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Skateboards were developed in Southern California in the early 1950s. Children, usually boys, built their boards themselves. They attached four metal wheels to a long, narrow piece of wood.
The earliest versions were about thirty centimeters wide and close to two meters long. They looked much more like surfboards than modern skateboards. In fact, the first skateboarders were probably surfers. Back then, skateboarding was called “sidewalk surfing.”
Skateboarding was popular through the early sixties. There was even some competitive skateboarding. But the boards were relatively slow and difficult to turn, and the ride was rough. By the end of the sixties, skateboards took a bad fall in sales.
All that changed in 1970 with a young man named Frank Nasworthy. He was a skater in Virginia. He discovered that wheels made of a plastic called urethane created a faster, smoother ride. Soon all skateboards had urethane wheels and the number of fans began to grow again.
Today, skateboarding is popular internationally. Skaters from Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands and other countries competed last year in the X-Games Global Championship in San Antonio, Texas. X, as in “extreme” -- maybe too extreme for Olympic traditionalists.
But skateboarding has grown up in the past thirty years. Many skaters now wear helmets and other protective equipment. Also, there are parks built especially for their sport. These parks usually include smooth concrete hills, bowl-shaped areas and jumps. In fact, a skate park is being built right now in the area where Frank Nasworthy often skated. The local government in Arlington, Virginia, plans to open it in October. And as for Frank, we understand he is now an engineer … in California.

Adapted from Voice of America
By Nancy Steinbach and Caty Weaver
Broadcast: August 27, 2004
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