Originally published April 18, 2015 at The Los Angeles Beat
“Grab your board and go sidewalk surfin’ with me,
Don’t be afraid to try the newest sport around,
Bust your buns, bust your buns now.
It’s catchin’ on in every city and town… Skateboard with me, why don’t you skateboard with me?” – (1964) Jan & Dean song written by Brian Wilson & Roger Christian
No one in particular can be credited with the invention of the skateboard. Even so, the sport, the recreation and even the lifestyle epitomizes sunny, blue-skied Southern California, tried and true. The legend goes that bored surfer kids in the late 1940s to early ’50s started breaking the metal wheels off of roller skates, attaching them to wooden boxes and eventually flat boards and taking them for a spin. Sidewalk Surfing became the cool thing to do when the waves weren’t quite happening. Despite many broken bones caused by the unforgiving wheels, the part-time hobby worked its way into a full-time sport and is now taken very seriously. A visit to the fascinating Skateboard Museum at the Simi Valley indoor skatepark Skatelab features early skating memorabilia including 5,000 vintage skateboards and pop culture collectibles.
Opened in 1997 by business partners Scott Radinsky and Todd Huber, it is likely the world’s largest skateboard museum and also probably the first. The earliest memorabilia to be found here goes back to those crudely homemade boards and flows into mass-produced specimens from Skateboard’s first golden era of the early-’60s, when metal wheels transitioned into the just-as-dangerous composite ceramic ones. Upon opening the door and stepping inside Skatelab, you are immediately engulfed in a tunnel of history with at least a thousand vintage skateboards, chronologically grouped and vying for your attention on every side, even hanging from the ceiling above.
After emerging from the historically significant tunnel, a crucial part of the museum experience, you enter into the skate shop, where you might pay for time on the skate floor or buy equipment. You look up and notice the ceiling here is mounted solidly with hundreds more boards, but these are the autographed boards of the pros. Skatelab is also home to the Skateboarding Hall of Fame. Behind the counter is the Wall ‘o Wheels, where customer’s broken off wheels are transitioned to a decorative function in the afterlife. Upstairs, where spectators sit and watch the skateboarders practicing their tricks on the wooden floor below, is the main part of the museum.
Here you will find some of the early scooter-fashioned boards as well as cool relics from skateboarding’s second golden age- the 1970s- when local Dogtown boys emerged from drained, blue-bottomed swimming pools in Venice and Santa Monica to grittily take skateboarding into the realm of sport. The development of polyurethane wheels in the early ’70s improved safety and allowed for more control, better handling and fancier tricks. Only after this crucial improvement did skateboarding truly become a serious nationwide pop culture phenomenon. This museum serves a vital purpose collecting various fragments of a sport with true Los Angeles roots and cohesively tying everything together and putting it on display. A sister museum opened at the Morro Bay Skatelab in 2012, further cementing the idea that skateboard history is a force that should be taken quite seriously.
Skatelab Indoor Skatepark and Museum: 4226 Valley Fair Street, Simi Valley, CA 93063; (805)578-9928. Museum free. Open 7 days a week- check schedule. Skatelab