Skate Science: The Physics of a Frontside 180

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Let’s be up-front about this: If you overdo the downward push on a Frontside 180 expect to lose the board (and with it any semblance of skating competence that you might have had). You need delicacy. Plenty of it.

To do this trick right, you take an Ollie—read about the science of that move here—and ratchet it up a notch, adding in more friction and force to get a complete 180-degree turn.

Paul Doherty, a physicist on staff at the San Francisco-based Exploratorium, explains to Edge that a Frontside 180 starts with the same physics as an Ollie: the pivoting of the board’s center of mass that starts with a pressing on the tail of the board, causing the nose to come up. And as you move your legs up to let the board rise, you need to make a change. Instead of, as in an Ollie, using that torque to keep moving up, the rider needs to create a twisting force in order to get that 180 degrees of sweet-stylin’ motion.

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“You are going to push off to the side and forward with the rear foot and pull back with the front foot to cause the board to rotate,” Doherty says. “You use the friction of the feet to stop the rotation.”

When in the air you have two choices. Pushing down on either the front or back of the board will cause the board to rotate on its center mass vertically, lifting either the nose or the tail. That defeats the purpose of a Frontside 180. You want spin. It just isn’t plausible for a rider to take his or her foot all the way off the board and use a toe to swipe it around. Instead the rider needs to push down on the board.

“By pushing downward, you make a friction force that allows you to push the board to the side and spin it around,” Doherty says. “When you push down with both feet, you exert a vertical force that allows you to exert a friction force.”

To better explain the phenomena, Doherty asks us to think of an astronaut in gravity-free space. With a board floating below their feet, they still need to figure out a way to spin it. By pushing down, it accelerates the board and once a rider establishes that contact, they can exert enough friction force to spin it around.

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That may all sound well and scientific, but even during the high-flying X Games, riders have limited time, what with gravity and all. So it all has to be spot-on.

“You have to adjust that downward push,” Doherty says. “If you overdo, you will push down so hard and fast that the board will leave your feet [and you won’t be able to stop the motion].

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“You have got to have that delicate touch, which pushes down enough to remain in contact with the board to get it started and is still in contact with the board to stop it from rotating.”

Delicate touch? Yeah, the Frontside 180 may look easy, but it makes an Ollie seem like Skateboarding 101.

Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.