Before we get started, let’s just define pressure flips. It’s a lot more than just the basic inward heelflip one. So a pressure flip is any trick that flips because of the way you pop or scoop it. So you’ve got the inward heel version and the hardflip version, but also straight ones and 360 and bigspin variations and it goes on and on. Technically, toe flips are part of the pressure flip family too, but they aren’t a major part of the story. Those flip like varial kickflips.
Pressure flips exploded into skateboarding in 1991. In 1990 you didn’t see them at all, then suddenly everyone and their brother was doing them in 91. It caught on like crazy and became one of the biggest fads in skateboarding. The fact that it blew up so fast and got so big actually might have been one of the things that killed it off, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
So many people doing them at the same time made it hard to track down who invented it. If you look it up, you’ll find this same Rodney Mullen ad that comes up all the time which gives him credit for 360 pressure flips in 1983. But that’s not the pressure flip that you’d think of. Like a lot of Mullen’s early tricks, the names changed over time, and it’s confusing to read about it today. Chances are, this is talking about a toe flip… But it might be something totally different too. I haven’t seen any early footage of him doing a toe flip. But it’s safe to say it wasn’t a 360 inward heel-style pressure flip. It was way too early.
Dig a little deeper and you might find an obscure article that seems to give Ron Knigge credit. I got stumped at this point for a long time, until I had the most obvious thought in the world – I need to ask Nate Sherwood. [pause]
If you don’t know about Nate, he is the king of the pressure flip. He’s been doing them since the early days of the trick, and he took it further than anyone else I’ve ever seen. I haven’t met him personally, but we’ve had some back-and-forths over the years. I asked him about the history of the trick, and I got a very thorough answer. This guy lives and breathes skateboarding and he was able to rattle this off the top of his head.
According to Nate, the inventor of the straight and shove it versions of the trick is Chris Fissel. A lot of people credit him with changing skateboarding. No complies, bonelesses, one footers and stuff like that were all uncool, and late flips and pressure flips were in. I didn’t know that he invented them though. His part in 1281 shows his early mastery over the trick, including nollie versions and all kinds of stuff.
UPDATE! Turns out, Nate wasn’t quite right on that. Check out this video to see the real inventor, Hans Lindgren:
Nate credits Ron Knigge for the first 360 pressure flip, Willy Santos for the first bigspin one, Mike Carroll for the first hardflip one, Rick Howard for doing it to manual first, and a lot of other details.
Damon Byrd was a huge name in pressure flip history too. His part in ‘Right to Skate’ has some new variations, like a pressure half hardflip late half flip. Nate gives him credit for doing it to noseslide first. He also has a 360 pressure hardflip in his part, which may have been first as well.
Nate himself landed a few variations first, like fakie bigspins, full cabs, and 360s in both directions, which he called the blizzard for backside, and the El Nato flip for frontside.
By 1992, this trick was everywhere. Even Rodney Mullen was doing them in Questionable. You couldn’t get away from the trick. In 93, they were pretty much gone. Ron Knigge, who just invented 360 pressure flips, doesn’t have a single one in his video part from 93, and instead lands possibly the first 360 inward heel on video instead.
So what happened to the trick? Why did it die out?
Let me tell you about video parts in the early 90s. They were full of fluke tricks. It was all about just getting your board to flip in a new way. Nowadays it’s cool to have all this stuff already done as a foundation, but at the time it got to be pretty bad. Video parts were full of tricks that are really sketchy, or even bails that are cut really quick to look like they were landed. The Plan B videos even have fake lines where the tricks are actually all done separately. See how there isn’t a second camera in the first angle?
On top of that, magazines weren’t doing too great either. Since all of the hot new tricks were really inconsistent and hard, shooting sequences on film really didn’t cut it anymore. You would waste a hundred bucks on multiple rolls of film to get a trick, and in the end, the frame rate of the camera would be too low to tell what was even happening. So magazines at the time started running sequences that are just ripped from video tapes. They don’t look good at all, but you could pull a ton of frames from it, and it was cheap.
After a little while, people got too sick of that stuff. They wanted the days of flowing around and going fast to come back. Wheels had gotten down to about 38 millimeters. That’s like wrapping some masking tape around bearings and putting them on your trucks. It was good for switching grinds, but not good for much else.
