When it comes to skateboarding style, the variations are as wide as they are long. Some prefer traditional, technical skating, while others are geared toward a more creative spin to every stunt.
But one thing stays consistent— regardless of style, many incredibly talented skaters have left a lasting impact on the sport, and many more will follow.
The best skateboarders of all time include men and women who have transformed the world of skateboarding. Whether Tony Hawk for his contributions to the industry over the course of a 17-year professional career, or more up-and-coming talent just beginning, skateboarding reflects more challenging tricks and techniques than ever, and a level of creativity and commitment unseen in any other sport.
20 Most Influential Skateboarders
The evolution of skateboarding is vast and wide. With the golden age of the 70s followed by a steep decline, the 80s fought back hard and made a comeback alongside the first skateboarding magazines, Thrasher and Transworld Skateboarding magazine.
By the mid to late 80s, we’d see a shift toward street-style skating and more aerial maneuvers, making skateboarding a sport to watch in more ways than one.
But by the 90s, another decline reared its head with negative stereotypes and financial loss for many newer skateboarding companies. Still, as with every decline, there is only one way to go, and that way is up.
By the mid-90s, skateboarding was back with the first X-games reaching audiences across the globe. And by the early 2000s, public perception began to shift with the resurgence of skateparks and skate plazas popping up in cities all over the world, bringing international recognition.
Tony Hawk’s pro-skater video game became immensely successful, jumpstarting his career and the sport’s popularity as a whole. Older styles resurfaced, and newer ones emerged— and today, we are witness to the planning stages of the first-ever Skateboarding Olympic event.
We wouldn’t be here today without the best of the best, and I’m personally stoked that skateboarding is huge again. Even though skateboarding is considered a male-dominated sport, it’s great to see woman are finally taking their rightful place so don’t forget to check out the top female skateboarders.
1. Tony Hawk
When you consider famous skateboarders, for most, only one name comes to mind, and that is Tony Hawk. With a nickname like “Birdman,” you could only assume he’s soared to new heights throughout his career — and he certainly has.
Hawk brought the sport of skateboarding to a new audience, and one could even say he’s responsible for making it as popular as it is today.
He’s got his own skateboarding company, Birdhouse. He has his own video game series. He is also responsible for the existence of more than 600 skateparks worldwide, as well as considerable contributions to numerous philanthropic initiatives.
If that’s not enough, he’s also known as the pioneer of vertical state boarding. And he was the first to complete the “900” — a two and a half revolution aerial spin on a ramp. But his early career and life were not simple nor easy, and his success can only be attributed to his grit and dedication to success, even to a fault.
Hawk was hard on himself as a kid, and he was considered hyperactive and high-strung. When tests revealed that he was gifted, however, he was placed in advanced classes. Still overwhelmed with energy, Hawk’s parents supported his newfound pastime, a way for him to expend some of his boisterousness. Little did they know what he would go on to accomplish.
By 12, he was winning amateur skateboarding contests. By 14, he’d turn pro, and, by 17, his annual salary was more than many of his adult counterparts.
By 25 years old, Hawk had broken a record that will likely go unmatched — competing in 103 contests, winning 73, and placing second in 19 of them. Tony Hawk would then become the vertical skating champion 12 years in a row.
Hawk’s career didn’t stop there. And while many of his friends went on to pursue other ventures, Hawk never left the world of skateboarding — it became his home and sanctuary. He eventually started his own company, Birdhouse Projects, and a children’s clothing line in 1998.
By 1999, his first video game, in partnership with Activision, would become the most popular in franchise history. Still increasingly popular today, Hawk continues to release new and updated Pro-Skater games.
He may have since retired from professional skating, but Tony Hawk is as present as ever, winning numerous awards, including Favorite Male Athlete, beating out some pretty popular nominees.
The Tony Hawk Foundation has provided funding for skateparks across the globe, giving millions of others a safe place to skate. He’s a true role model for anyone just getting into skateboarding, as well as professionals who have excelled in the sport for years. We’d be remiss not to place Tony Hawk at the top of the list of most influential skaters of all time.
