AKA 'The Man Who Popped the Shove'
TWS Origins Web Series
Words: Mackenzie Eisenhour
One of the first articles I ever worked on was a flowchart called 'The Rocco Seed' for Skateboarder Magazine back in June 2001. The premise of the article was to break down the genealogy tree of the modern skate industry (circa '01) and trace much of it back to Steve Rocco's beginnings with his SMA Rocco Division (The pre-cursor to World Industries, Blind, Foundation, Liberty, Plan B, enjoi etc…) in 1987.
For one of the diagrams sidebars, I had asked Steve the number of tricks he was credited with inventing—along with his net worth, number of death threats, and other key insight. He had responded that he was only credited with one; the frontside pop shove it. At the time I had bigger fish to fry with the diagram itself and had never delved into it more than that. But as the years went by that seed stayed stuck in the back of my mind.
I rarely hear anybody talk about Steve's actual skating. An entire documentary was made about him (The Man Who Souled the World ['07]) with barely a mention of it. I too had run through an entire print interview with him (The Man Who Sold the World, Skateboarder Jan. 2002*) without so much as a nod to it. The frontside pop shove it—or front pop—today seems almost as critical as the kickflip, if not at times even more so. I know that for myself personally, it is my favorite flatground trick to do period. And while Rodney Mullen created nearly every last piece of the flatground buffet bar—flatground ollie, kickflip, heelflip, 360 flip, impossible, double flip, switch flip and onwards ad infintum—this was the one key ingredient with no official creator.
After putting it off for a number of years, I finally decided to pursue the matter and see if I could add anything to the current hodge-podge that is skateboard 'history.' As with anything of the like, there is almost no way of determining in any absolute sense who popped and spun their board 180 degrees frontside first. For all we know, a kid on a banana board did it in the '60s. But I reached out to Rodney to see what his overall take on the trick was.
Thanks to my annual duties writing Skateboarding Hall of Fame bios, I had recently read up on Ty Page—2016 inductee and creator of the 'Ty Hop.' The Ty Hop is the trick generally viewed as the first incarnation of the shove it, albeit backside. And to some degree, Ty has therefore been credited with the pop shove too. Explaining this along with my previous story of Rocco's declaration in '01 to Rodney, I asked Mullen if Steve's claim held water and if I could officially credit him with the trick. The following back and forths were my best attempt at locking down the inventor of the front pop.
* Same name, I know. The documentary re-purposed my Skateboarder title—which, truth be told Aaron Meza (Then Editor) coined.
Rodney Mullen responds to my queries:
Mullen: Hey man, so good to hear from you. Of course, I'm glad to help. As a kid I remember hearing about Ty Hops, which to my understanding was a 360 b/s shove-it tethered to the end of spacewalks (which wound 'em up). Mind you, I lived on a farm. Somehow that's what translated to me back in Florida, so I acted it out accordingly; that was a Ty Hop, to me.
I state this just to emphasize how much I concur with you: I never saw anyone do f/s pops the way Steve did—certainly not myself. While little shoves were natural variations that'd be hard to give anyone real credit for outside of what Ty did, to the best of my ability—just to reiterate—I certainly do not recall anyone doing it like Steve did, and love the fact you want to go back to do just that. That'd be a righteous act.
Rodney added some more tidbits about Steve's skating:
Mullen: Steve was ahead of his time in a lot of ways. Of all the freestylers—I was a worst offender—he was the only one I recall that loosened his trucks and had a streetish flow. I'd also never seen anyone do little hand plants on the ground the way he did, either—super early precursor to street plants.
It sounded promising. I knew the two were obviously good friends but Rodney is not a person known for stretching the truth or making wild claims. He doesn't have to. Especially in the realm of flatground's building blocks. Next up I decided to contact Steve himself. We had kept up some loose correspondence through the years and he was quick to respond to my customary stalker voicemails and emails. Instead of answering the list of questions I sent, he asked if he could instead simply reply to Rodney's take.
Steve Rocco responds to Rodney:
Thanks for trying to bridge the ever widening gap between fact and fiction. I would like to add a few trivial tidbits and thoughts of my own. Having grown up next door to Ty Page (Ed note. Both grew up in the Redondo Beach area) I had a front row seat to his skating. He was the first person I saw push with both feet which inspired me and helped me a lot riding either stance. He also had a natural drive or flow on the board, which came from his surfing. As for Ty inventing the shove it (however), I have to disagree.
As you rightly recall the Ty Hop was usually done with space walks. And then at the end when you were almost stationary. There are only a few people I ever saw do a spacewalk to Ty Hop to spacewalk successfully and you and I are probably the only ones to do it cleanly. The reason I bring this up is it that I always considered a shove it as a trick that was done at speed whose main point was to turn to the board back to nose first without a line-ruining kickturn.
