Wall space is running short in artist Eric Pinto’s New York apartment – not because he’s been hanging too many of his own paintings, but because his passion for buying vintage skateboards has inspired him to display around half of the 500 he owns, which are collectively estimated to be worth well into six figures. Pinto began buying boards about 13 years ago after seeing a friend’s collection. “I’d been skateboarding since I was 10 years old, but it had never occurred to me that people had started to covet the boards we all rode in the ’80s,” says Pinto. “Once I started looking on eBay I was bitten by the collecting bug. At one stage I was buying a deck a day because it was possible to find real rarities that had been incorrectly listed and so fetched very little money.” Pinto says eBay remains the primary source of vintage boards, but he believes the days of the bargain deck are gone.
“The market for vintage skateboards kicked off around 2000 and has grown to become huge,” says Mike A Cohen, vice president of the legendary Shut Skateboards in New York, which was founded in 1986 as the first manufacturer and retailer of boards designed specifically for use on the streets (as opposed to on the smoother, disused swimming pools and purpose-built ramps favoured by Californian riders). Cohen says collectable boards fall into three categories: those made by the most sought-after manufacturers of their day, including Shut, as well as Powell Peralta, Santa Cruz, Sims, Z-Flex, Gregg Chapman, Santa Monica Airlines and Blind; board styles known to have been ridden by top US skaters such as Steve Caballero, Tony Hawk and Mike McGill; and, thirdly, those carrying designs that were commissioned by board manufacturers from notable skate artists, including Jim Phillips, Craig Stecyk and Eli Morgan Gesner.
It is not only boards associated with the US that are collectable, however. Steve Douglas, Rodga Harvey and expat American Jeremy Henderson all made names for themselves when skateboarding took off in London 40 years ago, and the type of boards they rode have collecting cachet. Plymouth-based UK skateboarding specialist Mark “Trawler” Lawer has amassed dozens of boards of historic importance – having closely followed the scene since the late 1970s – including a 1987 Zorlac board of the type ridden by UK-born stars Mark and Barry Abrook, which he is selling for around £1,000.
And, according to Jack Smith, a curator of California’s Morro Bay Skateboard Museum, one of the most valuable boards in existence was discovered in the UK, among the unsold inventory of Shiner, a Bristol-based skateboard distributor founded 40 years ago and still going strong today.
“It was a version of one of the boards ridden by Tony Hawk, and finished in a very specific colourway – it had sat in the warehouse, untouched, for more than 25 years before being sold to a collector in 2002 for $6,000. Today, it will be worth $10,000 to $12,000,” says Smith, who attributes rising values to the fact that many professionals, now in their 40s and 50s, are happy to spend on boards that remind them of more carefree days. Shiner’s Chris Allen says the company still has over 500 vintage boards in immaculate condition. Examples currently for sale include a 1988 Santa Cruz Rob Roskopp Face 2 “Purple Stain” at £1,500.
“Perhaps oddly, it is the boards that were produced in the largest numbers [from the 1970s and 1980s] that tend to be the most collectable, because they are the ones people remember owning when they were younger,” says Allen. “The prices have changed a bit though – last year, we sold a Blind board [from the legendary skateboard brand founded in 1989] for more than £1,300. In 1991 it retailed for just £50.”
Cornwall-based Darren Rathbone, now in his late 40s, has about 100 boards and over 400 sets of wheels. “The jewels of my collection are about 10 boards [worth between £800 and £2,000 depending on condition and rarity of graphics] by influential 1980s pro-skater Neil Blender, one of the first guys to put his own artwork on his boards. I also love the innocence of design in 1970s boards, even if they are currently considered less valuable than 1980s boards with their bolder graphics.”
But arguably the world’s greatest collection is kept by Todd Huber at his indoor skate park and museum in California’s Simi Valley. More than 5,000 examples tell the history of skateboarding from the late 1950s, when makeshift boards were fashioned from dismantled roller skates nailed to planks of wood. Huber says that it is often easier to find older, less sophisticated boards – and in mint condition – because they were so difficult to ride that many kids had accidents on them, causing their parents to hide them away. Conversely, the more collectable skateboards from the 1970s and ’80s seldom turn up in excellent condition. “They were easier to use,” says Huber, “and that means they just got ridden into the ground.”