2. Bam Margera
Bam is the second most famous person on this list, and I had a hard time choosing between him or Tony. Bam got his nickname Bam Bam from running into walls on purpose at the age of 3. His schoolmates shorted it later to just Bam.
Bam Margera started something that just took of and went viral way before the internet got big. His video Landspeed: CKY from 1999 was so succesful that it became one of the most sought after VHS tapes in its genre (or did he invent the genre?). Soon CKY2K, CKY3, and CKY4 followed.
Not just the US, the tape that contained insane and sometimes rather disgusting stunts was sold all over the world and eventually blossomed into ‘Jackass’ which blasted him into stardom.
MTV noticed his (at that time) unique and revolutionary style of editing and from there, his career took off. Jackass was a huge success all over the world and launched not only the career of Bam, but also Johny Knoxville and Spike Jonze.
Bam had a couple of hugely successful shows (Viva La Bam, Bam’s Unholy Union) on MTV but always struggled with addiction. Nowadays he’s trying to recover and picked up skateboarding again non professionally. He recently made a couple of appearances at the Nine Club where he talks about his turbulent life and struggles.
3. Tony Alva
Surpassing 60, Tony Alva is one of the oldest professional skateboarders in the world. With a signature surfer look and style, Alva dominated the skateboarding world of the 70s, becoming one of the most noteworthy of all time and most certainly over the past three decades.
His talent on the board can only be called pure artistry, and he has transcended every expectation for what skateboarding would become in his lifetime. Alva’s passion began with a surfboard, and by the age of 10, he had brought his free-form surf style to the streets.
At the time, skating was traditionally a combination of tricks but had yet seen the likes of Alva’s vertical style, not to mention the first frontside air — a crazy combination that involves grabbing the frontside of your board after going up a vertical ramp, turning 180 degrees before coming back down.
Some refer to Alva as “the guy who started it all.” He joined the Zephyr team (Z-boys) in 1972, along with Jay Adams and Stacy Peralta, and made skating in emptied-out pools a true expression of his style.
By 1974, Alva joined Vans, and in partnership with the company, created the first “Off the Wall” skate shoe. He continues in partnership with Vans today, though he retains his own skateboard company, Alva Skateboards. We can also attribute the construction of the current skate deck to Alva, his company being the first to utilize layered maple plywood.
Alva still does what he loves, and he’s never wavered in his commitment to skating, surfing, and music. He won a Guinness world record for the Barrel Jump, achieved skater of the year in 1977, and won the USSA World Invitational Skateboard Champion title.
He’s won more contests than any other skateboarder in history, and he’s currently in the Skateboarding Hall of Fame. Without a doubt, Alva has single-handedly transformed the history of the skateboarding world.
4. Jason Lee
Jason Lee is known for the comedy sitcom ‘My Name Is Earl’ from 2005 to 2009 but started as a professional skateboarder. He’s has a part in the groundbreaking skatevideo ‘Blind – Video Days’ and also pursued a professional acting career.
He was nominated for a Golden Globe in 2006 and 2007 and won the Independent Spirit Award for the best supporting male for his part in ‘Chasing Amy’. Lee also appeared in Dogma, Mallrats, Vanilla Skies, Chasing Amy, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. You’ll almost forget that Jason Lee had a bag of tricks and arguably one of the best styles in skateboarding.
Jason was doing backside flips and kickflip to tailslides in the late 80s before many sponsored pro skaters landed kickflips consistently. Jason Lee teamed up with Mark Gonzalez in the 90s which resulted in the aforementioned classic ‘Video Days’.
After that, Lee founded Blue Skateboards with Chris Pastras which eventually become Stereo Skateboards in 1992. Jason still likes to get shred the streets to this day though not as a professional.
5. Stacy Peralta
Imagine becoming the top-ranked, number one professional skateboarder, and part-owner of your own skateboarding company, all before your 21st birthday. That’s exactly what makes Stacy Peralta another one of the best skaters of all time.