While Ty could do a Ty Hop and land it I do not consider it a shove it because he wasn't rolling forward. As you recall there were frontside 180 shove its and then 360 shove its and then 540 shove its of which you and I were the only ones that could do them with any real speed—all a totally different move than a Ty Hop. Then of course the pop shove it was a different move (at least for me and the weird way I skated) than a regular shove it.
Steve zeroes in on the first make:
Rocco: The first pop shove its were done (frontside) by Alan Gelfand and myself in Venezuela in July 1979 over a 3" or 4" pipe laying on the ground. I believe it was an attempt to stop us from skating across the arena floor. Alan and I took it as a personal challenge and decided to see if we could go right over it without losing speed and therefore reinforcing the old adage the necessity is the mother of invention.
Alan was already hitting his tail and getting his board to "pop" without question. But since I had a freestyle board and he had either a (Powell Peralta) Beamer or a Ray Bones Rodriquez model (Ed note: original width for both was about 10") I was able to pop it a bit higher and make it over first. The first pop shove its were frontside. Backside was a while later. I'm not sure if I did those first. But the non-pop version (frontside) was mine too. I was doing those in 1979 too.
It is funny that there are so many opinions on things that I consider matter of fact. But I am learning that perspective has more to do with truth than the actual truth itself.
I was stoked. Steve's story, if true seemed pretty solid as far as the front pop. I sent his words back to Rodney and Rodney co-signed Steve's points. Combined with Rodney's cross-examining it was starting to look like the argument held up. Although it raised a few questions as to exactly how we define a shove it. But sticking to the pop version, the next logical journalistic step would be to contact Alan Gelfand and see if he had any recollection of this Venezuelan arena session with Rocco some 37 years ago. Hmmm.
Alan aka 'Ollie' is of course the famed inventor of the ollie itself (on vert) in 1977. He currently owns German Car Depot in Hollywood, Florida—a high end car shop specializing in VW, Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Mini Cooper, and Porsche service and repair (hit them up if you are in need). I had spoken to Ollie on a few occasions over the years and even once tried to get him on a skate tour in the South of France (The tour ended up as a bonus in A Time to Shine ['06]). At the time, he had just started skating vert again and I was bent on having him shoot a photo for the tour doing a frontside ollie on this transition fountain I had skated as a kid just outside Cannes. I was already picturing the sickest cover of him skating his just re-issued Powell "Tank" model. As luck had it, he had to cancel at the last minute.
Either way, I emailed Alan Rocco's story of the original front pop session and he was quick to get back the following day. He had vague memories of the trip and session in question. It was the '70s after all. But he certainly didn't refute it either. His friend Craig Snyder wrote a 785-page book called "The Secret History of the Ollie" last year and Alan said he would ask him that night if there was more stories from the Venezuela trip. The following Monday we got on the phone.
Alan responds to Rocco's 1979 Venezuela story:
Gelfand: What he (Rocco) says seems correct. The trip was called the Super Skate Show. A bunch of us went down there. Tony Alva, Mike McGill, Steve and a few others. But I'm a burn out. I don't remember shit. Mike McGill would remember all of it. I never did drugs but I'm a burn out man. As far as this actual incident with Steve. It sounds about right, but I can't say for sure. Talk to McGill, he remembers everything down to a 'T'. What I do remember most from that trip was having a rifle poked into my side because I went into a food market with no shirt on and didn't know that was disrespectful.
I hung up with Alan and left McGill a voicemail. While waiting to hear back, I googled the Super Skate Show. Sure enough, Jim Goodrich had talked about it in an interview from Jack Smith's 2009 book, The Skateboarder's Journal, Lives on Board. Here was an excerpt:
Jim Goodrich: The most memorable event for me that year was in July when I flew to Caracas, Venezuela to cover the Super Skate Show for Skateboarder… The event was held at the local sports arena, the Poliedro. The promoters brought in Tony Alva, Ellen O'Neal, Mike McGill, Steve Rocco, Tim Scroggs and Alan Gelfand for the show. We were put up in the Anuaco Hilton, which wasn't such a good idea with a bunch of rowdy skaters, but the promoters weren't too savvy about how wild skaters can get, especially on the road.
Rocco’s quick part from Rubbish Heap (1989). Opens with a front pop, ten years after Steve and Gelfand’s session in Venezuela.
Boom. In one paragraph Jim confirmed Rocco's date, having been there with Alan, along with Gelfand's memory of who went. It wasn't proof positive, but everything Steve and Gelfand remembered from the trip was backed up. Barring McGill actually having witnessed Rocco and Gelfand attempting pop-shoves, this was about as close as it seemed I would get.
Conclusion: To the best of my research—The first recorded pop shove was popped frontside July 1979 in Venezuela by Steve Rocco (with an Alan Gelfand assist). The inventor of the front pop (and really all pop-shoves) is one Steve Rocco. The End.
Steve’s creation today: Alex Olson, front pop a table. Girl and Chocolate Pretty Sweet [’12]
Huge thanks to Steve, Rodney, and Alan Gelfand for all of their contributions to skateboarding.
Stay tuned for more investigative skate nerding.