Skateboard vs Roller Skates

For every 80's kid, it was an unavoidable question — what are you gonna ride? The skateboard vs roller skates? Let's take a look back at this classic rivalry and see who won!

Skateboard vs Roller Skates
Roller skates and skateboard

1980s Skateboard vs Roller Skates: Which One Was King of the Streets?

Amidst all the fashion statements and pop culture craze, there was one debate that divided kids everywhere: roller skates or skateboards? Both were iconic symbols of the decade, but which one was truly king of the streets? Let's dive into the history and rise of these two products and their respective cultures to find out.


The Origins

very early roller skates

Roller skates have been around since the 1700s, but it wasn't until the 1980s that they truly became a cultural phenomenon. With advancements in technology, roller skates became more affordable and accessible, leading to a surge in popularity. Skateboards, on the other hand, have a much shorter history. They were first invented in the 1950s as a way for surfers to practice their moves on land. But it wasn't until the 80s that skateboarding truly took off and became its own subculture.

Thanks to the rise of punk and new wave music scenes, skateboarding was embraced by rebellious teens looking for an adrenaline rush.

Distinctive Features and Styles

When it comes to roller skates, there were two main styles that dominated the 80s – quad skates (four wheels in a square formation) and inline skates (wheels aligned in a single line). Quad skates were the classic choice, popularized by disco and roller rinks. But inline skates offered a faster and more versatile experience, perfect for outdoor cruising.

The Tech Behind the Wheels

In the world of roller skates, the 80s were a time of innovation and improvement. The materials used for the boots shifted from heavy and restrictive leather to lightweight synthetic materials, increasing comfort and manoeuvrability. Bearings, too, saw significant enhancements, with the introduction of ABEC ratings providing a means to measure their precision and efficiency. These advancements allowed for faster speeds and smoother rides.

group of boys on old skaterboards from the 1960s

Skateboards, too, underwent a technological makeover. The most significant change was the introduction of polyurethane wheels. Unlike the clay or steel wheels of the past, polyurethane provided a much smoother ride and better grip, radically improving the skater's control and stability. Also, 'trucks' - the component that attaches the wheels to the board - became adjustable, allowing skaters to fine-tune their board’s responsiveness to their liking. Deck design evolved as well, with the adoption of concave shapes providing better foot grip and enabling a wide array of tricks previously unimaginable.

Both roller skates and skateboards of the 1980s thus presented their fans with a high-tech (at least for the time) set of wheels, designed for maximal fun, speed and an opportunity to show off their street-smart skills.


Popularity and Celebrity Endorsements

During the 80s, both roller skating and skateboarding saw a huge surge in popularity.

A young Jodie Foster riding a skateboard

Roller rinks were packed with kids and adults alike, grooving to the latest hits while gliding across the floor.

Skateboarding, on the other hand, had a more underground following but still managed to make its mark on pop culture.

Celebrities, including Jodie Foster, left image, played a big role in promoting these activities as well. Who could forget the iconic scene in the movie "Xanadu" where Olivia Newton-John gracefully skated her way through a roller rink? And let's not overlook Tony Hawk, who became a household name with his impressive skateboard tricks and endorsements.


Debates and Controversies

While both roller skating and skateboarding were popular activities in the 80s, they also faced their fair share of debates and controversies.

Skateboard light inury

Safety was a major concern for both – with roller skaters often experiencing falls and injuries on hard surfaces, while skateboarders faced criticism for their high-risk stunts and lack of protective gear.

Accessibility was also a hot topic, with roller rinks mainly located in suburban areas and skate parks often being inaccessible to those living in inner cities. This led to debates about the cultural and economic divide between these two activities.


Famous Roller Skaters of the 80s

The 80s produced a multitude of roller skating enthusiasts, some of whom were already in the limelight for their other talents. Singer and actress Olivia Newton-John, for instance, made roller skates look effortlessly chic in her film "Xanadu." The movie, although a box office flop, managed to spark a resurgence in the popularity of roller disco.

Cary Grant and Marilyn Monroe roller skating

American actress Linda Blair, star of the classic horror film “The Exorcist", was another icon who embraced the roller skating trend. She starred in "Roller Boogie", a 1979 movie that combined romance, drama, and of course, plenty of roller skating action.

Roller Boogie poster 1980

On the sports front, roller skating saw stars like Fred Blood, who was famous for vert ramp skating and was a staple at many professional competitions. He was renowned for his aggressive style and innovative tricks, most notably the "invert," which involves planting one hand on the ramp while the body and skates go airborne.

Then there was Ellen DeGeneres, who, before she became a household name for her talk show, worked as a teenager at a local T.G.I. Friday's restaurant in Louisiana wearing roller skates. It seems the love for the wheel started young for these famous faces!

These celebrities and sports figures made roller skating look cool and fun, increasing its appeal and popularity among the masses.


Famous Skateboarders of the 80s

The 1980s were a golden era for skateboarding, birthing many legendary figures who would forever change the face of the sport.

Tony Hawk in the 1980s

Tony Hawk, often referred to as the 'Michael Jordan of skateboarding', was undoubtedly the most influential skater of the decade. Known for his gravity-defying tricks and aerial stunts, Hawk was a pioneer of vertical skateboarding and brought the sport into mainstream awareness.