So, in time, going fast, popping tricks clean and getting height were getting more and more popular. And that meant getting rid of the tech stuff from before. Late flips and late shoves were all forgotten about, and also pressure flips.
To me, pressure flips are just a scapegoat. If you ever hear them brought up today, it’s always either as a joke or an insult. You’ll see people say something like ‘that guy has such good style, he could make a pressure flip look good’. But does the trick really deserve that reputation as being ugly and awkward?
Here’s the thing, go back and watch footage of pressure flips from back then. They were often really low and sketchy… But that was the style in general at the time. Look at other tricks from that era too. I just talked about how sketchy a lot of stuff was back then. It didn’t have anything to do with pressure flips in particular.
But let’s look at this article from the third Big Brother magazine, which came out in the Fall of ‘92. This article might have been written by Rodney Mullen… or maybe it’s uncredited and it’s just a sequence of him next to it. It’s not very clear. Anyway, the article is about how skateboarding has no rules, BUT here’s how to make your skating stronger. Here’s what it says.
“Pressure flips went in and out violently. Yesterday, we say hoards of kids inching along, drilling their toes into unbelievably awkward foot positions, then with a long drag, a little flip would shyly hug the ground. Contrast that with Jason Lee’s 360 kickflip: a crack of the tail, caught high and clean, no set-up, and full speed ahead…
There’s nothing wrong with pressure flips and late shove-its in themselves. Jovontae caught pressure flips with no real set-up at all… It’s just that some tricks have different limitations than others, and good skaters know how to make the best of what’s there without overdoing it.”
So let’s look at these claims.
First he mentions inching along. The thing about pressure flips is that the tail drags a little longer than other tricks, so if you do them too slow, they can bite into the ground and not work. OR they can eat some of your speed and you’ll land a lot slower than you started. This is fair, especially in comparison to a 360 flip like the article mentions. But it’s really no worse than sliding out the last few degrees of a spin trick.
The article also says the foot position is incredibly awkward and they’re really low. So back when I learned these with a friend, about 2005 or so, this is the foot position we used. It’s basically like a 360 flip, but maybe even more balanced than that. Even 360 pressure flips aren’t bad. The frontside stuff can get a little awkward though. Excuse how sketchy and bad some of my old footage is here.
As for the height… Well we better not use me as an example here. Let’s go back to Nate Sherwood. He can do them up onto stuff, over stuff… He has no problem getting height and doing gaps with them. The only thing I could see as a small issue is the fact that the board can get pretty vertical, and it might be tough to clear certain types of gaps with it. But that’s really not a problem for Nate, and it’s not a reason to hate the trick.
But another weird reason I read is that it makes your board wear unevenly. I mean, sure, it wears the side of your board down more than the other side, but 360 flips and impossibles do the same thing, if not to such an extreme degree.
The last reason I could find, and one that has a bit of merit, is that it’s too easy. Any kid can go out and learn this trick and have them clean in an afternoon. That puts it in the same category as a varial kickflip. But, of course, there are all the other variations, like bigspins and different stances. So I don’t think this is a major problem either.
I do a lot of research for this channel – often blindly. I’ll just read interviews and articles and watch skate videos all the time and just make notes about what I read in case it ever comes up in a video. Here’s the thing – a lot of times, pros from the 90s are asked what they thought of all the tech stuff at the time – late flips, curb dancing, pressure flips, that kind of stuff. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone admit that they thought it was cool at the time. Everyone wants to act like they secretly didn’t like it and just had to do it to keep up. But that’s obviously not always true. It’s not like the whole industry was nothing but people who hated what they were doing at the time. I think it just speaks to the peer pressure in skateboarding. As soon as it became uncool, everyone distanced themselves from it and pretended like they hated it all along.
Now I get it, being a pro at that time might not have been the best. Having to race to be the first to do an obscure new variation, then hurry up and get the video out before someone else released theirs… That kind of stuff might have sucked, but obviously a lot of people were into it at the time.
OK, so the trick came out, then pretty much every variation was landed, then it was killed in about 2 years. So how does everyone know about it these days? Why didn’t it stay dead? It’s still not mainstream in pro videos quite yet, but you’ll still see the trick from time to time these days.
