Hand boarding, also known as fingerboarding, has exploded in popularity over the past decade, becoming a global phenomenon and community. For the uninitiated, hand boarding involves performing skateboarding tricks using a miniature skateboard controlled by your fingers.
While it may seem like just a toy, hand boarding requires immense skill, creativity, and dedication from its practitioners.
In this deep dive blog post, we’ll explore the worldwide hand boarding community, trace its evolution, uncover key trends, and provide insights into what the future may hold for this burgeoning subculture.
The Rise of Hand Boarding
Hand boarding first emerged in the 1990s as a relatively niche activity among skateboarding enthusiasts looking to do tricks indoors. Small fingerboard brands like Tech Deck began producing miniature plastic skateboards equipped with tiny movable wheels that could be controlled by hand movements.
While originally intended as a training tool, people soon began appreciating fingerboards in their own right and a competitive scene started taking shape.
- Mid 1990s – First basic tech decks produced by brands like Morning Wood. Allowed indoor practice of skate tricks using fingers.
- 1999 – The Tech Deck brand was founded and helped popularize hand boarding among skaters and non-skaters alike. Sold mainstream through toy stores.
- Early 2000s – Hand boarding competitions began emerging focused on performing tricks. X Games held its first official fingerboard competition in 2003.
- 2005 – Online hand boarding forums like Fingerboardhq and Skatevideosite were created. Allowed global collaboration.
- 2010s – High-quality professional handboard brands emerged catering to serious hobbyists. Chinese factories enabled mass production.
- 2015 – International professional hand board tours and championships established. Big sponsors like Red Bull got involved.
- 2020s – Hand boarding explodes in popularity during the pandemic as an indoor activity. Niche subcultures developed.
Regional Origins and Influences
While handboarding has spread globally, certain regions were early pioneers and influencers in shaping the culture:
- United States – Birthplace of handboarding and epicenter in the 90s/early 2000s driven by brands like Tech Deck. Still, the top market today with major brands and pro athletes based in the US. Known for pushing technical tricks.
- Europe – France and Germany emerged early on as hotspots. Europeans progressed realism in handmade obstacles and video production. Dominate in realistic simulation style.
- Brazil – One of the first international adopters with a very creative scene focused on fun and maintaining roots in skating culture. Known for artistic board graphics and old-school style.
- China – Manufacturing center enabled mass production of boards at more affordable pricing. This boosted access and popularity worldwide. Top Chinese athletes now rival America’s best.
- Japan – Obsessive Japanese enthusiasts propelled handboarding to new technical heights. Young Japanese pros like Tomoki Nishida are currently dominating worldwide competitions.
Hand Boarding Subcultures
While hand boarding originated among skateboarders, the community has greatly diversified over the past decade encompassing various subcultures across geographic regions. Some key subsets include:
This technical style focuses on stringing together complex hand board tricks in flowing sequences and routines. Developed strong followings in the US, China, Japan, and Europe. Highly competitive world championships are held yearly.
Realistic Simulation Fingerboarding
Attempts to recreate true-to-life skate filming using precision model skateparks and obstacles. Most popular in the US and Germany. Brands like Black River have fueled the simulation scene.
Old School Fingerboarding
Keeps alive the retro 1990s skate style using classic board and obstacle designs. Focused on having fun and simplicity over complex tricks. Strong presence in Brazil and the UK.
Applying hand board tricks on miniature surfboard replicas. Originated in France but was also adopted by the Brazilian community. Focuses on replicating surf moves and culture.
DIY board crafting, tech deck customization, rail riding, mini-ramp boarding, electric handboards, and more. The global scene continues to expand.
Why Has Hand Boarding Taken Off?
Several factors help explain the meteoric rise of handboarding into a global phenomenon over the past decade:
- Relatively inexpensive to get started with basic fingerboards.
- I can practice tricks anywhere without the need for a skatepark. Appeals to non-skaters.
- Less physical risk of injury compared to skating. Open to wider age ranges.
- Allows immense creativity in crafting tricks, filming edits, building parks, and modifying boards.
- Channels desire for self-expression among youth culture.