Another prominent skateboarder of the 80s was Rodney Mullen. As the kingpin of street skateboarding, Mullen was renowned for his invention of numerous tricks, including the ground-breaking kickflip and heelflip. His incredible technical skill and creativity have earned him the title of the 'Godfather of Street Skateboarding'.

Paul McCartney riding a skateboard

Then there was Steve Caballero, a well-known name in both skateboarding and punk music scenes. Known for his record-breaking half-pipe performances and creation of the 'Caballerial' (a fakie 360-degree ollie), Caballero became a symbol of the rebellious spirit inherent in 80s skateboard culture.

Finally, we can't forget about Christian Hosoi, whose style and flair on the vertical ramp were unparalleled. With his high-flying aerial stunts and charismatic persona, Hosoi was a crowd favourite and a fierce competitor, often rivalling Tony Hawk for the spotlight. His contribution to the skateboard world extends beyond his athletic prowess, as he also designed one of the era’s most popular skateboard decks, the 'Hammerhead'.

These trailblazers not only propelled skateboarding into the popular consciousness, but they also laid the foundation for future generations of skaters, shaping the sport as we know it today. Image on the left is Sir Paul McCartney.


Skateboarders: The Cool Factor

Skateboarders of the 1980s were often admired for their unique sense of style, which was as much a part of their allure as the thrilling stunts they performed.

Young skateboarders doing stunts

They were not just athletes, but trendsetters, shaping the fashion norms of the time. Their casual attire typically consisted of baggy pants, brightly colored t-shirts, and high-top sneakers, finished with bandanas or backwards caps. This was a style that screamed ‘cool’ and ‘effortless.’

What further elevated the skateboarders' coolness was their rebellious and fearless spirit, often defying authority and societal norms. They turned urban landscapes into their playground, with staircases, handrails, and empty swimming pools becoming their ramps for gravity-defying tricks. Their daredevil attitude combined with distinctive fashion sense turned them into urban heroes of the time, admired by many and emulated by a generation.

The 1980s skateboarders embodied the essence of cool. They were the mavericks of their era, pushing boundaries in sport and fashion while inspiring a wave of youth to take up the board.


The Ease of Roller Skating

Roller skates, with their iconic four-wheel design, offered a distinct advantage for those who were new to the world of wheel-based activities: they were significantly easier to master compared to skateboards.

A pair of 1980s roller skates

The wider base of support provided by roller skates facilitated better balance and stability, especially for beginners.

Unlike skateboards, where maintaining balance on a single, narrow surface was a constant challenge, roller skates allowed users to distribute their weight evenly, making it easier to maintain an upright position and reducing the risk of falls. In addition, the straightforward forward motion of roller skates was simpler to grasp, compared to the various turns, pivots, and tricks that were an integral part of skateboarding.

For many, the ease of learning roller skating made it a more accessible and family-friendly activity. Whether at a roller rink or on a neighbourhood street, it was a common sight in the 1980s to see individuals of all ages roller skating, sharing the fun and excitement of this popular pastime. The ease of mastering roller skates contributed to their mass appeal, making them a reigning favourite of the streets in the 1980s.


Skateboard Tricks: Mastering the Impossible

The 1980s saw an explosion of creativity and daring in skateboard tricks, setting a new standard for the sport.

Alan 'Ollie' Gelfand

Skateboarders pushed the envelope with gravity-defying stunts that wowed audiences and challenged the laws of physics. The 'Ollie', invented by Alan Gelfand, was one of the most revolutionary tricks of the decade. This no-handed aerial stunt became the foundation for many other tricks, including the 'Kickflip' and 'Heelflip', both introduced by Rodney Mullen.

Tony Hawk pushed the boundaries even further with his signature move, the '900', a trick involving two-and-a-half spins in mid-air (900 degrees of rotation), a stunt thought impossible until Hawk nailed it in 1999. Another spectacular stunt was the 'McTwist', an inverted 540-degree spin, brought into the limelight by Mike McGill.

A young Tony Hawk on skateboard

Skateboarding tricks weren't just about airborne stunts. The 'Rail Slide', a move where skateboarders slide their boards along handrails or ledges whilst maintaining balance, brought an urban edge to the sport. Another ground-breaking trick was the 'Manual', a wheelie performed whilst moving, which required immense balance and control.

Skateboarders' relentless pursuit of innovation in stunts during the 80s set the bar high for the future of the sport. It was a time of fearless exploration, as skateboarders continuously sought to challenge the possible, often leaving onlookers stunned and inspired.


The Verdict

When it comes down to picking a victor between 1980s roller skates and skateboards, it's not quite black and white. The battle isn't simply about which had the most sales or celebrity endorsements, or even which was most stylish. It's about the impact they had on the lives of those who strapped on a pair of skates or jumped on a board. Both were not just modes of transportation, they were symbols of freedom, rebellion and individuality.

But if we had to crown a winner, we'd tilt ever so slightly towards the skateboard. Despite its underground status and the controversies it stirred, skateboarding left an indelible mark on the era. It wasn't just a hobby, but a lifestyle. It gave birth to a subculture that still thrives today, influencing fashion, music, and attitudes. Roller skates, while iconic in their own right, didn't quite match the societal influence that skateboards had.

That being said, the choice between roller skates and skateboards ultimately comes down to individual preference, and both will forever remain iconic symbols of the eclectic and vibrant 1980s. So, whether you were a fan of the smooth glide of roller skates or the rebellious edge of skateboarding, here's to you, king or queen of the 80s streets.