A member of the Z-boys, Peralta joined the likes of George Powell to form Powell-Peralta, ultimately adding to his success as the brand grew to be one of the most popular of the 80s. Soon after, Peralta created the Bones Brigade team, inviting a few other notable names who have continued to transform what we know today as modern skateboarding.
Another contribution of Peralta’s includes his 1984 Bones Brigade Video Show, the first skate video of its kind. While many continue to watch skateboarding videos for the pure pleasure of doing so, they are also incredible instructional tools.
Current videos, and videos that follow in the likes of Peralta’s first, inspire in new skaters a drive and determination to accomplish their own dreams and goals in the skateboarding world. This new technology would revolutionize the way skateboarders observed, learned, and experimented with new techniques.
6. Mark Gonzales
Known as the “Gonz,” Mark Gonzales is well known as ushering in the modern era of street skateboarding and was named one of the most influential skateboarders of all time by Transworld Skateboarding magazine in 2011.
Gonzales was the first to skate handrails along with his contemporary, Natas Kaupas, and he has made several skateparks famous for his presence and personality. Gonzales was also the first to complete an ollie down one wall and onto another ramp at the Embarcadero in San Francisco, and it’s known today as the “Gonz Gap.”
In the same year, the summer of 1986, he would do the same across a 4-block, 19-foot-long, 4-foot-tall gap in at Wallenberg Traditional High School in California.
But it’s not just skateboarding that the Gonz is known for — he’s also an artist both on and off the board. He’s sold pieces of his art in galleries across the globe, has appeared in Calvin Klein ad campaigns, and he has his own skateboard company featuring his unique avant-garde graphics, Krooked Skateboards.
Gonzales has said that skateboarding is a game of logic and death — and while the statement reflects his dual serious and yet silly personality, there’s some truth to understanding that for those who understand his passion, skateboarding is truly everything.
7. Rodney Mullen
Though he is considered the best freestyle skater in the world, you won’t hear Rodney Mullen talking about it. His humility is what makes him one of the best, knowing that he’s essentially invented most of the tricks that you’ll find professional skaters doing today — including the street ollie, kickflip, and 360 flip, to name a few.
He’s also co-authored his autobiography, The Mutt: How to Skateboard and not Kill Yourself, reflecting on his father’s hope that he would cease skateboarding after the first time he became injured.
Clearly, that didn’t happen, and, padded up, he continued to practice in his garage as a kid, eventually befriending Tony Hawk, who was also only 12 at the time.
Mullen won his first championship at the young age of 14 and would go on to win 34 freestyle contests in a string of 35 competitions, making him the most successful competitive freestyle skateboarder in history.
So that humility he carries around — it says something about who he is as a person given his immense success and drive to be better than the best in freestyle skating and street skateboarding, adapting his skills and style to fit both.
Mullen continues to skate and talk about it, having given multiple TED talks that combine his love for skateboarding with his more analytical, tech side. His creativity, design work, and aptitude for engineering — he has a degree in the field — have made him one of the most influential skateboarders of all time.
8. Rob Dyrdek
Rob Dyrdek is perhaps one of the most infamous skateboarders but no way near the level of Gator or Ben Pappas. Even though some skaters think he’s a sellout, Dyrdek is the one who has the last laugh with his estimated net worth of $50 Million.
Dyrdek founded the Street League Skateboarding competition but his fame came from a TV show called Fantasy Factory, Rob & Big from 2006 to 2008, and nowadays Dyrdek hosts ‘Ridiculousness’ on MTV.
Dyrdek is a successful skateboarder and businessman and the SLS turned into the most lucrative competition on the planet.
9. Ed Templeton
Founder of the still successful skateboarding company, Toy Machine, Ed Templeton is a newer addition to the Skateboarding Hall of Fame, having been inducted in 2016.
His first influence came from watching Mark Gonzales. Templeton has said that watching Gonzales skate completely floored him, and with good reason. It didn’t take long before Templeton’s fascination with skating would lead him to professional status a month before graduating from high school.
