Ollie Rides Again

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It's a story that older Florida skaters know well and tell often. Guys who grew up spending Saturdays at Skateboard U.S.A. in Hollywood and Solid Surf in Fort Lauderdale aren't surprised to hear that 20 years ago, Gelfand and other Floridians forever altered skateboarding. But to the rest of the world and to many of Florida's newest generation of skateboarders, "ollie" is a trick, not a person.

In March 1999, the Dogtown story was the subject of a Spin magazine article, which inspired a widely acclaimed film documentary released last year called Dogtown and Z-Boys. Skateboarders all over the world lined up outside theaters to see the film. Now out on DVD, it's a home-theater mainstay, where skateboarders young and old gather to play and replay the scenes that show their heroes performing jaw-dropping tricks. In short, the Z-Boys are now codified in the casual history of skateboarding. But playing second fiddle to California, just as they did 20-some years ago, the Florida boys received scant mention in the film. Perhaps it's because they don't have a cool name like the Z-Boys and don't come from a run-down surf town. Hailing from Hollywood, Delray Beach, Gainesville, Jacksonville, Tampa, Kendall, Melbourne, and a few other Florida cities, these kids never had the skate-and-destroy, harbingers-of-disaster image popularized by the West Coast riders. Clean-cut kids with honor-roll grades, they tended to obey their parents and get their homework done. None of the top Florida riders spent time in jail, and most now boast successful, professional careers. Some, like Gelfand, still claim to have never so much as puffed a joint or sipped a beer. But charged by the success of the Dogtown film, these now-middle-aged skateboarding innovators have come back to the sport, a little older, a little softer, and often accompanied by their own teenage children. They say they want credit given where it is due.

"Those guys were really pushing things, and they were ahead of the curve," says Bruce Walker, who is considered one of the sport's early heroes. "In California, they were innovative, sure. At the same time, we weren't waiting around for them to introduce us to things."

On a recent Friday night at the 39-year-old Gelfand's new "Olliewood" ramp in Hollywood, the Cars' "Best Friend's Girl" blasts through the speakers of a boombox in the corner. Yet even at top volume, the song is scarcely audible over the hum of dozens of urethane wheels on Skatelite, a modern wood-based material used to build smooth skateboard ramps. Olliewood, the ramp, is nothing short of amazing. Forty-eight feet long and ten-and-a-half feet high, it covers an area roughly comparable to half of a basketball court and yawns up toward the concrete rafters of the warehouse space. Gelfand and a friend bought the warehouse solely to house the ramp, which was finished in early summer. He estimates that in all, they have about $250,000 invested in the space.

In clusters, skateboarders of various ages begin to arrive. With little hesitation or conversation, they mount the stairs that lead to a platform on top of the ramp. There are platforms on both sides, but the skaters all stand on the left side to take advantage of the fans there; the temperature inside the warehouse is in the 80s and climbing. One by one, they drop in, skating solo. At first, they move cautiously, dipping from one side back to the other, riding conservative crescents at rhythmic intervals, like pendulums. Soon they begin to break out their tricks, each skater silently pushing the next to try something harder. Handplants and aerials draw the most applause from the old-timers while the younger guys present, those under 30, cheer loudly for anyone trying a switch-stance run.

The crossover between surfing and skating is obvious. At Olliewood, the skaters carve like surfers, zagging horizontally across the ramp before breaking and descending. They ride up the steep vertical sides, then flatten their boards on the edge of the platform, letting the metal trucks grind against the metal coping before dropping back in to carve the ramp again. Close your eyes and the hum of the wheels on the ramp sounds just like the roar of the ocean. And, just like surfers, skaters stop a run only when they crash. For this, they wear kneepads, helmets, and wrist guards. Eventually a misplaced hand or a misjudged grind causes each rider to skid down the sides of the ramp on his knees; boards fly to the left, to the right, and toward the ceiling, sometimes smacking against the rafters before slamming back onto the ramp.

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Rebekah Gleaves