In the beginning, my pursuit of polarizer skateboarding felt like a leap of faith into a void. In hindsight, it was a leap into a wormhole that took me back to the early years of skateboarding.
Hardcore polarizer enthusiasts believe that this era of skateboarding is the purest form of the sport, and the small subculture surrounding these enthusiasts is the holy grounds or most sacred area of skateboarding. I will do my best to honor those enthusiasts by properly describing what it is they are trying to do.
I have been lucky enough to contact a few of these people, and this article will not be posted until they review it and give me their blessing.
This is the first article on polarizers. The two others are…
What is a polarizer skateboard?
Polarizers are a subgenre of skateboarding started by the legendary professional skateboarder Neil Blender.
I date the beginning of this trend back to 2016 when Neil released a skate video titled “When the Grunion Run.” Granted this is subject for debate, but this seems to mark the rise of polarizers in popularity worldwide.
The basic premise behind the Polarizer skateboard dates to the early 1900s when kids were taking apart roller skates and turning them into skateboards.
With a polarizer, one does the same thing by using modern components on vintage skateboard trucks or roller skates. This creates a unique culturally influenced mix between form, function, the past, and the present creating a new breed of skateboarders that search for tight lines on new unfamiliar terrain.
It seems that the purpose of a Polarizer skateboard is to catalyze the creativity of the rider and act as a vessel in which the rider may move freely without hindrance.
This is also seen on Instagram with the hashtag #PolarizerSkateboard becoming popular for Polarizer enthusiasts to connect and share ideas.
My Polarizer Journey
It was in the summer of 2021 when I first came across the polarizer skateboard. I found myself bored after severely rolling my left ankle, and while scrolling on Instagram I found videos of people riding these tiny skateboards made from roller skates.
This was quite intriguing because I am a skateboard history fanatic. I immediately went to the shed and cobbled some parts together and made my first “Polarizer.” I’ve come to learn that this is not a “true” polarizer, but the way the board carved was like none other. It sounded like the wheels were screaming to hold on to the pavement.
The thrill and joy I received sparked a fire that ignited the creative flame within my mind, and for the next several months I spent every ounce of my free time researching and experimenting with my Polarizer to make it my own. I wanted it to work and become a reliable setup in my quiver.
First Polarizer Setup
The deck was a vintage fiberglass deck from amazon, and the trucks are what I now call “Hybrids.” The baseplates came from an old set of Orion trucks, and the hangers were taken from a set of roller skates. As fun as this setup was, it had many issues.
The most apparent issue was that the kingpin would scrub the ground on almost any uneven surface. The pivot cup was loose resulting in speed wobbles. Although this setup was fun it felt like I was missing something. I took to the internet and searched for anything related to “Polarizer Skateboards.”
After several hours of the fruitless search, I messaged a few people on Instagram, and I was told to search for Moon Patrol Polarizers. This turned out to be a guy from Michigan who has mastered the art of making Polarizers. We ended up having a phone call where he explained everything in more detail than I could have ever imagined.
Things like truck geometry, cambered deck flex, and truck width related to wheel size and how these variables make the board ride. The most important thing he mentioned was how the flex of the board and the width of the trucks work together in turns.
Why is the deck upside down?
He explained that the reason behind tuning a skateboard deck upside down on a polarizer was to serve two purposes.
1. It gives the rider a different feel when carving.
The camber of the deck is like slalom skateboards and allows the rider to lean more into a carve without picking up wheels on the outward-facing side.
2. It allows the board to flex in a way that when the rider is going straight the deck is stiff and does not flex, but when weight is applied in a heavy carve the deck flexes.
This flex in the carve wedges the trucks and creates a tighter turning radius. When the carve is done, the board quickly flexes back to the original position, and this is how the unique board feel of a polarizer is attained. On most skateboards, the lean into a turn is the only variable as to how much the board will turn, but with a polarizer, several other things come into play.
First Setup Takeaways
In essence, I learned that I needed to do a lot more research and testing to understand what these boards are to make one. After learning that my truck geometry was not ideal and that the board needed to flex in the turns, I decided that it was best to start from scratch.
I had a vintage roller derby skateboard that I purchased at a flea market several years ago, and with consideration of the value of the board, I took this mid 60s skateboard apart and started experimenting.
Second Polarizer Setup
The first problem I encountered was that the axle was 7mm instead of the standard 8. This proved to be a unique challenge that would require some creative tinkering. I tried many ways to make the original axles work, but I ended up hammering out the original axles out and replacing them with an 8mm threaded steel rod.
After the trucks were ready, I threw on some wheels and mounted them to a 2 by 6 to experiment with the wheelbase. Once I found the optimum setup and wheelbase, I began to look for a suitable donor deck that would allow the board to flex in the manner that moon patrol described.
