For Go Skateboarding Day this year, I reposted a blog on why “International No-ollie Day” should be the next big skate holiday. When I put it up on the PBD facebook page, I was surprised by the number of people who commented that the ollie is no longer part of their repertoire. Some were brash about it, others wistful. Either way, as an aged skater who recently reacquired a fair portion of his pop, I felt duty bound to share some tips on how you can get your ollie back. If I can do it, anyone can.
Around 2004 I basically stopped skating street. For the next 5 years I was pretty much skating bowls exclusively. From 2009 through 2011 I was lucky to get on my board once every couple months. In 2012, when I started re-discovering roots street skating in the parking lots and abandoned strip malls of my neighborhood, my ollie was all but gone. A little less than a year later I was popping high enough to clear a medium sized traffic cone, and far enough to clear the euro at Marsh Creek skatepark. Here’s a few insights on how a nobody like me, a mediocre skater even during his best years, who only had about 3-4 hours of skate time total a week got his ollie back.
Re-Learning is hard, but it isn’t nearly as hard as learning the first time.
If your ollie is gone, looking back and thinking about how much sweat and repetition it took you to learn it the first time can break your spirit. The truth is, getting it back, even after years, probably won’t be near as hard as learning it the first time. Sure, you will spend lots of time barely clearing the ground and feeling like you are getting nowhere, but even if it has been decades since you popped a manhole cover, you are not starting form scratch. A lot of the mental work is done and stays with you. The trial and error of the first time will be eliminated, and all you will have to do is re-train your body and your reflexes. Doesn’t sound like much of a leg-up, but it is. Trust me.
Get a board with a big, chunky tail
Nothing gives straight vertical pop like the modern popsicle shape, the problem is, popsicles have a “sweet spot” you have to hit just right a to get that perfect pop. That's because those rounded tails are designed for flip tricks, which means they are intentionally unstable. To get a decent pop on a popsicle, you have to be more precise and more delicate in just how you pop that tail, and if you are off a little bit in your foot placement or too forceful, your board is going to flip out or lurch sideways, or even, worse, your tail will not make contact at all, resulting in an awkward “ghost pop”. With the popsicle it’s all in the reflexes, and you aren’t going to have them. That's why an ugly shovel tail is the right choice to get your ollie back. A longer, more squared tail is going to make contact easier, and when it does, it will want to pop straight forward, you will have to try real hard to get it to turn or flip sideways. Also, with all that surface area for contact, you will be channeling most of your power through the tail and to the ground, even when your foot placement is off. With a chunky tail you don't have to be so delicate in judging how much power you put down. On a tank, you know you can get away with just hammering it down sometimes, and even when you don’t get the power you need, you are going to make some contact. A monster tail is going to work better with bigger wheels, and give you a more horizontal arc in your ollie, which is better for flowing over the manholes and up the sidewalks you will be tackling at first to get your pop back.
That nose is for more than noseslides
If you are a skater of advanced age like myself, you probably first learned to ollie on a vert shape with only an inch or two of lumber beyond the front trucks. This means you learned to stop that crucial front foot slide at the front mounting bolts. Modern concaves and shapes, however, are designed to boost your ollie by allowing you to slide past the trucks and catch your foot on the kick at the nose. Whereas the front foot action of the early days was a slide followed by a sort of push or stomp down at the truck, ollieing on a modern board should be more of a smooth slide past the bolts, with a rock back once the deck is level. It’s That slide past the trucks and into the nose that gives modern skaters that distinctive downward tweak that pops the rear truck straight up into the compressed back leg, resulting in a massive, vertical pop. That old school street shape may seem like fun, but if it doesn't have a nose, you are going to be ollieing with your hands tied, so to speak. The modern ollie technique is also a reason to think about dropping your wheelbase. The closer your front foot is to the front trucks, the easier it is going to be to slide past the bolts and catch that sweet spot. Of course, finding a shape with a squared tail, a healthy nose, and a smaller wheelbase is tough, but they are out there.
Less Jump, More Bounce
Another habit skaters who learned to ollie in the pre-popsicle era pick up is the tendency to stomp on the tail with all their might and jump up in the air as hard as they can when they ollie. When boards averaged ten inches in width, had primitive concave designs, and weighed about a hundred pounds, this was the only way to give the finger to gravity, but modern boards, even the chunky-tailed ones I’m suggesting are much more refined and much better at channeling the power in your pop. For a good controlled pop, you need to think less like pounding a jackhammer and more like dribbling a basketball. If you slam a basketball into the hardwood with all your might when you dribble, the ball is going to either smack you in the face or fly out of your hands. A skateboard is the same way, you want a controlled bounce off the pavement, and that back foot action is more like a knee bend than a jump. Bounce the tail and let the returned energy suck that rear truck right up as your knee bends in a smooth compression. Sure, having a board with a squared tail is going to make this a little less fiddly, but managing your power and bending instead of jumping is what is really going to get you off the ground and over stuff taller than a parking block.