Soon after, when Templeton realized that Gonzales also created all of the graphics for his own boards, he embraced the challenge. He continues to create all of the artwork for his own brand of skateboards.
His contributions to skating are two-fold — certainly for his skill on the board, one of the best street skaters out there, especially when it comes to riding rails, but also for his commitment to his creativity, from pro-skater to contemporary artist.
While he tends to keep the two separate, he’s worked equally hard at both, and his success speaks for itself.
10. Daewon Song
Korean-born American street-skateboarding pro, Daewon Song, is best known for his technicality on the board. He started skating when his parents separated, perhaps as a way to find space to heal from much of the turmoil he experienced as a child. When he was 14, he picked up his first board.
It may also have been his board that saved him, growing up amid a lot of gang activity in his neighborhood. He was one of the few who never gave up skating — and while at that time he had no intention of going pro or getting sponsored, his skills on the board impressed the likes of Rodney Mullen, who became a mentor to him.
He was named Skater of the Year by Thrasher magazine in 2006, and that is no small accomplishment among those who know what the title holds. Song has been featured in Tony Hawk’s video games as a main, playable character and participated in Hawk’s Secret Skatepark Tour.
While he doesn’t love the pressure of competitions, his success is clearly palpable and his tricks ever-evolving. He has impacted the sport in more ways than one and, in 2017, was inducted into the Skateboarding Hall of Fame.
11. Elissa Steamer
Joining few others in the ranks of firsts, Elissa Steamer undoubtedly belongs on the list of the best skaters, both male and female, of all time. She was the first female to have a street part in a significant skate video, which was no small feat during the 90s.
She changed the trajectory of skateboarding as a whole, and she has never stopped doing what she loves. Steamer is currently working to help create connections between legendary skaters with new, up-and-coming stars, providing support, encouragement, and instruction.
She’s also an integral piece in the new all-female “Gizmo” video, Nike’s first pro-team, full female feature. The industry of skateboarding was not always an easy one in which to find success, especially as a woman.
Her love of bringing people together to share in the same passions and pursuits has impacted many who wish to follow in her footsteps.
12. Bob Burnquist
Competing in Brazil for most of his career, Bob Burnquist is credited as the first skateboarder to land a “fakie 900,” and the fifth person in history to complete the 900 trick — a 2 ½ revolution aerial spin performed on a ramp.
If you’re wondering about the “fakie” piece, it’s essentially doing the 900 backward. The trick, in and of itself, is no joke. Only five have successfully completed it, Tony Hawk being one in 1999.
Burnquist began skating at the age of 11, turning pro by 14. He’s known for “switch-stance skateboarding,” meaning he can use the opposite foot from his normal stance, and for intentionally finding new, innovative ways to add creativity and difficulty to everything he does.
The “One-Footed Smith Grind,” his signature move, is only one example. No surprise, then, that Burnquist won the X-Games best trick contest in 2000, and in 2001 blew everyone away as he achieved the second-highest score ever given in an X-Games event.
To say that Tony Hawk was speechless is an understatement, and an accomplishment one deserves bragging rights for.
Burnquist quickly went on to continue to medal in various other contests and X-Games events before retiring in 2017, holding the title achievement as winning the most X-Games medals — a total of 30 — and competing in every single X-Games from 1995 through the end of his formal X-Games career in 2017.
Today, you’ll likely find Burnquist in his own “Dreamland” — quite literally. With his own private skate park in his backyard, he’s probably not feeling too bad about retirement.
13. Leticia Bufoni
It won’t be long before Leticia Bufoni is a household name, sharing the likes of Tony Hawk with her unmatched determination to be better than the rest. She’s already earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records, and she’s only just turned 25.
But it’s not just her skill and prowess on the board that makes her one of the best of all time — it’s her strength, her courage, and her commitment to transforming the world of women’s skateboarding.
She’s fiercely competitive, and everyone knows it — competition is not only about being better than someone else, but it’s also about being better than yourself. And though she tied Elissa Steamers record for most gold wins in the Women’s SKB Street event, their companionship and support for one another are unparalleled.
