Ever wonder how the idea of skateboarding got started? Well back in the 1950's, surfers were looking for something to do after surfing. So, they took to the streets and using the ideas behind their surfboards, they brought the sport out of the water and on onto pavement.

The first skateboards were nothing more than boxes or planks of wood on roller skate wheels. It wasn't until the 70's, though, that the current polyurethane (plastic) wheels were manufactured. This changed the sport entirely.

It would have been pretty hard to get enough speed with old-school clay wheels to do Tony Hawk's 720 (2 x 360o spin in the air), but with the new plastic wheels, skateboarders could now go faster and harder, and riders could actually begin developing tricks. Start adding ramps into the picture, like the insides of empty pools, and it soon became even easier to pick up speed and air time needed for gravity defying stunts like "the Ollie".

Did you know? New materials for skateboard wheels and ramps allow skateboarders to achieve the speed and height needed for more advanced tricks.

Whether you take a jump onto a railing or flip off a ramp into mid-air, when you land with the board wheels-down under your feet, you're probably stoked to have landed such a sweet jump. But although you may have all the skills to pull off that perfect jump, there's actually something that's been helping you out all along: Physics.

Let's talk a little bit about the Ollie since it's a pretty standard -but really cool- trick. The Ollie was invented by Alan "Ollie" Gelfand to jump over objects like curbs. This trick requires a number of things to be pulled off successfully:

You...and your centre of gravity - The closer to the ground you can get, the more explosive the upward force when you push off the back of the board Lots of speed - You need this kinetic energy to gain height (potential energy) in your jump Forces — The 3 main forces are:

  1. force of rider on skateboard,
  2. force of gravity on the skateboard (in general, what goes up must come down)
  3. force of the ground on the skateboard
Rotation is also important — I.e., rotation around the axis of the truck, where the wheels are attached.

Alright, just how does one do the Ollie?

First the skater crouches low to the board. Then, using the rear foot, the skater pushes down hard on the back of the skateboard. Since the force by the front foot is less, this causes the front of the skateboard to kick up. The back of the board then hits the ground, and the board pivots around the axis of the wheels.

Remember that one of the other forces is the force of the ground on the skateboard? Well, when the back of the board hits the ground, the ground then exerts an upward force on the board, causing the board to leave the ground. The board then begins to rotate in the other direction around its centre of mass, creating a mid-air rotation of the board.

Next, the skater slides the front foot towards the front of the board, which helps to increase the height of the board, and then uses that foot to push down on the front of the board. At the same time, the down-force by the front foot on the board causes the back to rise and the rider lifts the rear foot, creating that "feet-are-magically-stuck-to-the-board" appearance (see picture). This eventually results in the board leveling out with the ground.

Then the inevitable happens: gravity starts to take over bringing the board back towards the ground so that the rider completes the move.

While each trick might look difficult to the beginner, once you break it down and understand each of the physical elements (such as force and rotation), anyone can control these elements and perform the tricks with practice, determination and a bit of guts!

Just remember, when you go faster, you hit the ground harder, so make sure you cover your head with a helmet. If it's good enough for Tony Hawk, it's good enough for you! Now get out there and carve it up!

Learn More!

Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001)-documentary

Skateboarding Is Not A Crime: 50 Years Of Street Culture (Paperback) by James Davis

Skateboarding Links:

If you are after more information about tricks or the skateboarding culture, check out:


To see the Ollie in action, check out this video link:


All Skateboarders - a forum for the serious boarders

An Australian native, Jodie currently works as a Cancer Biologist in Vancouver. Her main sport is long distance triathlon but she has recently been getting into rock climbing. She also loves her skateboard!


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