Larry Stevenson was working as a lifeguard in Southern California in the early 1960s when he noticed surfers darting around a parking lot on crude skateboards cobbled together from planks and roller skates on days when the waves were tame. Mr. Stevenson, an avid swimmer and surfer, thought he could do better. He began building boards shaped like surfboards in his garage, and sure enough, they offered a superior ride. By 1963, demand was so high he created a company to mass-produce them, Makaha, named for a famous Hawaiian surf beach. His designs revolutionized skateboarding. Mr. Stevenson promoted Makaha skateboards in Surf Guide, a surfing magazine he published, with photos of professional surfers riding his boards. Makaha became one of the first skateboard companies to make a professional model, for the surfer Phil Edwards, and the first to use clay wheels rather than steel, providing a smoother ride and more maneuverability. “There were skateboards before Larry Stevenson came along, but he made them better. He professionalized them,” said Michael Brooke, who wrote a history of skateboarding called “The Concrete Wave” in 1999.
In 1969 Mr. Stevenson introduced the kicktail, in which the rear of the board was curved up, enabling a skateboarder to launch the board off the ground with his feet. Without the kicktail, the aerial maneuvers that define contemporary skateboarding would be impossible. Mr. Stevenson received the patent for the kicktail in 1971 but was unable to compel most companies to pay royalties. The kicktail shape is now ubiquitous; most current boards feature two, one on the nose and one on the tail. Mr. Stevenson also patented the idea of kicktails at each end. Richard Lawrence Stevenson was born on Dec. 22, 1930, in Los Angeles. He graduated from Venice High School and then served in the Navy during the Korean War. He graduated from the University of Southern California with a bachelor’s degree in business. During the skateboarding booms in the 1960s and ’70s, Makaha sold hundreds of thousands of boards a year. Shawn Bryant, the manager of Makaha L.L.C., said current sales were at least 2,000 a month.