How Skateboarding Works

Skateboard Tricks

A child executing an Ollie
A child executing an Ollie
Image courtesy Andre Maritz/Dreamstime

There's one skateboarding move that's foundational to tens of others, and the basis of literally hundreds of trick combinations in both street and vert skating: the Ollie, a simple jump that allows a skateboarder to gain air (as in vert skating), and hop over or onto obstacles while riding.

The Ollie is named after its inventor, Alan "Ollie" Gelfand, and discovered by pro skater Stacy Peralta while on tour in 1977. Peralta and his friends watched as Gelfland caught air off the lip of a bowl in utter amazement. They had never seen anything like it.

Gelfland developed the Ollie first in a vert setting, but later professionals, most notably Rodney Mullen, adapted the move and implemented it into freestyle and street skating.

To Ollie, a skateboarder kicks the tail of his board to the ground, or ramp, and leaps into the air. Leaving the front foot resting on the board as he jumps, he brings his rear foot up to the height of the other. The board pops up beneath him and catches up to his feet.

Let's take a look at a few other fundamental tricks and important skateboarding vocabulary:

  • Frontside - Frontside tricks occur when a skater faces the obstacle or ramp as he performs a trick.
  • Backside - Backside tricks are the opposite of frontside tricks. The occur when a skater's back, rather than her front, faces an obstacle or ramp while performing a trick
  • 180 - The 180 is a 180-degree turn of the skater's body with his board. It is preceded by an Ollie, usually while in motion on a ramp or concrete. They can be executed on ramps or in street skating. More advanced turns include the 360, the 540 and Tony Hawk's world-famous 900-degree turn.
  • Fakie - To ride "fakie," one remains in his preferred stance (goofy or regular) but moves backward. This is not, however, the same thing as riding "switch stance."
  • Switch stance - This simply means riding in the opposite stance of one's preference. Successfully performing tricks switch stance is extra impressive, just like a right-handed person skillfully writing or throwing a ball with the left hand would be.
  • Pop Shovit - Pop Shovits are a combination of the Ollie and the 180. But in this trick, the skater's body doesn't turn. Only the board beneath him turns one-hundred-eighty degrees.
A single-axle grind A single-axle grind
A single-axle grind
Image courtesy Mary Vogt/MorgueFile
  • Grind - Grinding happens when a skateboarder Ollies onto the edge of a curb, wall, bench or rail. But instead of landing on a part of the board or its wheels, the skateboarder purposefully lands on the wide part of the trucks between the two wheels. This causes the metal trucks to grind against the obstacle's surface. There are many different combinations of grinds, including one or both axles.
  • Boardslide - Slide tricks occur when the wooden part of the skateboard slides along another surface. Starting with an Ollie, the skateboarder allows the skateboard deck to land on the obstacle. Depending on what type of slide he wants to execute, he positions the board to match.
  • Kickflip - While in mid-air, the skater kicks the side of her board down with the front foot. The result is that the board spins on horizontal axis toward her. As the board finishes turning beneath, the skater places both feet on the deck.
  • Heelflip - Like a kickflip, performing a heelflip requires the skater to kick his heel outward. This causes the board to spin on a horizontal axis away from him. As the board finishes turning beneath, the skater places both feet on the deck.
  • Manual - Performing a manual is the equivalent of doing a wheelie on a bicycle. The skater pops up the nose or the tail and rides on one set of wheels alone for as long as possible.

In the next section, we'll examine the origins of skateboarding.