Skateboarding: one of the most popular extreme sports on the planet | Photo: Red Bull

Skateboarding is one of the most popular extreme sports on the planet, with active participants in almost every country.

The surf-and-skate industry is a multibillion-dollar business that involves hundreds of global, continental, and national brands and companies.

From a market perspective, the sports of surfing and skateboarding are often analyzed together because they share common consumers, products, and interests.

There are surfers who skate and skaters who surf.

Since it became an outdoor physical activity in the late 1950s with the launch of Albert C. Boyden's "Humco Surfer," skateboarding underwent different phases of evolution.

Skateboarding: the sport had its first boom in participants in the early 1960s | Photo: Shutterstock

1960-1995: The Rollercoaster Years

In the early 1960s, several skateboard manufacturers were already creating new designs and a parallel business scene launching movies, magazines, contests, and promotional skate trips.

Between 1962 and 1965, the US skateboarding market sold over 50 million boards equipped with cheap clay wheels.

Then, suddenly, the sport faded away due to inferior products, excess stock, a public upset by reckless riding, and the first skateboard bans.

In Christmas 1965, skateboard manufacturers hit rock bottom, and many small and medium-sized businesses closed down.

Skateboarding's first rebirth took place in 1970 with the development of the urethane wheel, a piece of equipment that would revolutionize the sport.

Also, North America witnessed the construction of the world's first skateparks, and manufacturers focused on producing better trucks and innovative board designs with better and more resistant materials.

From 1970 to 1990, the number of recreational, amateur, and professional skateboarders grew exponentially, with vert and street skating capturing the imagination of the youth.

However, in 1991, the skate industry suffered another major blow.

A global economic recession hit the sport, and skate companies faced significant financial losses. Rollerblades were also a new player stealing a relevant slice of market share.

Consequently, almost only hardcore skaters were hitting the streets.

But things were about to change, and skateboarding was about to recover from the ashes.

With the advent of satellite television, cable TV, affordable camcorders, and videotape recorders, teenagers had a new way to express themselves.

Skate shoe manufacturers started selling vast quantities of products, and the industry, once again, began to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

With the launch of ESPN's X Games, the popularity of skateboarding reached unprecedented levels and new audiences.

In 1995, the first-ever ESPX Extreme Games - the initial designation of the sports series - had an attendance of 500,000.

In the following years, millions of viewers saw the live broadcast of the X Games at home, and many would later give skateboarding a go.

X Games: a decisive moment in skateboarding history | Photo: X Games

Skateboarding Participation: The Figures

So, the question is - how many active, recreational, and professional skateboarders are there riding the streets and skateparks of the world?

The numbers differ.

But one thing is clear: in the first year of the new millennium, snowboarding and skateboarding were the two fastest-growing sports in the world.

One of the first market research studies revealed that the number of skateboarders worldwide grew more than 60 percent, from 7.8 million in 1999 to 12.5 million in 2002.

Also, by 2001, there were more Americans under the age of 18 riding skateboards (10.6 million) than playing baseball (8.2 million).

In 1995, a group of skate industry professionals founded the International Association of Skateboard Companies (IASC), a not-for-profit skateboarding trade association.

The mission of the organization is to represent the sport's business interests and promote and increase skateboarding participation.

IASC was very active for several years and unveiled several reports on the growth of skateboarders.

In 2002, the organization estimated 20 million skateboarders worldwide, 16 million of which are in the United States, and nearly a third - around five million skaters - are in California.

Throughout the United States, there were more than 800 skateparks open and available to skateboarders.

Around 300 skateboard companies were selling decks, wheels, trucks, bearings, grip tape, mounting hardware, shoes, clothing, backpacks, t-shirts, and other accessory items.

In California, at the turn of the millennium, there were 18,000 people working in skate-related businesses.

In conclusion, the figures stated above range from 12.5 to 20 million skateboarders worldwide in 2002.

The correct answer should be somewhere in the middle.

In 2009, two years after the beginning of the world financial crisis, an IASC-based document declared that there were 11.1 million skateboarders worldwide.

The disparities in calculating skateboarding participation are more evident a decade later.

In 2017, reports revealed that there were 85 million skateboarders worldwide, of which 6.44 million were skateboarders riding in the United States.

The first interpretation is that, apparently, the number of worldwide skateboarding participants skyrocketed while the number of American skaters decreased.

Skateboarding: the sport has millions of active male and female participants | Photo: Red Bull

Skateboarding vs. Surfing Participation

Could there be 85 million active skateboarders? Maybe. Let's try and put things into perspective.

According to the International Surfing Association (ISA), the Surf Industry Manufacturer's Association (SIMA), and Surfing Australia, there are between 17-35 million surfers in the world.

If we take into consideration that skateboarding gear is cheaper than surfing equipment - a $100 skateboard vs. a $400 surfboard (plus wetsuit) - we could argue that there are certainly two, three, or four times more skaters than surfers.

Also, unlike surfing, you can skate anywhere, every day.

All you need to do is grab a skateboard and roll away; surfing depends on ocean conditions and is more time-consuming.

So, price and accessibility should make skateboarding more popular than surfing. But this is just an empirical assumption.

The latest reports on skateboarding participation also reveal that, in the US, 1.4 million skaters were aged between 18 and 24.

Interestingly but not surprisingly, the average age of skateboarders is increasing. Why? Because the first and second-generation skateboarders are still active and rolling.

In 2006, 71 percent of skaters were aged between 12 and 17, but nowadays, teenagers only represent 45 percent of the total participants.

Also, the number of people who ride a skate 26 times or more per year has been decreasing, but the number of casual skateboarders (under 25 sessions per year) has been increasing since 2011.

When it comes to gender, around 75 percent of all skateboarders are male, and 25 percent are female.

A quick analysis of Google Trends tells us that the inclusion of skateboarding in the Olympic Games and its debut in Tokyo 2020 increased worldwide interest in the sport.

As a result, it is expected that the number of worldwide recreational skateboarders will grow in the following years as long as the sport maintains its Olympic status.

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