Dropping into the UK's first major skateboard exhibition

Riders from the Converse CONS Skateboard Team perform on the mini-ramp at the SKATEBOARD exhibition in London's design museum.
Riders from the Converse CONS Skateboard Team perform on the mini-ramp at the SKATEBOARD exhibition in London's design museum. Copyright AFP
By Katy Dartford
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SKATEBOARD charts the history of board design over seven decades, from their homemade, humble beginnings to today’s professional and technologically advanced models.


London's Design Museum is playing host to Britain's first major exhibition to chronicle the history of skateboard design, from the 1950s to the present day.

SKATEBOARD features around 100 rare and unique boards, alongside more than 150 other pieces, including hardware such as wheels and tucks, safety equipment, and ephemera such as VHS tapes, DVDs, magazines.

Together they show the skateboard's technical development alongside evolving social acceptance which eventually let to it becoming an Olympic sport in 2020.

Half of the skateboards in the exhibition are on loan from the Skateboarding Hall of Fame Museum in California, its largest ever loan to the UK.

Another lender is Nick Halkias, a US-based Skateboard collector who has archived historically relevant skateboards at The SkateBoard Museum.

SKATEBOARD is arranged chronologically, with sections spotlighting each decade of development, including the materials, designs and events that have defined skateboard history, as well as the many new techniques that have constantly emerged.

“Skateboard design history is a grey area, recorded in printed and video magazines, YouTube channels, blogs, podcasts, books, Instagram posts and oral histories from those who lived it," said curator of SKATEBOARD, Jonathan Olivares. "This exhibition is centred around a single question: how did the skateboard get to be the way it is?”

The show begins by focusing on the earliest versions of the skateboard from the 1950s, which featured roller skate trucks nailed to wooden crates. Surfers realised that they could use these makeshift boards to practice their moves on concrete when there were no waves, and so the skateboard story begins.

Homemade skateboard from the 1950s
Homemade skateboard from the 1950sCaleb J. Adams

From the sidewalk surfing of the 1950s, visitors can learn more about the skateboard bans in numerous US cities in the 1960s, the birth of skateboarding culture and the wider industry in the 1970s. 

In the 1980s the explosion in street skating and the expansion in other styles is explored, through to the commercialisation of the skateboard industry in the 1990s, all the way to the admission of the once-fringe sport to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

"Skateboard" at the Design Museum in London
"Skateboard" at the Design Museum in LondonJustin Tallis/AFP

Exhibition highlights

Tony Hawk’s first-ever professional model skateboard from 1982. 

Early 1950s homemade skateboards from California. 

The first two skateboard models to feature a kicktail, enabling a non surf related trick to develop: pivoting the board on the back wheels. The kicktail became the industry standard in the 1970s.

Laura Thornhill’s Logan Earth Ski 1970s pro model - the first women’s pro model from the 1980s.

Laura Thornhill in 1977
Laura Thornhill in 1977Design Museum

The Palace Long Live Southbank 2017 deck, a product of the successful campaign to protect London's iconic skate spot on the Southbank.

The Sky Brown x Skateistan Almost deck. Sky Brown famously won a bronze medal for Team GB at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics when she was 13 years old. 

US skateboarder Tony Hawks first professional skateboard (L)
US skateboarder Tony Hawks first professional skateboard (L)Justin Tallis/AFP

Mini ramp

The exhibition also features London’s newest skate ramp that has been built inside the exhibition gallery.

Skaters can drop in on the bespoke mini-ramp that was inspired by California skate heritage and be part of the exhibition experience, allowing non skaters to see the skateboard in action and in context. 


When not being used for skateboarding, visitors can also walk on the ramp and learn more about the design of these important aspects of skate culture that have endured since first being used five decades ago.

An Canon E440 8MM camcorder, VHS tapes, Vinyl and magazines are displayed at "Skateboard" at London's Design Museum
An Canon E440 8MM camcorder, VHS tapes, Vinyl and magazines are displayed at "Skateboard" at London's Design MuseumJustin Tallis/AFP

A film entitled 'Cereal' can also be viewed from the ramp and features Converse CONS Riders Diggs English and newly crowned world champion Gavin Bottger as they drop in on the ramp for the first time. 

Both the new mini-ramp and film pay homage to skateboarding's rich history of DIY  videography and its impact on skate performance. Trick based films such as 'Cheese and Crackers' (2006) and 'Tea and Biscuits' (2020), which appropriate objects not typically utilized in skateboarding, are also shown in the. exhibition.

SKATEBOARD opens on 20 October 2023 and runs until 02 June 2024. The exhibition will be accompanied by a new book published by Phaidon later this year.

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