Naturally, I took to Facebook marketplace and found an old sector nine deck that was in town. The guy was asking $35, and it seemed like a good deal. I drove over to his house and purchased the deck. This turned into a very strange encounter. This man was in his early 30s but had the appearance of one in his late 60s. As he showed me the deck, he told a very elaborate story of how Tony Hawk himself gave this deck to him as a gift, and how hard it was to part with it.
I am including this information not only because it’s funny and undisputed (Tony Hawk has not responded to my tweet on the subject), but also because I want to include the dangers of local pickup to whoever may be reading this. This guy was nice, but keep in mind that not everyone is as nice, and when one seeks out the path of the polarizer. Violence and chaos may pursue.
I went with a wheelbase of 23 inches, and a length of 33 inches. The nose is 4.5 inches, and the tail is 5.5 inches. The deck is 6.5 inches at the rear wheels and tapers to 6.25 inches in the nose. The wheel width measures 6 inches. I chose to go with a shape loosely inspired by surfboard shapes from the 70s combined with the profile of my favorite classic automobile, the 1963 Ford Econoline Pickup truck.
Tom Sims should also be accredited to the length of the board. He was a pioneer of longboard skateboarding and long wheelbases in the 60s. With this deck being flat It seemed better to leave it right side up. The wheel wells were given to accommodate a set of well-worn Hawgs fatties that measured 56mm in diameter, and 2.5 inches in width. I chose these wheels to increase the ride height and decrease the incidence of kingpin scrubbing.
My very talented girlfriend called it “The Yeated Wheel,” and surprised me with a spoofed version of this in sticker form and included a plethora of vintage skateboard stickers that she made for this project. With these larger dimensions, and larger wheels this board falls in the grey area of polarizers where it’s not exactly what Neil Blender and his following deem to be proper, but this is my design, and I am proud of it.
Out of respect for Neil’s company and polarizer enthusiasts, I deem it as a 60s inspired skateboard. This board functions as a polarizer. The faster and harder you carve, the tighter it turns.
It was a late afternoon in August when I took my first ride on a moderately sized hill with smooth asphalt. I stood at the top and dropped in attaining velocity. I was immediately greeted with the sensation of joy and accomplishment. This moment gave me a new appreciation for skateboarding.
I could not believe how much fun I was having just carving around doing simple tricks. It felt so much like surfing that stoke became too real. My skateboard was reborn into a classic 1980s twin fish, The barren parking lot transformed into a gentle wave on a perfect day. The rest is history. I continued making boards and experimenting with setups, but this one remains the same, and that will probably not change.
What are polarizer’s used for?
This is unlike the many other disciplines of skateboarding in that polarizers are subjective to how the rider uses them. They may stand alone, but it seems that most riders including myself use polarizers as a trainer of sorts. They seem to be very good for increasing balance, board control, and reaction time as well as allowing for new lines to be found in bowls. These skills can be directly applied to normal skateboards.
Whenever I go to a skatepark, I spend the first 10-20 minutes warming up on a Polarizer-inspired skateboard. Especially if I’m skating in a bowl or a pool. Doing this allows for me to not only decrease the amount of time I spend warming up but also the decreased stability that I grow accustomed to allows for me to also decrease my risk of falling by heightening my awareness and increasing my board control.
I find polarizers to be the utmost incredible tool for finding new lines and learning how to maintain speed through them. Another way I use my polarizer, and 60s inspired skateboards is like how most people use cruiser skateboards and longboards in that the goal is getting from point A to B. I have used cruisers and longboards for commuting in the past, but I seem to have more fun on the polarizers.
The hairy thrill one gets when bombing a big hill is present whenever you do anything on these boards, and it’s this that makes life more fun. Another advantage of using these boards is that they seem to bypass the cultural stigmas related to cruisers and penny boards. I believe that the historical aspect provokes respect over judgment, and it never gets old watching seasoned skaters have difficulty riding my boards.
Only one person has ever made it over 5 feet without stepping off on the first try, and this person was not a skater. Daniel Cordova, a biology major at my college rode 15 feet on the first try, and it was also the first time that he ever set foot on a skateboard. Amazing!
Hypothetically speaking, these boards are capable of anything and everything. I’ve taken mine down stair sets, into pools, and on small rails/ledges. I have even landed a few flip tricks with it, but the most amazing thing I have seen was a man land a 360 kickflip within 5 minutes of riding one. A true legend.
Neil asked me to include another use in the article, and it’s an aspect of these little boards in which I was truly unaware.
