Most of us see Go Skateboarding Day as yet another skate industry marketing event. Much like brands have co-opted April 20th to sell rolling papers, weed T-shirts, and junk food, Go Skateboarding Day has been nudged into something a little less anarchist and a little less exciting than what it once was.
So, today, on the 15th annual Go Skateboarding Day, we’re taking a look back at its origins. We want to investigate what GSD was like before it became about plastering your brand everywhere or “owning” a day with marketing dollars. Back in the time when it felt less organized, less corporatized, and less safe. Because all good skate events should be at least a little bit sketchy.
The GSD as we know it today was started by the International Association of Skateboard Companies (IASC), a trade organization comprised of skate industry company owners who work together to increase the reach and public exposure of skateboarding, ultimately to their benefit.
The first recognizable GSD took place officially in 2004 with a handful of events around North America (including at least one in Canada).
There were some similar events before the first GSD, like 2002’s magical All City Skate Jam across New York City that ran for several years. But Don Brown, (a Member of IASC and the founder of GSD) claims they weren’t aware of it when they organized their day on the West Coast.
Don liked organizing informal skate outings with fellow industry employees, many of whom, despite working for skate brands, weren’t finding time to skate and hang out outside of work. So Don proposed creating a holiday called National Skateboarding Day that would more or less arbitrarily pressure people into skating.
“Whenever I looked at calendars there would always be these stupid fucking things like National Bird Day or friggin’ Puppy Day,” Don said, “And as much as I feel like we don’t need a lot of those days, it did create a focus that everyone talked about. Now that the day is on the calendar, skateboarding media, on a mainstream level, would start holding events.”
Per Welinder, co-founder of Birdhouse Skateboards, suggested calling it Go Skateboarding Day to make it more of a call to action. With that, they set the date for June 21st, the longest day of the year, and gave it a whirl.
gsd & wits, chicago (2006)
A few weeks after the first official GSD, Emerica put on their first Wild In The Streets in 2004, an unrelated event where Emerica team riders show up in a city to skate with locals from spot to spot and end up at a skatepark doing a demo and barbecue. Mark Waters, then the marketing manager for Emerica, estimated that 450 kids turned up for the first WITS in New York City, which was a bigger turnout than any of the individual GSD events that year.
IASC initially asked Emerica to not do WITS on GSD, to avoid labeling the holiday with any one skate company’s branding. But to boost GSD attendance, they let Emerica hold the 2005 WITS on June 21st.
I remember the first GSD event I went to back in 2006—the Chicago edition of WITS where an estimated 4,000 skateboarders showed up. I’ll never forget barging downtown with Andrew Reynolds, Heath Kirchart, and thousands of other skateboarders. We halted traffic, didn’t care about police, and got called “an invasion of the skateboarders” by a local newscaster.
my friend meeting don “magic” juan at the chicago wits (2006)
Over the next few years, bigger brands started to take advantage of the opportunity to have thousands of skateboarders out and in the streets and hosted their own GSD events in cities all around the world. But as a result, some of the events became more tame. As it became more of a marketing event, brands didn’t want to be liable for destruction of property at skate spots or an injury / death resulting from leading mobs of skateboarders across busy city streets.
Additionally, it eventually became difficult to separate the company branding from the holiday that wasn’t meant to be owned by anyone. Especially with Nike’s “Skate Every Damn Day” ad campaign being heavily pushed at GSD events, it felt like Nike was turning the GSD spirit into a chore, which sucked.
Today, 15 years after the first Go Skateboarding Day, it can be hard for older (or just jaded) skateboarders to get excited about going to any big GSD events. Most of them feel like any other crowded skatepark demo with kids flying everywhere and some former pro skater screaming into a megaphone. The “Fuck Go Skateboarding Day” sentiment is strong among certain skateboarders, not least because they find the very idea of a skateboarding holiday utterly distasteful.
But to alleviate some of the negative feelings we have toward GSD, we can try to remember the carefree origins of Go Skateboarding Day as told by Don Brown. “One day I just sent a fax out to the local [Costa Mesa] brands, like Volcom and Channel 1 and Acme, like, ‘Let’s all get together and skate down to the pier, have a few beers and skate back.’ We had probably around 20 different people together. It was a rad feeling to have everyone together saying fuck work and going to skating.”
In sum: Don’t feel pressure to participate in GSD related activities. Celebrate the original spirit of today by blowing off work, going outside and enjoying the longest day of the year with your friends.