News Release

Drought and the rapid rise of skateboarding

Peer-Reviewed Publication

PNAS Nexus

When a severe drought hit California in 1977, the state ordered citizens to drastically reduce domestic water usage. Water restrictions put in place occurred after a heady mix of prosperity and radical urban planning had resulted in the construction of more than 150,000 private swimming pools in California in the 1960s. The result was a ubiquitous new landscape feature: empty concrete pools. Ulf Büntgen and colleagues document how this novel geographic resource inspired surfers to develop professional vertical skateboarding in Los Angeles and environs. Other causal factors included the development of polyurethane in the 1950s, which would be used for skateboard wheels, and the rise of sport-specific media, including full color photography magazines such as The Surfer, which would influence publications like Skateboarder. The authors’ cross-disciplinary study of the entanglements between cultural, commercial, environmental, and political factors that birthed the modern professional vertical skateboarding shows how small environmental changes in the Anthropocene can have a profound influence on human behavior, and stimulate cultural and technical innovation. Climate does not only influence the rise and fall of ancient civilizations, the authors argue; even our contemporary pleasures are in some cases products of the human-climate nexus.

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