Scheduled to make its first official appearance in the Olympics at Tokyo’s 2021 summer games, skateboarding has come a long way from underground Southern California subculture to mass-marketed global phenomenon. The young sport evolved from surfing in 1950s California, but it wasn’t until the mid-1970s and skate style pioneers like Dogtown’s Jay Adams skating pools and schoolyard banks that the first skateboarding craze took over the world and skate culture, as we know it today, began to emerge. Ever since, it has been a force of radical physical and social resistance, growing into one of the most enduring counterculture movements in recent history.
Something unique happened within the skateboarding community and industry as it took shape. As competition became popular and new exciting brands began to appear, the image of the skateboarder became iconic. In the beginning, skateboarding was under attack, and signs across the country told skaters where they could not skate, and as kids hunted down pools and figured out how to DIY their own backyard ramps, the only documentation of this scene came from the bold photographers who could stand the heat, in every meaning of that word. To be a skateboarder in the early decades meant you were questioning authority—you had the freedom to skate where you wanted, when you wanted. The art of skateboarding photography originated with the people who were within the culture already, and who had access to a camera. A film camera. These people were there, skating, talking shit behind the scenes, running from authority and rooting on their peers.
These 11 photographers all circulated within the community at the time the underground movement was still developing. Working in what many described as controversial, uncontrollable and often perilous settings, they captured powerful behind-the-scenes glimpses of skateboarding and the cultural shifts that came out of it.
With photographs reaching as far back as 1965, Craig R. Stecyk III documented the birth of skateboarding as we know it today. A Southern California native, Stecyk is acclaimed for documenting Dogtown’s notorious Zephyr skateboarding team, also known as the Z-Boys, in a series that appeared in Skateboarder magazine throughout the 1970s. Bringing skate culture to the public with a raw and original perspective, he inspired an entire generation, influencing skateboarding forever. As the Z-Boys took skating from what was considered a youth pastime to a cultural phenomenon and physically intelligent sport, Stecyk was there for it all, capturing every mood, feeling and motion. Along with Stacy Peralta, Stecyk co-wrote the script for the cult 2001 documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys. Stecyk’s early documentation of skateboarding absolutely helped define and explain the Venice skate culture that set a precedent for the world.
One of the most prominent photographers of his generation, Glen E. Friedman captured cutting-edge subcultures in their formative moments, from classic skateboarding to hip-hop to hardcore punk. With subjects ranging from music icons like Fugazi, Black Flag, Public Enemy and Dead Kennedys to skateboarding originators Jay Adams, Stacy Peralta and Tony Alva, he documented the angst of an era, cementing their importance and creating a definitive graphic document of them today. Self-claimed to be in the right place at the right time, Friedman created captivating images that demonstrate his remarkable eye for raw energy and aesthetic beauty.
Photographer and filmmaker Giovanni Reda captured the essence of the ’90s skateboarding scene in New York. His career as a photographer took off in 1995 when he would take the subway daily from Brooklyn to shoot photos of his friends skating around the city. Reda become a major force in the world of skate photography, capturing legends like Harold Hunter, Danny Supa and Keith Hufnagel. Having a remarkable ability to harness the energy and exuberance of skating, Reda produces images saturated with bright colors that emphasize the inherent athleticism and adrenaline of skateboarding.
One of skateboarding’s most prolific documentarians, Mike O’Meally has a remarkable flair for capturing a skater’s persona and tricks (which usually tell you something about the skater). Australian-born and LA-based, O’Meally first started taking photos of his crew after getting a pink skateboard at the age of 12. He grew up and moved on to capture some of Australia’s top skaters and get his photos published. Documenting skateboarding and the surrounding culture for the past 25 years, he’s one of the most seasoned skate photographers in the industry, capturing magical moments from some of the best skaters in the world, from Egypt and Japan to New York and LA. His images are dynamic, and range from skaters hurtling down railings to gliding through the empty streets to capturing them in the context of the cities they skate.
Starting to skateboard in 1985 and turning pro in 1990 with New Deal Skateboards, Ed Templeton played a big role in the California skate scene. Having an extensive skateboarding career and creating portraits of the rebellious culture with his camera, Templeton’s images have left a mark in both the skateboard industry and the fine art world. His privileged life on skateboard tours traveling the globe lent itself to photographic exploration in many environments. Shooting intimate and captivating shots of fellow skate teammates and other pro skaters on tour and at home, he provides an authentic lens inside the alternative lifestyle. As Templeton explains, everything he ever shot was on the same path he was on, resulting in an open and candid photographic style.