- A tight-knit community of hobbyists united by shared passion. Enables friendships across geographic boundaries.
- Competition fosters innovation as fingerboarders try to one-up each other’s tricks and filming.
- Handboarding is the perfect socially distanced indoor activity. Saw a huge boost in interest during global lockdowns.
Competitive Hand Boarding Scene
A highly competitive professional handboarding circuit has developed over the past decade as the sport continues to grow. Some key aspects of the competitive scene include:
- The biggest tours include FFTC (Freestyle Fingerboard Tour Championship) and the XTS World Tour reaching over 10 countries.
- Multi-round tournaments are held throughout the year culminating in world championships.
- Major sponsors like Red Bull and Fizi provide backing and media exposure.
- Pioneers like Pieter Joubert pushed technical possibilities.
- Current stars include Koji Kono (Japan), Ruan Potgieter (South Africa), and Sean Chau (USA) known for their unmatched hand skills.
- Teen phenom Tomoki Nishida (Japan) is currently dominating with record World Champion wins.
- New handboard tricks constantly premiered at top competitions to wow judges and crowds.
- Trick complexity and technicality have progressed rapidly over the years as equipment improves.
- Key standards: a combination of smooth execution, control, flow, difficulty, and creative style.
- Events routinely get millions of views on YouTube and Instagram.
- Helps build drama and celebrity status for top athletes who gain huge followings.
- Allows global digital exposure for sponsors.
- Panels of expert judges assess competitors on criteria like trick difficulty, flow, consistency, and originality.
- Decisions are sometimes controversial among fans debating scores.
- Replay review technology has helped improve accuracy and fairness.
- Fierce personal rivalries between top-fingerboard athletes fuel drama and interest.
- Heated battles like Koji Kono vs Ruan Potgieter have defined eras of competitive handboarding.
- Younger rising stars challenge established veterans.
The Evolution of Hand Boarding Equipment Evolution
The quality and capabilities of fingerboard equipment have rapidly progressed over the past decade, enabling new styles and tricks.
- Early tech deck boards were basic single-mold plastic with poor wheels.
- Current pro boards feature multi-layer wood, foam or carbon fiber construction. Provides realistic flex and grip.
- High-precision bearings and urethane wheels optimize smoothness and control.
- Early homemade obstacles were crude, like books and cardboard.
- Realistic scaled-down skate obstacles are now precisely built and molded. Everything from ledges to full skateparks.
- Modular parks allow reconfiguring layouts and tricks. Brands like Black River cater to enthusiasts.
- Advanced enthusiasts meticulously customize their boards for ideal grip, flex, and wheel smoothness.
- High-end specialty tuning parts like cushioned grip tape tuned bushings, and bearings enable optimized setups.
- Some emerging boards integrate sensors to track flipping/spinning or provide electric drive for new trick capabilities.
- Digital connectivity and video integration likely loom via IoT and AR.
- Fingerboarders personalize boards with specialized paint jobs and graphics reflecting their style.
- Customizing your setup with the perfect look and feel enhances enjoyment and self-expression.
- Companies offer custom printing services and parts to meet demand.
The Business of Fingerboarding
Hand boarding has grown from a homemade hobby to a lucrative global business serving the hardcore enthusiast community:
- Dozens of specialty brands cater to discerning hobbyists. Major players include Blackriver, Berlinwood, and Broken Knuckle.
- Small batch manufacturing focused on high-precision components.
- Some brands leverage Chinese production expertise for large-scale production.
- Top athletes rep brands through competitions, videos, and social media for promotion.
- Sponsorships provide gear, financial support, and exposure in exchange for brand loyalty.
- Big non-endemic sponsors like Red Bull and Nike are involved to reach wider audiences.
- Top brands cultivate exclusivity and use collaborations with pros to hype limited product drops. This fuels collectors.
- Branded video content dazzles enthusiasts and drives purchases.
- Sponsor major events/athletes for exposure to performance-driven buyers.
- Most brands rely primarily on direct e-commerce through their niche websites.
- Enables global reach to a dispersed customer base.
- Social media and email newsletters promote new releases.
- Complete pro-grade setups are often over $150. High given size, but accepted by serious hobbyists.
