Ollie Rides Again

Page 4 of 7

After graduating from college in 1973, Walker opened a second Fox store two and half hours north, in Melbourne Beach, and moved himself there, where the more accommodating waves sated his surfer side. "I can be just as much of a skateboarder up here, but it's a little easier to surf here," Walker says. (He's been just as influential in the surfing world as in skateboarding. In the late 1980s, Walker signed a very young Cocoa Beach resident named Kelly Slater to his surfing team and coached Slater all the way to surfing superstardom.) In 1978, Walker decided to buy out his partner and change the name of his company to Ocean Avenue Surfboards and Walker Skateboards. It was about this time that little "Ollie" Gelfand realized that with some fancy footwork, he could defy gravity.

In the summer of 1977, Stacy Peralta was on a skate tour of the East Coast that included a stop in South Florida. He checked in at Solid Surf, a now-closed skate park two miles east of I-95 on Oakland Park Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale known for it's nearly unridable pools and bad transitions. An hour into his session, another skater yelled that Peralta should go check out the tricks a local kid was doing. Peralta skated over and, as he writes on Gelfand's www.ollieair.com website, "Standing alone atop the three-foot cement bowl was a small Jewish kid skating in long pants." Peralta watched as Gelfand dropped into the bowl, and when he reached the top of the other side, "his board suddenly popped off the cement lip, lifted off the ground, and in mid-air switched 180 degrees and then landed... I was dumbfounded. It happened so fast. I wasn't sure what I'd just seen and thought for a moment that it was some kind of an illusion." Gelfand performed the trick again for Peralta. "When he reached the top of the bowl he used his back foot to horse-kick his tail, this act shot the tail of his board, almost crashing it into the concrete lip. It seemed the harder he kicked it, the higher his board would pop, or 'ollie.' I was amazed. I'd never seen anything like that before, and he did it so fast and effortlessly," writes Peralta.

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.

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.

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Rebekah Gleaves