When was the fingerboard invented?
Since the 1960s, they began as homemade toys, and by the mid/ late 1970s, companies were producing fingerboard keychains. Check out the advertisement from SkateBoarder Magazine below.
But many got their first exposure to fingerboarding in 1985 thanks to the Powell-Peralta Future Primitive video (6:56 timestamp). As Tony Hawk and Mike McGill watched, Lance Mountain gleefully “rode” his homemade deck around a kitchen sink.
But it wasn’t until Tech Deck appeared in the later part of the 1990s that things exploded.
Rise of Tech Decks
In North America, Tech Deck enjoyed a frenzy of interest.
According to Transworld, Tech Deck sales were estimated to be $120 million in 1999.
Dozens of skate companies licensed their logos. Both kids and skate collectors enjoyed the experience. But if you ask most skateboarders about fingerboards, they might say…“Oh, yeah … I had one,” and leave it at that.
For most, the fingerboard remains a curious artifact from youth.
Rise of Pro Fingerboards
But Martin Ehrenberger, the founder of Blackriver, a well-known fingerboard company, had other ideas. He founded Blackriver in 1999, and it’s a staple in fingerboarding.
They create professional fingerboards and obstacles that have premium price tags. Believe it or not, Blackriver sells fingerboards for more than $100. Their skatepark obstacles can go from a couple of hundred to thousands of dollars.
Yup, I’ll let that sink in…
My first reaction to learning about this side of skateboarding was to laugh somewhat incredulously. But as I discovered, there is much more to fingerboarding than meets the eye (or the finger, for that matter).
Though skate purists might dismiss it as a joke, there is no discounting the joy fingerboarding brings and the strong community it’s spawned.
I first learned about the more upscale side of fingerboarding through Rick Tetz, who brought in some Blackriver ramps to his Vancouver shop, Longboarder Labs.
The first question I wanted to ask is…
Why is fingerboarding a thing?
“The fact is that through fingerboarding you can live skateboarding in another dimension,” Martin says. “It feels extremely good to control the fingerboard like a skateboard. It transports a positive emotion.”
Martin also points out that fingerboarding is more easily accessible, and you’re not too dependent on logistical factors such as weather, places, etc.
Fingerboarding enthusiasts find it as diverse as skateboarding and say it never gets boring, whether building new spots or being stoked about a new trick you just learned.
The creativity in fingerboarding is on another level!
Don’t believe me? Check out this incredible DIY CNC wooden skatepark. The amount of thought and time spent making this is admirable.
I could sense how much blood, sweat, and tears Martin put into fingerboarding. He isn’t just passionate; fingerboarding resonates deeply with who he is as a skater. Once you overcome your preconceived notions, you realize that most fingerboarders ride skateboards.
Fingerboarding is merely an extension of who they are as skaters.
“Of course I skate. I’ve been riding for over 30 years! You start fingerboarding, and after a while, you notice it’s really fun. You spend a lot of time on it, and naturally, you want to upgrade to professional equipment.” Martin exclaims.
He says it’s the same in every field, whether skateboarding, music, or whatever.
“In skateboarding, you may start with a plastic board, but as soon as you realize you are hooked on it, you want a better, more professional product.”
Is professional fingerboarding a thing?
Yes, there are pro fingerboarders, and I was curious about what it takes.
“There are pros who can do every trick you want them to do,” Martin says.
“They have skills the average fingerboarder dreams of at night. They’ve been around for decades and the scene celebrates them. Kids want signatures and photos with them. It’s basically the same as in skateboarding.”
And if you have fingerboard pros, then sure, as day follows night, there are actual professional fingerboard tours. Blackriver has been doing tours for the past 16 years.
“Our team riders traveled the world,” Martin says. “We were on South Korean TV, and have and performed at dozens of trade shows for companies like Nokia, Canon and Gillette.”
Beyond that, Martin says…
“Believe it or not, there’s a concrete fingerboard DIY scene, too. At the world championship, all those people meet every year; it has been steadily becoming a worldwide community.”
Blackriver hosts the fingerboard world championship, called Fast Fingers. People from all across the world travel to the northern Bavarian town of Schwarzenbach to compete.
“Our competitors take fingerboarding seriously,” Martin says.
“They are mostly professionals. And, of course, they want to have professional setups to do their tricks as precisely as possible.”
Why is fingerboarding so expensive?
“Professional fingerboarding is niche. Most products are handmade or locally produced in small batches. They’re expensive because they’re not a cheaply mass-produced product.”
The other thing that never occurred to me was what happens when you drop down to one-eighth the size. But it’s essential to have precisely manufactured boards, trucks and wheels in fingerboarding – even more so than in skateboarding.
“The downsizing of the equipment demands more,” Martin says.
“If it’s not precise, you’ll notice every minor deviation. This means you will lose pop, or the board will spin weirdly.”
If you think making a seven-ply fingerboard is easy, think again.
“Way more work and innovation are necessary than producing a regular skateboard,” Martin says. “Sure, it’s less material, but for most products, you don’t pay for the material unless you buy a gold watch. Instead, you pay for labor, and these custom products take a lot of time.”
I noticed a phrase often used by Blackriver…
“An entire universe in your hands.”
I asked Martin to explain that statement.
“It’s a whole scene with all its characteristics,” he says.
“Fingerboarding developed from skateboarding, but it’s a universe on its own. It’s like a sub-scene within a scene. That’s one reason why I’d call it a microcosm.”
Martin is right when he says it has all the components of a subculture. There are local scenes all around the globe. People organize events like sessions, contests, and even art shows.
One thing’s certain, fingerboarding is thriving, and there’s no stopping it.