A ride down memory lane exploring the origins of our sport

There really is no other boardsport as contemporary as the Mountainboard, all terrain board, off road board, landboard, dirtboard, or whatever you like to call it. It is the perfect cross-over between many sports sub-cultures. It has naturally evolved out of the path laid before it: a trail of alternative-sports pioneers, followed by the public. Creating a ‘cult’ underground status before hitting mainstream awareness, credibility and acceptability.

In the beginning, there were surfers, feeling a vibe and unwittingly creating something more than a lifestyle. In Polynesia, Lt. James King of the Captain Cook expeditions (and Commander of the Discovery), wrote in 1779 that he’d seen natives riding waves by lying down or standing on long, hardwood boards. Fishermen had started riding the waves purely for fun. For the feeling. It was clearly the first instance of man straddling nature and thinking ?it’s just You and Me now?. Banned by Colonists, it remained underground until the Underground was invented at the turn of the 20th Century. Duke Kahanamoku is credited with popularizing surfing worldwide during the 1920’s. He had done well in the 1912 and 1920 Olympics as a swimmer, and then toured with his famous 10 foot redwood plank all over the world, drawing thousands to watch his performances on the waves. A boardriding zenith occurred after Endless Summer, as the Beach Boys soundtracked California’s sudden addiction to the sport/hobby/passion of surfing in the 1960’s. A mass awakening in the subconscious of the planet that board riding was something special. Surfers like Mark Foo showed us how special. And later, someone called Kelly Slater.

Mountainboarding History

Development into skateboarding was a natural process, as wheels were put on boards to ride asphalt when there was no surf. In Dana Point, California, Bill and Mark Richards invented the first skateboard in 1958 by attaching wheels from roller skates to a square wooden board. The first commercial product, the Roller Derby Skateboard, went on sale in 1959, and an estimated 50 million boards were sold by 1965. These primitive skateboards were often around an inch thick, with narrow trucks and hard clay or rubber wheels making for a rough ride. In 1973 Frank Nasworthy solved the problem by introducing polyurethane wheels. These new wheels allowed better riding, and paved the way for downhill slaloms, pools, pipes and ramps. In addition to new wheels, boards acquired kicktails, bigger trucks, and increased board widths. Thanks to these design innovations, the 70s were very good to skateboarding. Vertical skating was in its heyday, skate contests were more frequent and better attended, and the first skate parks opened. The first skateboarding movie was Skaterdater, by Noel Black in 1965. But later came Dogtown: Alva, Powell, Peralta. And later still, someone called Tony Hawks.

Skiing too was all the rage by the mid 70’s, and despite the earlier appearance of ‘the snurfer’ (invented by Sherman Poppen in 1965 and sold to Brunswick a few years later), snowboarding was only just getting into it’s stride by 1985, when it got it’s own magazine, Absolutely Radical. Demetrije Milovich and Wayne Stoveken, Chris Sanders, and Jake Burton Carpenter ( who bought Bob Webber’s 1972 patent ) had all wanted snurfers to perform better. They developed boards and went on to form their own companies; Winterstick, Avalanche, and Burton Snowboards respectively. The influence of skateboarding meant that mono-boarding, patented by Jack Marchand in 1964, quickly gave way to the sheer natural rideability of surf-style board-stance. Technology and industry standards meant new riders could push themselves and each other further, in freestyle and freeriding. And comps. The first World Cup was held in Z’rs, Austria, in 1985. It developed in Europe and the States before creeping onto the UK scene as a credible ‘cool’ alternative in the early 90’s. Ski resorts had become more accessible and rider numbers increased. As a result, a new quality of riding led to a new quality of media. Magazines with jaw-dropping photography popped up and videos were transformed from grungy skate vids and ‘endless summer’ surf movies, into slick, glossy adverts for powder-covered mountains; riding them on a snowboard, and generally being Terje Haakonsen. In the classic 1991 film ‘Scream of consciousness’, newbie Terje is asked what he hopes to get out of riding. He replies a car! He went on to win $100,000 for 1st place in a halfpipe contest, shun snowboarding’s entry into the Olympics, set up the Arctic Challenge and Ticket to ride, and have his name become synonymous with the sport. And later, so did someone called Shaun White.

BMXing meanwhile had come from a typically muddy grassroots scene and became incredibly influential too. It’s ethos was similar to skating, and helped bridge the gaps between boardsports and bikesports. Born in the ’60’s in Holland, the Schwinn Sting-Ray became the most radical change in the biking world since the penny-farthing. In 1973, the first of the BMX frames started popping up -most of them being monoshocks. Yamaha introduced a fully suspended kids bike called the Moto-Bike, and in ’74 the first ever BMX publication hit the shops in California, Bicycle Motocross News, really taking the scene forward. Imported to the UK from the US, it had a huge freestyle trick list and in comps helped create some boardercross course templates that are still the norm today across many disciplines. E.T ensured they were on all kids Christmas lists in 1981, because they wanted to be like Elliot, flying on his bmx, in the film. Or like Bob Haro. And later, someone called Matt Hoffman.

Doing some rad tricks on the street and building berms in fields was cool, but more mature riders in California had been pushing toward a more rugged and technical alternative. A group of enthusiasts from the Velo Club in San Francisco started the Repack Downhill Race in 1976, ran for three years and pulled in riders from all across the US. Lead by Joe Breeze, the first mass-produced commercial mountainbikes went on sale in 1982. By the late 80’s ski resorts had a tourism market in the summer and numerous magazines appeared covering different aspects of riding; from the technology led, to mountain trail guides. Northshore riding and different disciplines sprung into life; downhill, cross country, freeride and trails and trials. Mountainbike circuits and dedicated parks sprung up globally.

All these sports became closer by definition yet more fragmented at the end of the 80’s early 90’s, with new labels like ‘extreme’ and ‘lifestyle’ trying to define the experience. Spawning off-shoots that now have dedicated scenes of their own, they are all united by a similar ethos. From cities and dry slopes, to sand dunes and waves, to forests to the sky; as time passes, riding skills and knowledge are passed around and handed down. The sports mutate organically, as riders cross-train and learn from each other, and want to push themselves further, physically and mentally.

It was natural evolution that led us to the sport we know today. Addicted board riders turning their imagination into reality. The evolution of sports, and technologies, of minds, Men and mountainboards.

Now check out The History of Mountainboarding Part 2.

Words by Dan Wilson