In 1976, skateboarder Alan “Ollie” Gelfand began performing hands-free aerial stunts with his skateboard. While doing tricks in empty swimming pools and custom-made skateboarding bowls, he would gently raise the nose of his skateboard and, with a scooping motion, take to the air, keeping the board at his feet the whole time.

Little did he realize that he had invented the “ollie,” which would become one of the most well-known skateboarding tricks ever. A few years later, Rodney Mullen would take the ollie to the next level.

Using a see-saw motion, Mullen struck the rear of the skateboard on the ground to lift the nose and used his front foot to level the board. The result? An ollie performed on flat ground.

The ollie transformed the sport of skateboarding. Today, the ollie is a skateboarding fundamental.

It’s often one of the very first tricks a skateboarder learns since so many other advanced tricks depend on the ability to ollie. Be warned, though: It can take a lot of practice to master the ollie!

The ollie is basically a jumping technique that skateboarders use to leap onto, over or off of obstacles. Skateboarders also often ollie over unfriendly gaps, like grass or stairs.

To those unfamiliar with skateboarding, the ollie looks like magic. Especially on flat ground, it’s unclear to the naked eye exactly how the ollie works.

The skateboard seems to stick to the boarder’s feet in mid-air, yet the boarder isn’t using hands to hold it. How does this work?

The science of physics explains the ollie. As it turns out, it’s all about manipulating the various forces involved in skateboarding.

When riding a skateboard, there are three forces at work on the board. The weight of the rider and the effect of gravity on the board itself both push downward.

Counteracting these forces is the force of the ground pushing up on the board. These forces balance each other, keeping the skateboard rolling along at a steady speed.

To do an ollie, the skateboarder crouches and then jumps upward quickly, raising the arms. While jumping, the boarder “pops” the rear — called the “tail” — of the skateboard by striking it against the ground. This action raises the front of the board.

When the tail of the board hits the ground, the ground exerts a powerful upward force. This causes the entire board to bounce and begin lifting up into the air.

As the board begins to rise, the boarder slides the front foot forward. The friction between the front foot and the board drags the board upward even farther.

The boarder then begins to push the front foot down while gently lifting the rear foot, leveling the board until the tail is even with the front of the board. This also helps to keep the tail in contact with the rear foot.

When the board is level at its maximum height, it — with its rider — will begin to fall due to gravity. As the board makes contact with the ground again, the boarder must bend the legs to absorb the impact of the landing.

It may look easy when you see it, but keep in mind that this all happens in a fraction of a second. With a lot of practice, skateboarders can ollie to even greater heights by learning to jump higher, pop the tail faster, slide the front foot farther forward and raise the legs even higher.

In case you’re wondering exactly how high some skateboarders can ollie, the world records for different types of ollies usually exceed 40 inches, which is over 3 feet in the air! Rob Dyrdek holds the world record for the most consecutive ollies at 215.

 

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  1. I can not believe that this was the wonder of the day today. This afternoon I was outside trying to do some tricks on my skateboard. When me and my dad read this wonder of the day we started to say what a coincidence.

  2. Thank you for telling me how to do an ollie. You guys are the best! I’m going to get a skateboard soon, so I’m going to try. Bye!

    • We’re glad you’re going to get a skateboard soon, Wonder Friend! They are super fun to ride (with a helmet and pads for safety, of course!)! We know you will be GREAT at doing an ollie and any other tricks you learn! Thank you for leaving us a comment today! :-)

  3. Dear Wonderopolis,
    Skateboarding is so awesome! If you guys have a skateboard, try a 360 turnaround triple axle! You flip in the air and land on your skateboard, then do a 360! Tommorow’s wonder will be what is your favorite holiday cookie.
    From the most awesomest, most radical girl in the world, SARAH

    • That sounds like a pretty tricky skateboard move, Sarah! How awesome that you can do it! Way to go! Thank you for visiting this Wonder of the Day® and leaving us a comment! :-)

    • That’s really AWESOME, Kaley! We’re super proud of you! Thank you for sharing your personal connection to this Wonder of the Day®! :-)

    • WOW! Those are some cool names for skateboard tricks, Dilan! We bet you are GREAT at all of them! Thanks for visiting Wonderopolis today and sharing your comment with us! :-)

    • Thanks for sharing what you think about how to Ollie, Morgan! We appreciate hearing from our AWESOME Wonder Friends like you! :-)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • How do you ollie?
  • Which two skateboarders invented the ollie?
  • What forces are at work in an ollie?

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Try It Out

It’s time to bust out your board and start learning some new tricks! Even if you don’t have a skateboard, you can still have fun watching these videos of skateboarding tricks.

Don’t forget to wear a helmet along with elbow and knee pads. If you master one or more of these tricks, make a video, upload it to a video site like YouTube or Vimeo, and email us the link. We’d love to see you shred!

 

Still Wondering

In Science NetLinks’ Ramps 1: Let It Roll! lesson, children will explore ramps, discuss why different ramps work better than others and practice procedures for testing designs and recording results.

 

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