Rodney Mullen won his first world skateboard championship at the age of 14; over the following decade, he won 34 out of 35 freestyle contests, thus establishing the most successful competitive run in the history of the sport. Over the following years, he turned from freestyle, translating his accumulated skills to a newer, different form of skateboarding.
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.
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, even though he had owned a skateboard for only 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 including 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.
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, whom 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.
In early 1989, Mullen left the Bones Brigade to join World Industries as a principal investor with longtime friend and former rival, Rocco, in the formation of the very first skateboarder-owned company—professional skateboarder, Mike Vallely, later joined the pair for a brief period of time. Mullen and Rocco had embarked on a very risky venture, as Powell Peralta was an established company and Rocco's upstart company had been struggling at the time. World Industries would later develop into the distribution company, Dwindle Distribution, which is the world's largest skateboard manufacturer in the 21st century.
As the popularity of freestyle skateboarding declined, Mullen was urged to transform his style to join the street skating trend that was becoming increasingly popular at that time; however, Mullen was very reluctant due to a fear of compromising his integrity, whereby the foundation of his skateboarding would be "sold out". Such pressure is alluded to in the World Industries video, Rubbish Heap, in which Mullen's sequence ends with team member, Jeremy Klein, deliberately breaking his freestyle skateboard and then handing him a note from Rocco, accompanied by a street skateboard deck, in which the end of freestyle is declared.
In 1991, Mullen joined the high-profile skateboarding team, Plan B. Mike Ternasky, the owner of Plan B, influenced Mullen to transition from freestyle to street skating, and showcased his skills in the 1992 Plan B video, Questionable. His segment begins with traditional freestyle tricks executed on flat ground, but quickly transitions into Mullen skateboarding across public terrain to shift into street skating tricks and lines. Mullen's video part signified a major transformation in relation to both his career and his skateboarding—Ternasky filmed Mullen as he sequenced tricks and mixed flip tricks with grinds and boardslides, while he also negotiated obstacles. Mullen also introduced two newly invented tricks in Questionable, the kickflip underflip and the Casper slide.
Mullen's Questionable performance might have marked the beginning of a new era in street skateboarding. His reluctant transition from freestyle to street skateboarding was a symbol that legitimized the technical direction street skating had taken over the previous few years. Mullen focused on the progression of this transition in subsequent Plan B videos, including 1993's Virtual Reality, in which Mullen showcases the newly mastered trick, the darkslide. Mullen's participation in Plan B dissolved after Ternasky was killed in a car crash on May 17, 1994. Mullen later explained, "He was such a great person. He would lift you so high and that is why Plan B was what it was. And it was clear once Mike was gone that it was never the same."
In 1997, Mullen started another company, the A-Team, with the intention of forming a "super team" following the gradual dissolution of Plan B over the four years following Ternasky's death. It was at this time that Mullen also initiated discussions with friend and fellow professional skateboarder, Daewon Song, to plan the video Rodney vs. Daewon, released in 1997, which featured the two skaters "competing" with their respective video parts (the concept developed into a series and, as of December 2012, three "rounds" have been produced).
The A-Team folded in 2000 and Mullen made the transition from company founder to company rider, as former Maple rider, Marc Johnson, founded Enjoi Skateboards (other riders included Chris Cole and Bobby Puleo, with Jerry Hsu and Louie Barletta, the current mainstays of the team, recruited later).
Around the turn of the 21st century, Mullen had been engaged in the design and creation of his own skateboard truck concept, a concept that would later become the foundation for the company, Tensor. In 2000, Mullen filed for a United States patent in support of his innovative work in the area and submitted the following abstract to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office:
A skateboard having one or more truck assemblies configured to eliminate undesired ride characteristics such as hanger-jiggle and wheel bite, without sacrificing the skateboard's steering responsiveness. Each truck assembly includes an axle assembly with a ring-shaped hanger that is confined on a kingpin using a pair of bushings, at least one of which includes an annular flange that projects into an annular gap defined between the hanger and the kingpin. This prevents the hanger from moving laterally relative to the kingpin and thereby eliminates undesired ride characteristics such as hanger-jiggle and wheel bite. In a separate feature of the invention, the skateboard truck assembly further incorporates a low-friction slider plate that enhances the rider's performance of certain maneuvers and at the same time protects other components of the truck assembly from undue wear.
A subsequent advertisement was released, entitled "The Patented Tensor Design", and the company recruited team riders such as Daewon Song, Chris Cole, Chris Haslam, Salman Agah, Ryan Sheckler, Kanten Russell, and Gailea Momolu. As of December 2012, the Tensor team consists of Daewon Song, Rodney Mullen, Ronnie Creager, Enrique Lorenzo, Manny Santiago, Zered Bassett, Felipe Ortiz, and Joey Brezinski.
