I consider skateboarding an art form, a lifestyle, and a sport - Tony Hawk
Whoever it was that said that fame was fleeting had never skated a pool, tried to grind a rail, or launched themselves into a three-sixty off the top of a ramp. Anyone who has been featured on the cover of, or been the subject of a center page spread in, Thrasher would happily set the record straight.
When you hit the highs in skating, fame isn’t fleeting, it’s eternal. But making the grade, and pushing yourself harder than everyone else so that you can achieve the aforementioned skating accolades and a lifetime of undying praise from your peers is far from easy, and the few who have put in all on the line in order to reach those dizzying heights deserve their immortality and everlasting moment in the skateboarding spotlight.
The skateboarders who have made the grade, and became famous did it the hard way. They dedicated themselves, mind, body, and spirit to the unending pursuit of perfection and in doing so quite literally changed the face of skateboarding forever.
The tricks they perfected, the techniques they mastered and the moves they pioneered wrote the skating bible that generations of new skateboarders have slavishly and feverishly committed themselves to conquering. Fame isn’t temporary in the world of skateboarding, because it doesn’t mean the same thing as it does in the vacuous reality occupied by minor list celebrities and the stars of reality television.
It isn’t about looking good or being seen in the latest fashions, it revolves around making your bones through innovation, invention, and suffering and surpassing and circumventing the laws of physics.
It’s about making the impossible possible and making the skating world a better place. And that’s why the list of names in the skateboarding hall of fame is so small because the minority who have had the opportunity to sign their names on its dotted lines have earned it by paying their dues a thousand times over.
The truth is, there are at least a couple of hundred skaters who belong on this list, but we’re not trying to write the four-wheeled version of War and Peace and even if we were, we doubt you’d have the patience or even want to, or even want to read it, so we’ve abridged it and decided to focus on the twenty skateboarders who, for one or more reasons, have managed to shatter the skateboarding glass ceiling and make their own, and every other skater who followed in their wake, lives better.
Some skaters, like Christian Hosoi and Duane Peters, haven’t made the list because the decisions they made prevented them from fulfilling their incredible potential, while others, like Jamie Thomas and Jim Muir, would have made the list if we’d had room for them.
Maybe there are skaters who you think should have placed in the top twenty but we didn’t rate them highly enough or they just didn’t make the cut for one reason or another.
It isn’t the definite article, it’s all about the skaters who made a significant enough impact in the skateboarding world for their names to become bywords for evolution and change.
So without further ado or any additional fanfare, here’s our list of the twenty famous skateboarders who changed everything and by doing so, made the world a better place…
There was only ever going to be one choice for the number one spot on the list and that was always going to be Tony Hawk.
He’s been skating and competing at a professional level since he was a child and has spent his entire adult life in the skateboarding spotlight. A member of the original Bones Brigade team, the skating world (outside of his native California where he’d already earned his skating stripes and forged an incredible four-wheeled reputation) became aware of Hawk when he appeared in the VERY FIRST commercially available skateboarding video, The Bones Brigade Video Show.
With sixty-four contest titles to his name, all of which were won in a twenty-year period between nineteen eighteen three and two thousand and three, and nearly twenty video games dedicated to him, Hawk has become the most famous skateboarder in the world, and his name is just as familiar to the average suburban mom as it is to the legions of skaters who worship him from afar.
Having spent nearly forty years as a professional skateboarder Hawk has given as much to skating as it has given to him. He’s the founder and owner of Birdhouse which took its moniker from the nickname he was given by his peers, birdman.
He was the inaugural inductee to the Skateboarding Hall of Fame in two thousand and nine and in the same year was invited by President Barack Obama to visit the Whitehouse and became the first skater to actually skateboard in the grounds of the Whitehouse with government approval.
But all of that, and everything else that Tony Hawk has achieved during his incredible career pales into insignificance when it’s placed alongside his crowning glory.
In nineteen ninety-nine, Hawk became the first skater in history to successfully land a full nine hundred (two and a half mid-air revolutions, or as we like to refer to it two three sixties and a one eighty chained together) on his twelfth attempt.
And while others have landed it in the two decades since he nailed it, nothing will ever change the fact that Tony Hawk was the first skateboarder in the world to ever successfully hit the sacred full nine hundred.