I’ll give you two answers.
First is the bits and pieces of pro coverage that was starting to come out. Nate Sherwood had a couple tricks in 411 magazine around 2000 and 2001 – namely issues 42 and 49, then a big part later in 2007. Maybe a few more… I haven’t seen them all yet. He was also featured in a few small videos around that time. I knew about him because he actually had one of the best freestyle decks available back then. He doesn’t really skate freestyle though… it was kind of a marketing thing.
But his big break came in the Big Brother March 2003 issue. The whole issue was about weird skaters, but I think they treated his skating with a little respect. In the multi-page article, there are a lot of pictures and sequences of different variations, like 360 pressure flips, bigspin flips and pressure hardflips. It’s funny though, even though he’s in the magazine mostly because of his tricks, they didn’t bother to label most of the tricks right. This clearly isn’t a shove it. And this obviously isn’t a backside heelflip. Having his skating in the magazine like this really shone a spotlight on the trick and exposed it to a lot of people who hadn’t seen it before. Big Brother wasn’t one of the big skate magazines of the time, but there were still a lot of readers.
Another example is PJ Ladd’s Wonderful Horrible life in 2002. This video part is one of the top 5 video parts ever made. When it came out, it blew everyone’s mind and rocketed PJ Ladd into fame and stardom. It was a very influential part, and helped spark interest in some tricks, like gazelle flips. Here he does a fakie one. But also in his part is a line of pressure flip variations – namely toeflips. It’s kind of a throwaway line. He doesn’t even land the bigspin one, but still – PJ Ladd was cool, and this was a new trick for a lot of people. This might have gotten people interested in the whole category of tricks and eventually into the more standard ones.
Around that same time, Jamie Thomas’ part in Chomp on This has a no comply pressure flip manual no comply pressure flip out. The whole part has a lot of weird, off-the-wall type of stuff, but it’s Jamie Thomas. He can make anything cool.
Second is the Tony Hawk games. It’s hard to overstate how important the Tony Hawk series was as a tastemaker. In high school, a lot of skaters I knew refused to learn tricks that weren’t in the game, since they weren’t “real”. If they didn’t put them in the game, they must be fake joke tricks that nobody actually does. So for a lot of the younger skaters at the time, the Tony Hawk series was one of their only links to the outside skateboard world. Unless there was a big local skate scene in your town.
Anyway, when Underground came out 2003, they added in pressure flips. They did it in a really awkward way though – by adding in ‘pressure’ as a stance. That leads to some weird stuff like pressure ollies and pressure varial heelflips. But all the real tricks are there too – from 360 pressure flips to toe flips.
A lot of kids seeing this didn’t do pressure flips at the time, but it wasn’t because the trick was uncool. It’s because they had never seen it before – they weren’t skating 10 years prior when they died out. Seeing the tricks in the game added some legitimacy to them and caused new skaters to start learning about the trick. And maybe searching for it on the internet. Forums and video sharing was starting to pop up online, and people sharing tricks and ideas helped as well. Trick tips were starting to pop up – but mostly in written form and pressure flips are hard to understand without video. I made some video trick tips for a couple different kinds around 2007.
These days, there’s a lot more footage of every kind of there, and it’s easy to learn any trick from any era in skateboard history. Those parts from the 90s are just a click away and you can search Instagram tags and watch all the pressure flips you want.
When I made a video like this about impossibles, I compiled a best-of video. This time, I’m not going to do that because there’s only a few places you need to look. First, watch Ron Knigge in 1281 and Damon Byrd in Right to Skate. Then search Nate Sherwood and watch all of his stuff.
So, is the pressure flip coming back? Eventually, I think it will. At this point, most people who hate the trick weren’t even around when it became uncool. That was 25 years ago. It’ll just take a few people doing it with a lot of style to really inspire it to catch on again. And I hope it happens. There’s nothing wrong with having more trick options instead of seeing the same stuff all the time. And to be fair I think the pressure versions of 360 hardflips and inward heels actually look better. But that might just be me. So what about you? What do you think about the pressure flip? Do you think it will ever come back? Do you want it to?