by Cleo Coney
Alan Gelfand Mid "Ollie". Photo by Jim Goodrich
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I remember it so clearly Alan, the first time I ever got to see you skate man.
It was at Clearwater Skate Park, and you and Mike McGill had just exited the PRO shop and I could hear people whispering, “ That’s Alan Gelfand”! or “It’s Gelfand”, or “Oh My God, it’s Alan Gelfand!” We all gathered at the edge of the half-pipe and watched you and Mike skate like our lives depended on it. The Bright Lite Powell decks, the day-glow Powell Cubic Wheels, the clear grip tape, the blue grip tape. It was all so new to us, just unbelievable through the eyes of the young skaters that were in attendance, myself included. Then you unleashed the “Ollie” during one of your runs, and my world slowed down. It was incredible! Some alien move, some other worldly stuff man, it was like magic. Alan you had just opened the door to a whole new realm of possibilities in skateboarding. At that very moment that I witnessed you float through the air over vert with out the use of your hands, skateboarding was never to be the same again for any of the locals at the park. We all should’ve of known that right then that later you’d shake up the entire world of skateboarding. The “Ollie” had been unleashed.
Alan, let’s go back to where you first started to skateboard, where did it all begin for you and what got you into skateboarding in the first place?
0h, I never liked team sports and people telling me what to do.
What was your first quality skateboard that you remember owning?
Wow! Quality? A Pro-flex followed by a Bane and a Sims laminated.
At some point you probable had a crew of skaters that you sessioned with, who were those guys and do you get to skate with them these days?
Gregg and Scott Schlesinger were the first people I skated with, they lived next door to me. I helped Scott build a small skate park at his house last year for his kids. When I started to skate vert Kevin Peterson and Jeff Duer were the guys I skated with everyday.
What was your favorite skate spot back then?
The Hollywood Ramp secretly built in Pembroke Pines to fool people.
There came a time in your skateboarding skill development that you leaped ahead of many other skaters. When did you recognize that you were getting better faster?
I don’t know if I was any better. but a bunch of people used to think so. When I went to California for the first time it took a little longer than most tricks before a bunch of pros could do a no handed aerial on vert.
How did your family feel about skateboarding in the early days, long before you changed the world of skateboarding?
That’s a big statement! I was just lucky to be recognized by Stacy Peralta and had the chance and opportunity that allowed. There were tons of great skaters that just didn’t get the exposure that I did. My mom and dad liked my skating but did not pay for my boards or the fees for skating at the parks. My brothers were bowlers and my parents financially supported them. When I became well known in skating circles they would say that’s “my boy, PRO Skater”. It sounded so weird back then, people thought of skateboarding as a fad.
Who was your first sponsor?
At that time who were your skate heroes?
Stacey Peralta, Bruce Walker, Eddie Elguera, Dave Bentley, Bob Bentley and many people you’ve probably never heard of.
What skateboarder do you think influenced you the most in the early days?
Stacey Peralta, he was our mentor and he knew how to make stuff happen.
Alan did you have a preference of what you liked to skate back then, half-pipes, pools, banks, bowls?
As a Florida skater we skated anything mostly kinky pools and poorly built skate parks and loved every moment of it, every minute of it.The worse the terrain the better it made the Florida skaters look. We rose above!
Do you remember clearly the first “Ollie” you landed? Please take us through your development of that trick.
At skateboard USA I would go from the north bowl and jump into the under bowl it gave me a weightless feeling. The snake run had over vert parts that I could jump my board over and land on the lip kind of like a disaster, but the lip was round so the truck did not hang up. With time I would land back on the wall. Look at my picture on Facebook with me wearing a blue CCM helmet and jeans. Dave Bentley took the photo in 1977 with a Polaroid camera.
What set up were you riding then?
I don’t know exactly. But it had home made pizza grip tape and Tracker Trucks .
When did you get on Powell Skateboards?
In late 1977 I was the first person Stacy signed when Powell became Powell –Peralta
Alan, you are responsible for the creation of other rad tricks other than the “Ollie”, please tell us about those.
No, just variations of tricks.
I have yet to see anyone complete an Ollie Disaster as solid and as smooth as you do them, do you still ride your trucks extremely tight? Also did the way you rode your trucks contribute to your style of skating?
Yes, the new school guys do it like it is nothing.
There’s a famous shot of you doing front side air on the last wall of the Basin’s vertical snake run, what was your opinion of the Sensation Basin Skate Park?
It was fun to skate but it only had one good wall in the whole park. I loved skating there, the energy levels during those sessions were very high.
Jim Goodrich captures Alan Gelfand High above the massive vert walls of the Sensation Basin.
When you first traveled to California what was that experience like?
