Skateboarding, a sport that started as a pastime for surfers, has evolved into a global phenomenon. Its spirited culture, rebellious vibe, and adrenaline-fueled tricks have caught the attention of filmmakers worldwide, resulting in an array of movies about skating.
From feature films and documentaries to short films, the essence of skateboarding has been captured in various cinematic formats, inspiring generations of skaters and non-skaters alike. Let’s take a ride through the most compelling skateboarding films that have left an indelible mark on the silver screen.
Tony Hawk might be the most famous skater we know. He was so famous he got video games named after him. But today, we will look at many more skating movies.
The Skateboard’s Silver Screen Debut
In 1966, the world of cinematography opened its doors to skateboarding with the release of the first-ever skateboard motion picture, Skaterdater. This skating movie, directed by Noel Black, revolved around the lives of seven young skateboarders who were part of the Imperial Skate Board Club. The film is particularly notable for its innovative use of handheld cameras and the focus on the skateboarders’ personalities and culture, rather than just their stunts.
The skateboarding film industry has evolved since then, with two distinct categories emerging: skate videos and skate movies. While a skate video typically involves a short compilation of clips featuring recreational or professional skaters, a skate movie is a full-length film or documentary with a structured narrative.
Skateboarding Inspires Hollywood
One of the most influential skateboard films in Hollywood was Back to the Future. Although skateboarding wasn’t the central theme of the film, it played a vital role in inspiring a whole generation of kids to take up the sport. The film’s protagonist, Marty McFly, is depicted as a devoted skater who “skitches” around town, grabbing the back of moving cars while on his skateboard.
The film’s most notable contribution to skateboarding culture, however, is the fictional creation of the first skateboard. Marty McFly, caught in a chase, grabs a young kid’s box cart, hastily tears off the box, and rides away on makeshift wheels, thereby spectacularly ‘inventing’ the skateboard.
The Zephyr Skateboard Team Legacy
The story of the legendary Zephyr skateboard team, a group of skateboarders from the Dogtown area of Venice, California, was immortalized in the documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys. Directed by Stacy Peralta, a Zephyr team member himself, the film explores the team’s rise to fame in the 1970s and the socio-economic factors that led to the rise of skateboarding in Dogtown.
The Zephyr team’s influence on the sport was further depicted in the biographical drama Lords of Dogtown. The film follows the lives of three of the team’s most prominent members: Tony Alva, Jay Adams, and Stacy Peralta, showcasing their journey from obscurity to fame, their personal struggles, and the impact of their success on their relationships and community.
Coming of Age on a Skateboard
Skateboarding has often been portrayed as an emblem of youth identity and rebellion in coming-of-age dramas. Films like Thrashin’, Gleaming the Cube, and Kids have depicted skateboarding as a rebellious escape from authority and the monotony of everyday life.
Thrashin’ follows the story of Corey, a young skater caught in a rivalry between his gang, the Ramp Locals, and another group known as the Daggers. In the skating movie Gleaming the Cube, Christian Slater plays Brian Kelly, a young skater who turns detective to bring his brother’s murderers to justice.
Kids, directed by Larry Clark, provides a raw, brutal portrayal of a group of teenage skaters in New York City. The film uses skateboarding as a backdrop to the overall theme of youth rebellion and hedonism.
Capturing Skate Culture and Personal Stories
Documentaries like Stoked: The Rise and Fall of Gator, All This Mayhem, and Bones Brigade: An Autobiography have delved into the personal stories of professional skateboarders, exploring their rise to fame, their struggles, and, in some cases, their tragic downfalls. These films not only offer insights into the skaters’ lives but also highlight the cultural impact of skateboarding during their time.
On the other side of the spectrum, films like Wassup Rockers and Paranoid Park have used skateboarding as a commentary on class and race relations in America. They depict the struggle of young skateboarders against societal norms and the consequences of their actions.
We also have to mention the movie Ice Princess, or the ice skating movie about Tonya Harding.
Skateboarding in the New Millennium
The new millennium saw a fresh wave of movies about skating that embraced the changing dynamics of skate culture. Grind is a comedy-drama that follows a group of friends dreaming of making it big in the professional skateboarding scene. When their hopes are dashed due to a major competition, they decide to put on their own competition to prove their worth.
Yeah Right!, one of the most celebrated skateboarding videos of the era, was the first video released by Girl Skateboards in six years. Featuring a cast of skate legends, the film was widely praised for its creative and visually striking footage shot using various camera techniques and special effects.
Parallel to these, skateboarding found representation in unconventional genres. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, an Iranian-American film, features a female vampire who uses a skateboard as a mode of transportation, adding a supernatural quality to her character.
Celebrating Women in Skateboarding
In recent years, films like Skate Kitchen and Minding the Gap have shone a light on the often-overlooked role of women in skateboarding. Skate Kitchen, directed by Crystal Moselle, is an ode to the positive aspects of skateboarding and skate culture. It follows a group of like-minded female skaters in NYC, highlighting how the skateboard is more than just a sports equipment; it’s a way of life.
Minding the Gap, a documentary by Bing Liu, chronicles the lives and friendships of three young men growing up in Rockford, Illinois, united by their love of skateboarding. It explores their struggle to transition into adulthood and the challenges they face in their Rust Belt hometown.
Skateboarding in Global Cinema
Hollywood doesn’t have a monopoly on skateboarding films. The sport has also found representation in global cinema. Paranoid Park, directed by Gus Van Sant, is a French-American drama that revolves around a teenage skateboarder involved in a tragic accident at a skatepark. The film is a meditation on adolescent alienation and the struggles of growing up.
In the Iranian-American film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, a female vampire uses a skateboard to glide across the pavement, adding a supernatural element to her character and the sport itself.
Skateboarding: A Vehicle for Social Commentary
Films like Kids and Wassup Rockers have used skateboarding as a vehicle for social commentary. Kids, directed by Larry Clark, provides a raw portrayal of a group of teenage skaters in New York City, using skateboarding as a backdrop to themes of youth rebellion and hedonism.
In Wassup Rockers, a group of Latino skateboarders from South Central Los Angeles decide to explore the affluent areas of Beverly Hills and Hollywood. The film is a commentary on class and race relations in America.
The Skateboard: More Than Just a Sport
In the realm of cinema, the skateboard has been more than just a piece of sports equipment. It has been a symbol of youth rebellion, a vehicle for social commentary, and a tool for personal expression. From the early days of “sidewalk surfing” to the recent mini-renaissance of skateboard-inspired films, the skateboard continues to inspire filmmakers and audiences alike.
Whether you’re a seasoned skater or a casual observer, these movies about skating offer a fascinating glimpse into the vibrant culture, dynamic personalities, and gravity-defying stunts that define the world of skateboarding. So, grab some popcorn and get ready to dive into the exhilarating world of skateboarding on the silver screen.