Ollie: the trick that revolutionized skateboarding

June 5, 2020 | Skateboarding
Ollie: the trick that changed skateboarding forever | Photo: Shutterstock

The story of the ollie is the story of a trick that changed the sport of skateboarding forever.

The original ollie is the most important trick in skateboarding because it shifted the sport's paradigm from a mainly unidimensional outdoor activity to a multi-axis pastime.

The maneuver was invented by the American skateboarder Alan Gelfand and quickly enabled riders to evolve from horizontal to vertical and aerial performances.

Alan Gelfand was born in New York in 1963.

His family moved to Hollywood, Florida, when he was nine years old.

Gelfand started skateboarding in 1974, and a couple of years later, he was already winning the South Florida Skateboard Championships.

That was a time when skateparks were starting to pop all over the United States.

And he had just seen one getting built near where he lived. Its name was Skateboard USA.

Skateboard culture: the sport evolved dramatically the late 1970s | Photo: Shutterstock

Ollie, the Little Ripper

Alan was starting to show off his potential, and the local press took notice. By the time his nickname was Little Ripper.

Craig B. Snyder, a fellow Hollywood skater and photographer, was the first to capture Alan's talent and get his photo published.

And how did skateboarding's ultimate trick got its name?

Alan Gelfand had a nickname - Ollie. It was coined by his Hollywood skateboarder friend, Scott Goodman.

And when Goodman saw Alan accidentally perform an aerial lipslide, he called it an ollie pop.

"Skateboard USA was atypical of the first-generation skateparks," Alan Gelfand reveals in "The Skateboard The Good, the Rad, and the Gnarly An Illustrated History," a book by Marcus Ben.

"And its over-vertical sections of the park played a significant role in the development of the ollie."

Gelfand began experimenting with lip slides and then figured out a way to achieve a small amount of air when he popped his board during the lipslide maneuver.

When he managed to land the maneuver, Alan was genuinely defying the laws of gravity.

In the ollie, the skater performs an aerial without holding onto the board, keeping a harmonious relationship between his or her body, the skateboard, and the ground.

Olleing: the trick in which the skater presses the tail of the skateboard to lift the nose and then levels the board mid-air using the front foot | Photo: Shutterstock

A Simple Trick for Ollie, a Giant Leap for Skateboarding

The inventor of the ollie is humble about his contribution, though.

"I never realized how many people were affected by one little move an 80-pound kid from Hollywood, Florida, did in the under bowl at Skateboard USA way back in 1977," concluded Alan Gelfand.

A year passed before any other skater could perform the groundbreaking trick.

Nevertheless, as someone put it, the ollie soon became the single most important cornerstone of modern skateboarding.

It paved the way for more complex maneuvers like the invert aerial, the alley-oop frontside air, the Miller flip, the Elguerial, and many others.

But the truth is that the ollie dominated the skateboarding scene for decades and still represents the essence and the starting point for any newbie skater.

The trick in which the skateboarder kicks the tail of the board and makes it pop into the air is also known as no-hands aerial.

Therefore, for obvious reasons, the ollie could not have been created without the invention of the kicktail.

But skateboarding legend Stacy Peralta has no doubts about the importance of the ollie in the development of sidewalk surfing.

"The ollie is one of the very rare maneuvers in skateboarding that is both a trick and a technique, a technique with many applications," Peralta once said.

"The ollie is, without doubt, the most revolutionary trick of the 20th century."

"What is so interesting and ironic about the move is that it was invented by a young kid from Florida and not California, which back in the 1970s was rather profound as California was considered the center of the skateboarding world."

Skateboard's kicktail: a fundamental help in modern-day skateboarding | Photo: Shutterstock

From Florida to The Bones Brigade

Peralta witnessed the greatest skateboard trick for the first time in 1977.

He was on a tour of Florida skateparks for Gordon & Smith. At Fort Lauderdale, someone came up to him and said. "You've got to see this kid!"

"The kid had a little skateboard with the trucks set three inches from the back of the board," adds Stacy Peralta.

"There was hardly any tail, but he was able to get a small amount of leverage from the board and pop it. Somehow, skateboarding worked for him this way."

Stacy and Alan became friends.

When Stacy and George Powell founded Powell Peralta, Alan Gelfand was the first to join the company's team, eventually named The Bones Brigade.

"I brought Alan out to California, and he stopped by a practice at the Winchester Skatepark. He was doing ollies, and people were impressed," recalls Peralta.

"I told him, 'Go home and practice, so you can do this trick off a ramp.'"

The truth is that Alan returned to Florida and, within two weeks, he called Peralta with good news - he had finally pulled a two-foot ollie off a ramp.

Skater-photographer Jim Cassimus shot the accomplishment, and SkateBoarder Magazine did the rest. The trick had become a hit.

Thrasher Magazine, October 1982: Rodney Mullen perform's the world's first flatground ollie | Photo: Thrasher

The Trick that Opened Endless New Avenues

The importance of the ollie is immense.

Being able to make a skate get to the air using only the rider's feet opened avenues to innovation, creativity, and technicality.

"Skating might easily have petered out due to lack of progress if nobody had invented this trick," underlined skating legend, Rodney Mullen.

In 1982, Mullen performed the world's first flatground ollie at the Rusty Harris Series, in Whittier, California.

The iconic rider pressed the tail of the skateboard to lift the nose and then leveled the board mid-air using the front foot.

Skateboarding's ultimate trick later allowed Tony Hawk to perform higher airs by grabbing the board and was also ported to snowboarding's bag of tricks.

The Guinness World Record for the highest ollie belongs to Aldrin Garcia.

On February 15, 2011, the American skater popped his board 45 inches (114.3 centimeters) high at the Maloof High Ollie Challenge in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Today, there are over 15 ollie variations. The most popular are the nollie (nose ollie), the switch ollie, the half-can, the pop-shuvit, and the fakie ollie.

Last but not least, when on December 17, 1989, "The Simpsons" aired on Fox, skateboarding took its last leap into mainstream culture.

The animated sitcom's title sequence created by Matt Groening showed ollieing down the steps of his high school, riding his skate home, and performing one last no-hands air off Homer's car.

The stage was set. The ollie had conquered the world.

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