Hovering Over the Hoverboard

A neighborhood kid brought his new skate board over for me to see. As soon as he stepped off of this new board, I flipped it over to look at the graphics and noticed immediately that they were very familiar.

“It’s like in that movie,” the kid said. And I knew just what movie he was talking about: Back To The Future II. Even though this skateboard had axles and wheels, it was still a fairly close replica of the “hoverboard” which Marty McFly uses in the second Back To The Future to escape from Biff and his gang.


Now I hadn’t thought of the hoverboard in years (I just haven’t gotten around to watching my copy of the Back To The Future trilogy), but seeing that replica reminded me of the controversy it created in my circle of friends. We were all skaters at that time and so we were all very interested in the hoverboard. We all agreed it was cool. We couldn’t all agree, though, on whether it was real. One of my friends said it was real but was not being released in stores because parents were saying it was too dangerous. Another friend said that he had seen one of the movie producers on TV stating that it wasn’t real (this friend actually said that the producer had held up a hoverboard, said, “This is the hoverboard”, and then tossed it down as Marty does in the movie, only for it to fall flat on the ground). Personally, I was undecided; I wanted the hoverboard to be real (still do, actually), but I just had no way to decide it if was or wasn’t.

And that was just one of many such controversies we had in those days, controversies that I believe stemmed not from our ages as much as from the age. Today, kids can simply look such things up on the Internet; one quick check of snopes.com or Yahoo answers and they will know for sure. In those days, though, there was no Internet (at least, the popularly-accessible Internet), no video on demand, no Twitter. We couldn’t check anything anytime we wanted; we couldn’t easily watch the video over and over to investigate the hoverboard footage (it was out on VHS, of course, but that wasn’t nearly as accessible as DVDs and YouTube). We were instead dependent on periodically released media: movies, TV shows, magazines, things that you could easily miss and not be able to retrieve. In that informationally-deprived time, then, such controversies and many similar ones (such as whether or not people were really killed in Friday the 13th movies or if there was a secret movie in which Sylvester Stallone fights Arnold Schwarzenegger) could and did flourish.

And that really isn’t a bad as it sounds. Yeah, I do feel kind of foolish today when I consider the hours we spent debating this point (especially since I have just watched that scene on YouTube and found that the hoverboards were clearly a product of special effects and camera angles), but I also feel somewhat nostalgic. Those hours were fun, after all. And they were also innocent, innocent in a way I really miss today. I wouldn’t trade the Internet for anything; I would not want to be so informationally-deprived again. But I wouldn’t mind arguing about such things, such possibilities, for a little while; I wouldn’t mind hovering over these issues once again like we did back then.


Doug is a child of the 80s who was raised in Ohio and is now living the life of oblivion in the bay area of California.

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13 thoughts on “Hovering Over the Hoverboard

  1. Drahken says:

    Uh.. Were there actually a lot of kids over the age of 5 who thought hoverboards were real?? You don’t need the internet, just a little common sense. Setting aside the fact that antigravity was nowhere near a reality, and blades/turbines would have to be way too big, just think about context. The whole notion of the hoverboard in the movie is that it’s super-futuristic. If it were technologically available at the time, how could it be futuristic? Granted, I was about 13 when the movie came out, but still….

    Kinda reminds me of the nonsense about pop rocks & coke (I truly cannot believe the mythbusters actually put that to the test *facepalm*). That rumor went around when I was in 4th grade, even then I knew it was nonsense the instant I heard it. Not only that, I proved it. I scarfed down a pack of pop rocks & chugged a coke. Since I’m here typing this some 26 years later, obviously my stomach didn’t explode. The only thing dangerous about pop rocks is the horrible flavor. ;)

  2. I was sixteen when the movie was released, and I can vouch for Doug’s experience. Maybe it was because the special effects were done so well, but I remember a LOT of rumors floating around that hoverboards were real and were going to be released for Christmas that year. I even remember a local news piece (a fluff one I’m sure, but still) “investigating” the issue and debunking the myth.

