The ollie is one of the most important aspects of skateboarding, it controls your freedom, flow and ability to ride and move. Without it, you’re trapped, blocked and constricted. Having the knowledge and ability to ollie opens you up to the world and gives you total freedom of flow and movement.
I was ten when one of two other children in my neighborhood rode his crisp new board down the street to my house. He and I were determined to learn how to ollie no matter what it took.
At the time, the internet was nothing more than email and the dancing hamster page for anyone who had access, we had no idea skate videos existed, we had yet to come across the existence of skate shops, we didn’t even notice the skate mags in the magazine section of the grocery store or Sports Authority.
Our best guess at the ollie was… odd, but it worked… We assumed you have your back foot on the tail, makes sense so far, but our front foot, on the back bolts. Then we’d snap the tail and take our front foot off the board(along with our back foot) and kick our front foot against the nose of the board to level it out mid air under our feet. It worked about ninety percent of the time. We did this for about a month before an older kid, thirteen or fourteen at the time, named Mike, cut through a “secret” entrance to our neighborhood from his(nothing more than the side yards or two houses in his neighborhood and two in mine that had a small gap between hedges).
He rode his board down the hill in front of my house while I was skating alone one day. He looked at my Nash switch stance deck, the artificial grip, the raised bolts, yellow plastic trucks. He asked me to show him what I know. I showed him my version of an ollie. “Wait…” he stared with a skewed expression, “Do that again?” I pulled it again, feeling as if I went higher than the first, I looked at him with hope. “Are you taking your front foot off the board?!” I felt like a mouse, “…Yeah?” Without care he shook his head, “Nah, nah, slide your foot up the board, don’t take it off. Try what I said.” It was effortless, felt so much more natural than what I had been doing. I landed and looked at him in awe. He laughed and nodded, “Yeah, welcome to the world of skateboarding, have fun with it.” Then he rode off down the street.
The next day my friend rode down the street. I shouted with more excitement than I could contain, “Oh my god, I have to tell you!” We couldn’t stop. All we did were ollies, standing idle, giving one push.
For days my friend and I spent hours ollieing after school, only on flat, trying to measure the height, prove daily growth, he wasn’t as heavy into skateboarding as I was, I wanted more. My neighborhood didn’t have sidewalks, but some houses had cement walks leading to backyards or front doors, I tried ollieing off, ollieing up, it wasn’t working.
A few days go by and I hear the undeniable sound of a board rolling, I knew it had to be Mike. There he came, from around the corner bombing the hill in front of my house. I waved him down as he scraped his back foot against the ground to stop. With a breezy nod he grinned, “What’s up?” Frustrated and stifled I snipped, “I can’t figure out how to ollie when I’m riding.” He laughed and nodded at my board, “Let me see it.” I could see him mocking the product with his eyes. He glanced at the wheels and failed at making the filthy clay bearings spin, “You need a real board, that’s your problem.” Before I could ask anything he tells me, “And no, Sports Authority doesn’t have real boards, you want to go to a skate shop.” I stared in disbelief, “There are shops for just skateboarding?” He snickered and told me, “East of Maui, it’s in Bethesda. East of Maui skate shop. Get a real board, real everything, trucks, wheels, bearings. You can’t do anything with what you’re riding now.” I grinned from ear to ear, “My school is in Bethesda!” He smiled and while he rode away told me, “Check it out, if you can’t get to the shop, find a recent copy of Boy’s Life, there should be an ad for a mail order catalog called CCS somewhere in the back.” I stood there in the street, looking at my board, trying to stare at his as he rode away. I couldn’t just ask for a new board, I barely had this one more than a month, my parents wouldn’t go for it, not without a solid argument.
I remember sitting in my room, staring at the board, I started resenting it, resenting myself for going for such a cheap board, resenting Sports Authority for selling it, I told myself, if I just went for the more expensive board, I wouldn’t have this dilemma, I could be ollieing every which way, I wouldn’t have to have this conversation with my parents. Then I heard my mother shout, “Dinner time!” I had no argument, no nothing, I had done nothing more than sit and stare with hate for my situation.
I was quiet, don’t remember if I ate everything on my plate, but I probably struggled to if I did. I waited until my sister left the table and sheepishly asked my parents if I could talk to them about something. The only thing I could think to say was what Mike told me, “I can’t progress with the board I have. I need something more legitimate.” They asked the expected cost, I told them I didn’t know, but probably more than the eighty-something dollar setup at Sports Authority, opposed to my twenty-five dollar board. They told me they’d think about it.
The next morning they told me it was doable, within a certain price range, all I heard was, “doable.” I think the day after that, my mother took me from picking me up at school. My life as I knew it changed with that skate shop, the things I found out existed. Learning how to ollie was my key that opened the door everything skateboarding had to offer me in every way possible. Without the ollie, I wouldn’t have lived the life that I have.