How California skateboarding revolutionized global culture

This new Olympic sport went from fringe hobby to a worldwide influence on cityscapes and fashion.

A crowd gathers at Venice Beach Skate Park to watch the feats of skateboarders such as Sean Davis (airborne, right). The 22-year-old moved from Illinois to California last year to pursue dreams of being a pro skater in the sport’s epicenter.

On a sunny Monday afternoon at Venice Beach, a tall young man in a T-shirt and baggy pants leaps over the rail of the skate park, drops his skateboard onto the concrete surface, mounts the wood with his left foot, and proceeds to glide along the park’s perimeter with increasing speed. He descends into one of the park’s two deep bowls, then soars back up and over its far lip. Approaching a platform, he and his skateboard leap onto it—but not before his back foot twirls the board 360 degrees, a move he executes again as he flies off the platform’s other end and lands on the pavement.

His name is Sean Davis, and since the age of eight, he has thought of himself as a skateboarder above all else. From Naperville, Illinois, he moved to Los Angeles last year, couch surfing and at times sleeping in his car—all to be here in Southern California, the sport’s birthplace.

From a neighborhood hobby to a sport that gained traction in California’s surfing scene in the 1950s, skateboarding is now mainstream and global. Its scruffy DIY ethos has swept Shanghai, São Paulo, Helsinki, and even Kabul. Skateboarding has its own language for moves (fakie, vert, kickflip, ollie), founding fathers (including Tony Alva, Steve Caballero, and Tony Hawk), journal of record (the San Francisco-based Thrasher), definitive film (the 2001 documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys, directed by skateboarding legend Stacy Peralta and narrated by Sean Penn), and celebrity hobbyists (Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Lil Wayne, Miley Cyrus).

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