It probably wouldn’t be a stretch to say that most pros didn’t ace algebra and physics (except perhaps Rodney Mullen) in high school. But during the mid to late 1990s, most of them developed an almost savant ability to throw around fractions and degrees of angles like a pack of dirtball Einsteins. Boards were regularly measured down to the sixteenth of an inch (I can recall one obsessed pro taking it to the thirty-second) and concaves were sweated over until the pros were distracted enough to affect their skating. Obsessive-board disorder had hit skateboarding and become an epidemic.
Oddly, at the same time, boards had just begun to all look the same after a decade of extravagance. The extroverted boards of the 1980s, such as the fishtail and Hammerhead designs, were slapped on the Skil saw and cut into the standard popsicle-stick shape after Mike Vallely and World Industries came out with his symmetrical Barnyard model in 1989, the first pro board of its kind. But this minimalist change was a necessity. So much attention was being focused on minute details because skaters had discovered a new style of skating that demanded the evolution of decks.
Toward the end of the twentieth century it seemed that most skaters chilled a bit with their obsessive-compulsive deck disorders. Their manic attention mellowed into an almost indifferent calm. Every skater I spoke with for this article except Bucky Lasek, who may be the most anal-retentive person I know, said that they weren’t too picky about their shapes anymore. Most couldn’t even recall the dimensions of their decks. In a few cases, pros shared shapes and had their own graphics screened on them.
The biggest design change in recent years has resulted from the monster ramps Danny Way and Colin McKay have built. Due to the face-pulling speeds attained on these double-XL ramps, the boards that these vert dogs pilot needed to be larger. A regular board would flick the skater off with a King Kong case of speed wobbles.
With the influx of big transitions, most vert pros are riding custom large boards unavailable to the public, who seem to favor smaller, more street-orientated shapes. The companies, and sometimes the skaters, feel their boards are too big for the mainstream skater. “I stole my first Birdhouse-board shape from Brian Howard,” Bucky Lasek recalls. He’s the only pro I spoke with who had recently made major changes on his shape. “I had them copy Howard’s shape and I rode that for five years. Tony (Hawk) was riding that shape, too. We had the same shape, with different graphics on it. But they (Birdhouse) didn’t even sell it, it was custom for us.”
But now Lasek has come almost full circle with his shapes. “I changed my board about five months ago. I shortened my wheelbase on my vert board by a quarter inch, took an eighth off the width, and made my nose and tail the same, so I could ride it both ways. My new custom board is almost the exact same shape as my street board that’s in the shops.”
Bob Burnquist’s last board-shape modification happened because he had no choice. “The big change regarding my shape came when I moved down (to San Diego) and changed manufacturers,” he says. “There were different molds (for the concave). My tail isn’t as round as it used to be. But now, I could just grab one of my models off the shelf and skate. I’ve ridden the same shape for my last, at least, 200 boards.”
And, like Lasek, he admits to “borrowing” a model. “You know, my board is Rune’s (Glifberg) shape. I think I saw it at the office one day, rode it, and liked it.”
Andy Macdonald, who actually shaped his own board, can’t really remember doing it. “I’ve been riding the same shape on vert since 1996. I don’t know the size anymore.”
It wasn’t vert that forced the deck evolution, though. The street skaters got the freestyle/switch virus first, and the days of the fishtail were numbered. Mike Vallely, who has just started his own namesake board company, shares the mmild indifference of vert skaters to shapes. “I’ve been riding the same shape since I got on Black Label in 1999,” he says. “I picked it out of a pile of existing shapes. I had spoken with Lucero, told him what I liked, and he picked shapes he thought would work well for me. I could have shaped my own, but this way worked just as well.”
Ed Templeton shares the same shoulder shrug regarding shaping his board down to the millimeter. “I don’t change my shape much,” he says. “I’m still riding the same shape that Jamie Thomas made when he got on Toy Machine around 1994 or 1995,” he says. “When I first started Toy Machine, we changed shapes a lot-it was always a narrower tail, a wider nose. Lots of changes. I went through a lot of shapes before that, like the Schmitt Stix Ripsaw model. I?ve ridden some weird shapes in my day.”
But custom boards or not, deck shapes seem to have hit a plateau. Skaters appear to have put away their protractors and slide rules and seem satisfied-for now, at least. Perhaps the future lies in taking design past the shapes of the deck and into the whole skateboard. “I find I can skate anything,” Vallely says. “I do a lot of shop appearances, and sometimes I won’t even bring my board-I’ll just borrow a kid’s board and usually I can skate well. It’s an extra challenge. It’s what I need sometimes.”