One of the most famous skateboard truck manufacturers is Independent Trucks. The company's designs have been so reliably innovative over the years that many skateboard devotees insist on only using the company's products from a particular era.
Brief History of Skateboarding
Surfing became California's most popular pastime in the 1950s. However, many surfers wanted to mimic surfing on land when the waves were not suitable. Bill and Mark Richards, two brothers who ran a surf shop at Dana Point, found a novel solution. In 1958, they invented sidewalk surfing by attaching wheels to a small wooden board. The Derby Roller Skateboard sold fifty million units in five years even though its heavy clay wheels and narrow trucks hindered manoeuvrability and speed.
Skateboard Truck Rivalry
In the early 1970s, Frank Nasworthy transformed skateboarding by developing urethane wheels. The oil-based polymer was unaffected by chemicals and extreme temperatures. It was perfect for skateboarding culture as it was available in any colour, enabling the coordination of boards and apparel. Tough, reliable urethane wheels finally equipped skateboards for a smooth ride. They also unleashed a new-found rivalry amongst companies determined to develop the best trucks.
In 1975, an Orange County engineer named Ronald Bennett identified the problem with existing skateboard trucks. He realised that for the truck to make a turn, "...it had to be loosened up so much that it got speed wobbles." Bennett experimented with locknuts of superior aircraft quality and a kingpin that sat beneath the axle. The Bennett Hijacker provided greater freedom to make unrestricted manoeuvres. It enabled skateboarders such as John Hutson to win many competitions. In 1978, Bennett introduced trucks made of magalum, a strong but lightweight metal alloy. However, by the end of the decade, Bennett Trucks were losing momentum as the baseplates gained a reputation for breaking.
Three skateboarding friends from California, Dave Dominy, Larry Balma and Gary Dodds, founded Tracker Trucks in 1974. The company was inspired by Dominy's longing for controllable stability as he regularly sped down the steep hills around La costa and San Diego. At the time he was using a skateboard with wider than average Cadillac wheels. Dominy wanted to modify a set of Sure-Grip trucks "...to make them wider and higher so that they would be stable and strong." He asked Larry Balma, the son of a railway engineer to "...help me build the prototypes." Their design included wide truck axles and wheels. A single nut was all they used for truck adjustment. They had difficulty convincing stockists that their wide board and trucks provided more agility than the narrow versions used by Ronald Bennett. As Larry reminisced, "We'd show them you could do everything on it better." Tracker Trucks finally made progress and during the next thirty years, the company became one of the most popular skateboarding brands.
By 1975, Mike Williams had enjoyed considerable success in various skateboard competitions. However, he was constantly trying to devise plans to improve the trucks of his skateboard. He asked HPG IV, a tooling company in the aerospace industry, to help make his ideas a reality. Walt Tiedge and Bill Brawner were instrumental in developing the innovative split axle. It enabled skateboarders to adjust the turning radius in addition to the truck's tension. Gullwing Trucks launched its brand-new design in January 1976 and quickly reached sales of 13,000 units each month.
Alliance of Ermico Enterprise, NHS and Santa Cruz
Bennett, Tracker and Gullwing had all made innovative contributions to skateboard truck design, but none of them provided a complete solution. Around 1975, Ermico Enterprises was formed by Eric Swenson and Fausto Vitello with the sole purpose of creating the ultimate truck. They enlisted John Solomine to help with design and borrowed manufacturing equipment for their premises in San Francisco. They exceeded expectations by overdeveloping the trucking system, known as the Stroker. Vitello later recalled "...that the truck turned too much, it had too many springs." The system needed dampeners to modify it, but Vitello continued, "Although we tried to put dampeners inside the truck, there was no space." Ermico's next prototype, distributed by NHS, was the Rebound Truck. It was highly adjustable due to incorporating two kingpins. Meanwhile, the skateboarder, John Hutson, was analysing the merits of different trucks. Richard Novak and Jay Shuirman of NHS developed Hutson's idea of a truck with independent wheel suspension. They approached Ermico to manufacture Shuirman's meticulous design. They joined forces to create a new company based in Santa Cruz called Independent Trucks. The Independent brand finally launched in 1978. Sadly, Shuirman never witnessed the success of his innovative design as in 1979, he died of leukaemia.
How Independent Trucks Have Evolved
Jay Shuirman's innovative truck design with independent wheel suspension gave a superior performance compared to the skateboard trucks of the late 1970s. It improved upon the steering of Tracker and was far more resilient than Bennett. As a direct rival to Gullwing, the new company was reputed to combine many more essential qualities. Each Independent design is identified by Roman numerals.
Stage I - 1978
The brand-new Independent design was launched in July 1978. It was initially available in two sizes; the 88 millimetre and the 109 millimetre. Additional sizes were released during the following months. The silver truck was manufactured from T6, a superior aluminium alloy used in the aircraft industry. The axles were of a steel alloy (SAE 4130) that provided high tensile strength. The t-hanger profile included a kingpin with integrated top nut for easy adjustment.
