The Most Culturally Important Skateboards of the 70's, 80's and early 90's

In a previous article on the subject of the Most Iconic Skateboards of the 1980's, I tried to come up with a rationale and list of those boards that had the widest popular familiarity and thus could be considered iconic. As noted then, this wasn't to say that these were necessarily the "best" boards, nor that they had the "best" art, nor that they were the most important in terms of the skate culture -- and neither was it to say they weren't any of these things either. The consideration was solely tied to popular familiarity for that particular period.

I want to turn your attention now to some other considerations, focusing this time around on a  consideration of which boards were the most culturally important -- "culturally" in the sense of "skate culture."

Once again I'm going to tread into those ever dangerous waters of coming up with a list. Such lists are born to be disputed and debated, but frankly, that's part of what makes them interesting and the conversations they spawn can be just as important as the original list itself.

I'm going to lay it out there again: subjectivity cannot be avoided, but it is my hope that by establishing some sort of criteria about what makes a board culturally important to skateboarding, it might at least mitigate that somewhat.  Let's dive right in.

For a particular board to be considered particularly culturally important, it seems to me that a possible criteria is that it was groundbreaking in some fashion; it may be tied to some important aspect or event in skateboarding history; or perhaps it had became a kind of symbol of skateboarding identity. It might also be the case that it had some technical importance in terms of its shape/design. For myself, it could be any of these things that make it "culturally" important.

So with those considerations in mind, here's my list of the boards that I think were particularly important to the history of the skate culture. 

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Wes Humpston / Jim Muir / Ray Flores, Dogtown Skates

The hand drawn, early Dogtown boards have a legendary status and place all on their own in my estimation. Here we had boards that included designs other than just a corporate style branding that were attached to that Mecca of modern skateboarding, Venice and Santa Monica.  These boards were individually unique and it really doesn't matter which one you pick; they are all a part and parcel of a critically important piece of skate culture; they are all culturally important.


What are you going to say about the Zephyr boards? The board itself and its graphics are simple by later standards of course, but their place in terms of what skateboarding would become and their link to the Z-boys, Jeff Ho and Skip Engblom, makes their cultural importance indisputable I think.

This is said to be the first ever Zephyr board produced


The "Z" in Z-Flex relates back to the old Zephyr team. Z-Flex came about as a project of Jay Adams' stepfather, Kent Sherwood.  The story is often told of how Jay Adams was seen abusing one of these boards at the request of his stepfather to test their strength and durability.  The board appears quite regularly under Jay Adams feet in some of the early pool sessions and has taken on an iconic status accordingly just by way of association with those early sessions.

Makaha (Kick Tail)

Can you imagine a skateboard that is totally flat? Neither can I, and that's precisely why the Makaha kicktail is so important and makes this list. Larry Stevenson is credited with inventing the kicktail in 1969 and it forms the foundational basis of everything from the ollie to numerous other skateboarding tricks.  The kicktail is what made a skateboard more than just a plank to roll around on and rather a tool for self-expression and technical artistry.

Alva Skates, 1977

Tony Alva remains, for me, the skateboarder who most exuded pure style -- surf or otherwise. I know that crown is very often give to Jay Adams, but when you watch recordings of Alva, he absolutely flows with a grace and a style that seems unmatched to me at least. The lines he'd carve in a pool or on a bank, combined his body mechanics, they all worked together in pure harmony and synthesis. It was true poetry in motion.  His particular prominence as a skateboarder certainly helps to rank his eponymous brand, Alva Skates, right up there in terms of the cultural importance, but it is also because of the fact that it represents a pioneering moment that would foreshadow something that would become a more common occurrence: a skateboarder with his own company and brand. That, combined with his importance as a member of the Z-boys, certainly make his 1977 board of particular importance I think.

Rip City, Black Flag

The first Black Flag boards have a particular distinction as boards which are attached not only to Santa Monica, not only to a legendary skate shop, Rip City Skates, but they also bring to life the tangible link between the skateboarding subculture and the punk subculture, especially in those years of the later 1970's and the 1980's. Black Flag itself, of course, has a particularly prominent position in the skate community and skate culture.  One of these boards -- one signed by members of Black Flag -- had the distinction in recent years of being one of the highest selling boards all time. A testament to this board's cultural and historical importance.

