Is the hoverboard just over the horizon? Not quite. But you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise!

You can’t open a newspaper, turn on the radio, or bathe in the ones and zeroes of the internet without getting inundated with promises that the world of hoverboards is upon us. So where in the kickflipping heck is my goshdarn hoverboard?

Last year, it was a crowdfunding campaign for the Hendo hoverboard that got everyone excited. Tony Hawk even tried it out! And the internet went nuts! The only catch? It was incredibly loud, impossible to steer, and had a battery life of just a few minutes. Oh, and it only worked on special surfaces. Not quite the hoverboards that were promised in the 1980s.

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Just last week Lexus released a teaser video for a hoverboard that looks like it’s supposed to work on concrete — at least if you read way too much into their short, ambiguous marketing materials. Yes, as much as we hope that the Lexus board is real, we’re prepared to be disappointed. We’ve been down this road before and there are always half a dozen caveats to the arrival of this hovering technology.

So where did all this hoverboard hype come from? The dream of hovering has existed in various forms since the turn of the 20th century. And in the 1950s, the hovercar was a surprisingly popular (if terribly impractical) vision for the future. But the modern fascination with hoverboards can be definitively traced back to one movie from 1989: Back to the Future Part II starring Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly and Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown.

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The film took viewers 30 years into the future, to that far-off destination of the year 2015. There were holographic movies, enormous videophones, and yes, hoverboards. And even though the film was panned as vastly inferior to the original, we didn’t care. Gen Xers and Millennials felt like we had a piece of future hardware that was uniquely for us.

Sure, our parents had the flying car and the jetpack (and we wanted those too!) but the hoverboard was finally something that seemed like a techno-utopian vision of our own — a vision that had enough of a spin on old ideas that we could conceivably see ourselves in this weird future. But sadly, if you believe people like Neil deGrasse Tyson, we’re going to be waiting for quite a while. Building the future is hard, and we’re certainly not the first generation to learn that lesson.

You can listen to my conversation with Ben Johnson from Marketplace Tech about the future and retro-future of hoverboards in the link below.

Gif by Andrew Liszewski from a Lexus teaser video