Tunnel, also known as Tunnel Products or Tunnel Skateboards, was founded in 1975 by California surfer Mitch Haake. Mitch grew up in San Francisco and his love for skateboarding started when he made his own skateboard with metal wheels nailed to a 2 by 4. Next up came a stint in Ensenada, Mexico, where Mitch lived out of his VW bus. Unable to find a decent surfboard, Mitch shaped his own and was soon making high-quality surfboards for friends.
In 1975, Mitch moved back to California and opened a store where he sold surfboards and T-shirts. That summer, California was hit by a drought, and the result was a perfect world for skateboarders, who were always looking for concrete spillways, empty pools, pipes and tunnels. Skateboarding exploded and Mitch started making skateboard decks and wheels, and when word got out about his great products, he struggled to keep them in stock. Mitch named his new company Tunnel, and the name Tunnel soon became synonymous with quality products and a cool sense of style.
Mitch teamed up with surfer Michael McCreary. Michael was also one of the top Tunnel downhill and slalom racers and was known for adding lead weights to his board in an attempt to increase his speed at the infamous Signal Hill Speed Run.
Tunnel specialized in wheels, and its’ first wheel was a center set urethane wheel with a shock-absorbing lip on both sides. It was a true innovation in the world of skateboarding. Tunnel wheels performed great in contests, even carrying the world’s fastest woman skateboarder into The Guinness Book of World Records. In conversation, skateboarders usually followed the word “Tunnel” with “wheels.”
In 1976, Mitch created the Tunnel Rock, among the most famous wheels ever produced for skateboarding. The Tunnel Rock was the hardest urethane wheel and super fast, and it changed skateboarding forever. The Tunnel Rocks brought the Tunnel name down to Dogtown via Ray Flores and Rodd Saunders, two Tunnel skaters also linked to the legendary Santa Monica spots.
Mitch also created Team Tunnel, one of the greatest skateboarding teams of the ‘70s, and the team’s skaters soon found themselves on the cover of SkateBoarder Magazine. Among others, Northern California was represented by Kevin Thatcher, the Buck Brothers, Rick Blackhart and Steve “Del*13” Weston, while Southern California added Waldo Autry, Gregg Ayres, Doug Schneider, Salba and Malba, Wally Inouye, Chris Strople, Chris Chaput, Steve Rocco, and more great skateboarders.
Not only did Mitch create Tunnel, he owned 6 skateboard shops throughout California. The first, Mitchell’s 41st Avenue Skateboards, was located in San Mateo, and there was a Mitchell’s Skateboards on Pier 39 in San Francisco. Distribution center Tunnel South, in Garden Grove, was run by Mitch’s brother Jim Drake and Leslie Jo Ritzma, and helped spread the Tunnel name in Southern California.