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History Of Skateboard Wheels

History Of Skateboard Wheels

In this article we’re going to talk about how bad wheels led to the death of skateboarding in the 60’s, how one man's invention brought it back from the dead by Frank Nasworthy, how the threat of Nuclear war with Russia saved skateboarding, and an accident that George Powell made that would change skateboard wheels forever. We also cover some unbelievably weird trends in the wheel market, the dominance of Spitfire in the current wheel market, wheels made of recycled wheels, and much more. 

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Back in the 1950s, skateboarding was just a fresh new toy for the American consumer, far from the extreme sport it is today. Picture this: early skateboards were simply roller skate wheels fixed to a plank of wood! These makeshift boards featured clay composite wheels, perfect for zipping around roller rinks with their hard, fast surfaces.

In the world of roller skating, Chicago Rollerskates was a trailblazer. They revolutionized the "trucks"—the part that holds the wheels—and were instrumental in wheel development. Little did they know, their innovations would pave the way for an entirely new sport that would capture the imagination of generations to come.

clay skateboard wheels 

Around 1956, HUMCO became the first company to manufacture and sell skateboards as a product. Not far behind, Roller Derby entered the scene. These early commercial boards featured steel wheels mounted directly to the axles, spinning freely without bearings. Despite their innovative appearance, these skateboards were far from smooth rides. Most were sold in grocery and department stores, and riders quickly discovered just how rough and rattling these early boards could be.

roller derby 1950s retro skateboard metal wheels no bearings


Clay wheels come on the scene from the rollerskating market. Clay paper, plastic, nuts, and glue. In 1962, Val Surf became the first surf shop to start selling skateboards, but they're still just viewed as a kind of side product.

The problem with these wheels is that if you put them on a skateboard and went at any speed, they could crack or explode hitting rocks, making skateboards straight up dangerous. 

retro roller derby skateboards ad 1950s 1960s

1963 MAKAHA Skateboards says they’re selling 10,000 skateboards a day!! 

America’s Newest Sport (1962) Hobie Skateboards Commercial: First minute has a good voice over and clips.  

In 1965, an estimated fifty million skateboards flew off the shelves, according to the Smithsonian Museum. This explosion in sales marked a high point for the burgeoning sport. However, the poorly made boards with their clay or metal wheels led to an equally explosive rise in injuries. The situation became so dire that doctors coined the term “skateboard fracture” for the frequent broken elbows they treated.

By January 1966, the skateboarding craze had come to a screeching halt. With the subpar quality of the wheels, it seemed like skateboarding might be gone for good.


Here’s a virtually unknown story that changed the trajectory of skateboarding forever…The story of modern skateboarding starts far away from the branches of California, in fact, it starts with a man named Vernon Heitfield.

Vernon Heitfield, a Navy veteran and electrical engineer, found himself at the cutting edge of Cold War technology. Working for a defense contractor for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD)—a joint effort between the U.S. and Canada established in the 1950s to monitor aerospace and maritime threats—Heitfield had a unique challenge. His mission: design an antenna system that could be buried underground and withstand a nuclear war.

During his experiments, Heitfield encountered a remarkable material: polyurethane. Flexible, durable, and resistant to corrosion, polyurethane combined the best properties of plastic and rubber. Intrigued by its potential, Heitfield began experimenting with polyurethane for a variety of inventions over the years. He crafted horse buckets, tools, and farming equipment, recognizing the material's versatility and durability. His innovative work with polyurethane laid the groundwork for its widespread use in countless applications.

Early Urethane Wheel Vernon Heitfield

One day, watching his son at the roller rink, he decides to make wheels using urethane and a cupcake tray. He makes his son Tom a set of rollerskate wheels out of the material in his garage using a can as a mold…don't forget his name, because he comes back later in this story. The wheels were lightyears better than anything on the market, and with urethane he could make the wheels in all sorts of fun colors.

To showcase his invention, Vernon brought his polyurethane wheels to RollerDome, a popular roller rink. Impressed by the performance and potential of these new wheels, the owner of RollerDome immediately recognized their value. He placed an order worth millions of dollars and even lent Vernon $5,000 to kickstart production.

By the late 1960s the engineering firm Vernon Heitfield was working for had gone out of business… So he took a ten thousand dollar loan and started a company called Creative Urethanes. He makes a factory out of all used equipment, powering the factory with engines from old washing machines he bought from a local laundromat that went under, and shaving down the wheels with old deli meat slicers, he really was an inventor.  

By the 2010s, Creative Urethanes had grown into the largest urethane factory in the world, supplying wheels to almost all the major skateboard brands in the USA. At its peak in 1996, the company boasted a staff of over 50 employees and generated over $5 million in annual sales. However, the competitive landscape began to shift as more manufacturing moved to China and Mexico, where production costs were significantly lower. As the USA struggled to compete on price, Creative Urethanes faced increasing pressure. Eventually, the company was bought out by a larger manufacturer, Mearthane Inc., marking the end of an era for this once-dominant player in the urethane industry.

