I’ve always been somewhere between ‘piss poor’ to ‘average’ when it comes to skating. I can ollie and a few other rudimentary things, but that’s about it. WIRED Magazine broke down the physics of what it takes to ollie on a skateboard and suddenly I feel a lot better about myself.
Growing up on the west coast Florida skating was just something we did. You didn’t even think about it, it’s just what you were doing at the time. Maybe it’s because we had garbage waves in the Gulf of Mexico year round and there was still a climate of boardsports (wakeboarding, surfing, skating, etc), but it’s what teens did.
It always bothered me how shitty I was at skating, I expected myself to be better. I’m not a terrible athlete, and I’ve typically taken to boardsports well. But I never quite got the hang of skating. So when I came across this article from WIRED Magazine this morning using physics to breakdown why skateboarding is so damn difficult my interest was piqued.
Going off of this four-year-old video of a skater pulling off an ollie in slow-mo HD they’ve applied physics, and broken down the video in to GIFs explaining just how hard skating is:
Now, I might not be able to skate to save my life, but I can do a little physics. So here’s a thought – maybe I can use physics to learn how to do an ollie. Here’s the plan. I’m going to open up a video of this guy doing an ollie, filmed in glorious 1000 frames-per-second slow motion, and analyze it in the open source physics video analysis tool Tracker.
The first thing I did was track the motion of the front and back wheels (Tracker has a very convenient autotracker feature that can do this for you.)
One useful physics trick here is to track the center of mass of the skateboard, i.e. the average of the positions of the front and back wheels. Here is that curve overlapped in green.
Now, if you were to do the same tracking exercise for a soccer ball that’s been kicked, you’d get a neat arc-like shape called a parabola. This is the characteristic shape you get when the only force influencing an object’s motion is gravity.*
But the green curve in the above gif — the motion of the center of mass of the skateboard — is nowhere close to being a parabola. It’s lumpy and weird. This means that gravity isn’t the only force affecting the skateboard. Unlike a soccer ball in mid-flight, a skateboard mid-ollie is being actively steered.
This is exactly what makes doing an ollie so hard. It’s not enough to get the skateboard up into the air – you also have to steer it while it’s in the air.
Now I don’t want to take their entire post, because it required a lot of work. There’s a great deal more explanation as well as many more GIFs, so if you’re still interested in learning just why skating is so fucking hard, you can head on over and read the post in full HERE on WIRED.
But for now, here’s a few more slow-mo HD GIFs of skaters in action that I pulled from the video at the beginning:
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