The Beatles and skateboarding rose to prominence in the early 1960s. With both looming so large in the popular imagination ever since, it is inevitable they have intersected. For more than five decades The Beatles and skate culture have collided in a number of unlikely and fascinating ways.
John Lennon was the first Beatle to skateboard
John Lennon was quick to embrace the radical new ideas of the eras in which he lived. With this in mind, it should come as no surprise he was the first of the Beatles to skate. One series of 1965 photographs, captured by Henry Grossman during the filming of the second Beatles movie Help!, shows John Lennon learning the rudiments of the skating art in the Bahamas. Historian Iain Borden in his book Skateboarding and the City: A Complete History even goes as far as to suggest these images of Lennon, alongside other celebrities like Katherine Hepburn skating, helped boost the profile of the sport in its early years. Another photo, of dubious authenticity, shows Lennon confidently cruising in a Beatles’ suit.
John Lennon passed this enthusiasm on to his first son Julian Lennon. “John used to play with Julian on his skateboard,” Lennon’s former housekeeper Dorothy Jarlett has revealed. “When skateboards first came out in the ’60s, they were quite small. Basically, it was just a board with roller skates. They used to play outside on the slope leading up to the house.” Lennon was tragically shot dead in 1980 but Rolling Stone reported Julian was still skateboarding in 1985. The Beatles’ second son, Sean Ono Lennon is also known to have an interest in the hobby.
George Harrison could skate switch
Dhani Harrison, son of George Harrison, has been an avid skateboarder since age 6. “I’ve managed to skateboard through all of America,” he shared with ESPN in 2012, “through every airport in the country, and not get busted. I take a skateboard with me everywhere I go.”
George Harrison once collected guitars and ukeleles. Dhani now curates a unique collection of boards. While George never delved deeply into his views on skating, the former Beatle can be seen posing with Dhani, Tony Hawk, and a number of other prominent skaters in a photograph taken in July 1989.
This meeting with the Bones Brigade pro skating team also included Mike Manzoori, Ray Underhill, Eric Sorrensen, and Adrian Demain. George Harrison, who was watching soccer with rock star Tom Petty at the time when Dhani bought the crew home, is reported to have courteously shown the team around his Friar Park estate. He is even reported to have given the skaters tips on playing the guitar.
Could George Harrison skateboard? According to Dhani, his father could skate switch. In plain English, this means The Beatle rode left foot forward, the opposite footing than what is usual.
Paul McCartney tried skateboarding once and fell over
George Harrison is not the only Beatle to cross paths with Tony Hawk. In 2012 Paul McCartney collaborated with Hawk to create a custom skate deck. Tony provided the board while Paul signed it with a complete set of handwritten lyrics to his White Album-era Beatles tune ‘Blackbird‘.
“He knew who I was,” Tony Hawk shared in 2012, “and said his grandson was into skating and that he’d tried it once and fell. It gave me chills thinking that Paul McCartney might get hurt skating.”
There is at least one photograph that depicts Paul McCartney on a skateboard. The black and white image appears to have been taken in the late 1970s or early 1980s Was this the day of McCartney’s fateful spill?
Hawk and McCartney’s collaborative deck auctioned for $27,116 (US) on eBay. This record-breaking price made it one of the most expensive boards to ever sell. All proceeds went to the charitable cause of creating public skateboard parks in low-income communities. McCartney’s daughter Stella McCartney has also released custom-designed skate decks of her own.
Ultimately though it may be a very different kind of boarding that captures Paul McCartney’s imagination. Recent music videos ‘Slidin’ and ‘Blue Sway‘ suggest a closer connection to surf culture. In 2019 McCarney was also spotted teaching his grandkids to surf on the Caribbean island of St. Barts.
As best we know, Ringo Starr never skated
Which leaves Ringo Starr. During the 1970s the jet-setting Beatles drummer was more likely to be seen at an LA airport with a Gucci travel case than on a skateboard. Starr has yet to publicly express any close connection with skateboarding culture. Though given one of the world’s most famous senior citizen skaters Lloyd Kahn turned 86 this year, the 80-year-old Starr still has time to learn.
“One thing I can tell you is you got to be free”: How Skateboard Culture embraces The Beatles
With their music, The Beatles changed the face of popular culture. Skaters have embraced their music and imagery for decades. The Fab Four’s iconic images and album covers decorate thousands of unofficial skate decks. What is more, The Beatles released their own official deck, the sell-out Yellow Submarine 8.0″ in 2019.
The Beatles’ greatest influence, however, would be the free-living attitude their music imparted. The differences between The Beatles and skating culture are many. Yet when it comes to a desire to express individual freedom and to boldly express one’s self, the two are one and the same.