Skateboarding

I asked Tony Hawk if he would teach me how to ollie and he said yes

A writer travels 2,824 miles to learn a small skill.
Skateboarding

I asked Tony Hawk if he would teach me how to ollie and he said yes

A writer travels 2,824 miles to learn a small skill.

When Tony Hawk lies in repose on his deathbed in the year 2109 (a guess), he will take stock of his long, remarkable life. The first skater to land a 900. The world vertical skateboarding champion 12 years in a row. The face of the greatest videogame of all time, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, along with 18 other games in the $1.4 billion Pro Skater franchise. A guy who for sure has gotta have so much money. And, finally, the deeply kind and very chill man who attempted to teach one writer how to do an ollie after she emailed him and asked if he would and he said “okay” to the great shock of both her and her editor, who now had to let her do it. In a life, he’ll conclude, you can’t ask for much more than that.

I was never a skater. I was a punk, in high school, and I hated corporations and was sure there should be a wage ceiling because Jello Biafra said so on one of his spoken word albums, but I was never a skater. Though I hung out at the skatepark and had a Tony Hawk sweatshirt and regularly bought skateboarding magazines, I never so much as attempted a ride down an alleyway. This is possibly because in my prime skateboarding years I had to tend to my scoliosis — my spine is an S, which is my personal medical history and none of your business — but it is more likely because I was a coward. (I’m brave now.) Life is nothing but a pile of regrets, it’s true, until one day Tony Hawk teaches you how to ollie and it’s great.

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The question I had is this: Could Tony Hawk teach me how to ollie? Then the question continued: me — a know-nothing coward, someone who has never even stood on a skateboard before, and who is not particularly coordinated even though she does sometimes take adult beginner ballet? Then the question continued: Tony Hawk — the man who is Tony Hawk, the greatest skater of all time, five-time Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Awards’ Favorite Male Athlete, and legitimately one of the biggest celebrities I can imagine myself encountering? Hmm. It’s a question like, “Can Michael Jordan teach me how to do a layup?” or, “Can Martha Stewart teach me how to set a table?” or, “Can Tom Cruise teach me how to be an OT VII?” in that, well — you’ve gotta imagine they can.

Right?

I recently traveled to Tony Hawk’s warehouse near San Diego to find out. It was nuts. I feel it would be journalistically dishonest of me to omit the fact that it was very nuts and one of the best days of my life. I genuinely cannot believe it happened, and I am stunned at the sort of scams you can sometimes pull as a writer.

After brief introductions, Tony Hawk got down to the business of attempting to teach an idiot writer from the internet how to ollie

Tony Hawk’s warehouse houses an astoundingly large 20-foot vert ramp that seems like it must have to hold its breath to fit inside the building. Attached to it on one side is a narrow, taller, slide-looking drop-in that Tony Hawk explained was actually not “even scarier” than the vert ramp, because it doesn’t have the vert part that the shorter vert ramp has. It still seemed scary to me. (It was so tall, and you had to climb a lot of stairs to get up to it!) There were also some smaller ramps and some other stuff. I should have taken better note of all the stuff that was in there, but I was nervous. There was probably a rail to grind on? You can imagine. In the back, there were stacks and stacks of skateboards in boxes, as well as a hawk made out of LEGOs and some bowling pins signed by Tony Hawk.

After brief introductions, Tony Hawk got down to the business of attempting to teach an idiot writer from the internet how to ollie. An “ollie,” if you don’t know, is a fundamental skateboarding trick and the basis for essentially all others. It allows you to jump up in the air on your skateboard, and it looks very cool. You can hop over something or whatever you want. I wanted to learn how to do an ollie both because it is my dream to be a skater and because it is my dream to have a collection of surprising small talents that I can pull out at parties, shocking friends who had no idea I was so skilled; it’s why I would also someday like to be able to do one pull-up. According to Wikipedia, “the ollie is often the first trick to be learned by a new skateboarder.” This checks out. Also according to Wikipedia, “The ollie typically takes considerable practice to learn.” We’ll see.

At this point in my life, here’s something I can say: Everything I know about skateboarding I learned directly from Tony Hawk. In case you haven’t had a similar opportunity (sad for you), I’ve laid out the process of completing an ollie in 10 steps.