Get The hell out of the skatepark
The modern skatepark is about the worst place to try to learn to ollie, even if you don't factor in how self-conscious you’ll be flubbing tiny pops while ten year olds are vaulting euros and pyramids left and right. Getting your ollie back, requires focus and repetition. Two things that the modern skatepark scene is not designed for. With the distractions of avoiding other skaters lines, and worrying how much flat you have before you run into a quarter or flat bar, getting the right timing and balance for a proper pop is going to be just one of a dozen things bouncing around in your skull. If you have to think about anything other than popping that board off the ground, you are not going to get it. On top of that, If you are lucky enough to get your own corner of the park to concentrate in, after about 5 minutes of awkward popping, that bowl a few yards over is going to start calling to you… beckoning you to take solace in the same old lines you’ve always done. That’s hard to resist. One of the best pieces of advice I can give, then, is to get out to places where popping ollies is just about the only thing to do on your board…. the empty parking lots and tennis courts…places where you have just enough room to roll around, but not enough space to spend hours soul carving all over the place. Remember: Focus and necessity are the friends of perseverance, and perseverance is even more important than perfect reflexes or massive leg muscles. And on that note...
A few minutes here and there really add up
More than physical failings, more than lack of terrain, it is the lack of time that will be the biggest obstruction to getting your ollie back. On the other hand, if you are focusing on just ollieing, you can pack a lot of practice into 15 minutes in front of your house. Sure, you may only be able to get a real session in once a week, but getting 15 minutes to pop around everyday between work and dinner or after the kids are in bed is easy. Those 15 minutes of “fooling around” here and there add up quick. You can practice anywhere you have a few yards of pavement too. A paved driveway is perfect. If your neighborhood streets are janky, get hold of some nice, cored all-terrain wheels. The best ones will pop almost as good as hard urethane. I got my ollie back rolling on Spitfire 80a speedies. Wherever you are, If you can grab ten minutes here and ten minutes there to just pop around, do it! Don’t hesitate. It will all add up. Believe me.
Make sure you have things to ollie over and onto
It's a skateboarding truism that you can always ollie higher and farther than you think. Once you get to the point where you can get all four wheels off the ground, even if just barely, you need to step up to going over things. Throw a stick on the pavement, or barge the painted lines in a parking lot. Better yet, find a sidewalk you can try to pop up. Start by doing axle stalls onto the curb to get a feel, then up and over once you got the timing down. Going to board is also a good way to gauge whether not you are ready to pop onto taller things and and a good way to get a taste of how it will feel to get on top. It's amazing how little pop you need to lever yourself onto a sidewalk or even a bench when you are rolling away on top of it instead of going over it. Once you start floating up onto sidewalks and over manholes, get yourself a traffic cone, the ultimate ollie trainer. Tip it on it’s side, start at the short end, work your way up until you can get over the base. Then get real rad and stand it up and go for it. Cardboard boxes are great too because they usually have two dimensions you can set them up on, one for height, one for width, and if you don’t clear it, you’ll get away without hanging up and slamming, No matter what you are trying to ollie over, start barging things early on, no matter how humble, and you'll progress faster. I guarantee you will surprise yourself.
A little bit of pop opens up the streets
Watching videos or the best guys at the local park can be discouraging. When you are sweating and breaking yourself off to just get off the ground, you will feel that the giant vertical pop of the local park rats is basically impossible. You are probably right, but that is not the point. Even a small ollie creates exponential possibilities on your board. That is what you should be thinking about every time your board flies out or you fall on your ass. Even if you will never be able to vault over a trashcan again, if you can get just a 4 or 5 inches off the ground, you will be able to lever yourself into a boardslide on a bench or average skatepark ledge. It Takes even less height to pop into a 50-50 on a curb, and if you can do that, you will have a lifetime of variations to try without ever leaving a parking lot. If you are inclined to ollieng off things, even a tiny ollie will be enough to get you down four stairs. Beyond that, if you can manage a knee-high pop, most of the world's ledges will be yours to grind, and you'll never run out of things to pop over. Maybe you will never get much higher than a curb, but popping up sidewalks and floating over manhole covers can sustain some skaters for eternity.
The Ollie is not a requirement. It’s not a test you have to pass. It’s a skeleton key that opens a million doors. That is what you need to remember when take your first, clumsy pop, and why all the effort will be worth it, even if a curb is the tallest thing you can tackle.