The author hones his technique at a local tennis court.
The author hones his technique at a local tennis court. (Mark Hermanson)

I’m an Adult Learning to Skateboard. Let Me Explain.

After years of shredding on a screen, our web producer went outside to try the real thing. Plus: a one-month ollie training plan.

The author hones his technique at a local tennis court.

“Come on, Jon! Just commit!”

I was 15, dithering at the top of a mini ramp as my friends egged me on. I leaned forward hesitantly and dropped in.

Wham. The board shot out from under me, and I slammed backwards into the ramp.

That was pretty much the extent of my skateboarding experience. Since then I’ve mostly stuck to the slow, steady pace of endurance sports like running and nordic skiing. But after spending most of a weekend playing the reboot of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 last year, I felt the urge to go outside and do the real thing. I was reminded of the skating culture I never engaged with and inspired by others discovering—or rediscovering—the sport during lockdown.

ollie

Popping the board upward with the back foot and leveling it out in the air by sliding the front foot forward. Rodney Mullen performed the first flat-ground ollie in 1982.

In the spirit of the marathon training plans I diligently followed in years past, I looked for a routine that would be suitable for an injury-averse adult and would help me learn to pop an ollie (see sidebar)—the foundational trick of street skating. No dice. Skateboarding, it turns out, doesn’t attract a lot of fitness obsessives looking to routinize the learning process. So I devised my own, based on advice from professional skater and fellow Minnesotan Davis Torgerson.

slam

Falling hard while skateboarding.

Torgerson told me to watch skateboarding videos—not just YouTube clips, but also classic skate films—to understand the flow of skating. Stretching also helps in avoiding injury. But mostly he stressed spending a lot of time on the board and staying patient. “Learning to skate is about having a complete feel for the board underneath you,” he said. “Trust me, it’s hard to learn. I’ve been doing it for nearly 20 years and I slam every time I go skate.”

The training routine I settled on (see “My One-Month Ollie Plan,” below) was slow going at first. Just pushing myself around proved to be plenty of work, and I was doubtful I’d get airborne in only a month. But a couple weeks and countless stumbles later, I got comfortable. Yoga helped my sore muscles recover, and watching skate videos kept me inspired. More often than not, I went out again after logging my daily practice hour because I’d had some epiphany I wanted to explore.

Three weeks in, I was confident enough to attempt an ollie. After a few days, I figured out the sequence of motions while holding onto a fence. Then I cut myself loose. Later that day, I crouched down, popped upward, felt the board rise to my feet, and landed on all four wheels with a satisfying clack.

The author performs an ollie

By the end of week four, I was able to get the board a few inches off the ground. That’s not a lot, but it was an ollie—my ollie—and it felt pretty fucking cool. I knew I couldn’t stop there. Considering which trick to conquer next, I took to heart another suggestion from Torgerson.

nollie frontside hurricane

An advanced rail trick that Davis Torgerson pioneered.

“The only advice I have in terms of tricks is to get addicted,” he said. “You ­almost have to lie in bed at night pondering what you’re going to try, how much harder you’re going to commit.”

Though, as of this writing, I’m only a month in and my ollies barely clear a crack in the pavement, I can say that I’m addicted: going to the park every day, figuring out tricks, seeing the built landscape in a new way. I probably won’t ever hit a nollie frontside hurricane like Torgerson, but maybe I’ll finally drop into a mini ramp.


My One-Month Ollie Plan

There are two things you need to succeed at skateboarding: patience and a lot of practice. Here was my two-hour daily routine.

1. One hour on the board. Thirty minutes warming up and practicing what I’d learned so far, and 30 minutes working on a new trick or skill.

Rodney Mullen

The godfather of street skating. Words don’t do him justice.

2. Thirty minutes of yoga, with an emphasis on stretching, stability, and balance. During the pandemic, I started following the YouTube channel Yoga with Adriene. (There’s even a lesson specifically for skaters.)

3. Thirty minutes watching skate videos. Some favor­ites include Torgerson’s part in Boon­doggle, World IndustriesTrilogy, and anything with Rodney Mullen in it.

To guide my progress, I focused on the following skills:

kickturn

Pivoting on the rear wheels to change direction.

manual

A wheelie. Balancing on the front or back wheels while rolling.

Week 1: Pushing, turning, moving starts.

Week 2: Kickturns, manuals, getting on and off the board in various ways.

Week 3: Riding diverse terrain, visiting a skate park, starting to ollie.

Week 4: Ollie, ollie, ollie.

From Outside Magazine, Winter 2021 Lead Photo: Mark Hermanson
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