IASC Update April 2000

Skateboarding’s Expanding Universe

Today’s sport and the related business of skateboarding are expanding and evolving with such momentum that it’s difficult to anticipate where we’ll be in five months, let alone five years. What does the future hold, and where did all this come from? Can we take a moment, pause amidst our mission, and take a look around to recognize what’s happening? Looking at all the indicators¿all the sales figures, all the public-park openings, all the production numbers¿can we just stop all engines, turn our caps around and declare, “Up periscope!” so we can see where the hell we are?

During last year’s Skateboard Industry Conference 2 in Vancouver, I introduced the notion of skateboarding being as old as the universe. My presentation pointed out that Einstein’s work, and the follow-up work of other physicists, had redefined the describable limits of the universe. The expansion theory of the universe’s creation carries the implicit notion that if the universe is expanding, then it must have been smaller at one point. But when was that? As Stephen Hawking says in his book A Brief History of Time, “The discovery that the universe is expanding was one of the great intellectual revolutions of the twentieth century.”

This intellectual revolution continues to make its way into the mainstream, into schools and into our culture, and it really only began to circulate around the 1930s, when it certainly became manifest to everyone with the detonation of atomic bombs and their destruction at the end of World War II. This is, of course, when skateboarding was beginning to worm its way into our culture. I wasn’t around for the atomic bombs, but using our own collective histories, we know people who were. And we know people who were making skate scooters in the 1920s and 1930s.

My own father (a prisoner of war during WWII) made skate scooters with Buster Wilson during the 1930s. They were just ten-year-old San Diego kids at the beginning of the Depression, needing something to do that required little or no money. Something. Anything. “Hey, let’s make, uh … look, we can put this skate on here … ” The universe was expanding, and so was their world. They didn’t make any conscious decisions to change things, creating just made sense and it was something for them to do.

Twenty years later they shared with us, their kids, the same project for the same reason¿we were bored and needed something, anything, to do. Their suggestion was simple, “You know what you guys should do, go find a roller skate and we’ll show you how to make a scooter.” There I was, joining in a cultural hand-me-down, a passage from one generation to the next. As a nine-year-old student at Bird Rock Elementary School, where the notion of the universe’s expansion was yet to be introduced, I had a skateboard and lived on a street without pavement.

Thus, the universe is as “new” as skateboarding¿that was the thought I expressed in Vancouver. The evolution of thought, the notion of change, the very idea of an evolving species is so profound and so difficult to fully comprehend that it seemingly continues to threaten the old guard, the old way of thinking. It was 1988 when Hawking finished A Brief History of Time, which is often described as one of the best-selling and least understood books ever published. Millions of these books and a subsequent television program have made their way into our contemporary culture with a straightforward message from Hawking: “It became more and more clear that the universe must have had a beginning in time, until in 1970 this was finally proved by Penrose and myself, on the basis of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. That proof showed that general relativity is only an incomplete theory: it cannot tell us how the universe started off, because it predicts that all physical theories, including itself, break down at the begginning of the universe.”

Hawking explains: “What the singularity theorems really show is that there must have been a time in the very early universe, when the universe was so small that one could no longer ignore the small-scale effects of the other great partial theory of the twentieth century, quantum mechanics.” Which, of course, is what his book is all about, the distillation of the two partial theories into a single theory¿the quantum theory of gravity.

Ah, a time when “the universe was so small.” A time when skateboarding was so small. Was there a time when skateboarding was so small that everyone who skateboarded lived on the same street? The significance of skateboarding’s beginnings is only relative to our appreciation of what skateboarding is today and its subsequent influence upon its future¿the future of skateboarding and the future of the culture in which it flourishes.

Skateboarding’s origins, much like the computer industry’s San Jose garages, are traced to a hands-on backyard activity. When skateboarding was so small, when kids built something with their dads in the backyard, there was no thought of building an industry, of successful businesses or the development of a worldwide sport involving ten-million participants. It was just something to do. Hewlett and Packard and Jobs may have had a notion of what the personal computer might be able to do, but they struggled long before any success or products emerged from their workbenches. There’s no mistaking the connection between the personal computer and the growth and expansion of skateboarding. The computer is an essential aspect of skateboard production, advertising, and design; video editing and production; music production; communication; inventory and production control; magazine publication; and photographic archiving and image production. Is there any aspect of skateboarding that isn’t directly connected to the computer?

Our universe, the universe of skateboarding, is expanding more rapidly than ever before. Five years ago IASC developed from within skateboarding with the specific goal of joining skate companies in a unified effort to develop and promote skateboarding¿the sport and its businesses. IASC, unlike any previous skateboard organization, offers individual skate companies the opportunity to work toward a common goal¿a better sport and better skateboarding. Thus, within the expansion of skateboarding was the chance to come together.

Our future is now. Skateboarding’s future is now. Every realm of our contemporary culture is directly and indirectly touched by skateboarding. Clothing, music, motion pictures, television, advertising, magazines, books, and other sports continue to be influenced by what we do. So what are we doing for skateboarding? As our universe continues to develop, as our sport continues to evolve, do we just let it happen, or can we accept the responsibility of this opportunity to unify behind the concept of creating a better universe?