“If you can draw it, we can build it” -Vernon Heitfield



Frank Nasworthy moved frequently as a child, the son of a US Navy Captain who served as a liaison for NATO. This constant relocation eventually led the Nasworthy family to a small town in Virginia.

Frank Nasworthy

Frank pursued engineering at Virginia Tech, but his academic journey was cut short when he was expelled for protesting the Kent State shooting and the Vietnam War. A passionate surfer, Frank spent weekends at the coast whenever the weather allowed, but during the week, he turned to skateboarding to satisfy his need for excitement.

In the summer of 1970, Frank and his friend Bill Harward decided to visit Harward's friend, Tom Heitfield (a name familiar from the earlier part of this story). During their visit to Tom's father's factory, Creative Urethanes, they stumbled upon some free "factory rejects" and decided to try them out on their skateboards...

The wheels were incredible, offering better traction but also rolling smoother and faster over rough surfaces, it also took away the risk of your clay wheels exploding. This changed skateboarding forever..

In 1971, Frank Nasworthy moved to Encinitas, California, bringing his "Creative Urethanes" wheels with him. These wheels featured loose ball bearings, which were a hassle but allowed for easy installation on the various shapes and sizes of skateboards available at the time—well before skateboarding became a standardized industry.

By 1973, Frank convinced Creative Urethanes to start producing wheels specifically for skaters. He named this new product line "Cadillac Wheel Company." Contrary to popular belief, the name wasn’t inspired by the luxury car brand but rather borrowed from a dog food commercial Frank had seen on TV. This quirky origin story is detailed in the book "A Secret History of the Ollie."

Cadillac Wheels "If They Could" Ad

Determined to make his mark, Frank Nasworthy set out to sell his new Cadillac wheels to surf shops along the California coast. Many shop owners balked at the price, and the market was still dominated by the traditional clay wheels.

Undeterred, Frank began giving away sets of Cadillac wheels to the best skaters he encountered. He also started running ads in surf magazines. Once skaters tried the Cadillac wheels, it became clear they were a massive improvement over anything else on the market.

Cadillac Wheels Early Ad

This innovation reignited skateboarding, which had been declared dead in January 1966. The superior performance of the Cadillac wheels unlocked new possibilities for skateboarders, enabling them to ride in new places and perform new tricks. This revolution sparked an explosion of skateboarding activity and innovations, leading to the development of products like Bennetts and Trackers.

Realizing the potential for even greater success, Frank decided to license his wheels to Bahne & Co. Bahne packaged Cadillac wheels with their complete skateboards, and they quickly sold 20,000 completes per month. This financial success attracted a wave of competition, leading to an era of rapid growth and innovation in the skateboarding industry.



Santa Cruz Skateboards Road Rider Wheel Ad

In 1974, Santa Cruz Skateboards introduced a game-changing innovation: the Road Rider wheels. These were the first skateboard wheels to feature a precision bearing inside, addressing the prevalent issue of the loose ball bearing wheels that plagued most skateboards at the time. This breakthrough provided skaters with a smoother and more reliable ride.

According the CEO/President of NHS (and retired pro skateboarder) Bob Denike, they sold 18 million wheels in a couple of years.

Check out this video with the CEO/President of NHS (and retired pro skateboarder) Bob Denike on the history of NHS

Following this wave of success, Frank Nasworthy decided to step away from the skateboarding industry. He returned to school to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree and embarked on a new chapter of his career. Frank later joined Hewlett Packard, where he continued his legacy of invention and innovation, patenting numerous technologies that contributed to various fields beyond skateboarding.



During the late 1970s, a man named George Powell, from the iconic skateboarding company Powell Peralta, embarked on a journey of experimentation with urethane from his own home. His skill in formulating urethane compounds grew to the point where he began collaborating with manufacturers to produce more complex recipes beyond his home capabilities.

One of Powell's breakthroughs was the design of a new skate wheel optimized for outdoor skating, featuring large radiuses on both edges—a concept he termed "double radials." This innovative wheel shape laid the foundation for modern skate wheels and remains influential in today's market.

Bones Double Radials Skateboarding Wheel Ad

Despite high hopes, initial feedback from team riders and pros suggested they didn't notice significant performance differences. Undeterred, Powell shifted focus to exploring new urethane formulations. He identified promising compounds in urethane catalogs but faced resistance from factories unwilling to produce them due to their unconventional urethane-to-curative ratios.

