How Do Kids Jump Over Things On Their Skateboards?

An ollie, is named after its inventor, Allen Ollie Gelfand. Gelfand was one of a number of southern California surfers in the late 1950s who just couldn’t wait for good surf to come up and decided to surf the sidewalks. That’s what started the skateboard craze.

An ollie is a jump into the air without the loss of one’s skateboard. It does indeed look as if the board simply follows the feet, as if in a magician’s levitation trick, and a good skateboarder does it so fast that you don’t see how it’s done. It depends on the fact that a skateboard isn’t just a flat board on wheels, it has a bent-up tail at the rear end, and that’s the secret to how it gets launched upward.

Learning to do tricks on skateboards takes lots of practice, not to mention antiseptics, bandages and splints. The following description may sound logical but is not intended to be a lesson.

Here’s how a skateboarder does an ollie.

As he approaches an obstacle that he wants to jump over, the skateboarder places one foot in the middle of the board and the other one at the tip of the tail. He then stomps hard on the tail with his rear foot, which makes the tail hit the ground and the front end of the board (the nose) flip up like the opposite end of a seesaw. Simultaneously, and timing is critical, he jumps upward, hopefully high enough to clear the obstacle. As he becomes airborne, the board’s nose will still be pressing upward against his front foot with momentum that it received from the tail-stomp. He quickly slides his front foot forward to push the board’s nose down level with the tail. He is now in midair on a level skateboard, sailing, again hopefully, with enough forward momentum to clear the far end of the obstacle (which, of course, requires that he had enough forward speed when he began the jump). Finally, as gravity begins to win out, he and the board fall together, with his feet still in contact with the board.

The important thing for the skateboarder to realize is that he can go no higher than he could by jumping straight up from a standing position. The amount of vertical travel he achieves is completely independent of any forward travel, because gravity doesn’t know or care about any motion parallel to Earth’s surface; it cares only about how far he is from Earth’s center and whether it can pull him down any closer.

So if a skateboarder wants to sail over a picnic table, he must first make sure that he can jump straight up and onto the table before he tries it with a skateboard under him. And the board does add to the height that he must jump in order for it to clear the table along with him.

Note that the skateboarder and his board received their upward flight energies from two different sources: he from his leg-powered jump and the board from the tail-kick he gave it, which shot the nose into the air. (In fact, even without anyone on it, a skateboard on the ground would leap into the air when its bent-up tail is stomped on.) There’s nothing magic, then, about the fact that board and rider go upward together, in spite of not being fastened to each other. An expert olliemeister allows no crack of light to show between his feet and the board, so it really does look as if they’re glued together.

Once a person masters the ollie and is released from the hospital, he can use it as the basis for any number of other skateboarders’ tricks, all of which seem to involve life in midair. What tricks? How about a nollie, grind, heelflip, kick-flip, ollieflip, pop shov-it, shov-it kick flip, casper, melloncollie, McTwist, tailslide, wheelslide, lipslide, indygrab or wallride? Many of these tricks are performed not on the street but in skateparks with artificial slopes, walls and slides in which competitions are held.

Try it.

To see how a skateboard will fly upward from a stomp on its tail, place a spoon on the table, hollow side up. The turned-up bowl is like the turnedup tail of the skateboard. Now tap the end of the bowl sharply with a finger, as the skate-boarder would stomp on his board’s tail. The spoon goes flying upward, handle first, in a seesaw effect and then continues to flip end-over-end. If it were a skateboard, the rider’s front foot would be holding down the handle end, shifting its momentum backward to the bowl end, which would then rise to the level of the handle.

I’ll stick to golf.