If you think that Tony Hawk has been at the center of the skating universe for a long time, then it’s time to wipe your mental slate clean and travel back in time another decade to nineteen seventies Santa Monica and meet one of the original Z-Boys, and Lords of Dogtown, Stacy Peralta.
Beginning life as a surfer on the California coast, it wasn’t long before Peralta found his true calling and started to compete professionally, and found a not inconsiderable level of fame, in local and national skateboarding competitions. It was this fame that led to him making a guest appearance in Charlie's Angels which probably played some part in kick-starting his interest in his eventual career.
At nineteen years old, and at a time when most of us are still college freshmen and trying to figure out what to do with the rest of our lives, Stacy Peralta was the highest-ranked skateboarding professional in the world.
And that ranking led to him becoming one of the founding partners of Powell Peralta, which has been one of the leading global designers and manufacturers of decks, wheels, trucks, and complete skateboards ever since. But if you were to ask Peralta what he considered to be the crowning achievement of his long and illustrious career, he’d probably turn your attention toward his time as a television and film director.
Even though he was responsible for putting together what is arguably the world’s most famous skateboarding team, the Bones Brigade during the opening years of the nineteen-eighties, Peralta’s defining moment came when he filmed, created, and directed the very first skateboarding video that starred the team that he founded.
Peralta was responsible for creating an entire genre of film that has inspired legions of skateboarders the world over to try and be more than they ever thought they possibly could be.
He changed his own, and the skating world, for good, and to this day Peralta is pursuing a second career (after his skating one, although he’s more a businessman than a boarder these days) as a film director and has multiple credits (including the critically acclaimed Bones Brigade) to his name.
The second of the legendary Z-Boys (or Zephyr Skateboard Competition Team as they were more formally known) on our list Tony Alva is one of Skateboarding’s King of Firsts.
Widely regarded as changing the skating style of the seventies by incorporating a more aggressive surfing style into the way he skated (and inspiring a thousand imitators, each of whom would, in turn, inspire a thousand other copycats), after competing on a national level, Alva was credited as one of the first skaters to grab a frontside air, a moment that was captured for posterity by Glen E. Friedman who’s photograph of that Alva moment is credited as opening the door for modern skateboarding to charge through.
Having worn their shoes he first started skating, Alva teamed up with Vans in the early seventies and was part of the design team that created the world’s first purpose-made skateboarding shoe, the Van’s Off-The-Wall.
After turning down multiple sponsorships offers in the wake of his numerous competitive victories in the seventies, Alva was also the first skater to form his own skateboarding company Alva Skates and pioneered the use of rail grip tape, which as most skaters know, is one of the dedicated board riders best-unseen friends when grinding and grabbing air.
As well as being one of the oldest professional skateboarders still competing and riding, Alva also set the first world record for barrel jumping which was verified and recorded by the Guinness Book of Records in nineteen seventy-five.
And if all that wasn’t enough to firmly cement his place in the annals of skating history, Transworld Magazine and its readers also ranked him as the eighth most influential skateboarder of all time. The skateboarding world would be a much different place if Tony Alva hadn’t grabbed a deck and started skating in Santa Monica at the dawn of the nineteen seventies.
While he fought and conquered more than his fair share of personal demons during the later years of his adult life, and spent a well-documented two and half year prison sentence in Hawaii for drug possession, by the time of his untimely death in two thousand and fourteen, Jay Adams was drug-free and riding again. But it isn’t the last years of his life that made Adams a skating legend, it was the first half.
Stacy Peralta once referred to Jay Adams as “the archetype of modern skateboarding” as he always skated without fear and as though his life was somehow dependent on his success.
The youngest member of the Z-Boys, Adams joined the team when he was just thirteen years old and proved to the world that age was immaterial when it came to competing on the national stage. Along with his Zephyr teammates, Adams is credited as being one of the founding fathers of vert skating, a style that they created by sneaking into the backyards of empty houses and skating the pools in their yards.
Notoriously independent and forthright, Adams is also seen as being the first professional skateboarder to completely and totally embody the spirit of individual skating that was born of a love for the sport rather than a desire to become rich. He was, is, and always be a one-of-a-kind skateboarder who paved the way for every skater who has picked up a board in the near half-century since he made his debut.
