Skate or Die: the origins of the famous expression

November 19, 2020 | Skateboarding
Skate or die: one of the most famous skateboarding catchphrases | Illustration: SurferToday

What is the meaning of the famous expression "skate or die"? And when was it first used? Discover the origins of the old school catchphrase.

Skate or die. Today, nearly every skateboarder knows or has come across this phrase.

You've probably read it on a magazine, t-shirt, website, video game, sprayed as graffiti on walls, or even tattooed in someone's arm.

But you could've also heard it on the TV, in a movie, or at a skatepark.

"Skate or die" is one of the expressions that better reflects skateboarding's rich culture and lifestyle.

It's a battle cry. It's the emotional expression of a real skater's heart.

It epitomizes the life of a hardcore skater. It's a raw and timeless motto that captures the spirit and essence of skateboarding.

"Skate or die" is a slang catchphrase that invites sidewalk surfers to escape and experience pure freedom and gives meaning to their lives.

"Without skateboarding, life isn't worth living. To be denied the right to skate is a fate worse than death," you could say.

Go skate, or get dead - ride a skateboard 'til death do us part.

Skate or Die: the 1988 Nintendo Entertainment System game

The Origins of the Skateboard Slang Catchphrase

Interestingly, the origins of the popular skateboard saying "skate or die" date back to the 1950s and, unlike skateboarders might think, it didn't have anything to do with skateboards.

In 1950, one year after the birth of the world's first sized, booted roller skate for outdoor use (Roller Derby's Street King), the expression is published for the time in a magazine.

In its February 1958 issue, The Saturday Evening Post published an article on ice skating.

"Once upon a time, a man who had been a whiz on ice visited a roller-skating rink, took off cockily on wheels, found them unruly, and was unable to stop himself until a brick wall helped him - Wham! As for Papa Popeye, it's an even bet whether he will learn to skate or die in the attempt," the author wrote.

As you've probably noticed, the first use of "skate or die" was not 100 percent intentional - the words were not used to produce the meaning they have today.

A similar finding is available in William L. Coleman's "The Great Date Wait and Other Hazards" (1982).

"You don't have to roller skate or die. That would sound stupid. You don't have to play Monopoly or die. These are only parts of life. High-school dating is a small, nonessential sideline. Don't make it the main event."

Again, the expression still lacks its contemporary meaning, even though it's closer.

The truth is that, apparently, "skate or die" appeared in print for the first time with the release of the video game with the same name.

In 1998, Electronic Arts launched "Skate or Die," a skateboarding game for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Atari ST, Apple IIgs, Amstrad CPC, and IBM Compatibles running MS-DOS.

The game was later ported to Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) by Konami with an extra character, the subtle yet relevant exclamation mark - "Skate or Die!"

The title was a success and, more importantly, the expression stuck and made sense, especially to the hardcore skating community.

It sounded like an authentic and inspiring now-or-never, all-or-nothing legit skater phrase for the fanatics and the all-year-round riders.

And so it spread like a virus throughout the world, even though it is largely used by posers and beginner skaters who just want to look cool.

Skate or die: the 2014 meme became a global hit

The Commercialization of "Skate or Die"

Once the catchphrase hit the ground running, several products took advantage of the expression's potential.

"Skate or die" was used in arcade machines, video games, clothing, DVDs, skate merchandise, skate shop names, patches, record labels, shoes, stickers, and many other items.

Bones Brigade - the band - also wrote a song titled "Skate or Die."

The famous skateboard expression is also the name of a 2008 French action movie by Miguel Courtois.

Believe it or not, "Skate or Die" is also the name of a font that includes special skate-related characters.

The same title was given to Episode 21, Season 19) of "Law & Order," the American police and legal drama series aired on NBC between 1990 and 2010.

Last but not least, the famous "skate or die" meme.

On January 7, 2014, a used published on Tumblr a picture of Aladdin with the following words: "Skate or die, dude. You either skate, or you die."

The meme went viral and inspired many other variations.

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