When Tony Hawk turned 50 in 2018, he set out to pull off 50 of the tricks he’s pioneered over the years. He did tricks like finger flips, 720 airs, and 540 ollies – on vert ramps of course.
Four years later, I’m too staring down the barrel of my 50th birthday. Inspired by Hawk’s longevity, I thought I might try doing my own version of #50tricksat50.
First, I’d need to learn to ollie again.
I started skating when I was 11 or 12. I forget the exact year, but I got a Nash Executioner. Once I got on a skateboard and made some skating friends, I was hooked. It was all I wanted to do for my entire teenage years. For six or seven years, I probably skated two or three hours a day on average.
I kept skating into my early 20s, but also took up other activities – in particular, snowboarding and whitewater kayaking. While I dabbled in skating in my 30s, it was sporadic at best. In my early 40s, I got into surfing, and for the past 10 years have hardly touched a skateboard.
One thing that inspired me to get on a board again was the proliferation of remarkable skateparks. I live in San Diego, California, and my 7-year-old son Kai has gotten good enough on his BMX bike that he likes going to parks. Parks ain’t what they used to be — which where I grew up, was nothing at all.
Without me really noticing, a ton of impressive concrete skateparks have popped up all over Southern California over the past decade. One reason I started StrayRocket, in fact, was to begin documenting them, as there is a bizarre lack of information online about skateparks. I guess skaters are busy skating.
When I was a kid, we skated parking blocks, planters, stairs, homemade plywood jump ramps, and backyard halfpipes built by skaters and their parents. Skating was very much a fringe activity – looked down upon by most people.
That counter-culture vibe was part of what made it cool, but politicians and city officials would have fallen out of their seats laughing at a proposal for a concrete skatepark costing hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.
Today, we have a veritable skatepark-industrial complex. Skateparks are cropping up all over the country, as cities have discovered that they are a good investment in getting kids outdoors and exercising – an antidote to the real danger to kids, sitting on a couch for endless hours in front of screens, big and small.
As I started to explore the newer skateparks in San Diego, bitterness set in. Why didn’t we get this when we were kids? Then I remembered Tony Hawk’s 50 at 50 challenge and it occurred to me that the trick was to BE a kid again. (Albeit, one who gets up more slowly after a slam and appreciates pads more.)
And the cool thing about many of the new parks is that they are designed for crusing. Unlike the halfpipes of the 1980s and 90s, you can simply roll through a park and it feels like you’re accomplishing something. Even without doing a bunch of tricks, it’s fun.
But back to the tricks. Like I said, the bar is low.
#1 50-50 Grind on a Ledge (Frontside)
My first trick of the 50, not counting getting back a basic ollie, was to do a 50-50 grind on a ledge.
When I was in high school, I used to skate the local college campus that had these great concrete planters. We waxed those babies up over the years, and frontside 50-50s were a meat and potatoes trick.
College kids used a slingshot to fire water balloons at us from the nearby dorms sometimes. In the summers, the campus police didn’t have anything better to do, so they’d fill the time by harassing us skaters.
They rarely caught us, but one time they gathered a group of 10 or so campus cops and managed to surround us. Our parents had to come get us and I want to say we had to pay to get our boards back. It sucked. But it was pretty funny looking back on it.
#2 180 Frontside Ollie
When I think of frontside ollies, the first image that comes to mind is Mark Gonzales. The Gonz did frontside ollies like no one else — fast, loose, and big. Jake Phelps was a fan of them too, as he notes in the phone call in this video.
Frontside 180 ollies are awkward at first. I’d forgotten that it’s sort of a strange motion for your hips and legs to make. I tend to pop the board around and hit with my front wheels first so that my back can pivot around if I haven’t made the full 180 in the air. Might be cheating, but it’s functional.
#3 Ollie Over a Deck
Ollying decks was a thing when I was in my prime. When you went to a demo or skate contest, inevitably people would start stacking up decks to ollie. Can’t really what my max was, but I want to say I could pop over four decks at one point. My friend Ben could do five. He had a sick ollie.
Ollying over one deck – my son Kai’s mini – wasn’t a big step forward. But, hey, I’ll take it. It also gave me a chance to play around with different shot angles and using Instagram’s video editor.
#4 180 Frontside No Comply
The No Comply is such a fun trick. I always loved the feeling of popping frontside 180s. There’s something really satisfying about them, especially if you can get your front foot back on by the time your back wheels hit the ground again (basically, getting your entire board and body off the ground).
I was never good at backsides. But my friend Ben was a badass at them and I was always jealous. So smooth.
One last thing I’ll say about No Complies is that they can be scary at speed — but that much more satisfying.