The second member of the Bones Brigade to make the cut, Rodney Mullen is one of the most famous and inspirational figures in the history of skateboarding.
Known as much for his remarkable consistency as he is humble demeanor and being incredibly approachable, Mullen won his first world skateboarding championship and title in nineteen eighty at the age of fourteen.
During the next decade, Mullen would win thirty-four out of the thirty-five freestyle contests that he entered and set a record for the number of consecutive victories in skateboarding that has yet to be equaled, let alone bettered.
Despite his success as a freestyle skater who later made a near flawless transition to street skating that saw him compete with, and better the best that street skating had to offer, Mullen is regarded as being the creative force behind, and responsible for helping to establish modern freestyle skating.
Referred to as the Godfather of Street Skating, Mullen is credited with inventing the majority of the tricks that most skaters have in their session arsenals. The kickflip? The flat ground ollie? The three flip? Mullen invented them all, and if he hadn’t the skating world would be a much boring place. In fact, Mullen is actually credited with thirty-three widely used skateboarding tricks that almost every skater in the world has used at one time or another.
Even though most skaters would consider that a legacy to be proud of, Mullen is also recognized as the inventor of the tensor truck and being largely responsible for their development and was also one of the founders of Enjoi skateboards.
Given his continuing contribution to the world of skateboarding and thanks in no small part to the fact that we worship at the altar of Mullen, it would be impossible for us to not include him and if it wasn’t for Tony Hawk and the Z-Boys, he would have been nestling firmly in the number one spot.
Mark “Gonz” Gonzalez
Remember what we said about being featured on the cover of Thrasher?
Well, we were talking about Gonz when we mentioned it, as he’s the youngest skater to have ever achieved that accolade, making the cover when he was just fifteen performing a beanplant while he was riding for Tony Alva’s Alva Skateboards. It was that infamous cover photograph that led to Gonzalez becoming one of Vision’s first sponsored riders and a fully-fledged professional.
Along with Mullen, Gonzalez is regarded as being one of the pioneers of street skating and is one of the only professional skateboarders to have a geographical location named after him. In ninety eighty-six, he successfully completed an ollie from a wall to a concrete platform in The Embarcadero in San Francisco, and since that infamous day, the spot has been known as the ‘Gonz Gap’.
After founding Blind Skateboards with Steve Rocco in ninety eighty nine, Gonzalez would later leave the company due to creative frustration and would continue his long and storied career with a succession of other companies.
While he may not be as well known outside the skating world as some of his contemporaries are, Gonzalez has something that most of them don’t, as he was named, in two thousand and six, as the most influential skater of all time and the impact that his tour de force, all or nothing skating style had on helping to shape the modern skating world is undeniable.
When you’re a professional that’s cited as being a major influence on the way that other professionals skate, you not only know that you’ve made it, but there’s also a good chance that your name is going to go down in history as one of the all-time greats. Jason Lee’s professional career might not have lasted anywhere near as long as those of most of the other skaters that have made the top twenty, but he burned brightly while he was riding.
Money wasn’t a motivating factor for Lee becoming a professional skateboarder, as he thought that as a career, it would simply provide him with the opportunity to do something that he loved to do, skateboard while being afforded the chance to do something that he had always wanted to do, travel the world.
After making a name for himself, Lee found himself riding for Blind in the nineties and was featured on their legendary Video Days tape, which became a favorite of the skating underground and helped to cement his growing reputation as a skater to watch and take note of.
Following the success that came his way while skating for Blind, Lee founded Stereo Skateboards with fellow professional skater Chris “Dune” Pastras in nineteen ninety-two, a company that is still thriving and pushing the boundaries of skateboard design. Besides, how many skaters can you name that have had the same kind of impact on Hollywood that Lee has, and continues to have?
He’s one of the most famous skateboarders in the world, and for that reason and that reason alone he deserves his place on the list. And it doesn’t hurt that he can nail the sort of kickflips that would, and do, make other riders turn green with envy.
It’s kind of easy to forget that Bam Margera was one of the best skaters in the world after watching him clown around with Steve-O and Johnny Knoxville on Jackass, but Bam could, and still can shred with the very best skaters in the world.