Powell eventually found a spot in LA that test poured a few sets into his double radial molds. When the wheels returned, they sported a distinctive translucent white appearance, resembling human bones. This unique look inspired the name "Bones," setting them apart from the colorful wheels dominating the market.

Bones Skateboard Wheels Early Ad

As Powell tested the Bones wheels himself, he immediately sensed their potential. Enlisting skaters to try them out, he received overwhelmingly positive feedback. Determined to bring his vision to life, Powell scoured the United States for a manufacturer capable of producing his unique urethane formula. After revisiting Creative Urethanes without success, he eventually partnered with Rogers Manufacturing in Huntington Beach.

With Powell's brother-in-law, VCJ, handling marketing and art, Bones Wheels launched with superior rebound, hardness control, and durability compared to competitors. Over time, they became synonymous with high performance in skateboarding, continuously refined by Powell's relentless testing and improvements in roundness, durability, and durometer ratings.

George Powell's relentless pursuit of excellence transformed Bones Wheels into an industry leader, showcasing how innovation and dedication can redefine standards and capture the hearts of skaters worldwide. Powell has continued to experiment with urethane formulas to this day.



In 1977, OJ Wheels was founded under the Santa Cruz umbrella NHS, quickly making a significant impact on the skateboarding wheel market. Throughout the 1980s, OJ Wheels rose to prominence, capturing a substantial share of the market with the help of renowned pros like Steve Olson and Christian Hosoi. Their standout product, "The Super Juice," was a cheeky nod to one of the leading skate brands of the time, SIMS, which had a wheel called "The Juice."

80's Steve Olson OJ Wheels Ad

OJ Wheels' clever marketing and high-performance products propelled the brand to the forefront of the industry. OJ's is still killing it to this day. 



By the 1980s, vert skating dominated the scene with star pros like Gator, Lance Mountain, Christian Hosoi, and Tony Hawk making waves. Thrasher Magazine launched in 1981, providing a platform for skate culture to flourish. Meanwhile, Rodney Mullen revolutionized skateboarding with his invention of the flat ground ollie and numerous other flat-ground tricks. The ollie became the cornerstone of street skateboarding, transforming the sport forever.

Check out Rodneys Ted Talk on inventing the ollie and more!

In the mid-80s, street skating exploded, fueled by Mullen's innovations. Skaters like Natas Kaupas, Mark Gonzales, and Tommy Guerrero adapted Mullen's flat ground ollie to city terrain, conquering ledges, handrails, and other urban obstacles. This era marked the rise of street skating, setting the stage for its evolution into a dominant force in skateboarding culture.

80"s OJ Natas Ad



In 1989, the skateboarding world witnessed a pivotal moment with the introduction of the Mike V Barnyard deck. This deck, inspired by freestyle shapes, introduced what would become known as the "Popsicle" shape. Characterized by its symmetrical design and rounded nose and tail, this new shape revolutionized skateboard design.

Mike V Animal Farm Barnyard Skateboard Deck

The Popsicle shape allowed for greater versatility and control, enabling skaters to perform tricks more easily and fluidly. This innovation once again transformed skateboarding, cementing the Popsicle shape as the standard for modern skateboard decks and influencing countless skaters and deck designs to come.


Spitfire Wheels, founded in 1987, experienced a gradual rise to prominence in the skateboarding world. The first Spitfire wheels advertisement appeared in Thrasher Magazine in November 1988, featuring their iconic swirl logo. By August 1989, Spitfire featured their first skater, Keith Cochrane. (Funny enough Shredz is located in a town called Cochrane)

First Spitfire Skateboard Wheels Ad 1988

Throughout the years, Spitfire experimented with various logos, but none gained as much traction as the Bighead logo. This now-famous emblem first appeared in a Thrasher ad in May 1992, retaining elements of the original swirl logo. The Bighead logo eventually became synonymous with Spitfire Wheels, cementing its place in skateboarding culture and contributing to the brand's lasting legacy.

First Bighead logo Spitfire Skateboard Wheels Ad


While the 80’s wheels were changing in tech a lot, the 90’s brought a change in size and shape. As street skating took over, so did smaller and smaller wheels. The most famous being “Real Small Wheels”.

In the 80’s people were riding high 50’s to mid 60’s (58mm-65mm wheels). The trend became street skating and was dubbed the “Big Pants, Small Wheels Era” it kind of feels like we’re in the big pants big wheels era currently.

In 1991 sizes went down to 55-65mm skateboard wheels

In 1992 we move on to VERY small wheels around 40mm, which was likley popularized by Real.

Alphonso Rawls Thrasher Cover 1992

Also in 1992, Powell takes it too far… making a wheel called the Powell Baby Balls 39mm, which is where they got the name bearing covers. Stereo, Spitfire, & World all made wheels as small as a 37mm. In this era wheels stayed around the 40mm mark. 