Stage II - 1979
The second stage was launched in May 1979 in extra wide sizes of 151 millimetres and 169 millimetres. Base plates were reinforced to strengthen the area around the axles as the kingpins could be removed. The result was more speed and less drag.
Stage III - 1982
The hanger surrounding the pivot and yoke was reinforced and increased in width.
Stage IV - 1984
The features of the design were further elaborated upon and included a much smoother yoke. The 159 millimetre and 215 millimetres trucks were released in February and March respectively.
Stage V - 1986
Inspired by ideas from Lance Mountain and Steve Caballero, Independent's latest skateboard truck included a hollow section beneath the hanger and balanced by an additional wing. In a sudden departure from all silver, the anodised aluminium trucks were now available from 1988 in maroon, blue, purple, gold and black.
Stage VI - 1991
The design evolved again with less metal at the top of the hanger and additional bulk added to the pivot housing, which was now black.
Stage VII - 1993
The Independent was radically altered to include six holes in the base plate. Their purpose was to lessen the wear on the truck's bolts. The pivot housing was reinforced while the hanger top was once again reduced. Two years later, the 136 millimetre size was released.
Stage VIII - 1997
Independent's cross logo was added to the new base plate which still followed the six-hole design. However, the inverted kingpin was no longer included.
Stage IX - 2003
A new design, the first to be developed by computerisation, introduced additional features. The base plate and hanger were reduced in weight while retaining their reliability and strength. The axles were made of 4140 chromoly steel, which contained manganese and molybdenum. Improved speed was attained by precision engineering and a smaller thread length on the axles. Some skateboarders felt the design didn't turn as efficiently as previous stages.
Stage X - 2009
The baseplate was increased in depth. However, the balance when turning remained indifferent.
Stage XI - 2012
The company returned to the popular designs of stages V to VII. Consequently, the kingpin angles, the pivot and the truck's height of 55 millimetres were reintroduced.
Independent Trucks Logo
The original company logo featured a black, white and red stylised cross set inside a circle surrounded by the company's name. It was designed by Jim Phillips in 1978. He was inspired by the cross decorating the robes of Pope John Paul II and the iron crosses decorating Californian surfboards in the 1960s. The design was also similar to awards such as the Victoria Cross. However, forty years later, the company became concerned that their logo could be loosely associated with Nazi World War II memorabilia. Eager to avoid all forms of controversy, a new logo was introduced in 2021. It uses the same colour scheme and circular design. However, within the circle is a lozenge containing the name Independent. Around the top of the circle are the words 'Ride the Best' and in the lower half is 'Truck Company'. Some skateboarders approve of the fresh new look, while others mourn the loss of the old logo.
Independent Trucks Team Riders
Skateboarding became an extreme sport in the early 1990s. The companies that manufacture trucks and skateboarding accessories usually sponsor their own teams. The intention is to promote skateboarding talent while showcasing innovative products. Over the years, many famous skateboarders have ridden for Independent.
He became a professional skateboarder in the early 1990s. Alba has achieved a top five placement in every competition he has entered during the last thirty years. He is credited with developing the lein tailside move.
Tommy has been a regular competitor on the skateboard circuit for the past three decades. Born in 1966, he's one of the original team members. He now combines skateboarding with a career in music.
Born in 1968, Gonzalez has been officially named as the "Most Influential Skateboarder of All Time". He has been skateboarding since the age of thirteen and has been hailed for developing innovative moves such as the beanplant.
Growing up in 1970s Connecticut, Greco soon joined the craze for skateboarding. He quickly outperformed his schoolfriends and later turned professional. He has been sponsored by the company for a number of years.
Independent Trucks Collaborations
Skateboarding never stands still. The company has developed innovative products and collaborated with many of the sport's famous names. Vans of California has produced some of the most revered trainers for skateboarders, such as their collection that was launched in celebration of Independent’s 40th anniversary. The superior traction of the soles in Vans has helped them become a favourite of professionals such as Steve Caballero who has ridden for Independent's team. Evisen was founded in Tokyo in 2011. The company's decorative artwork ensures the 7-ply skateboards have contemporary style. Combined with innovative skateboard truck designs, skateboarders can look forward to an amazing sporting experience. Tony 'Birdman' Hawk has long been an admirer of Independent's skateboard trucks. In 1982, Hawk became a professional skateboarder at the age of just fourteen and Independent Trucks was one of his first sponsors. After parting ways for some years Tony Hawk and Independent were reconnected when they joined forces to create a signature Indy truck.
Effect on the Skateboarding Industry
Since 1978, the company has been a leading entrepreneur in amateur and professional skateboarding. Combining the best attributes of rival companies' products, Independent developed a truck with superior performance and longevity. For more than forty years, the company has evolved its products to keep skateboarding adventurous and innovative. Independent frequently outperforms its rivals and enjoys global sales on an unprecedented scale. With an updated logo, the company is continuing its mission to develop skateboarding truck perfection.