He may have effectively retired (never say never and we wouldn’t be surprised to see Bam make a return at some point in the future) in two thousand and seventeen, he had a twenty career that turned more heads than we could ever begin to count.
Bam started his career with the bastions of skating excellence, Toy Machine in nineteen ninety-seven and stayed with them until two thousand and one when he left to join Element. After fifteen years as part of the Element stable, he left and entered semi-retirement before completely committing himself to the out of action benches the following year.
He may not have had a sizable impact on the skating world, but he did make sure that the mainstream world found out more about skating than they ever thought they would when he hit the screen in Jackass.
Never one to not take advantage of an opportunity, Bam was a selfless promoter of the sport that he adored on-screen and made sure that he constantly let the audience of the show that was watching know that it was one born from the world of skating and that if it hadn’t been for skateboarding, there would have been no Jackass.
And that’s why Brandon ‘Bam’ Margera made the list because for an entire generation of skaters, he really did change everything.
Focus was everything for Rob Dyrdek and after receiving his first skateboard at eleven years old, all he wanted to do was become a professional skateboarder, and within a year he was sponsored by the same company that Neil Blender, the person responsible for giving him his first board, was skating for. Two years later, Dyrdek and Blender both signed with Alien Workshop and Dyrdek’s real career began.
By the time he was sixteen Dyredeck had upped sticks and moved to California to pursue his dream of becoming one of the biggest dogs in the professional skating yard.
He signed with DC Shoes and spent the next quarter of a century riding for them, and while he was, and is widely regarded as being one of the best skaters of his generation, it was the next step in his career path that saw the skating underground level accusations of sell-out toward Dyrdek.
Following his star-making turn on the MTV show Rob & Big, Dyrdek began to concentrate on the venture that would make him rich beyond his wildest dreams and take skating into the lounges of every home in middle America, Street League Skateboarding, the biggest competition in the history of skateboarding, with the largest prize purse skating, had ever seen - one point six million dollars.
Transmitted throughout the world by ESPN, it was, and is, an event that made sure that the entire world knew, and would never forget the name, Rob Dyrdek.
Ed earned his skating kudos the hard way, by getting on his board and doing things that made other skaters' jaws hit the floor and made them lose their collective mind.
Turning professional a month before he left high school, Ed became a student of the game and watched, studied and learned everything that he could about the business that he was a part of and was competing in before he left to form a company that a lot of modern skaters swear has done more to shape the face of modern skating than any other, Toy Machine.
While still at the helm of Toy Machine, Ed Templeton was and continues to be sponsored by Emerica shoes, and in two thousand and twelve, while skating at an Emerica event, he suffered a potentially career-ending leg injury. The resulting year-long hiatus gave him an opportunity to focus on his other passion, photography, and following the success of his first exhibition, he established a second career as a noted and incredibly well-regarded photographer.
Fighting his way back from injury, Templeton continues to skate professionally and do what he always has, push the boundaries of what shouldn’t be possible to do on a skateboard, but in the right hands, is.
And those hands are Templeton’s and it’s his unfaltering vision and commitment to skating that has earned him a well-deserved place on our list.
And while he continues to skate as he always has, he’ll always have a place on any and every list that we put together. If you haven’t seen Ed skate, you owe it to yourself to correct that error as soon as possible. It’s a life changing experience.
When Thrasher speaks, we listen, and any skater that is awarded the highest honor in the skateboarding world, and becomes Thrasher’s Skater of Year is going to make our list every single day of the week, and twice on Sunday, and that’s exactly what happened to Daewon Song in two thousand and six. He became Thrasher’s skater of the year. It was a testament to both his ability and the power of skating to change individual destiny.
Song would be among the first to admit that if it hadn’t been for skateboarding, that he would probably have been subsumed by gang culture and would have probably made a living modifying, something that he considered doing during the late nineties following a potentially career-ending ankle injury. It was a path that he would happily have followed had it not been for a conversation with his lifelong mentor and friend, Rodney Mullen.