Spitfire Baby Balls Skateboard Wheels Ad

2000’s - 2010's:

The 2000s marked an explosive period for the skateboarding industry, fueled by the popularity of the "Tony Hawk's Pro Skater" video games and the renowned X-Games. These cultural phenomena brought skateboarding into the mainstream, capturing the imaginations of a new generation and creating a surge in demand for skateboard gear, including wheels.

X Games Ad 2000

As skateboarding reached new heights of popularity, the market for skateboard wheels expanded rapidly. Brands scrambled to innovate and meet the needs of an ever-growing community of skaters inspired by the tricks and stunts showcased in video games and competitions. This era not only solidified skateboarding's place in popular culture but also sparked a renaissance in skateboarding technology and design, driving the industry forward into the modern age.


In the 2010s, Spitfire Wheels revolutionized the market with their latest innovation: the Formula Four Urethane wheels. Skateboarders had long struggled with a common problem known as flat spotting, where reverts or power slides caused wheels to develop small flat sections. These flat spots not only slowed skaters down but also generated annoying noise.

Spitfire Formula Four Skateboarding Wheels Ad

The Formula Four wheels addressed this issue head-on with higher abrasion resistance, reducing the likelihood of flat spotting. Additionally, these wheels offered a smooth anti-stick slide for reverts and power slides, coupled with superior grip and control. This combination of features propelled Spitfire to juggernaut status in the skateboard wheel industry, as skaters everywhere embraced the enhanced performance and durability of Formula Four wheels.


In the 2000s, Bones stepped into the innovative street skateboarding market with the release of their flagship wheel, the "Street Tech Formula," or STF. These wheels were specifically engineered to offer superior control, grip, slide, and speed. One of the standout features of Bones STF wheels was their durability; they were designed to resist flat spotting and last longer than other skateboard wheels on the market.

Bones STF AD Dakota Servold

Additionally, Bones STF wheels boasted an exceptionally hard 103A durometer for skaters that weren't satisfied with the more common 99-101A wheels. The introduction of STF wheels cemented Bones' reputation as one of the leaders in skateboard wheel innovation and performance.


OJ Wheels continued to push the boundaries of skateboarding innovation with the introduction of their top-tier "Elite" Urethane Formula. This advanced formula promised enhanced speed, control, and performance across all types of terrain, from city streets to skateparks.

OJ Elites Skateboard Wheels Ad

The Elite Urethane Formula by OJ Wheels was meticulously tested and endorsed by their team of professional skaters. These athletes praised the wheels for their consistent quality and reliability, making them a trusted choice among skateboarders seeking top-tier performance 


As we step into the 2020s, a decade marked by advancements in self-driving cars, wearable tech, and beyond, the evolution of skateboard wheels continues to captivate. Notably, the industry is currently dominated by three major players: Bones with their premier street formula STF (Street Tech Formula), OJs featuring the Elite Urethane Formula, and Spitfire renowned for their Formula Four wheels.

Each of these brands has carved out a niche with their specialized formulas tailored for street skating. Bones STF wheels are celebrated for their durability and resistance to flat spotting, making them a favorite among technical street skaters. OJs' Elite Urethane Formula promises superior speed and control across various terrains, endorsed by a roster of professional skaters. Spitfire's Formula Four wheels offer exceptional grip, slide, and abrasion resistance, setting a benchmark in modern skateboard wheel performance.

As technology advances in other realms, the ongoing progress in skateboard wheel technology highlights the enduring passion and innovation within the skateboarding community. The competition and evolution among these leading brands ensure that skateboarders have access to wheels that enhance performance and push the boundaries of what's possible on a skateboard.


In the world of skateboarding, there is common knowledge about the hardness of skateboard wheels: soft wheels provide a smoother roll on rough surfaces, while hard wheels offer better sliding capabilities but less smoothness on rough terrain. Recently, Powell Peralta and Spitfire have introduced groundbreaking innovations that bridge this gap.

Powell Peralta unveiled their "Dragon" wheels, heralded as a new frontier in skateboarding technology. These wheels combine the smooth roll of soft wheels with the ability to slide, offering skaters unprecedented versatility and control. The Dragon wheels represent a significant advancement, allowing skaters to navigate both rough surfaces and execute slides with ease.

In response, Spitfire introduced their "Soft Slider" wheels, providing an alternative for skaters seeking soft wheels that also deliver superior sliding performance. This addition to Spitfire's lineup expands options for skateboarders, catering to diverse skating styles and preferences.

These innovations from Powell Peralta and Spitfire underscore the ongoing evolution in skateboard wheel technology, demonstrating a commitment to meeting the varied demands of modern skateboarders and pushing the boundaries of what's possible in skateboarding.


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