Boy’s market is riding the skateboarding wave

LOS ANGELES--With an estimated eight million BMX riders, and three times as many serious skateboarders in the U.S. alone, both sports have proven a huge boon for footwear  and apparel resources.

Boys ages seven and up, especially the 12-to-16-year-old age group, have adopted skateboardingas not only a sport, but a lifestyle, as they spend their time competing against themselves and each other, in these rugged, outdoor events.

Boy’s market is riding the skateboarding wave

Skateboarding was originated a generation ago in Southern California by teenage boys who nailed their rollerskates to old boards creating skateboards. The sport gained some popularity in the '60s and then died down. It came back again in the '70s for a few years, but really took off in the mid-'80s as both a sport and a retail money-maker.

"The reason for the current interest is technology," explained Bill Mann, president of Air Walk, Carlsbad, Calif. "Now the boards themselves are more high tech, with new metals for wheels and lightweight boards. The kids can use them to do tricks that were never before possible."

"The difference between skateboarding and BMX bicycling is primarily the money involved," according to Mann, who has seen Air Walk grow as a footwear company that caters to the two sports, sponsoring both events across the country. "BMX riders cross over into skateboarding, but since the BMX bikes are so expensive, skateboarders don't always cross back the other way."

Renegade sport

Skateboarding, an outshoot of surfing and the surfing mentality, is looked at as a renegade sport. In many communities, skateboarding is restricted, with local ordinances prohibiting riding during certain hours or on certain streets. "But this is nothing new," explained Mann. "Skateboarding has been a constant problem, because the kids have nowhere to go. So they hang out at bank parking lots, or skateboard up buildings." See more good skateboards: how to buy a skateboard

"Skateboards were recently popular with the teen age boys in the early 1980s," noted Alfredo Gomez, manager for one of the Van's Tennis Shoes stores in Los Angeles. "It slowed down for a while, but now it has picked up again. A few years ago some of the communities built locations for the kids, but many of those have closed down because they weren't secure enough. Now, with the (renewed) interest, new places with security requirements are popping up."

Some communities, including San Diego; Escondido; Virginia Beach, Va.; Atlanta; and parts of Florida, have been progressive, working with youths and raising money through Boy's Clubs to install skateparks, offer skatecamps, or find alternate locations. "This keeps the kids off the streets and out of the malls," explained Bud Dunklin, national sales manager, footwear, Vision Streetwear, Costa Mesa. "It is great for the kids and great for the sport."

The sport has grown in the last few years, from a few teenagers hanging out to what skateboardingcompanies hope will become a multi-million dollar industry. Some athletic companies, however, still view skateboarding as a specialized area, one that may prove to be short lived.

"We do have a few skateboarding shoes," said Stephanie Birchfield, spokesperson for L.A. Gear, here, "and it's a great look and fun fashion. It is a popular style right now, but I think it will be short lived. You don't need a special shoe to skateboard. In fact, one of the L.A. Gear shoes appeared recently on the cover of a skateboarding magazine and it wasn't even a skateboarding shoe."

Skateboarders read the many magazines that cater to their sport and have bought into the whole skateboarding look. They sport t-shirts emblazoned with skateboarding scenes and names, loose shorts, and colorful sneakers--usually high topped for protection.

And although the skateboarders consider themselves in some instances to be anti-fashion, many of the athletic manufacturers have been able to cater to that market, providing them with T-shirts, shorts and canvas tennis shoes. These same companies have worked to increase interest in the sport, sponsoring competitions and exhibitions, as well as paying endorsement fees to the pros. Some of the skateboarding pros, most of them in their late teens, have annual incomes as high $90,000 a year.

"We are supportive of major events in Chicago, Irvine and Anaheim," noted Dunklin, Vision. "We bring in the pros, and offer prizes and prize money for the events."

"In the early days of skateboarding popularity, the competitors would buy their own shoes, and many of them chose Vans," said Steve Van Doren, promotions, Vans, Orange. "When skateboarding took off some of the other manufacturers put the athletes under contract, so they wore other labels. Now Vans is coming back around and we are getting the skateboarders back into our shoes." See more:

Both skateboard and BMX enthusiasts are virtually all male--about 95 percent of the participants, according to Dunklin, who noted they are rough sports that are hard to learn "and the kids fall down and take a beating when they first start out."

"Although it is rugged, (skateboarding) is a relatively safe sport," noted Mann. "A survey was done last year, and out of 44,726 skaters included in the survey, there was only 2.46 injuries per 1,000 skaters."

The skateboard and BMX shoes are generally canvas, either high- or low-top, with an emphasis on flexibility and durability. With the exception of Vans' domestically made shoes, most are produced in the Far East. "There is heavy wear on skateboarding shoes, on all parts of the shoes, uppers and lowers," explained Mann. "Our shoes need to grip well, move with the skater, protect and look good."

"The kids put grip tape on the boards, and that wears the shoes like sandpaper," he continued. "And they want fun colors."

"The hard core skaters wear suede high tops," said Dunklin. "It is the number one shoe for us. They are built to take punishment on the toe and sides of the feet. When we designed our first shoes we consulted with skaters and they told us what they wanted."

BMX shoes are often more conservative, usually low-top canvas shoes. "The bikers sometimes have team colors, and tend to be quieter dressers," said Dunklin.

The footwear suppliers started selling the shoes, which retail from $25 to $60, on the West Coast. The shoes are sold in skate and surf shops, department stores and chain and sporting goods dealers. Currently, however, the sport has spread across the U.S. and into Europe, Canada, Japan, Taiwan and Australia. types of skateboards for beginners

"Only 35 percent of our business is on the West Coast," said Dunklin. "That is how fast this sport has spread. Also at least 60 percent of the shoes sold are used as just casual shoes for boys and young adults. And we are working on a girls' line right now."