Mullen and Song’s friendship was born from a mutual admiration and after seeing Song skate, Mullen offered him his first real “endorsement” deal which was quickly followed by a sponsorship deal with Tensor trucks, a relationship that persists to this day. In fact, the bond between Mullen and Song was, and is, so strong that they eventually went business together and created Almost Skateboards
Determination and ability are a devastating combination, and Daewon Song was able to balance both the moment he started riding a skateboard. And it was, and is, that combination that enabled Daewon Song to climb the skating mountain and become one of the greatest, and most influential skaters of all time.
While most of the skaters who have flipped the skateboarding world upside down are North American natives, Bob Burnquist is from further south. Hailing from Rio De Janeiro, Burnquist was unswerving in his determination to put Brasil on the skating map.
The first skater to land a “fakey” nine hundred (a reverse direction five hundred, or two and a half complete airborne rotation), Burnquist was also the fifth board riding maniac to land a complete the nine hundred, while snapping at the heels of Tony Hawk.
He’s also the second-highest scoring skater in the history of the X-Games when he scored ninety-eight points out of a hundred in two thousand and one final, a year after he first won the competition.
Having built the first purpose skateboarding theme park in his backyard (that’s been skated by just about every professional rider in the world) Dreamland, Burnquist as well as being one of the most radical skaters in the world, also set up and runs both the Bob Burnquist Foundation, which exists to awareness of organic farming among school children and the Action Sports Environmental Coalition which is a non-profit group that was set up to teach skaters, surfers and BMXer’s about ecological awareness. A righteous dude and a radical skater? That’s Bob Burnquist.
The first female skater to really shake things up, Elissa Steamer started skating in nineteen eighty-nine and by nineteen ninety-five had turned professional choosing to ride for Lance Mountain’s The Firm rather than Real Skateboards.
But it wasn’t until she began skating for Toy Machine and appeared in their nineteen ninety-eight opus Welcome to Hell that she started to really make waves in the skating scene.
Having been sponsored by everyone from Baker to Zero, and winning gold in the fourth X-Games championships, Elissa Steamer has spent more than three decades tearing it up with the best skaters in the world and doesn’t like she’s going to be slowing down any time soon.
As dedicated to her true love as she was when she rode her first board in the late eighties, Steamer is once again riding for Baker and helping to shatter the boundaries and misconceptions that the mainstream world has about skateboarding.
And if you’ve ever seen her skate, you’ll know that skateboarding isn’t just boys’ fun, it is an all-inclusive sport that continues to challenge the idea of old-fashioned and outdated gender roles and what people can and can’t do. But you don’t have to take out word for it when you can watch Elisa in action for yourself.
The teenage phenomenon Danny Way made the world stand up and take notice when he made his professional appearances in H-Street’s infamous Shackle Me Not and Hokus Pokus videos that first appeared in the fading years of the nineteen years and Way was just fourteen years old when he appeared in both.
The Evel Knievel of the skating world, Way has an indomitable spirit and a can-do attitude that has seen him perform stunts and tricks that other skaters thought were impossible during the length of his thirty-year career.
He was the first skater to drop in on a ramp from a helicopter in nineteen ninety-seven, broke the longest jump on a skateboard record twice, jumping sixty-five feet in two thousand and two and later breaking his own record when he jumped seventy feet in two thousand and four.
But the one thing that he’ll always be remembered for is being the first skater to jump over the Great Wall of China in two thousand and five. He was, is, and always will be one of the most understated and greatest skaters in the history of skateboarding.
Elissa Steamer may have been the first female skater to rattle the cages of her chosen sport, but Leticia Bufoni has taken things to a whole new level. And like Bob Burnquist, she was raised and made her mark, on the skating streets of Brazil which she made her own during her teenage years.
A world record-shattering board rider, Bufonia has smashed the X-Games championships to pieces and has won five gold medals in the games, proving that with talent and a can-do mindset, anything is possible. You just have to want it badly enough.
Selected to represent her native Brazil in the two thousand and twenty Tokyo Olympics, the first games where skateboarding was going to be an official sport if it hadn’t been for the COVID pandemic, there’s a good chance that she would have walked away with the gold medal in those games too.
Bufoni is set to become a role model for skaters everywhere whether she wants to assume that position or not, and in all honesty we couldn’t think of a better example for the skaters of the future to follow.