Powell Peralta, Bones Brigade Series (1985-1988)

I debated whether it wasn't important to put up the very first Powell Peralta board, but in all honestly, while that was important for them as a company, from the perspective of the cultural importance to skateboarding it was the Bones Brigade itself and specifically the iconic boards produced by Vernon Courtlandt Johnson for Tony Hawk, Steve Caballero, Mike McGill, Tommy Guerrero, Lance Mountain and Rodney Mullen from the period of 1985 through 1988 that are truly the most culturally important to skateboarding in general I think. These boards are at the heart and center of the skate culture as it hit its mid to later 1980's prime.  The Bones Brigade's videos revolutionized how skateboarding was brought to young skaters, no longer just in photographic stills but also in moving video -- and these were the boards that were under their feet. Wrapped around all of this too are Craig Stecyk's unique ads which, I think is fair to say, revolutionized how we viewed skate culture and they certainly defined the skate mags by their playful irreverence.

Jim Phillips, Santa Cruz Skateboards

Talk of the most culturally important boards cannot fail to mention Jim Phillips' work for Santa Cruz. I am going to cheat a bit here though and say it is not any one particular skateboard in this instance, it is really just the body of Jim Philiip's work taken as a whole in how he defined a style and shaped and influenced an entire vocabulary of skate art. Phillips brought an entirely different approach to skate art from his peer over at Powell Peralta. Whereas Powell Peralta had more of a skate rock type theme going on with skulls and daggers, Phillips brought a more cartoonish and comic book like angle to his work. I will narrow it down further to say that I think the very most important of Phillips works were the pieces that include faces and figures like the Jessee Neptune and Sun God for instance, or the Roskopp Face, the Slasher and of course the blue screaming hand. Like the Bones Brigade, its hard to even fathom skateboarding absent of Jim Phillips work.As such, it has to be considered culturally important.

Natas Kaupas, Skip Engblom, Santa Monica Airlines

The original models of Natas Kaupas' boards are, to me, also culturally important for a few reasons. At the level of the company itself, SMA was one of the original "small companies." In fact, SMA even marketed themselves that way.

The "true" SMA Natas boards are the yellow dips and those with the leaf fade and these are the one's I am specifically thinking of here. Why are they culturally important to skateboarding? In the first instance, they represent a bridge between the old Dogtown and Z-boys roots and the 80's scene with Skip being integrally involved in their production.  In the second instance they also tie to a skater, Natas Kaupas, who was integral in influencing the rise of street skating. Prior to him (and Mark Gonzales), most skating was focused on pools and ramps. Don't get me wrong, pools and ramps are great (in fact pool skating is my favorite form of skating above all), but the issue is that empty pools  are not accessible to most; neither are ramps.  The advent of street skating suddenly made skating accessible to every urban teenager, all of whom ad access to curbs, benches and parking blocks. That's a big thing.  Natas represents that and these boards tie to those early street skating roots.

Mike Vallely, World Industries Barnyard

If the Makaha kick-tail was important, then certainly the Mike Vallely's 1990 World Industries Barnyard, which introduced the double kick tail, is equally so, being the standard for board design ever since.  Mark McKee's graphic was a new approach as well, but it is the shape which makes it one of the most culturally important skateboards of all time.

Photo source: Memory Screened

Blind, Powell Peralta Spoofs

As part of a feud with Powell Peralta, Blind/World Industries famously spoofed three Powell classics, the Ray 'Bones' Rodriguez skull and dagger, the Tony Hawk Chicken Skull, and the Per Welinder Nordic skull.  The cultural importance of these Blind decks is twofold I think. In the first instance it represents the development of skateboarding toward smaller, skateboarder owned companies as seen through this tension and rivalry as they started to emerge. In the second instance, the skate art of the early 90's is synonymous with skate graphics that either flirted with or outright flaunted copyright. The Blind spoofs certainly fall into that category. Both aspects represent the direction skateboarding took in the 1990's: rebellious, edgy, daring. This was a springboard to all of the other edgy and controversial graphics done by the likes of Marc McKee and Sean Cliver through companies like World Industries, Blind and 101. 


I can think as well of many boards that I think were particularly popular for their art, the associated skater, developments like the slick, etc. but a line has to be drawn somewhere. Where would you draw it?

What I have missed, forgotten or not included in this list that you would include?

What wouldn't you include in what I have?

Let's hear your thoughts.
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