Mullen subsequently left Enjoi to co-found Almost Skateboards with Song, who had been unable to find success with the two preceding deck companies that he had founded, Deca and Artefact. Mullen and Song proceeded to recruit Cooper Wilt (a former Artefact rider), Chris Haslam (a former Deca and Artefact rider), Greg Lutzka, and Ryan Scheckler to form the initial basis of the company.
After years of success and controversy, Steve Rocco decided to sell World Industries. In 2002, World Industries, under the holding name "Kubic Marketing," was sold to Globe International for US$46 million. Rocco, as the owner, and Mullen, as a principal investor, became instant multimillionaires. Kubic's management remained intact and Mullen began working for Globe under the Dwindle Distribution brand. In 2003, Mullen wrote and released his autobiography entitled The Mutt: How to Skateboard and Not Kill Yourself. In late 2003, he was voted as the all-time greatest action sports athlete on the Extreme Sports Channel's Legends of the Extreme countdown.
As of December 2012, Mullen remains the co-owner and a team rider for the Almost brand; his role at Almost also includes research and development on new designs and technologies, including Impact Support, Double Impact, and Uber Light. The Uber Light design was a collaborative effort between Mullen and the CL Composites company, utilizing a design that consists of "a deck inside a deck", whereby, "The internal carbon fiber foam deck is ultra light and nearly as stiff as metal. It acts like rebar, or a skeleton embodied by a standard 7-ply layup. It also vastly improved the lateral rigidity. The deck wears, slides, and looks like a normal 7-ply, but its lighter and has a supernatural pop that lasts far longer than any normal deck."
Mullen also contributes to the design of experimental and composite deck constructions for Dwindle's other brands, such as bLind and Darkstar.
From 2007 onward, Mullen has worked to erase his riding stance, allowing him ride a skateboard in the absence of the conception of "stance". In an interview with Tony Hawk, Mullen explained that he had developed problems in his right hip joint and that his transition between stances came out of an effort to favor his leg. He goes on to describe that scar tissue had built up in his joint as a result of habitually hyper-extending his leg while skating. Mullen stated that through extensive and consistent stretching he was able to tear away the scar tissue.
Mullen further explained in an interview at Germany's Bright tradeshow in 2011:
... for me, it was a grinding to a halt, until I could barely walk really, and, so I just set up myself into ... I took about a couple of years, a year-and-a-half of breaking myself apart; pretty medievally. And as I did so, I realized that that was helping me unravel my stance; and so now, I've just been investigating, or pushing myself to try to, to, take apart my stance so that I no longer have one. And so it's not just doing everything switch, because everybody does whatever switch. It's to have no stance at a physical level. And so even what you did in your regular, native stance, it feels ... ah ... new.
In December 2010, Mullen stated in an interview that he was preparing to film a part for the upcoming Almost video, although he did not appear in the 2012 video, 5-Incher. In the 2011 Bright tradeshow interview, Mullen stated, "At first, I just wanted to be able to be alright and walk okay and run. And then it was like, okay, skate again and now it's like 'Yeah, I can do something new!'. So, if I can do that, then I'll film. If I can't, then I'll keep my skating private." Both the skateboard media and in responses from Almost indicate that a full part from Mullen is scheduled for release following 5-Incher—Mullen was in attendance at the premiere of 5-Incher. The most recent official video footage from Mullen can be seen in the 2007 United By Fate series that was produced by the Globe shoe company.
Mullen has publicly stated that an identification of his favorite skateboarders is an "endless" task. However, he has provided examples such as Chris Haslam, Bryan Herman, Paul Rodriguez, Antwuan Dixon, and Eric Koston.
The Almost company celebrated its 10th anniversary with an event at the Berrics indoor skate complex in early March 2014, and Mullen attended the venue for the first time. As part of the celebration, Mullen completed an interview with the Berrics that is titled "A Beautiful Mind," in which Mullen explained his current relationship with skateboarding:
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.
The first video footage of Mullen skateboarding in nine years was published on Tony Hawk's RIDE YouTube channel in July 2014. Mullen appears in the video skateboarding at musician Ben Harper's residence and Harper also performs a single trick at the video's conclusion. The part was filmed by Ben Fordham of the Gracias L.A. brand, which released the Gracias Skateboarding Volumen Uno video in 2014 that also features Mullen.
Together with other members of the Almost team, Mullen appeared in a June 2015 photo retrospective of the Almost brand that was shot and curated by skateboard photographer Seu Trinh. Mullen was part of the Globe brand's "EUTrippin'" 2015 European tour, alongside other team members including Mark Appleyard and Haslam.
In 2015, Mullen wrote the foreword for the Dwindle and Globe history book Unemployable: 30 Years of Hardcore, Skate and Street reflecting upon his twenty-year involvement with those companies.