I find it odd because the reason I got into these things in the first place was because of an injury that left me unable to skate traditional setups. I am stunned at my lack of awareness that Polarizers and 60s inspired skateboards may be phenomenal skateboards for older or physically impaired individuals. It just makes sense. They are small lightweight cruisers that primarily focus on carving and finding lines. I would love to speak to anyone that rides these boards for that reason specifically, and possibly do an article on that alone. Again, thank you, Neil.
Below is a comment he made when reviewing my article, and I feel that it shows how rad this man is.
NB: “These types of boards allow someone who basically gives up on skating due to age or thrashed body to continue skating and feel that movement that got them going in the first place, it’s also a good beginner board, kick tails are overrated.”
Neil Blender’s Take
Grant Brittan, a renowned skateboarding photographer asked Neil blender (the creator of the polarizer) this very same question back in an interview on his website back in 2018. This was Neil’s response.
Neil Blender: “Polarizers are hot, dude. It’s basically a skateboard. It’d be like if skateboarding continued without anything getting wider. Like when roller skates came out, that’s how it happened. People cut up roller skates. That’s all we’re doing. And now with all the good equipment, the good urethanes, it makes it so rad. The fast wheels, the bearings, the bushings, it’s all about bushings, dude— and pivot bushings! It all ties together.”
Grant Brittan: “Do they have precision bearings?
Neil blender: “Yeah! You can make them without them if you want. Just get an older truck and use the bearings, but it’s like, this is kind… it’s a thrill. It’s a little bit scary when you learn to ride these and roll in with them in situations, so it’s really fun.”
Neil Blender is not a man that is easy to contact. I’ve sent emails, DMs, and made phone calls with no success, but surprisingly he did answer my comments on one of his Instagram posts. Here is what happened. Please excuse the grammatical errors. This interview was done on my phone in the comment section of an Instagram post.
TM (Me): “Hello Mr. Blender. I’m running into difficulties in the “What is, and what is not” a polarizer. If you could find the time to answer just a few questions for me on your terms, I would greatly appreciate it. Please feel free to direct message me. I am writing this for those who are also searching for answers. Thank you. You are a legend.”
NB (Neil Blender): “simply put, a Polarizer is the name of the model from The Heated Wheel. I’ve been fascinated by convex” just a little though” ever since I got a board from a thrift in Ohio that had this, it’s an oak board, early 70’s.”
“Once I realized you can get this feeling by turning a modern board upside down, I’ve been stoked. When Steve Claar saw it he said “you should call that a polarizer because people are either going to like it or hate it” @claarsteve There’s also a Peter Hewitt model on Heated Wheel, it’s smaller and flat based off early 70’s shapes @goonsac Polarizer is based off early 60’s surfboards, a Hap Jacobs “pig” model to be specific. @jacobssurfboards” “both boards are 6” wide and use roller skate trucks”
TM: “Wow! Thank you! If you don’t mind me asking, I understand that the polarizer is your product, but it seems that the term polarizer is being used by others to describe their attempts to recreate your polarizer skateboard. This can be found in the posts under the hashtag #heatedwheel. It seems that you have started a trend. What do you think about this?”
NB: “kinda funny eventually people will get older and realize they fucked up, there will be some available in the new year”
TM: “Interesting. You are not complemented by the possibility of starting or being the beginning of a new/old subgenre of skateboarding?”
NB: “60’s and 70’s had the same thing going, just not the updated urethane, clay wheels were harsh,the early decks were harsh, stiff, G&S made Fibreflex boards in the mid 60’s, truly ahead of their time, urethane wasn’t even around, too many hippers led me back to this type of skating, the original way of skateboarding.”
TM: “I think I’m following. Are you saying that your polarizers are vessels to go back to how skateboarding was in its purest form? Is my assumption that all of those attempting to remake your product incorrect in that they also are trying to create nostalgic shred sleds?”
NB: “Pretty much, I encourage people to cut up old boards and experiment, find roller skates, you see a pair of skates at a thrift store, and that’s pretty much it for them, they’ll probably never get ridden again by anyone maybe some kid that wants to roller skate, but that’s pretty rare so it’s cool to bring those trucks back to life and use what was already in our past “
TM: “Thank you! I would like to send it to you personally before it’s published if you are willing. It is of utmost importance to properly document this unique form of skateboarding. It took me about 6 months of experimenting and researching to make mine, and these little skateboards have changed my whole view of skateboarding. I just want to help share this experience with others. Thank you again! You are the man!”
NB: “dm me”
Again, thank you Mr. Blender for taking the time to answer my questions. From this interview, I have deduced that although Neil is the one that started this trend. He humbly does not take credit and sees the polarizer skateboard as his product and sees the subgenre as a recollection instead of a new trend.
Out of respect, I will call any board that is not a true polarizer something else. I have not decided yet, but for now, let’s go with “60s inspired skateboards.”