Unbelievable. Like a fairytale that came true. No rules, we just skated and did whatever we wanted.
There were a ton of photos of you at Marina Skate Park, even a centerfold in Skateboarder Magazine. Did you skate there frequently while in Cali?
Stacy Peralta lived very close to the park and every time he flew me out to California, I skated there. The back pool was as perfect as they came back then.
You made all of us in Florida so proud when you did extremely well in west coast contests. What Skate Park from that period sticks out in your mind as a great place to skate?
Back then any park was great; Marina Del Ray, Del Mar, Cherry Hill, and The Big “O” Capsule Pool.
What was Stacy Peralta like and how did he help the team of Powell skaters?
Looking back from the present, he and Craig Styeck were marketing geniuses. He looked at people’s personalities not just the best skaters, he wanted icons and while acquiring the most interesting skaters he happened to get some of the best. They could shape the industry because they controlled a large portion of the media.
What was your all-time favorite Powell Ad that you appeared in?
The 1979 Powell Beamer AD in Skateboarder Magazine. It was the first disposable deck, every time I rode one I killled it the first day at the park. I think it was the only deck I rode in which I needed to carry three spares so no one would see how easy they would get messed up. The down side was I had to send the old ones back to Powell.
AD TITLE: PERFORMANCE ETHIC
MAG: SKATEBOARDER I
DESIGNER: C.R. STECYK
SKATERS Alan "Ollie" Gelfand and Mike McGill
Which skateboarders in those old contests on the west coast, were your major competition?
Hands down, Eddie Elguera, Steve Olson, and Duane Peters. My last year in as a competing PRO Skater I won my last 3 contests. Ray Allen has it on ¾ Video tape. It was the closest tie breaking finish ever. I would have a great run then Eddie would have a better run, then Steve would pull something out of his ass and pull off the most rad trick! It was really an amazing time in my life to go out on top.
This was a time of discovery in skateboarding, you were doing new things on a skateboard, Eddie Elguera was inventing some moves as well, but did you ever think that your trick the “Ollie” would have such an everlasting effect on skateboarding?
No, but I’m stoked that it has!
Today, there are so many variations on your trick it’s simply mind- boggling! Alan, I just want every skateboarder out there to know who invented what and when. There are so many young skaters that don’t know skate history and I think it’s important that they do. Did you ever get tired of people asking you to do an Ollie back in the day?
No because that’s what I did back then, the majority of skaters could not do an Ollie pop let alone an Ollie air. Currently I do now because I can’t do a very impressive Ollie on flat ground.
You have your own private indoor ramp in south Florida called “Olliewood”, when did all that come about.
In about 2002 Team Pain built a 48 foot ramp and later turned it into a 75 ft bowl. I wanted to let anybody who wanted to skate. I remembered when I was growing up you would have to be in a clique to skate private ramps and pools. I did not want it to be that way. I really wanted new school skaters to experience vert skating. The first thing I found out was that lots great street skaters can hardly skate transition with 6” of vert. Many have no desire to ride vert. That blew me away because we used to do some crazy stuff to build ramps and find pools to ride.
Can anybody come session with you or is it a private ramp?
We had to close the bowl to the public in 2008 and now we have small private skate sessions. I can’t mention names because I would have to kill you. Nah, just joking. We have insurance for a limited venue. If we opened it to the public it could ruin are chances of keeping it.
Can people still purchase an Alan “Ollie” Gelfand skateboard today or do you have a new model that’s available? If so, how and where can one be purchased?
No, but E-Bay has reissue Powell decks . Outlookskateboards.com still have some Outlook decks. I might have a Powell deck in the future again.
Do you think skateboarding has given you enough respect for your contributions?
Yes, way too much. People around the world sent me compliments.
What is your current involvement in the sport?
I don’t have a lot of direct involvement. I have trademarks around the world for “Ollie”
and licensing rights to my name. I don’t skate enough even though I have a 6 foot mini ramp at my car dealership, German Car Depot, and drive past Olliewood everyday.
What is your opinion of the “XGames"?
It’s cool; they seem to be trying to find the biggest wow factor for television.
Is there anything that you’d like to say or share with skateboarders around the Globe that will be reading this?
Over the years people would say, "Wow you are Ollie” and I would say “yea” with no great enthusiasm. I never realized how many people were affected by one little move an 80 pound kid from Hollywood Florida did @ SKATEBOARD USA way back in 1977.
Any thanks or shout outs you’d like to express at this time?
I’d like to thank my wife Sharon for putting up with me, my buddy Scott for talking me into skating again in 2001, and helping to get Olliewood built. Everyone who has skated with me over the years, THANKS!
Push, Carve, Grind!