The Marion Tinsley of Skateboarding
March 11, 2007 6:56 AM   Subscribe

A three part biography of skateboarder Rodney Mullen. He invented more than 30 tricks, including the flatground ollie, the kickflip, and the heelflip. Despite being voted the most legendary "extreme sports" athlete of all time, the only extreme thing about him is his reclusive, geeky, devotion to practice.
posted by roofus (27 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains -- Thomas Carlyle.
posted by unSane at 7:15 AM on March 11, 2007

As a former skateboarder, Rodney Mullen always fascinated me more than Tony Hawk. I find his best work in the Plan B Questionable video, where he is completely street but with a freestyle flair. I was also lucky enough to see him at the World Skateboarding Championship in Muenster, Germany in 1990. He had come to the contest saying he wanted to win on the the 10th anniversary of going pro, and he cleaned up in freestyle. However, during the heats, he was out skating the street course on his freestyle board and putting some of the street pros to shame. Even if you're not into skateboarding, I still would recommend watching at least one of his videos
posted by Chocomog at 7:48 AM on March 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

A ton of that video is from a place I went many times as a teen.

Kona Skate Park
posted by toddbass10 at 7:55 AM on March 11, 2007

Per Welinder was another skateboarder in the same realm as Mullen. Per was simply awesome. He did things that would simply amaze me.

Per Welinder
posted by toddbass10 at 8:06 AM on March 11, 2007

I received my first skateboard on my 8th birthday. I was in heaven. A week later it was stolen from the back of my parents car and I never rode again. The effect on the past, present and future of skateboarding can only be pondered.
posted by itchylick at 8:20 AM on March 11, 2007

I'm afraid my vote for most legendary extreme sports athlete of all time goes to Sir Rycharde Thystlwaitye who invented "skytebordyng" in 1347 when he attached 3 rollers to a short plank. The "halfe pype" was invented 4 years later.

A firm second place vote goes to Lord Thomas Tommingham who invented skydiving in 1723. Unfortunately he died (in bed and at the ripe old age of 94) before any airplanes to skydive out of had been invented. Pretty extreme.
posted by DU at 8:37 AM on March 11, 2007

aww, the Marion Tinsley of skateboarders.

Such an interesting sport. So much repetition, balance, falling, landing on one's ass on the hard pavement while moving. Major patience needed, plus bionic ankles, endurance, sense of geometry and then there's the added artistic touch. I love skateboarders and all the extreme sport-artists.

Other geek skaters, the Douglas Aircraft Roller Skating Messengers, World War II Era.
posted by nickyskye at 9:22 AM on March 11, 2007

15+ years after I saw that Plan B video, I can still recall the feeling I had while watching it, of being totally and completely blown away and realizing I probably wouldn't ever something so far ahead of everyone else.

Not only was he doing darkslides, but 360 darkslides with multiple kickflips out? Even if it took 100 takes and pulling the tricks took a bit of luck, I don't think anyone has ever done anything as technical since.
posted by mathowie at 10:10 AM on March 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

I bought a pair of Rodney Mullen shoes and my history lesson began. He was the Nikola Tesla of skating. Tesla did more for modern electricity than Edison boasted he did. Likewise, Mullen was a skater first and Hawk a marketer firts. One broadened the sport the other broadended the coverage.
posted by potus at 10:19 AM on March 11, 2007

I remember judging freestyle contests for the NSA back in the mid- to late-1980s. No one ever came close to Rodney, not even Welinder.

And, potus, Tony Hawk was definitely a skater first. I knew him when he was starting to get popular and he wasn't comfortable with it. All he cared about was skating.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 10:29 AM on March 11, 2007

The Del Mar Skate Ranch was literally 4 blocks from where I lived during high school. Actually, the VERY first graphic design I ever convinced someone to pay me to design was an ad for the 1984 Pro/Am Skateboard Competition for my high school newspaper (with a 50% off coupon for hi-ball! Woo hoo!). I still have it on the wall of my office & boy is it bad.

