Ollie Rides Again

The man who changed skateboarding forever skates in Hollywood -- Florida, not California

How did Gelfand come up with this radical new maneuver? "Our skate parks were so horrible back then, so kinky and oververtical, that I kind of did an ollie by accident," Gelfand says. "That's how we learned to do it, here in the skate parks of Florida." At the Skateboard U.S.A. skate park, which was once located north of Sheridan Street near I-95, Gelfand discovered that the kinks in the ramps forced him to pop the board, suck his legs in a little, then pump them back out. This caused the board to float parallel to the ground. A physics professor would likely have an explanation for why, but skater Weir simply says, "It's like magic."

More than just magic, it's the trick upon which all other skateboard tricks are now based -- the arithmetic of the skating world. Young skaters "ollie-up" to more advanced techniques. "The ollie changed skateboarding, and still every trick starts out as an ollie," says Grant Brittain, photo editor and senior photographer for Transworld Skateboarding magazine. "[Gelfand] changed the direction of skateboarding. But young kids now think an ollie-pop is a bubble gum."

By the time he first witnessed the ollie, Peralta had mostly bowed out of skateboarding himself, preferring the business side of the sport. He teamed up with George Powell, creating Powell Peralta, which would become the largest and most successful skateboard company of the era. Powell Peralta also boasted the hottest skateboard team around; teenagers everywhere dreamed of joining this crew. After seeing Gelfand execute the ollie, Peralta offered him a position on the team.

Robbie Weir (top left) and Alan Gelfand (other pictures) practice making funny faces at the Olliewood ramp
Colby Katz
Robbie Weir (top left) and Alan Gelfand (other pictures) practice making funny faces at the Olliewood ramp

Soon Gelfand was making regular trips to California and performing at and winning skateboarding contests all over the world. "In 1978, I went to California and it took months before anybody even figured out how to do an ollie," Gelfand says. "I used to get my shoes stolen all the time at contests. They'd take them to look for hooks or magnets or Velcro. They couldn't figure out how I stayed with the board." On that California trip, Gelfand took 14-year-old McGill along, after the two lied to McGill's parents, saying they'd be staying with Gelfand's uncle. "We actually just stayed with people we met when we were out there. But we got my brother to pretend to be my uncle and call Mike's parents," Gelfand recalls. By 1979, Powell Peralta had its core riders in place, forming an unparalleled, star-studded skate team that included Ray "Bones" Rodriguez, Steve Caballero, Alan Gelfand, and Mike McGill. The team became known as the Bones Brigade. Meanwhile, back at home, Gelfand and McGill had inspired a generation of Florida skaters to hone their skills.

"A lot of guys on the East Coast never got recognized," says McGill, who went on to invent "the McTwist," a 540-degree aerial spin. "People in California were always blown away when they'd see guys like us skate. In Florida, we'd travel hundreds of miles just to skate a ramp. We were just hungrier."

Because of the attitude and abilities of Florida skaters, Peralta was soon making regular recruiting trips here. "I was out back riding my ramp one day, and my mother -- she's Scottish -- she comes out with her Scottish accent, and she's like, 'Robbie, there's a phone call for you from California,'" Weir says. "So I go, 'Who is it?' and she goes, 'Some guy by the name of Stacy Peralta.' I almost had a heart attack." Weir says he listened as Peralta told him that Gelfand and McGill had suggested that he would be a good addition to the team. "He said, 'So whaddaya think?'" But Weir was already riding for Bruce Walker, so he told Peralta that he couldn't give him an answer right away.

It was a scenario that would repeat itself as the years passed. Walker would spot and sign talent and fly them out to competitions in California. Then, as their popularity increased, Peralta would sign them away. "You could be a rare talent here," Walker says, "but if you stayed in Florida, you'd be the rare talent that no one ever heard of." The industry, the magazines, and the contests were all in California, and scouts were reluctant to look for rising stars on the East Coast. "Guys that didn't leave Florida just evaporated," says Transworld's Brittain. "To stay in the industry, go to the contests, be in the magazines, you had to be in California."

At the same time, Walker's riders found their loyalties torn. On Walker's team, many of them had found a family, and in Walker they found, depending upon their age, either a father or a big brother. "I had a lot more team loyalty than other companies did," Walker says. "A lot of those teams had people constantly coming and going. I retained most of my team." Walker is now legendary in the industry for the extra attention he paid to his riders. Unlike members of other teams, Walker's riders could count on him to be present at all of their contests, coaching. They also knew that if they found themselves trapped in a losing streak, Walker wasn't likely to dump them. Robbie Weir was eventually taken back onto Walker's team after he was dropped from Powell Peralta.

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