You can read more about Bufoni and Steamer, as well as a few other top female skaters — just check out the link above.
14. Danny Way
Danny Way is known for his huge airs and broke several world records doing what he loves. Danny was the first to drop into a huge vert from a helicopter and was the first one to jump over the Chinese Great Wall back in 2005. He was also the first to be awarded Thrasher magazine’s ‘Skater Of The Year’ in two consecutive rows.
Danny had a rough childhood and his father died before his first birth day. His mother had several abusive relationships which impacted him and his brother Damon.
His mother eventually married Tim O’Dea, who tought Danny and his brother how to surf and skate. Tim was a rolemodel for both brothers and died tragically during a surfing session.
Danny won his first contest he entered at the 11-years old, won the X-Games gold medal in 2004, and kept on winning and breaking world records til his last contest ‘Big Air Rail Jam’ in 2009.
15. Bucky Lasek
A moment ago, you may have read that Burnquist blew everyone away at the 2001 X games, and he definitely did. But what you may not have known was that moments before that single event that would give Burnquist the edge, Lasek was sitting at the top on the scoreboard.
He has continually dominated the X-Games, winning a total of 20 medals, 10 of them being gold. His career took off in the 90s after vert skating became part of the X-Games, though he started skating professionally earlier in 1990 when he was noticed by Powell-Peralta.
What makes Lasek a unique find is his ability to continue to stay consistent in skill over the course of a 30 plus-year career. There’s not much he hasn’t done.
Though some might say an underdog, he competed post 40 years of age at the 2018 X-Games. He can still land tricks like nobody else, and he has continued to create multiple part-videos titled “Buck-It List” with Thrasher magazine.
In his downtime, you’ll find him skating a bowl that he’s built in his backyard. If he is indeed “retired” in the traditional sense, having your own backyard bowl is a pretty good way to end a pretty impressive career.
16. Nyjah Huston
It takes a lot of skill, creativity, and dedication to making your way to the top as the highest-paid professional skateboarder in history. Nyjah Huston has managed to accomplish just that. He’s not simply a skateboarder — he’s his own brand.
His biggest push likely came from his father, who put Huston on his first board at five years old. Despite the pressure to perform and practice daily, Huston grew to love the sport as he worked on his technique daily in an indoor skatepark that his parents purchased.
His young life was not without hardship, however. His parents eventually separated and divorced after moving the family to Puerto Rico for a short time. But perhaps his struggles are what have given Nyjah the name, “The X-Factor” by ESPN Magazine.
Many believe Huston will do what few others have accomplished through the decades — transforming skateboarding as we understand it. As the youngest X-Games competitor, competing as early as 11 years old, he’s already won 7 gold medals as well as Best Male Action Sports Athlete 2 years consecutively.
And the icing on the cake is his stake in three categories as the TransWorld title holder for “Best Video Part,” “Reader’s Choice,” and “Best Street.” His accomplishments will undoubtedly continue from here, and Huston is indeed an unmatched talent this decade — and one to watch for the future.
17. Jay Adams
From Dogtown California, Jay Adams remains one of the most influential skateboarders of all time. Jay Adams’ father owned a skate and surf shop and basically grew up in the scene. Adams was talented and at 13-year old became a member of the famous Z-boys.
Jay was known for his flowing style, his surfing translated directly to skateboarding which he adapted from surfing. Adams had a troubled life and dealt with addiction and was convicted for assault.
Jay Adams died at the age of only 53 in 2015 from a heart attack, this was a huge shock to the skateboarding world and they all came out to honor Adams despite his troubled past.
18. Ryan Sheckler
Sheckler became a pro skater at the age of nine and became the youngest X-games winner of all time at the age of 13. From 2007 to 2009 Ryan Sheckler starred in his own reality show ‘Life of Ryan’ on MTV. Even though he cleared a 55-foot gap on Burnquist’s mega ramp and kickflipped the Cosco gap (Plan B Superfuture video), Sheckler fame mostly came from his reality show.
