First of all, thanks to Mr. Eisenhour and TransWorld for the well-written article on Alan “Ollie” Gelfand, which appears in the July 2005 issue of your magazine (“Back In The Day: How High Can You Oopie” on page 102). It’s a pleasure to see respectful tributes like this for these legendary individuals. Legends and stories are an important part of skateboarding and our human heritage, and it’s important that the old be told as often as the new. The 70s and everyone who was a part of that era, both known and unknown, left an indelible mark on skateboarding.
The ollie as well as Gelfand’s history has had increased visibility in the media during the last decade. These include books, magazines, newspapers, films, and videos both in the realm of skateboarding and outside of it. But often it seems one source is quoting another and the other is usually not correct. For the most part, Mr. Eisenhour’s story and facts were excellent, but the date of the invention of the ollie as 1978 is incorrect. Through my research I have seen 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, and 1980 given as the years for the invention of the ollie. The fact is Gelfand starting performing the no-handed aerial, or the ollie, in late 1976 after Skateboard USA opened in Hollywood, Florida. I know this because I was there. It was at Skateboard USA where we first met. I was not only a skateboarder but the “park photographer”-a gig I managed to arrange with the help of my Canon FTb. Anything to get free skate time. I ended up working as a photographer for an East Coast magazine and documenting the most influential part of the Florida skateboarding scene from 1976 to 1979, which to date has been largely unpublished. I most likely have the earliest shot of Gelfand doing an ollie at this infamous park.
Gelfand being Gelfand tried lipslides on the concrete bowls and banks but got bored pretty quick. He decided to play with it. The story is similar to that of Bird, a.k.a. Charlie Parker the famous jazz saxophonist, who got so bored at the gigs he played that he started doing some crazy improvising between notes on the pieces he was playing and bebop was born. The ollie is the bebop of Gelfand, echoing through skateland worldwide.
When Gelfand did the ollie pop on the vert walls at USA, which were actually over-vert in some places-a concrete contractor’s error-it spun him up and over and back inside, and he would land on the wall instead of the lip. This was the ollie air that we eventually shortened to just “ollie” for convenience sake.
The year 1978 is frequently given as the date Gelfand created the ollie because it was the year of reckoning for a trick that was by now close to nineteen months old. This was the year when it got its first major exposure in the west and Gelfand was finally allowed to enter the hallowed pages of a magazine called Skateboarder. But only because he took off his trademark long pants and wore shorts as per Stacy Peralta’s request. Keep in mind that nobody wore long pants who skateboarded in the mid to late 70s. Gelfand didn’t care about convention or fashion. He did what he wanted. He was an original.
In regards to the article on Lance Mountain of the same issue (Paycheck: Riff-Raff Gets A Pro Model? on page 106), authors Eric Stricker and Ari Evan Gold state in paragraph four, “And it didn’t help that Lance was the first Bones Brigade member to be coming from another team-Powell Peralta just didn’t do that.” I would like to make the correction here that they did do that. Floridian Rodney Mullen was riding for Walker Skateboards in 1980 when he was made an offer he couldn’t refuse. The same story is true with Miami-born Robbie Weir who also was riding for Walker at the time. Weir received a phone call from a Mr. Peralta in January of 1981, just weeks following his December victory in the halfpipe at Kona, and he too was made an offer he couldn’t refuse. Fast-forward to the Kona Nationals in July, when Floridian and WWalker rider Chris Baucom beat both Mr. Mountain and Mr. Hawk in the halfpipe competition … well, need I go on? Powell Peralta weren’t evil, they were bad-it was that good kind of bad. Was there anyone who could refuse riding for Powell Peralta? I most certainly couldn’t have. Simply put, they were the cat’s meow back in the day, and Stacy was the cool, stylish cat in charge. Anyway, a great article about Mr. Mountain, a man I learned to admire more than anyone else because of his priceless sense of humor. The fact that he can skateboard is a bonus.
Kudos to all of you at TransWorld.
P.S. Mr. Eisenhour could add an eighth nickname to his list of Gelfand nicknames, which is “Rubber Legs.” Gelfand was Gumby on wheels at Skateboard USA. The ollie was by no means a strange coincidence.
Photo(s) appear courtesy of Craig Snyder from his two forthcoming books, When East Became West: The Photographs Of Craig Snyder And The Legend Of Florida, 1975-1979, and an untitled history of Florida and the innovators and innovations that emerged from the East Coast during the 70s and 80s. Visit TheCraigSnyder.com for more information.