Mullen has been credited with inventing the following tricks (years included):Godzilla rail flip (1979)
540 shuv-it (1979)
50/50 Saran wrap (1979)
50/50 Casper (1980)
Flatground ollie (1981)
Gazelle flip (1981)
No-handed 50/50 (1981)
No-handed 50/50 kickflip
Kick flip (1982)
540 double kickflip
Heel flip (1982)
360 flip (1983)
Switch 360 flip
360 pressure flip (1983)
Casper 360 flip (1983)
Half-cab kick flip (1983)
50/50 sidewinder (1983)
One-footed ollie (1984)
Backside flip (Backside 180 Kickflip) (1984)
Ollie nosebone (1986)
Ollie finger flip (1986)
Ollie Airwalk (1986)
Frontside heel flip shove-it (1988)
Switchstance 360 flip (1990)
Helipop heel flip (1990)
Kick flip under flip (1992)
Half-cab kickflip underflip(1992)
Casper slide (1992)
Half flip darkslide
Primo grind-Primo slides
In 2002, Mullen won the Transworld Skateboarding Readers' Choice Award for Skater of the Year. Transworld also included Mullen in its "30 Most Influential Skaters of All Time" list, released in December 2011 and he was elected into the third position, behind Tony Hawk (second) and Mark Gonzales (first).
In May 2013, Mullen was an inductee of the Skateboarding Hall of Fame and was present at the award ceremony that was held in Anaheim, California. Fellow professional skateboarder Steve Caballero and musician Ben Harper shared their experiences of Mullen prior to the presentation of the award, and Caballero credited Mullen with changing the "face" of skateboarding.
Professional skateboarder Paul Rodriguez identified Mullen as one of his "top ten" professional skateboarders in July 2013. Rodriguez explained his selection on his personal website:
If you really wanna know Gonz [Mark Gonzales] and Rodney Mullen pretty much innovated damn near everything in street skateboarding. Rodney has always had the most mind boggling most difficult tricks on top of having invented 50, 60, who knows how many tricks. Just about every modern day flat ground trick that we are doing today he invented.
Transworld has characterized him as possibly the most significant skater of all time:
Rodney Mullen built the house skateboarding lives in. After inventing the flatground ollie—in itself perhaps the most influential trick ever—he went on to unveil kickflips, backside flips, heelflips, 360 flips, double flips, impossibles, darkslides, and onward. Without Rodney, skateboarding would still be in the dark ages.
Anthony Pappalardo of The RIDE Channel unequivocally stated, "From almost singled-handedly creating the entire vocabulary of flip-based tricks to revolutionizing the boards below our feet, Rodney Mullen is the biggest influence on modern skateboarding."
Mullen has completed numerous public speaking engagements and has been invited to present on topics such as his personal life, skateboarding, innovation, creation, and the concept of community.
The Lemelson Center at MIT invited Mullen to visit the center, a part of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History to discuss invention and innovation from within the context of American society. The Lemelson Center exchanged ideas and views with Mullen about skateboarding, in addition to the manner in which creativity and innovation can contribute to the development of an improved society.
Mullen was invited by the Sapling Foundation, as part of its TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) public speaking series, to present at the University of Southern California (USC) in June 2012. Mullen's talk was entitled, "How context shapes content", and featured his perspectives on the manner in which the street-based context of skateboarding influences his practice, in addition to his view of the skateboarding community, whereby he compared the community to the open source and hacking movements. Mullen also spoke about resilience and creativity in a talk entitled "Getting Back Up" at the Pop!Tech "Sparks of Brilliance" event in October 2013.
In the first half of 2014, Mullen was invited by the O'Reilly Media technology company to present at its "Strata" and "Velocity" conferences, both of which were held in Santa Clara, California, US. Mullen's Strata presentation in February 2014 was titled "The Art of Good Practice" and consisted of an analysis of the nuanced way in which skateboarders practice their craft. Mullen then presented the "Build on a Bedrock of Failure" keynote in June 2014, in which he spoke of the way that "failure, pain, injury, recovery" are "embedded in the very notion of what it is to be a skateboarder."
Mullen has appeared in the Tony Hawk Pro Skater series of video games: Pro Skater 2, Pro Skater 3, Pro Skater 4, Underground, Underground 2, American Wasteland, Project 8, Proving Ground, Ride, and Pro Skater HD.
Mullen performed as Christian Slater's double in the skateboarding film, Gleaming the Cube, released in 1989, and has filmed The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, a 2013 film, in which he fulfilled the role of Ben Stiller's double.
