Dreamy Photos Show the Birth of Skateboarding in California in the 1970s

On the left, two people in a red convertible wave while driving with skateboards on the trunk. On the right, a woman skateboards gracefully on a street in front of a crowd, striking a pose with arms outstretched.

In the mid-1970s, skateboarding had started to develop into the sport recognized today by the Olympics and photographer Hugh Holland was lucky enough to be right there in California when the exciting new scene was emerging.

From 1975 to 1978, Holland immortalized the burgeoning subculture of skateboarding in California, photographing young sidewalk surfers on the streets of Los Angeles, parts of the San Fernando Valley, Venice Beach, and as far away as San Francisco and Baja California.

In four short years, he documented the rise of the sport before it became officially sanctioned and permanently changed by commercialization, brand sponsorships, and safety precautions like helmets and knee pads. In hindsight, this time period held a wild and free innocence that Holland captured beautifully.

A shirtless person with long hair and shorts demonstrates a skillful maneuver on a skateboard, crouching low and balancing with one foot while the other foot touches the ground. The background shows a concrete surface.

A skateboarder with long blonde hair, wearing a headband, red shorts, knee pads, and elbow pads, performs a trick on the edge of an empty swimming pool. Onlookers watch from the background. The pool's surface is worn and weathered.

His images, from suburban backyard haunts to the asphalt streets that connected them, still resonate as an important document of this time and place where legendary Dogtown and Z-Boys skateboarders were just beginning.

With their requisite bleach-blond hair, tanned bodies, tube socks, and Vans sneakers, these young outsiders are masterfully captured against a sometimes harsh but always sunny Southern California landscape.

A person is crouched on a skateboard, riding on a wide sidewalk along a beach. Two women in bikinis and beachwear walk nearby. The environment features a sandy area, palm trees, and an old building with a wooden roof structure. The sky appears clear with a warm hue.

A shirtless person with a skateboard over their shoulder stands under a shaded area, facing away. In the background, a person in a green shirt sits against a fence beside a ramp. The scene is bathed in warm light, suggesting late afternoon.

Now, a new book is due to be released showcasing Holland’s iconic images that are well-known and beloved while also uncovering unseen gems.

Last Days of Summer contains a foreword by internationally acclaimed artist Shepard Fairey who talks about the cultural significance of Holland’s work, and writer Nick Owchar’s extensive interviews with Holland and well-known skateboarders and visual artists, including the legendary Danny Kwock and Ed Templeton, underscores how this photographic time capsule of California youth culture still inspires today.

A young person with curly hair skateboards shirtless on an empty asphalt lot. They are balancing on one hand while crouching low on the board, wearing jeans and blue sneakers. Trees and structures are visible in the background under a warm, golden light.

A skater girl with long blonde hair, wearing a sleeveless top, high-waisted shorts, and knee-high socks, skillfully balances on a skateboard while performing on a street. A crowd of onlookers lines the sidewalk, watching her demonstration.

In an interview with The Malestrom, Holland said he first began noticing skateboarders on his street in 1975 and when he saw them riding vertical in storm drains or empty pools he began taking photos.

“I saw them in a drainage bowl in the Hollywood hills going up and coming down and I thought that looks really interesting,” he said.

“So I found a place to park, walked over there with my camera and that was the start of it. From then on for thirty years I didn’t stop taking pictures in my time off. It was a phenomenon at the time and I didn’t even realize how much. I don’t think anyone did, it was just happening.”

A bright red convertible with two longboards strapped to the luggage rack speeds along a highway. Two passengers, one showing a peace sign, smile and enjoy the ride with the wind in their hair. The car's top is down offering a clear view of the scenic surroundings.

Last Days of Summer by Hugh Holland will be published by Chronicle Chroma in September 2024. Avaialble from Amazon and Edelwiess.

Image credits: Photographs by Hugh Holland.