- Top individual decks $50+ and wheels $15+. Parts can total $300+ for the premium build.
- Budget options exist but are considered low-performing for competitions.
Some carry in select online and physical hobby shops. Mainstream toy store deals rarely now.
Estimated $200+ million yearly turnover. Rapid growth is projected as the hobby continues gaining traction globally.
Lifestyle and Culture
Beyond just a hobby, hand boarding has evolved into a lifestyle and culture shaping the identities of enthusiasts worldwide:
- Fingerboard-inspired clothing and shoes are popular in the community. Brands like Fingerskate produce apparel.
- Typical streetwear style with graphics featuring brands, logos, and artistic board designs.
- Enthusiasts take pride in collecting rare boards and completing setups of iconic pros. Limited collaborations are highly valued.
- Some iconic handboard models resell for thousands of collectors.
- Handboarding fuels creative passions like filming, photography, editing videos, and crafting obstacles.
- Channels energy into positive endeavors and career interests.
- A shared love for fingerboarding facilitates lifelong friendships locally and globally.
- Tight-knit community networks develop online and at events.
- Provides a positive outlet for dealing with stress and mental health struggles, especially among youth.
- Playful escapism from daily troubles.
While primarily recreational, handboarding also offers some health and wellness benefits:
- Mastering tricks requires immense hand-eye coordination.
- Improves fine motor skills and reaction times.
- Planning/executing sequences of tricks engages mental focus, strategizing, and problem-solving skills.
- Visualization and spatial processing are used in maneuvering the board.
- Playing handboard games provides an absorbing, meditative escape from everyday stresses.
- A creative flow state provides calming mental breaks.
- Compared to skating, low physical impact and risk of injury. Safer alternative.
- Can participate at ages and ability levels where skating is challenging.
Handboarding has typically been an underground subculture, but has the potential to gain wider appeal in the mainstream:
- Increasing coverage on major outlets like ESPN, the New York Times, and Vice.
- Viral handboarding moments spreading on YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram.
- Celebrities like Ed Sheeran, Justin Bieber, and David Dobrik have been spotted handboarding.
- As more stars embrace it, fans are likely to follow, making it “cool.”
- Non-endemic sponsors increasingly see marketing value in backing stars/events.
- This could lead to handboarding used in ads and pop culture.
Schools & Education
- Already being integrated into some school programs for motor skills and recreation.
- Mainstreaming through schools exposes a wider range of kids.
- With skateboarding in the Olympics, clamor grows for handboarding to also gain Olympic exhibition or full status.
- Would dramatically boost visibility and accessibility.
The Future of Hand Boarding
As fingerboarding garners more mainstream recognition and adoption beyond its original skateboarding roots, here are some possible directions envisioned for the future:
With skateboarding itself now in the Olympics, fingerboarding aims to follow. Could debut as an exhibition event within a decade.
Advanced electronics integration will enable new gesture-controlled tricks via sensors and connectivity. Virtual/augmented reality integration could also arise.
Beyond origination as a skate training tool, hand boarding skills could transfer to drone and other precision device operation capabilities.
As an engaging activity requiring fine motor skills and creativity, the hand boarding integrated increasingly into classrooms and child development.
Beyond current strongholds in the US and Asia, bigger opportunities exist to spread fingerboarding fever to untapped markets across Europe, Latin America, and Africa.
Traditionally male-dominated, but efforts are underway to get more girls into handboarding at a grassroots level.
If gender balance improves, could massively expand the community.
As audience scales, new models like paid streaming of competitions/videos, brand sponsorships, coaching classes, and remote tournaments can expand handboarding financially.
Handboarding has completed an impressive arc from an obscure hobby to a global phenomenon with professional athletes, brands, events, and subcultures.
While fundamental motivation remains to have fun and channel creativity, fingerboarding has proven itself as a serious skill-based activity that continues to progress technically and opens new possibilities.
The passionate and welcoming global community built around this miniature sport will ensure it keeps attracting newcomers across demographics and geographies for years to come.
As handboarding enters its next era, it’s exciting to imagine how far these finger-flipping phenoms can push the sport.