In 2010 Mullen stated that "skating is one of the greatest blessings I could have," but also expressed concern about the popularity of skateboarding "big stuff" due to the physical toll that it takes on the bodies of professional skateboarders: "So I think it is unhealthy and uncool… I see great skaters and their ankles and knees are ruined." Mullen expanded upon his perspective of skateboarding during his Lemelson Foundation interview:
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. And establish myself within a community that were all essentially outsiders like myself. And by doing that, it gave me a place, a sense of belonging and, in the end, I was able to contribute, at a foundational level, a lot of the tricks that the entire community uses to express themselves. Which, again, is one of the beauties of skateboarding, is that we all draw from the same pool, and give back; so that others can do the same and keep expounding. Very much like an open source community.
During his attendance at the Biarritz international skateboard festival, Mullen was interviewed in relation to a used Mike Carroll skateboard deck from Carroll's time with the Plan B company. Mullen reflected on the personal influence of Plan B founder Mike Ternasky during the interview:
I miss Mike. And the day Jacob called me and goes, "Mike's dead."—I replayed that so many times ... and how instrumental that was in driving me forward in a way that kind of honoring what he gave me: A second chance. And how real that is. And it goes back to Stacy [Peralta]'s film—it's not what you do; it's what makes you do what you do, is the thing that has to be protected and nurtured. As long as that's there, intact ... you can do anything.
In a June 2014 interview at O'Reilly Media's Velocity conference, Mullen stated that he does not believe that skateboarding can be categorized as a "sport". Mullen further explained that the self-expressive element of skateboarding shows that it is an art form, while the community element of skateboarding—whereby sharing of ideas occurs—distinguishes it as a "lifestyle" or "philosophy". Mullen also shared his perspective on goals and failure during the interview:
You focus so much on your failures and your weaknesses, it has a ... paralyzing effect, where you're dwelling on stuff. For example, having goals: sometimes I have lofty goals, my friends do—we all do, we all have goals. But, if you fix yourself to that goal, and you don't see anything else on the horizon—which is natural, 'cos that what it takes, we all have that in our personality ... but, sometimes, if you attach that to a goal that is out of your reach, and you continue to fail, it will just grind you into nothing. And if you dwell on that, it can end you.
As of 2013, Mullen resides in California with his girlfriend, Lori Guidroz and has described himself as "juvenile" in an online interview. Mullen says that he prefers to skate at nighttime and on his own.
Any eyes on me—a late-night street sweeper, some dude texting in his parked car, the homeless guy talking to himself—make me feel uncomfortable when I skate. Everyone expects me to do certain things. It puts a ceiling on your progress. You’re blocked by your pride. To get good, you have to throw your board around and fall.
Mullen's interests extend beyond skateboarding and include mathematics, physics, engineering, and music. It has been publicly revealed that Mullen owns a pair of high-powered audio speakers, each weighing around 200 pounds (91 kg), through which he plays a diverse range of music, including Sabaton and Beethoven:
Me and my neighbors, we have an understanding ... and so I sit perfect, you know, triangle at the front. You sit there with the remote and you turn it up, just when it starts to hurt, and hit one more and then go like [presses his hands to his ears] that, and then you just feel it in your whole body for a while, as long as you can take it. And then you 'arrgh!', and then you turn it off you know and [hold his hand to his heart and breathes heavily], and then I go skate [laughs]. It's awesome, but only if I'm really usually, like, just sometimes when you really need it, you know?"
In 2013 musicians Ben Harper and Lee Hartney revealed a close friendship with Mullen and described the skateboarder as a "brother". Mullen has also assisted Harper to learn skateboarding, as the musician has undertaken intensive practice in the fifth decade of his life.
Mullen has spoken publicly about his spiritual beliefs, explaining in 2010: "I'm a Jesus freak. But the term religion bums me out. I can’t go to church, I’ve got issues. I’ve got issues of non-conformity built into me."Powell Peralta: Skateboarding in the '80's (1982)
Powell Peralta: The Bones Brigade Video Show (1984)
Powell Peralta: Future Primitive (1985)
Powell Peralta: The Search for Animal Chin (At the Rad Party Scene) (1987)
Powell Peralta: Public Domain (1988)
World Industries: Rubbish Heap (1989)
Plan B: Questionable (1992)
Plan B: Virtual Reality (1993)
Plan B: Second Hand Smoke (1995)
Rodney Mullen vs. Daewon Song (1997)
Rodney Mullen Vs. Daewon Song Round 2 (1999)
Globe: Opinion (2001)
Almost: Round Three (2004)
Transworld: Show Me the Way (Darkslide)
Tony Hawk's Secret Skatepark Tour (2005)
John from Cincinnati (Skate double, Episode 10, 2007)
Globe: United by Fate (2008)
Bones Brigade: An Autobiography (2012)
Gracias Skateboarding Volumen Uno (2014)
Gleaming the Cube (1989) – double for Christian Slater
Waiting for Lightning (2012) - self
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) – double for Ben Stiller
Bones Brigade: An Autobiography (2012) - self
"Motivation 2: The Chris Cole Story" (2015) - self