Skateboarding In 1965: Americans Fall For Sidewalk Surfing

Fads | June 1, 2018

Left: Patti McGee, the first Woman's National Skateboard Champion, does a handstand on her skateboard, California, early 1965. Right: Opening sequence of 'Skaterdater.; Source: Bill Eppridge/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images; YouTube

In 1965, skateboarding went mainstream. Previously it had been a fringe sport, enjoyed by a subculture of the surfing crowd, with skateboarders congregating on sidewalks and parking lots to practice their tricks. But a series of breakthrough moments in 1965 raised skateboarding's profile, prompting a national fad that would soon become its own culture, one that has endured for decades. 

Today, many cities have dedicated skate parks and there are now governing bodies of the sport. In fact, skateboarding was scheduled to make its Olympic premiere at the Tokyo games in 2020. The rise of skateboard culture owes much of its progress to the year 1965 when several events occurred that helped propel it into the national spotlight.

Skateboarding, Also Known As 'Sidewalk Surfing'

Prior to 1965, skateboarding was beginning to come into its own. The first manufactured skateboards hit the market, replacing the homemade wooden ones skaters used. Val’s Surf Shop in Southern California started selling skateboards and the Cali surf crowd loved them. Since it was akin to surfing, the surf bums quickly transferred their skills on the surfboards to the skateboards and zipped up and down the beach boardwalks showing off their tricks. The term “sidewalk surfing” was coined.

In 1964, Dick Clark’s American Bandstand welcomed the singing duo, Jan and Dean, who sang their newest song, “Sidewalk Surfing” to the cheers of rock ‘n roll-loving teens. Dean even showed off his own skateboard moves on stage. This whet the appetites of American adrenaline junkies and laid the foundation for the monumental skateboarding events of 1965.

'The Quarterly Skateboarder' Magazine Debuts

1965 saw the publication of the first magazine dedicated to the budding sport of skateboarding. The Quarterly Skateboarder, published by John Severson, only produced four issues before it folded, but the publication was later revived in the mid-1970s. In the inaugural issue, the publisher wrote, “Today’s skateboarders are founders in the sport. They are pioneers. They are the first.”

A Governing Body is Formed

Severson also noted in The Quarterly Skateboarder that “the sport is being molded and we believe that doing the right thing now will lead to a bright future for sports. Already, there are storm clouds on the horizon with opponents of the sport talking about bans and restrictions.” In response to this, the first governing body of the sport of skateboarding was founded in 1965. The National Skateboard Championships Association was the first of many skateboarding organizations and the goal of the NSCA, as it was called, was to establish rules and guidelines for the sport and to host championship events, which it promptly did.

Riding on the popularity of the growing sport, the city of Anaheim, California, hosted the very first National Skateboarding Championships. Held on May 22 and 23, 1965, the event attracted the attention of skateboarders of all skill levels and helped to introduce skateboarding to a wider audience. The event was even televised on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, gaining even more notoriety for the sport and its athletes, including San Diego skater Patti McGee.

Patti McGee, The First Face Of Skateboarding

When the National Skateboarding Championships were held in May of 1965, the top female champion was Patti McGee, a 20-year-old Southern California skateboarder. Prior to winning this championship, she earned recognition for setting the world’s record for the fastest girl on a skateboard. The first female professional skateboarder, McGee was sponsored by the surfboard and skateboard manufacturer, Hobie, which paid for her to travel the country doing skateboard exhibitions. She appeared on TV shows What’s My Line? and The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Life magazine featured McGee on the cover of its May 14, 1965, cover. She also appeared on the cover of October 1965's Quarterly Skateboarder. McGee’s youthful good-looks and her tremendous athletic ability helped to catapult the sport of skateboarding into the mainstream. In 2010, she was inducted into the Skateboarding Hall of Fame and named one of the “Most Influential Skateboarders of All Time.”

An Academy Award-Nominated Skateboarding Movie

A still photo from the 1965 Academy Award-nominated short film “Skaterdater .”

In 1965, Marshal Backlar and Noel Black released a short film called Skaterdater the first movie ever made about the new sport of skateboarding. The film follows a group of skateboarding boys as they compete to impress the local girls and the story is told with no dialogue. The film won Best Short Film at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Best Short Subject.

1965 was a pivotal year for the sport of skateboarding. It marked the first time that the sport attracted a mainstream, nationwide audience and helped to introduce the sport to a whole new crop of athletes who helped to further spread the sport in the coming decades. It is people like Patti McGee, John Severson, and others that shaped the sport while it was in its infancy that deserve the credit when skateboarding debuts as an Olympic sport in 2020.

Tags: 1965 | A Brief History Of... | American Bandstand | Jan & Dean | Skateboarding | The 1960s

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Karen Harris


Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.