Skateboards and Invention

From its origins—roller-skate wheels attached to a wooden board—the skateboard has given rise to a vibrant culture of art, music, and sport. Used by surfers when there were no waves to ride, the skateboard was first manufactured in California. Its board, or deck, owes its heritage to the papa he‘e malu (surfboards) and papahōlua (land sleds) of Native Hawaiians.

The National Museum of American History’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation invited Rodney Mullen, pioneer of street skating, to discuss the role of invention and innovation in American life. More on the evolution of skate culture in the 1980s can be traced through the skateboard that Tony Hawk donated to the National Museum of American History. The exhibition Ramp It Up: Skateboard Culture in Native America celebrates the vibrancy, creativity, and controversy of American Indian skate culture. In August 2015, the Anchorage Museum and Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center hosted a program to provide Anchorage-area teenagers with an opportunity for creative, athletic expression through skateboarding.

The Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center explored skate culture’s creative spirit and history of innovation through InnoskateInnoskate research and public festivals spark the imaginations of young people through skate demonstrations, discussions with skaters and inventors, films, hands-on invention educational activities, art collaborations, and the acquisition of skate objects for the national collections of the Smithsonian.