Sheckler also made a couple of movie appearances, is a playable character in several Tony Hawk videogames, and also starred in 4 seasons of the Sheckler Sessions on Red Bull TV.
19. Paul Rodriguez (P.Rod)
Paul Rodriguez better known as P-Rod won eight X Games medals (four of them gold) and was one of the first skateboarders sponsored by Nike. P-Rod had a very successful career winning many contests and eventually started his own skateboard company Primitive Skateboarding in 2014 after leaving Plan B.
His nickname was given by his classmates at the age of 11 and at 12 he got his first skateboard. Fast forward to 2002, he appeared in one of the most influential skateboarding videos ‘In Bloom’ but there are many more.
Pauls’s career and achievements are numerous and deserves an article of its own. He truly deserves a spot in the most famous skateboarders of all time.
20. Chris Cole
Chris Cole has taken a single wave of success and found ways to top his own achievements and better those around him. Skateboarding has long been misunderstood as an activity that attracted kids with little ambition, their only goal to garner attention on public property.
But Chris knew that he wanted to change that perception. For Cole, skateboarding isn’t merely about nailing your next trick — it’s about the creativity and drive behind the technique and setting your board down, feeling proud of your growth. With that in mind, he created his own personal doctrine, “live rad and die proud.”
Cole started skating at 8 years old, and his career began shortly after at 14. By 16, he had already gained corporate sponsorships, and his goal to become a full-time professional skateboarder was in full swing.
Cole has been named Thrasher magazine’s “Skater of the Year” twice in 2005 and 2009 — a rare achievement. He’s won more awards than there’s space to fill, and throughout his 20-year career, he has continued to master his technique with intense attention to every detail.
You can find him teaching others through an onslaught of “how-to” videos he’s recently created, and, even better than that, you can upload a video of yourself so that you can compare your own form to Cole’s.
Teaching is part of what he loves most — notwithstanding his own time on the board — and you’ll likely find him there for years to come.
Skateboarding Through the Decades
Skateboarding has come a long way since neighborhood kids started attaching roller skate wheels to fruit crates and other random boxes they likely found in a neighboring junkyard. What hasn’t changed, however, is the creativity that goes into what it means to be a brilliant skater.
Many wrongly assume that there’s not much to the sport. Hop on a board and try not to fall off or lose your balance, right? Not so much.
When you dive into some of the best skateboarders of all time, you’ll find that each of them has at least a few characteristics in common, including creativity, tenacity, ingenuity, and fierce determination to accomplish the toughest of challenges both on and off the board.
Sounds like a few skills we could all use in the 21st century.
In the late 70s, you’d have found kids skating in drained out swimming pools, and when legendary skateboarder Tony Alva — one of the most influential of all time — discovered that he could grip his skateboard up the side of a pool and come back down again on both feet, a new free-form surf style was born.
Not long after, Tony Hawk would pick up his own skateboard at the age of nine, soon becoming a household name.
But skating is not one size fits all. It is representative of many nationalities, colors, and cultures. It is the embodiment of diversity. It is certainly not specifically for men or women; instead, there is no gender qualification at all.
Skating is genuinely a microcosm of a world we hope to see in our generation, one that represents equality, friendship, fortitude, and endurance to withstand whatever obstacle lies ahead.
Unlike any other sport in history, skateboarding has gone through peaks and valleys, yet not one decline kept its participants from picking up the pieces and taking to the streets once again. If there is one testament we can ascribe to the sport and its most influential contributors, it is that they’re indeed here to stay.
The reality is that the list doesn’t end here. We could go on and on. There are so many influential skateboarders who have impacted the industry over the last 50 years, and there will surely be many more to follow.
The world of skateboarding is full of unique characters who have not only impacted the sport but have changed the way that others perceive it. Full of dedication to their craft, these skateboarders have proven that to skate well, you need a good dose of creativity, resiliency, and some solid problem-solving skills.
May the next 50 years of the all-time best skateboarders continue to empower every generation to follow.