My best friend worked at the Ranch so probably half of the high school parties we went to were with skate rats. Tony Hawk wasn't invited to any of the parties -- at that point he was just some little scrawny little runt kid who was always hanging around with his parents. (Which, ironically, has a lot to do with why he's a multimillionaire now and many of the other skate rats spiraled after they became famous.) Another one of my dearest friends ended up marrying Adrian Demain who turned out to be hands-down one of the sweetest guitar players I know. That same friend was good friends with Gator when he was arrested. She told me that if he could be a murderer, anyone could & it hit her really hard. Plus, in hindsight it suddenly made creepy sense why the last time they went to the surfshop together he kept mumbling that he needed to get a new surfboard bag...
posted by miss lynnster at 11:10 AM on March 11, 2007

And I will back strange up. Tony was a skater when he was like 12. He was one of the babies at the Ranch, he was barely noticed. He didn't care about marketing, he didn't even know what it was. Tony loved skating. Period. His parents supported his love and kept his head on his shoulders for him. He really stayed on a very straight path for the most part. They encouraged him and with their support he was able to make a dynasty out of doing what he loved.

There were MANY MANY good/great skaters with the same opportunities, but they just partied a lot and got addicted to the macho celebrity instead of paving a future out of it. A lot of them didn't have strong parental figures to keep them in check, and I watched them crash & burn. Skating skills aside, I give Tony Hawk & his family all of the credit in the world. Seriously.
posted by miss lynnster at 11:17 AM on March 11, 2007

I skated a bit as a kid in the mid 80s. Never got into skate culture, never paid attention to who/what was hot in the world of skating. Mainly because I sucked really bad and didn't have the guts to stick with it.

Anyhow... I discovered Rodney Mullen through Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2. I recall finishing the game with his character and getting to watch his video... I was utterly blown away.

With every other personality in the game, their in game counterpart could do way crazier stuff than in real life. With Mullen... holy crap! You couldn't do half the stuff he was doing in his real videos. I watched and watched and watched... There's a casper-kickflip-anticasper between two tables and I just shit when I first saw it.

I'm way too old to get back into skating but I can recall watching those mullen clips and just wanting to quit the day-job, buy a board and practice my ass off. Then I recalled my utter lack of talent... :-)
posted by C.Batt at 12:16 PM on March 11, 2007

Rodney Mullen, Plan-B: Questionable video [YouTube].

I don't know what it's called in skateboard terminology, but the shit he does at about 3:20 in the video should be called THE SICK.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:25 PM on March 11, 2007

Makes me super stoked to see this post. I spent a good chunk of childhood in Gainesville, Fla, went to the same school and church as Rodney, and rode skateboards when I couldn't scam rides to the beach. He and I would sometimes talk on the phone, in that clinging to a splintered plank fervency that like-minded communication offers to shy middle schoolers. We'd talk about decks and Gullwings and Tony Alva, the latest zines from the West Coast, Dogtown heroes, stuff like that. He would have spent the afternoon practicing 360s on a concrete pad in his backyard, and quietly announce that he'd done 30, or 50, or a 100. (I think I did 12 once.)

Rodney wouldn't remember me, I'm sure -- I busted out my teeth when some guy in a Cutlass Olds backed out of his blind driveway and sent me spinning into the gutter, knocked cold. My mom took away the boards, explained that there was no hope for a single parent to pay the kind of bills I was certain to accrue, and that was that.

None of which is relevant, other than to say Rodney is a genuinely sweet guy, an extraordinary kinetic poet, and wholly deserving of his acclaim and subsequent admirers, of which I remain.
posted by Haruspex at 12:44 PM on March 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

rodney mullens is like a ballerina on a skateboard. i've never seen anyone so graceful and make it look so easy!!
posted by lisalisa123 at 1:56 PM on March 11, 2007

Ballerina? He's a motherfucking ninja!

I spent an evening a few weeks back watching clips of Rodney on YouTube. I think what I like about him the most is that in the culture of higher, faster, higher, higher, faster! that the X-Games represent, he's just straight Technical. I could sit and watch him bust tricks in slow-motion all day long.
posted by Ufez Jones at 2:45 PM on March 11, 2007

Speaking as a late-80s teenage skateboarder, when exactly did the bigger street/pipe boards become obsolete and everyone start riding on "freestyle" boards?
posted by gottabefunky at 3:07 PM on March 11, 2007

gottabefunky: it happened in about '91 when Vallely's first board came out.

