40 Years Of Skateboarding In Europe

by Jim Fitzpatrick

(PQ 1: These guys were living legends, the McTwist was huge, and American skaters ruled the skateboarding world.)

(PQ 2: Skateboarding in Europe is no longer U.S.-based for its athletes, its “stars,” nor its energy.)

(PQ 3: Through the 90s there were U.S.-based skate companies that used Europe as a dumping ground for out-of-date products.)

The sun was high overhead as I skated across the tarmac at Charles de Gaulle International Airport-directly into the customs area. It was July 1964, and the skateboard had landed in Paris. There were no parades or reception committee, in fact, the reaction was exactly what you’d expect-the gendarmes started screaming and blowing whistles while customs officials grabbed me and my Makaha skateboard. The skateboard’s welcome to Europe was an official confiscation party. That first skateboard Euro-trek lasted seven weeks, beginning with a few days in Paris, and then off to Biarritz where Joe Morraiz, Jean Marie, and Francois Lartigau became my hosts for ten days of surfing and skateboarding.

A quarter of a century later, nearly 25 years to the day, I was skateboarding down some of those same Biarritz streets early in the morning. I was on the 1989 Bones Brigade World Tour with Steve Caballero, Tommy Guerrero, Mike McGill, and Mark Saito. I decided to explore the town, again, on my longboard and saw the sign for Biarritz’s First Surf Shop-Surf Morraiz. Sure enough, Joe was the owner.

So, 40 years ago I skateboarded in Biarritz, then Spain, Portugal, throughout Italy, and across the continent, and then ferried the Channel to England, Scotland, and Ireland. If there was one thing I noticed on the ’64 trip, it was that skateboarding confused people. Then in 1989, while on the Bones Brigade tour, it wasn’t too surprising to observe a similar level of amazement and disbelief. Of course, in ’89 the reactions weren’t to the skateboard itself, but to the level of the skating that Steve, Tommy, Mike, and Mark were able to demonstrate. These guys were living legends, the McTwist was huge, and American skaters ruled the skateboarding world. How things change.

It was clear throughout the entire ’89 World Tour that skateboarding had developed, made itself available, and established its cultural roots. Skateboarding was a worldwide phenomenon, and skateboarding in Europe, especially, would be part of the future. Including the future of skateboarding business.

Skateboarding in Europe today is as legitimate as any skateboarding in the States. Just look at parks like Marseille and Radlands; contests like the World Cup series in London, Birmingham, Prague, Copenhagen, and Dortmund; and the Warped Tour in Europe. Even Tony Hawk and his Huck Jam are headed there next year. Skateboarding in Europe is no longer U.S.-based for its athletes, its “stars,” or its energy.

This past summer, Quiksilver hosted a Euro-Skate Summit at ispo in order to give retailers, event organizers, video and media producers, and skateboarders the chance to discuss and exchange information. Skateboarding in Europe is no longer dependent upon U.S.-based companies for guidance or inspiration. U.S. products continue to dominate the Euro market, but sales percentages have been changing for years.

Through the 90s, U.S.-based skate companies used Europe as a dumping ground for out-of-date products. Those days have changed. Today’s European consumer is more global in attention, partly because of the new E.U. and its euro currency. The emerging European middle-class consumers continue to discover and flex their spending muscles.

There are even suggestions that shrewd U.S.-based companies are now considering the manufacturing of skate products in developing countries with free-trade policies in place. It’s reported that in 2002 84 percent of all Albanian exports to E.U. countries were eligible for free-trade status, whiile only two percent were actually granted the preferential status. The specific requirement, that has proven to be difficult for qualification, is the origin of raw material in the manufacture of finished goods-hard- and softgoods must be manufactured from raw material produced within the country.

Thus, if you’re after preferential trade relations utilizing Albania as your country of manufacture, you’ll have to use Albanian cotton for your T-shirts and Albanian wood for your decks.

What’s in place today is a growing and developing European community of fifteen countries dedicated to creating a new economic and political relationship amongst themselves and the rest of the world-Europe is changing the way it does business, and subsequently E.U. countries are creating new relationships with U.S.-based manufacturers. Thirty percent of world trade is conducted by E.U. countries. The Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD) is a joint E.U. and U.S. forum developing consumer policies for the future. Europe and the E.U. is at the forefront of change.

What’s already been resolved at the street level is that Euro skateboarders, while still impressed and influenced by U.S.-based companies and media, are no longer held to the U.S. experience for their sole source of inspiration or products. Unlike 40 years ago, skateboarding is as much a part of Euro-youth culture as it is in the U.S.

IASC’s new expanded membership is actively seeking the support and participation of Euro skateboard companies and distributors. Today’s European skateboard market is far more sophisticated than it was five years ago, and IASC’s expanding membership can provide the type of support and information companies need to be able to succeed in the dynamic European marketplace. Distributors from Belgium and Spain have already joined the new IASC-isn’t it time for you to consider IASC membership as a benefit for your company’s Euro activity?