The California-made boards first gained fame because of Back to the Future.
Let’s take a journey back to the future in the world of skateboarding.
Skateboarding first gained popularity in the 1960s, as California surfboard companies began manufacturing the short boards equipped with wheels for riding on land on days when the ocean waves were flat.
Skateboarding became a way to “sidewalk surf.” Most of the early skateboarders were surfers, but by the 1980s, this mode of transportation resonated in a major way with the youthful public. Today, approximately 11 million people ride skateboards on a regular basis across the world in what is now more than a $5 billion business.
A major boon to the industry was the classic 1985 film “Back to the Future.” Marty McFly (played by Michael J. Fox) famously conducted his travels on his Madrid x Valterra street-skating board.
It is now 34 years later, and an exact replica of the Madrid x Valterra is being featured in the Netflix series Stranger Things. The show, now in season 3, features many throwback products (New Coke, Radio Shack, Orange Julius) from the 1980s, and the American-made Madrid skateboard is highly recognizable by serious longtime skateboarders.
Both the original Back to the Future skateboard and replica featured in Stranger Things were manufactured by Madrid Skateboards in Huntington Beach, Calif.
Jerry Madrid, the owner and CEO of Madrid Skateboards, got his start in the business like most of the other skateboard makers. He started shaping surfboards in his family’s garage in Norwalk, Calif. at the age of 16.
Now 67, Madrid still takes time to catch a few waves on summertime mornings before he heads to his 7,000 square-foot skateboard manufacturing facility in Huntington Beach.
“We officially launched the skateboard business in 1976,” Madrid said. “This is our 43rd year in business, and there have ups and downs, but the movie ‘Back to the Future’ started a boom in our market. There had been a downturn in the market, and the exposure we got from that [movie] just launched us into another time.”
Madrid employed 22 people in his factory after “Back to the Future” was released. But he was forced to drop production, as many American skateboard makers were hit with the influx of cheap, Chinese skateboards.
“American skateboard makers are getting hurt big-time by the Chinese products,” Madrid said. “It’s tough to compete.”
His staff can fluctuate, depending on skateboarding interest at any given time. He is currently working with 13 employees, but business is likely to grow again when skateboarding becomes an Olympic sport at the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, Japan.
“My employees have been with us at least 10 years, and several are in the 20-year bracket. They are dedicated employees and they love what they are doing. We have some good times and some bad times, but we’re committed to production here in Huntington Beach.” Jerry Madrid, Madrid Skateboards
There will be two skateboarding medal events – park and street skating – for both men and women at the Tokyo Games.
“Urban skateboarding has kept the sport alive and very strong and that’s one of the events that is going to be in the Olympics,” Madrid said. “With all the obstacles, the curves, the rails, the stairs. It’s called street skating.”
The other Olympic event is call “parks,” which may be familiar to those that have watched skateboarders climb man-made ramps and walls.
“The skateboard parks are so advanced today,” said Madrid. “They have big bowls like backyard swimming pools, half-piping and transition skating.”
Madrid Skateboards is a well-respected American-made company that produces a variety of high-end products. They specialize in complete skateboards and longboards equipped with their own branded decks, trucks, wheels, bearings and hardware.
Madrid complete skateboards are constructed of 7-ply maple veneer sheets and can be outfitted with hundreds of different graphic designs. Madrid brings in the veneer sheets from American mills and a spreading machine puts the different layers together. The decks are glued twice before shaping. They are cut and bent into a concave shape that provides maximum stability.
“Our boards today are mainly birch and maple,” Madrid said. “The high-end street boards are all 100 percent maple. Maple is probably the most durable and universal and the best material to bend.
“We do all production in-house, so we developed the original concave board deck shapes. That was one of the first things we did. Maple and birch have been two compounds and we use a Formica as a top coating for downhill skateboarding. The downhill guys like a real stiff type of board so we use that.”
The skateboard industry was revolutionized in the early 1970s with the invention of urethane wheels. In the early stages of skateboard building, the product often was a flat piece of plywood with metal roller skate wheels attached underneath.
“Frank Nasworthy in 1973 released the Cadillac wheel out of urethane and that’s what kind of launched me into a different era of developing a skateboard deck to match the wheel itself,” Madrid said. “It was revolutionary. With the older wheels, you would bounce off a rock or clay and you would stop suddenly but with the urethane wheels you could bounce right over it.
“I was able to get the trademark because I came up with the Cadillac truck. The truck is the support that holds the wheels onto the deck. I got opposition from General Motors, but we were able to prove that we had the Cadillac truck within the skateboard industry, and we were able to keep that trademark.”
Today, Madrid sources the manufactured wheels from three California factories.
“Two are in Huntington Beach and the other is in Lake Elsinore,” he said. “These are all three that make the high-end stuff.”
Madrid makes a standard board, downhill board, street boards and longboards. Longboards are a more recent phenomenon, but are basically just a transportation board even though they have moved into the downhill scene.
“There is quite a variety and quite a range of pricing. In a recessionary period, it seems like we have had more growth because it is a cheap sport,” Madrid said. “It’s cheap entertainment. The boards you see, the complete decks like the ones you would see in Walmart or Target or a store like that, that is straight China stuff. None of those are made in the U.S. They are 100 percent China and not particularly safe.”
You won’t find Madrid skateboards in these big box stores. They are sold in specialty skateboard shops such as Zumiez and select surf shops. Madrid products can be found on several websites that cater to the skateboarding aficionado. And, of course, Madrid skateboards can be purchased directly from the company website.
“It really isn’t into the mass market as much as it is into the core market,” Madrid said. “Most kids that know the market go online. It’s all social media these days. I’ve tried to change a lot with our marketing in recent years.
But the message is the same. A Madrid skateboard is a top-quality, well-performing product for the serious skateboarder.
“It is a story about us and production in the United States and it is obviously dear to us,” Madrid said. “A lot of times it’s all about price and sometimes we can go that cheap, but we want to make our superior products in the U.S.
“My employees have been with us at least 10 years, and several are in the 20-year bracket. They are dedicated employees and they love what they are doing. We have some good times and some bad times, but we’re committed to production here in Huntington Beach.”
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