Proving it’s never too late to try something new, J. Grant Brittain picked up his camera at the ripe age of 25 when he started shooting his friends skating the Del Mar Skate Ranch, a skatepark just north of San Diego. Today, his career spans 40 years. A seminal contributor to Transworld Skateboarding and The Skateboard Mag, he captured the most iconic skateboarders on the planet in classic photographs that show the evolution of skateboarding and highlight skaters who grew up alongside the sport, like Tony Hawk, who became a mainstream icon with his own brand. Although he continues to capture skateboarding’s ever-evolving aesthetic, his favorite time remains the 1980s, which he characterizes as the time “before video, YouTube, Instagram, [and] before the internet.”
A successful skateboard photographer and a founding member of The Skateboard Mag, Atiba Jefferson first shot skateboarding in Los Angeles in 1995 with skater Heath Kirchart. “The beauty of skateboarding in Los Angeles is that it’s a melting pot of so many different things: attitudes, styles, spots and of course that one thing that we all share—an obsession for skateboarding,” Jefferson once shared. Through his compelling images, he showed that skateboarding is both universal and individual. Over the course of his 20-year-long career, he rubbed shoulders with the industry’s most prolific figures from generation to generation and is considered one of the most respected photographers in skateboarding. Jefferson has an eye for sport legends: He’s shot everyone from Prod and Koston to the likes of LeBron and Jordan.
Embedding himself in the skateboard culture he grew up in, Tobin Yelland’s photos were first published in Thrasher when he was only 15 years old. Coveting skateboarding and later meeting and being inspired by Larry Clark during a documentary photography workshop, he realized he wanted to photograph his friends skating and living life. Having a remarkable ability to recognize definitive moments, he helped shape the aesthetic of modern skateboarding by documenting its inner world in an honest and striking way. Yelland’s work has since expanded beyond the world of skateboarding to editorial images that lend voice to an entire generation, transcending many locales and social identities. His photos always feel fresh, showing his ability to channel the urgency of youth within a single frame.
Patrick O’Dell shoots in a very personal photographic style which can’t help but attract an audience. His talent as a skateboarding photographer grew alongside his own interest in skating, and his images show the love. Originally from Ohio, O’Dell later moved to San Francisco for art school, shot some of the west coast skate scene at the time and started filling his portfolio with photo ads for Alien Workshop and FIT. But it was his move to NYC that produced some of the most authentic and relevant skateboard documentaries via his series Epicly Later’d, which he first launched as a blog project in the early 2000s. Picked up by VICE, his series was the first of its kind, featuring interviews, archival footage and great skating. Shooting his friends as they mastered tricks and skated through chaotic streets, O’Dell will be remembered for his photographic contributions, especially the candid portraits of his skater buddies and their unrestrained lifestyle.
Photographer and musician/producer Dobie Campbell (a.k.a. Dobie in the hip-hop world) documented the evolution of Britain’s skateboarding scene throughout the 1980s and ’90s. Following the skaters of London’s South Bank (and the breakdancers who congregated at Covent Garden), he captured the U.K. underground scene in all of its exciting, messy and overlooked glory. As he recalls, there couldn’t have been more than 200, maybe 300 skaters through the whole U.K. at the time. Campbell watched the inclusive subculture grow, and simply following his own interest, he captured the people and the community surrounding it, creating defining images of British skateboarding as it unfolded.
Japanese photographer Yuri Shibuya developed a style that allows her to operate in intersecting circles of documentary, reportage and travel. After moving to New York and shooting candid happenings in her own neighborhood, she befriended pro-skater Quim Cardona on the street. He asked her to take his photo while doing an ollie, and this fateful image marked the beginning of a series that documented the thriving Manhattan skateboarding scene during the 1990s. Ever since, Shibuya has documented skate communities around the world, focusing on New York and her native Tokyo. Known for creating very special images, Shibuya’s interest in documenting the skateboarding scene lies in how she shows and tells the lives of skaters, instead of shooting them doing tricks.