Here we go, and get ready to ollie!

STEP 1: Pitch every editor you ever work with the story: “Can Tony Hawk Teach Me How to Ollie?” Almost all of them will say no, possibly because they will think you are joking. Some will tell you that the pitch you’ve suggested “isn’t a story.” Okay — that will seem rude. Keep asking until you catch one in a moment of weakness.

STEP 2: Ask Tony Hawk to teach you how to ollie. This step will be much easier than you expected. Just ask him and he will say yes.

STEP 3: Travel to Vista, California, where the Tony Hawk Inc. warehouse is located. Take a redeye there and wonder why you don’t just live in California, because wouldn’t that be easier?, it’s so beautiful, but then remember why you don’t just live in California, and that’s because you’re not talented enough at skateboarding yet.

STEP 4: Meet your video team at the Tony Hawk Inc. warehouse. Something you may have neglected to think about while doggedly chasing the story of your life, “Can Tony Hawk Teach Me How to Ollie?,” is that this is something people are going to want to have on video. You don’t exactly have an “on-camera personality,” and this may prove to be the most difficult part of nailing the ultimate ollie, but I believe in you.

STEP 5: Obtain a skateboard, helmet, knee pads, and elbow pads from a very helpful Tony Hawk Inc. employee whose name is Seth. He will tell you to let him know if the pads are too large, which they are. You will not let him know, which is wrong. He will make you sign a waiver, which is wise.

STEP 6: After meeting Tony Hawk, break it to him that you’ve never skateboarded before and that his task today is to teach you how to ollie in one hour. “Oh. Have you snowboarded, or anything?” he’ll ask. “No…,” you’ll say. “Do you think you’ll be able to teach me?” you’ll ask. “...Yeah,” he’ll say, but it will feel much more like he is saying the opposite.

STEP 7: Attempt to skate in a line. (It will behoove you to practice skating in a line in the 40 minutes you have before Tony Hawk arrives so the very first time you attempt to skate in a line is not in front of Tony Hawk. Now it will be just one of the first times.) Find your footing on the board. If your left foot leads, you are regular-footed. If your right foot leads, you are goofy-footed. “You’re goofy-footed, like me,” Tony Hawk will tell you. “Goofy-footed, like Tony Hawk!” your gravestone will eventually read.

Push off with your foot and then turn it slightly so it is aligned with the board. To turn, shift your weight toward your heels or toward your toes. (You won’t be able to do this.)

STEP 8: Attempt to do a kick turn. For this, Tony Hawk will push you into the ramp as if you are a baby and you will attempt to maneuver your body and the board so that you might turn and keep on skating. You won’t be able to do it, even though it seems like it should be very simple, and you will fall. Eventually you will do it halfway, and you will decide that is good enough, which you will be able to tell disappoints Tony Hawk.

STEP 9: Attempt to do an ollie. You’ll watch Tony Hawk do it, and it will hit you now more than ever that what you’ve essentially signed up for is the opportunity to embarrass yourself in front of Tony Hawk and, later, the entire internet. Tony Hawk will tell you to stomp down on the tail and then lift your other foot up. You will try this many times, held back only by fear, and eventually you will improve slightly. (It will be much more tiring than you anticipated to attempt to do ollies.)

Tony Hawk will be incredibly encouraging throughout the experience, and at one point, around the 40-minute mark of your time together, he will claim that you have done a small ollie. Although you will not feel like you’ve done it, you will eventually decide to believe him because you are tired and can tell that that is probably the best you’re going to be able to do.

Yes!!!!!!!! You did it!!!!!!! You’ve done an ollie!!!!!!!!

STEP 10: Tony Hawk will ask you if you want to slide down the vert ramp on your butt. Oh my god! The idea will scare you, but he’ll hold onto your hands until you get past the vert part at which point, he promises, it is essentially just a slide. You will feel as if you are a child, specifically one of Tony Hawk’s children, and it will feel extremely good.

After that, you pretty much just have to watch Tony Hawk do tricks on the ramp for a while, and that’s how you do an ollie. The end. Thank you, Tony Hawk! I love you!

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