Longform

Ollie Rides Again

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"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.

In the early 1980s, just as a young kid from Gainesville named Rodney Mullen was turning heads skating for Walker, skateboarding hit a second bust. The newness of the sport's late-'70s innovations had worn off, and nothing had come along yet to reinvigorate skaters. Facing injuries and -- now being old enough to drive -- distractions, Gelfand dropped out of the sport completely in 1981. "If he had stayed longer and ridden out that five-year storm, he could have been a champion skater all the way through the '90s," says Michael Brooke, author of The Concrete Wave, a book on the history of skateboarding. But Gelfand, enthralled with his driver's license and his new Volkswagen Scirocco, bought with money he earned skateboarding, turned his attention to autocross, racing the Scirocco in the Florida state autocross championship in 1982. Then in 1983, a friend turned him on to go-cart racing; Gelfand won the Florida state go-cart championship that same year.

Meanwhile, deep in a recession, skate teams everywhere, including Walker's, began slashing budgets. Most skate parks closed in the early '80s, and the sport went underground, taking Mullen with it. In that economic climate, it was no longer feasible for Walker to fly skaters out to competitions in California. He had to downsize his manufacturing operations for his company to survive. "I knew that I couldn't afford to do for Rodney [Mullen] what [Powell Peralta] could do for him," Walker says. "So just like you would with your own child, you want to set up the best circumstances for them." Mullen had won over 30 first-place victories in three years' time and was already considered one of the world's top skaters in 1980, even before he turned pro. A dentist's kid whose father made him wear so much protective gear that his skate friends called him "the human pad," Mullen was a straight-A student who many today still consider to be the greatest technical skater ever. Called "the King of Freestyle" in Brooke's book, Mullen took Gelfand's ollie to the ground, creating more tricks than anyone cares to, or can, name.



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Rebekah Gleaves