    I think the point of Doug’s post, which I agree with, is that the world was a more magical place before the Internet. It was a time when you might hear rumors that you couldn’t simply verify via your phone while driving. Not only did I think “Mikey” from the Life cereal commercials had died, but I was sure there were alligators in the sewers and that, if I weren’t careful, any given day I could find myself waking up in a bathtub full of ice, missing (at least) a kidney.

  3. Rich Gott says:

    Real or True?

    I knew hoverboards weren’t real — but I also knew that if I was wrong, the one I bought wouldn’t have Mattel on the label.

    On the other hand, regarding Pop Rocks — dude, I knew those totally killed a kid.

    Taun Tauns — probably real, even though my Dad told me they weren’t.

    WWF — fake, fake, fake.

  4. I remember people talking about the hoverboards 100% convinced that they were real. I would ask them to explain how it is possible, but nothing could convince them otherwise. They heard it from a friend and or they read it in some magazine. This wasn’t just kids, adults were passing this bit around.

    Maybe this constant misinformation being repeated again and again is why the hoverboard seems to loom so large in people’s imaginations?

    The internet has changed very little in the world of false info just the method for spreading it and debunking it has gotten faster. I wish I could map how this info spread to see how and why it persisted.

  5. Drahken says:

    re “more magical before internet”: Well, maybe that’s true for some people, I don’t know. For me though, it definitely isn’t. Maybe I was always too cynical or something, but I never believed any of these rumors, even well before the net. The only ones that were even debatable were ones about someone being dead, and even those depended on the supposed manner of death. The one about the bond chick dying because of the gold paint now allowing her skin to breathe, for example, was clearly moronic.

    re pop rocks: It’s just not possible for your stomach to burst like that. The worst case scenario is that you’d puke. It would be theoretically possible to inhale your own vomit & die that way, but not by your stomach bursting. The only way there’d be any chance of something like that happening is if the kid had some pre-existing condition which was triggered or aggravated by the pop rocks, like if the kid swallowed a bunch of glass the day before & it cut 90% of the way through the wall of his stomach, leaving it too weak to handle the pressure of the gas.

  6. I guess if these urban legends like this didn’t exist Adam Savage would still be starring music videos instead of being the big TV star he is today.

    (is proud of self — references other post from the site made on same day)

  7. Couple of things to keep in mind: 1) I am almost as naive as a box of rocks. 2) I didn’t believe it the first time I heard it, but the more it was repeated, the more I began to wonder. 3) This was the time of the PMRC, so the narrative of a censoring mother’s group fit at the time. 4) It’s not really that I believed. It’s that I wanted to believe, and I still do. I still want to believe that somebody exploded from eating pop rocks and coke, that there are alligators in the sewer, and that hovers boards are real. I still want to believe (and am no longer able to) all those things that I believed as a kid. Believing those things (even when you didn’t really believe) was fun.

  8. It’s close to being real though. MattyCollector is scheduled to release a prop replica in November. Of course it won’t actually hover but it will be designed to glide over smooth surfaces and have sound effects.

  9. Atari Adventure Square says:

    The thing about urban legends, in my 70s childhood, is that they were fun to share.
    Though most of the stuff I heard tended to be more gross than intriguing. Thus I wasn’t a carrier of such tales.

    I imagine most of that storytelling pleasure carried on in the day-glo, texting-free, innocence of the 80s. Though I’ll admit, when I learned of this commercial demand for BTTF2 functional, yet top secret, hoverboards, I fully believed it was a PR stunt to boost interest in the series.

    Cuz of course, if hoverboard tech were readily available for small crafts, I’d be driving a landspeeder by now.

    And chasing jawas away by swinging said hoverboard madly about the place.

  10. Well said, Doug and Atari Adventure Square! For what it’s worth I’m still waiting for those self drying jackets and ‘jazz caps’. Retroist, I salute you for what you did there, sir. :)

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