I remember meeting Rodney after a demo in a dirty surf shop parking lot in '87 or so. He was the nicest most shy skateboarder we'd met and he sat and talked to all us little grommets. I remember him mentioning he and some friends in college in Gainesville had figured out how to freebase cough syrup. I don't why that's stuck with me to this day.

And Matt, do you remember that World Industries video where Jeremy Klein focuses Rodney's board and Rodney hopped on a big board and preceded to tear shit up. My friends and I were dumbfounded. We rewound the video to make sure it was him. It was like, wait, the freestyle guy can street skate?!

This post is easily worth the $5 I paid for the MeFi. Roofus, you made my day.
posted by photoslob at 7:20 PM on March 11, 2007

This is a fantastic post and the thread is great too.
posted by nadawi at 7:23 PM on March 11, 2007

Awesome, check. Technically brilliant, check. Extreme, not so much. Still, extreme is overrated. His ability to execute technical tricks flawlessly, and consistently is what makes him a one in a billion standout athlete.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:12 PM on March 11, 2007

You know how in some urban environments, you will see signs that say: "NO SKATEBOARDING"? Well, I have dreams sometimes that those signs are replaced with signs that say: "SKATEBOARDING MANDATORY". Beneath the signs will be somewhat haphazardly but not uncaringly placed loaner boards for those not fortunate enough to have their own. And these areas, in my dreams, are like the most amazingly convoluted environments, like something out of Parkour, but with skateboards. And everyone, young and old, businessman or hausfrau must shred to pass through this wonderfully bizarre and twisted domain. Access otherwise is impossible.

Some will clumsily sputter, stutter, stagger and fall their way through this bizarro office-park. Many will slowly weave back and forth, flapping their arms with wild uncertainty reminscent of a chick first leaving the nest. But at some point, someone will come along; perhaps a young child. Someone will come along and pick up one of these loaner boards. For them, walking is an uncomfortable, awkward mode of transportation. And they will step on the deck and be transformed. Suddenly everything; their whole life, will make sense. And they will look the sky and smile, knowing there is a purpose and meaning to their life. Their first kick will not be tentative, but rather firm and assured. And, unbidden, one foot will slide back, raising the front of the board just in time for it to be brought level by the sweep of the other; landing on their first railing. And there they will balance, somewhere between man and god, and the rest of the universe will be irrelevant. There will only be the physical calculations of a mind engaged truly for the first time; performing that spectacular calculus without a net. The mass of the rider, the mass of the board. Their combined velocity, which together determines the momentum and kinetic energy. Then the coefficient of friction, which determines the exit velocity of the slide, which in turn determines the angular momentum applied to the dismounting kickflip. The body and mind perform these calculations without calculator or abacus, checking and rechecking hundreds of times a second. This is no flawed dualistic machine; but a sound whole where all parts work in concert for the single, ineffable joy of motion. Of life.
posted by Eideteker at 10:48 PM on March 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

That's not to say there won't be lots of practice, falls, and bruises along the way. As a kid who ollied successfully on his first attempt, I always regret not getting more into skateboarding (didn't have the money, sadly).
posted by Eideteker at 11:10 PM on March 11, 2007

The money? A lot of kids I knew who skated came from broken homes & had no money so that confuses me. They saved up for a skateboard and then hung out in parking lots all the time. Some got jobs at the ranch to pay for their pool time. Am I missing something?
posted by miss lynnster at 6:44 AM on March 12, 2007

(insert name dropping story that has nothing to do with op)
back in the day i was totally rad!
posted by andywolf at 7:54 AM on March 12, 2007

Yeah, I'm a little confused about the "didn't have the money" bit, too. Sure, if you have money, there are ways to use it on your board (New trucks! New wheels! Gorilla grips! New grip tape!), but I knew folks who skated for a year off an initial investment of $40.00 on a Variflex skateboard. Yeah, they got made fun of for Veriflex, but nonetheless they skated.
posted by Bugbread at 8:20 AM on March 12, 2007

Thanks roofus.
posted by peacay at 5:01 PM on March 12, 2007

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