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"Skateboard Sense": Riding the Pavement in Style (Or Not) in 1976

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Skaters: does this 1976 video make you nostalgic for the days of shredding in your elbow pads and tube socks? Maybe not. In fact, curious sartorial choices abound in “Skateboard Sense,” a nine-minute public awareness ad preserved as part of the Prelinger Archives.

The video was shot on location in Southern California, which is fitting given skateboarding’s origins in 1950s surf culture. When the surf was low, surfers kept their skills sharp by taking to the streets of Southern California with homemade skateboards. By the 1960s skate culture blossomed across Southern California, where skaters could practice 365 days per year. A decade later the sport was revolutionized with the introduction of new polyurethane technology; wheels made of the new material became more shock-resistant and provided a smoother ride compared with the original metal wheels.

The opening scene of this David (Sid) safety ad strangely mixes classic spaghetti western music with footage of teenage riders, clad head-to-toe in protective gear, barreling down Southern California pavement. Tom Padaca of the Pro/Am Skateboarding Racing Association narrates how skateboarding can be both fun and safe. “There’s no way to avoid falling if you ride a skateboard,” he says. ‘But if you know how to fall and are wearing the proper safety gear, you can fall on asphalt and concrete and not get hurt.” Don’t have money for elbow and knee pads? Make them yourself out of wash cloths and duct tape! Need hand protection? Wear gardening gloves! With its emphasis on helmets, staying off the street, and general prudence, this 40-year-old film almost seems today to present the anti-image of a skater.

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