated working in a restaurant. Creative Urethane made the wheels to his specifications, and Nasworthy began to peddle them to surf shops up and down the coast.
Most people in the surfing business recognized the possibilities of the urethane wheel immediately, and the rush was on. Metaflex, a Canadian company, developed a wheel of its own. Surfboard manufacturers began whipping out fiberglass, wood, aluminum and molded plastic skateboards, and the business of making trucks, the metal suspension assemblies that join the wheels to the boards, burgeoned.
By word of mouth, then through ads in surfing magazines, the news spread, first to surfers, then to the bicycle set. Kids who had not been born in time for the first skateboard boom and 18-year-olds returning to a childhood pastime all had to have urethane wheels. Ten-year-olds became authorities overnight on skateboard components—boards from Bahne (pronounced bane), Hobie, Hang Ten, Gordon & Smith, Logan, Mojo; trucks by Sure Grip, Bennett, X-Caliber, Chicago; wheels from Roller Sports, Cadillac, Metaflex. And scores more.