If twelve-year-old Charles Lasek’s bicycle hadn’t been stolen in nineteen eighty-four, the skating world might never have known who Bucky Lasek was. Four years later he made his worldwide skating debut in Public Domain one of the last Bones Brigades videos and by nineteen ninety, he’d turned pro after signing with Powell Peralta.
A vert skating god, Lasek was an airborne pioneer and when his particular discipline was revived in the nineties X-Games, he went on to claim his crown as one of the greatest skaters of all time by winning more than twenty gold medals, a feat that no other skater has been able to emulate, match or better.
Lasek also led a double life as a rallycross driver for Subaru and frequently placed in the top three during multiple races, proving that his skill on four wheels wasn’t just confined to a skateboard and if it could move under four wheeled power, he could ride, drive or push whatever it was far further than most people would dare to dream possible.
But it isn’t his driving ability that’s earned him his spot on the list, it’s those previously mentioned twenty gold medals that have ensured that Bucky changed the world of skating forever and proved that he was infinitely more suited to four wheel pursuits than he was to two.
The question about what does and doesn’t make a skater great, and how their contribution to the pursuit that they love has changed, is open to debate and has seen countless board and deck fanatics consider the answers to those questions.
Regardless of how you feel about Nyjah Huston on a personal level, there’s no way that you can deny his wholehearted dedication to, and devoted pursuit of, skating excellence. And that’s almost certainly what he’s the highest-paid professional skateboarder in the world right now.
After knocking Tony Hawk off his monetary mantle, it’s only a matter of time until Huston (a master of every skate discipline that he chases and conquers), much like Hawk, becomes a name that every single household in America becomes aware of.
When the gaming companies start throwing money at him and begging him to appear in their latest titles, that’s when he’ll make the transition from the underground to mainstream consciousness.
And when he does, the world won’t even know what has hit it. And the really scary thing is, his best skating years are still in front of him. Don’t say that we didn’t warn you.
There’s skateboarding famous and then there’s MTV famous and Ryan Sheckler is both. After turning professional at an incredibly young age, Sheckler went on to become the youngest winner of the X-Games in the event’s history and managed to sweep the boards when he was just thirteen years old.
And as if that wasn’t enough, he was also the star of his own MTV reality show, Life of Ryan, which ran for three seasons before going on to star in the Sheckler Sessions on Red Bull TV which ran for one season longer than his MTV show.
Having felt the pressure of being one of the most recognizable professional skaters in the world from an age when most of us were still thinking about bikes and action figures, Sheckler eventually had to face his demons in two thousand and seventeen and voluntarily entered rehab to deal with his alcohol addiction, It was the best decision that he ever made and since then, he has returned to the sport with a rediscovered passion and energy and continued to prove that he is, and always be one of the best deck riders in the world.
There are only two skaters who have ever been awarded Thrasher’s skater of the year award twice, Danny Way and Chris Cole. And if that was the only reason why Chris Cole was featured on our list, it would be more than enough, as it’s a badge of honor that only two skaters have ever, and probably will ever wear.
But that isn’t the only reason, and Cole has proved himself a skater to watch time and time again since he made his professional debut in two thousand.
With five gold X-Games medals to his name and a list of sponsors, including Enjoi, Zero, and Tensor, longer than most people’s arms, Cole has a talent for pulling the sort of performances that woe the world out of a bag of skating tricks and while he may not have become a household name, in skating circles, he is quite rightly, treated like, and seen as being skateboarding royalty.
Paul “P Rod” Rodriguez
While he comes from a family well known in Hollywood, Paul Rodrigues chose not to follow his father into the family business and pursued his passion for skating instead of comedy.
It was the right decision and led to P Rod (as he is also known in the hip hop world, where he pursues a second career as a rapper) has proved his skill and mettle on a skateboard over and over again.
Winning four gold and four bronze medals at the X-Games, Paul chose to follow his heart after leaving Plan B skateboards in two thousand and fourteen and set up his own company Primitive Skateboards
Another skater whose best years are still far in the future, P Rod has shown that it is possible to pull double duty in the worlds of skateboarding and music without losing focus on either and will be a name to watch for the next decade or more.