Header image courtesy Garry Knight
A sports career unlike most any other…
John Rodney Mullen is royalty in skateboarding circles. The originator of the kick flip and so much more, he’s been called the “Godfather of Street Skateboarding” and even widely thought of as the most influential street skater in the sport’s history—which is even more notable seeing as Mullen didn’t even begin his tenure as a street skater.
The story’s fascinating and the career achievements a mile long, but we’re going to do our best to sum up Mullen’s accomplishments in our retrospective below—complete with some choice footage and interviews, of course!
The Early Years
Born August 17, 1966, Rodney Mullen hailed from Gainesville, Florida, living on a small farm under the watchful eye of a rather domineering father—that’s our nice way of saying “hardass.” After being introduced to a skateboard by a buddy on New Years Day, 1977, Mullen cut his teeth in the sport by spending as much as six hours daily skating in their un-air-conditioned barn despite his dad’s initial stern disapproval.
“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.” (Source: The New Yorker)
Eventually, his pops gave tepid approval of the sport, although Mullen had to wear an elaborate set of pads as part of the deal. He had a bit of a tough go at first—he had to sleep in boots in order to correct a serious pigeon-toe condition. Still, he made it work, and become proficient at freestyle skateboarding, which was the perfect style for the flat concrete surface of the family barn.
And, eventually, he got noticed.
Skateboard manufacturer, Bruce Walker, witnessed Mullen in action and decided to extend a sponsorship to the young prodigy (Mullen would rep Walker Skateboards from 1978 to 1980). This kicked off his career and when, in 1980 as a wet-behind-the-ears 14-year-old, he won the Oasis Pro by downing world champion, Steve Rocco, Mullen’s career launched into the stratosphere. Shortly thereafter, he turned pro as a member of the Bones Brigade.
It was truly the start of something special.
- Won his first world skateboard championship at the ripe age of 14
- Invented the flatground ollie in 1981, arguably modern skating’s most fundamental maneuver and the basis for streetstyle boarding
- Invented a number of additional staple tricks throughout the 1980s, including the kickflip, 360-flip, heelflip, backside flip, double flip, impossible, darkslide, and more.
- Joined and became a principal investor in World Industries alongside friend and one-time rival, Rocco, in 1989. It represented the first skateboarder-owned company.
- Successfully transitioned from freestyle to streetstyle skateboarding, leaving an indelible mark on the sport
- Co-founded Almost Skateboards
- Sold World Industries in 2002 for $46 million, instantly becoming a multimillionaire
- Won 35 out of 36 freestyle contests, a streak that represents the most successful competitive run in the sport’s history
- Named the “all-time greatest action sports athlete” on the Extreme Sports Channel's “Legends of the Extreme” countdown in 2003
- Named to the Skateboarding Hall of Fame in May, 2003 in Anaheim, California
“As a kid, I grew up on a farm in Florida, and I did what most little kids do. I played a little baseball, did a few other things like that, but I always had the sense of being an outsider, and it wasn't until I saw pictures in the magazines that a couple other guys skate, I thought, 'Wow, that's for me,' you know?”
“I fell in love with skateboarding because it was individual; there were no teams, there were no captains, there was nothing to perfect. No style that had to be measured. It was completely opposite of what I saw in so many sports. It was creative. And to this day, that's what I love, that's always kept me back to it because it's endless creation.”
“The biggest obstacle to creativity is breaking through the barrier of disbelief.”
“Don't let anything poison your individuality. Break away & look in, not outward."
"Do what you love and try not to look at what other people occupy themselves with. Most people seem restless and bounce around too much to focus or even pay attention enough to themselves to figure out exactly what they really do love, as opposed to what the people that surround them are doing.”
“What it is is that there's an intrinsic value in creating something for the sake of creating it, and better than that ... there is this beauty in dropping it into a community of your own making, and seeing it dispersed, and seeing younger, more talented, just different talent, take it to levels you can never imagine, because that lives on.”
“Because we all have that fear of judgment ... yeah, that's true. I'm like that—I'm afraid of being judged. I don't necessarily want to be seen in public sucking, getting older; but, what I keep inside, that joy of feeling what I do, rolling around, playing around—that's something I'm going to do as long as I can. That's who I am ... who I am.”
“Skateboarding is as much, or more, an art of mode of expression than it is a sport. What skateboarding has given me is precisely that: a form of expression that drew me to it, and, in so doing, I was able to express and be who I wanted to be through it, in a sense.”