With skateboarding making its Olympic debut at the 2021 Tokyo Games in Japan, the 2021 USA Skateboarding National Championships aims to fill out the team that will represent the country. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, rounds leading up to the finals were held virtually, which allowed any American skateboarder to participate, no matter where they live or how old they are.
After learning about the championships from family friend and local skater Shane Carrick, Ollie Graves decided to throw his name out there. He filmed runs at the bruised and battered skatepark in town and submit them to be judged. He made it past the initial qualifiers and quarterfinals in landing a spot in the semifinals. Ollie finished 12th in the semifinals last week, just outside the top eight that went on to the finals, but he solidified his place as one of the top up-and-coming skateboarders in the country. His recent run is impressive in its own right, but the fact that he’s 11 makes it even more jaw dropping.
“It was a great contest that really improved my skateboarding,” he said. “It was really cool to skate against the Olympic team. Overall, it was such a neat contest, and since it was virtual, anyone could have a shot.”
Ollie, which is short for Oliver, is a skateboarding prodigy with numerous accolades to his name, including several top finishes in the GrindForLife and Hot Wheels series within the past year. Taking to the sport at a young age after attending a skate camp in Telluride, Ollie is more dedicated than ever. But between schoolwork, training for competitions and hanging with friends, how does he do it all?
“First, I get my schoolwork done so that I have time to go skate and not worry about it. Some days I work really hard at my skateboarding and focus on progressing tricks, and some days I just hang with my friends and be a kid,” he said. “Like (Tuesday) was a chill day. A friend came over, and my brothers and I had a water balloon fight, went on a bike ride and just chilled. Also, if a contest is coming up I work really hard to be prepared.”
Craig Wasserman, who runs the Telluride skate camps and owns The Drop Boardshop in town, can attest to Ollie’s relentless work ethic, as he, local skateboarder Jess Parr and Lucas Foster, an Olympic snowboarder, helped him throughout the national championships run.
“He worked his tail off to film each successive run, improving upon former runs and pushing himself well past what he has ever done,” Wasserman said. “The pressure that would build as he began to land tricks in a run was immense, and the way that this 11-year-old handled that pressure was incredible to witness.”
Each run featured an unedited, 45-second line, complete with different tricks, a process that took a lot of planning and concentration, Ollie’s father Spencer Graves said.
“You really had to put down your best skating. He battled. He really was trying his hardest tricks. He put a lot of work into it,” said Spencer, who owns Eatery 66 in Ridgway with his wife Katie.
He added how much he appreciates Wasserman, Parr and Foster for the time they put in, too.
“They actually took Ollie out of school, brought him to the park and filmed him. They helped him figure out his line. Those guys really helped him out, hyped him up and supported him,” he said.
Ollie’s potential is “unlimited,” Wasserman explained, which is one of the reasons why he’s the first team rider for The Drop.
“It is very exciting to see his progression, and to even guess what his future might bring,” he said. “We are thrilled to sponsor Ollie in his skateboarding endeavors, and want to support him in whatever ways possible, to take his skating as far as he can.”
While there are some GrindForLife events over the next couple of months, Ollie is looking to improve his craft and conquer more competitions.
“I’d love to land a 720 (when the skateboard does two 360-degree rotations mid-air),” he said. “I want to get better at kickflip indies, and hopefully build a vert ramp so I can practice bigger tricks and get invited to big contests such as Dew Tour and Vans Park Series.”
When asked if he has any superstitions, Ollie explained he has a “lucky” camo jacket, and he landed his first 540 in Vans Kyle Walker Pro shoes, so he likes those, but there are no pre-run rituals or anything like that. His favorite food is sushi, and he likes listening to Juiceworld, Polo G and Bob Marley.
A fan of fellow skateboarders Danny Way, Zion Wright, Jagger Eaton and Hampus Winberg, Ollie described his “perfect” day, which includes a full schedule of skating, unsurprisingly.
“Wake up in California. My best skate friends would come over (Hampus, Leo, Phoenix and Tommy), have eggs Benedict, chill until noon, and then go skate my favorite bowl Poods at the Encinitas Skate Plaza until 3:30 p.m.,” he said. “Have good Mexican street tacos for lunch, and then go skate the California Training Facility with all the pros until 8 p.m., then have Eatery 66, if there was one in Cali, and then go for ice cream.”
The skateboarding scene in the area may be smaller than most, but the Graves are a big part of it, as brothers Tristan, 9, and Cole, 13, also shred. All three Graves boys ride for Pro-Tec Helmets.
“The whole Graves family is inspiring to be around. They all support and push each other in such positive and supportive ways. Big brother, style master, Old Soul Cole has such an easy going way about him that transfers to his smooth surf-skate style and makes him a grounding role model big bro,” said Wasserman, who has coached each brother during summer skate camps. “Lil’ brother Tristan has his own way of skating and drawing lines, and is always pushing himself to progress in his individual manner. At age 9, he is very impressive and no doubt will take his skateboarding to impressive heights as well.”
Dad Spencer, a lifelong surfer and snowboarder, admitted skateboarding isn’t his best sport, but he loves being able to spend time skating with his boys.
“It’s been incredible, man. The connection that we have through it is just so fun. Everywhere we go we have skateboards in the truck ready to go. At this point, we’re constantly doing skateboarding road trips together, either around Colorado or out to California. We’ve flown to Florida for contests,” he said. “It’s awesome. My connection with my kids through it is everything. I just hope they look back when they’re older and they’re like, ‘What a cool childhood we had, and Dad was there with us.’ I pinch myself every day that I get to hang with my kids. I look forward to them getting out of school and taking them to the skatepark.”