Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Rodney Mullen

By on August 13, 2014

If there’s one thing great about the internet, it’s Wikipedia. Back in my day there was hardly any information out there about any of my favorite pro skaters. What I learned about them I learned from whatever magazine I could get my hands on. There certainly wasn’t an encyclopedia entry about Lance Mountain or one of my favorite street skaters-before there were street skaters, Rodney Mullen.


John Rodney Mullen (born August 17, 1966) is a professional skateboarder, company owner, inventor, and public speaker who practices freestyle and street skating. Mullen is credited with inventing numerous skateboarding tricks, including the flatground ollie, kickflip, heelflip, impossible and 360-flip (also commonly known as the ‘tre-flip’ or ‘3-flip’).Mullen has appeared in over 20 skateboarding videos and has co-authored an autobiography entitled The Mutt: How to Skateboard and Not Kill Yourself, with writer Sean Mortimer.

Early life

Mullen was born in Gainesville, Florida, United States, and began skateboarding at the age of ten, on New Years Day of 1977, after a neighborhood friend introduced him to a skateboard. He promised his strict father, a dentist, that he would cease skateboarding the first time he became seriously injured:

“My dad wouldn’t let me have a skateboard. He thought I’d get hurt and never get good, and the culture was bums, and I’d turn into one. He was a dentist, but before that he was military, and there were times you’d call him, ‘Sir.’ New Year’s Day he had a drink and felt better, and the skate shop was open. I learned to skate in our garage. We lived in the country in Florida, it was sort of farmish, and there was no cement anywhere else. Vert skating was the kind of skating that was done in pools, where you could get airborne and be weightless. The other style, which is what I did, was called free style, which was tricks you could do on flat ground.”

Mullen began practicing in the garage of the family home while wearing a comprehensive pads setup, a precaution that was part of the deal with his father, and spent time with his sister’s surfer friends, who skateboarded on weekdays.Mullen became obsessed with the skateboard and practiced for many hours on a daily basis. As a child, Mullen slept in boots designed to correct a severe pigeon-toe condition. Despite Mullen’s condition, “He had an incredible dexterity with his feet,” in the words of Phil Chiocchio, former owner of the Florida skatepark Sensation Basin.

In 1978, having owned a skateboard for just over a year, Mullen placed fifth in the Boy’s Freestyle category at the US Open Championships at Kona Skatepark in Jacksonville, Florida. Skateboard manufacturer Bruce Walker saw his performance and sponsored Mullen through Walker Skateboards from 1978 to 1980. Mullen’s biggest influence in skateboarding at the time was a Walker professional skateboarder, Jim McCall, who was coached in his early years by Walker (Walker also coached a young Kelly Slater. Mullen was also influenced in a positive manner by professional skateboarders from Florida to include: Ed Womble; George McClellan; Clyde Rodgers; Tim Scroggs; and Kelly Lynn.

In later years, Mullen was coached by Barry Zaritzky (also known as “SIO Barry”), who owned a company called SiO Safety Shorts. When his family moved to a farm in a remote part of Florida, Mullen began perfecting his flatground techniques in the family garage; he has said that the isolation and lack of terrain naturally guided him towards freestyle skateboarding. Mullen cites July 1979–August 1980 as his “most creative time”, a time when he was predominantly a loner who counted the cows of the family farm as his best friends. Mullen then proceeded to win thirty successive amateur competitive victories in the late 1970s, mostly in his home state of Florida, culminating in a win at the Oceanside Nationals in June 1979.

Rodney Mullen in air

Rodney Mullen, 1988.

In 1980, the 14-year-old Mullen entered the Oasis Pro competition, defeating the world champion, Steve Rocco. Mullen later turned professional as a member of the renowned Bones Brigade team, sponsored by Powell Peralta, after a recommendation from one of the company’s riders, who was also from Florida, and who had seen Mullen at the contest. Powell Peralta was co-owned by Stacy Peralta, who Mullen highly admired. Mullen competed voraciously throughout the 1980s—often frustrating competitors and judges with his consistency and progressive ability.By 1990, Mullen had won thirty-four out of thirty-five freestyle competitions that he had entered, losing only once to fellow Bones Brigade member, Per Welinder.

Despite the recognition that Alan Gelfand has received for inventing the ollie air in the transitional context, Mullen is responsible for the invention and development of the flatground ollie that formed the basis for street-style skateboarding. The ability to pop the board off of the ground and land back on the board, while in motion, has been one of the most significant developments in modern skateboarding.The invention of this trick alone, regardless of the numerous other tricks that he has invented and his design work, has ranked Mullen as one of the most important skateboarders of all time.In response to the praise that he has received for the flatground ollie, Mullen stated in mid-2012:

“I had for a long time done a really simple movement, which was … it was just a transfer trick … and there are a ton of tricks where I need to get to this side [the nose of the board touching the ground]. A transfer trick—I’d been doing that since the late seventies, so that I could, in turn, do things like that [performs a trick]. When I saw him [Gelfand] do it on the wall, I’m immediately thinking of the mechanics of it; how do you get your board off the ground, how would you get your board off the ground like he did off the wall? ‘Cause I’m stuck on flat ground, not weightless … the first ones I did took about, I don’t know, about five or ten minutes … I realized that’s just the same motion I’ve been doing for years—it’s a seesaw motion. That’s how ollies work … it’s just a punch and a little hop … in a back-handed way, people credit me with … in the documentary, Stacy’s [Peralta] Bones Brigade documentary, credit me with the importance of the ollie that gave the foundation for street skating, which is skateboarding today, all that, and to me it was like, ‘Yeah, but, it’s not a big deal’. Just ten, fifteen, half-an-hour, an hour, and the next thing you know, you’re getting ’em this high. And that’s what made the foundation for everything else. So, in a sense, the biggest innovation for street skating, for which they credit me for … is not a big deal!”

Throughout the 1980s, he invented the majority of skating’s ollie and flip tricks, including the flatground ollie, the kickflip, the heelflip, the 360-flip, and many others. These tricks are now considered an essential part of both modern vert skateboarding and street skateboarding.

And that’s just his life through the 1980s. For more history on the most influential street skater of all time, click here.

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