Ollie: the man behind the move

Anyone who has ever skateboarded, and a good many who lack thebalance, knows the ollie.

It’s a jump, fundamental to the sport, in which the board iskicked against the ground and into the air, useful for crossingobstacles such as curbs or elevating above a half-pipe’s lip.

What almost no one knows, though, is that there is an Olliebehind the ollie, a primordial ollie-r for whom the trick is named.He is 41 and runs a Volkswagen repair shop off a quiet street inHollywood, Fla. He maintains a hidden skate park in a convertedwarehouse next door.

His name has just entered the Oxford English Dictionary as nounand intransitive verb.

“Once you’re in there,” Alan “Ollie” Gelfand said one recentnight, “they can’t take you out. That’s the funk, the definitiveversion of the whole language.”

Gelfand was dubbed Ollie as a young teen, for reasons having todo with a neat rhyme with his hometown of Hollywood and aneponymous deluxe hamburger. The name stuck, and before itsOxfordization, was trademarked.

In 1977, Gelfand was spotted by Stacy Peralta, a touring pro wholater became a well-known skateboard designer. “I saw him pop theboard around and it just blew me away,” Peralta said in a phoneinterview.

“It’s the most revolutionary trick of the 20th century,” hesaid. “It changed how you interpret terrain: all of a sudden,curbs, garbage cans, fire hydrants are part of the ride.”

For the next three years, Gelfand toured the world and appearedregularly in skate magazines, earning up to $1,000 a month. Photosshow crowds watching a boy of 15 or 16, short, lithe, oftenairborne, dressed in a style that can only be described as HighDork – too-tight shorts, knee socks and bulky pads.

Ollie was famous, and so was the ollie.

Gelfand’s “developments, the ollie pop and the subsequentno-handed ollie aerial, rank as two of the hottest moves on thevanguard scene,” SkateBoarder Magazine noted in 1979.

But Gelfand walked away from the sport in 1982, beset by kneeproblems and tired of constant competition. He joined aprofessional go-cart circuit, raced cars, discovered he could earna living at neither and opened his repair shop nine years ago.

He met a young woman, Sharon Israel, fell in love and gotengaged.

Israel read a book on skateboarding history a few years ago andgot to thinking: “Where’s Ollie? It’s unbelievable, the number oftimes I’ve seen this word used.”

She began an e-mail campaign, polite but persistent, informingdictionaries and encyclopedias of this gap in their entries andpresenting numerous instances of the ollie in print.

The lexicographers were curious, but unswayed: The term was morejargon than lingua franca, they argued. Years passed. Israelthought she had a chance with Merriam-Webster’s Eleventh Editionbut was disappointed, when it came out last year, to find noentry.

Then Oxford called.

They wanted it.

“We think this term is known to people other thanskateboarders,” said Jesse Sheidlower, the North American editor,who happens not to be a skateboarder himself. “But you know, I’veread some things about it,” he said in a phone interview.

For months, expert research was done, and publications fromaround the world were scoured for citations, such as the following:”Harri was complaining he couldn’t ollie properly because of athigh injury, which he picked up whilst filming a steep rail.”

A definition emerged: “A jump executed by pressing the foot downon the tail of the board to rebound the deck off the ground.”

An origin was given: “The name of Alan `Ollie’ Gelfand (b.1963), U.S. skateboarder, who invented the jump in 1976.”

“I won’t speculate how ‘ollie’ will be used in 500 years,” saidSheidlower, the editor. “But it will be in the OED.”

Ollie: (n.) A jump executed by pressing the foot down onthe tail of the board to rebound the deck off the ground