How to Ollie a Big Set of Stairs on a Skateboard
For many skateboarders, there is nothing more exciting than finding a big set of stairs with plenty of run up at the top and smooth ground at the bottom. "Big" is a vague term, so I'll clarify that seven or more stairs is big for me. Professional skateboarders would probably consider 12+ or 15+ to be big, but when you're learning how to ollie stairs, I think when you get to seven it becomes more physically demanding. Your legs get sore after just a few attempts, you hit the ground harder, and it's more difficult to keep the board under your feet. If you haven't ollied any stairs before, please don't try a big stair set just yet. You can also apply the following tips to ollieing bigger gaps in general, not just stair gaps.
Make Sure Your Equipment is Up to the Challenge
You could do everything right and still not make it down the stairs successfully, so you'll want to make sure everything is in decent shape at least. If you've had your board for a while, the tail could be worn down to the point where you are no longer getting the most pop out of your ollies. Worn down grip tape can also contribute to bad pop, and your foot might slide right off the front if it can no longer catch on your shoe effectively. Shoes themselves are extremely important. Check the tread on the bottom and if you see big flat spots, you might want to get some new ones. Make sure your shoes can still absorb some shock as well, or the soles of your feet will be in for a miserable day.
I like my trucks to have the same tightness regardless of what I'm skating, but I know some people like to tighten them a bit if they're going big. Check for damage to your truck bushings. If they are cracked or worn down, your board has lost some stability. Also it doesn't hurt to make sure everything on your board isn't about to fall off or anything. This may sound obvious, but even Sean Malto forgets to make sure his nuts and bolts are tight enough.
Approaching the Stair Set
Start rolling with plenty of distance between the stair set and push so that you're moving at above average speed. The nice thing about stair sets is that typically they're about as high as they are long, so you don't need to go as fast as you can. There's no problem with going super fast on the approach, but I feel like it makes the ollie more scary than it has to be, Not to mention it will decrease your chance of landing successfully.
Make sure you stop pushing early enough so that you have plenty of time to get your feet set. It can be really frustrating getting to the stair set and realizing your feet aren't set. If you don't have much room to approach, you can get speed faster by jogging with your board in hand and then getting on it. With this technique, you shouldn't have to push at all. When setting my feet for an ollie like this, I like to put my front foot between the front bolts and the middle of the board.
Executing the Ollie
As your about to reach the stair set, make sure you're crouching as much as you can without losing your balance. This will help your legs absorb more shock when you land. Your shoulders should be parallel with the board so that you don't start rotating while airborn.
When you pop your ollie, remember that you don't have to do your biggest ollie, but also don't do a "casual ollie" like the kind you can get away with off a ledge or small stair set. As you're about to go airborne, try not to move vertically with the board like you would if you were trying to ollie up a curb or something. This is kind of hard to explain, but if you jump with the board, it will make your decent longer and more difficult. The key is to use mostly your legs to get the board in the air.
The process of the ollie itself should be slower than usual. Your pop should be quick, but take your time leveling out the board. If your ollie is performed too quickly, a lot of times you'll have too much time in the air. The board could come off your feet as a result, or you'll start putting your feet and board down too soon which means you'll land with your legs fully extended. When you land with your legs like this, it means your center of gravity will be very high, making it less likely that you can absorb the landing. The best way to make sure your ollie is timed correctly is to think about the dimensions of the stair set as you pop your tail and adjust the speed of your ollie accordingly.
The Descent and Landing
If you've correctly timed your ollie, you'll find yourself in midair with the board leveled out, knees bent at about a 90 degree angle and your feet on the bolts of the board. If one or more of these don't apply, you should probably bail out (kick your board away and land on your feet). If everything looks good, than you're ready for the hardest part: sticking the landing.
Once you feel that your ollie has leveled out and is set nicely beneath your feet, start pushing your feet and board towards the ground. If you push down too quickly, you'll end up with your legs extended too far as I mentioned earlier. When you hit the ground, your legs should still be bent at an obtuse angle between about 130 degrees and fully extended. This is tricky, because you can't really stop pushing down the board if you feel you've reached the correct angle, because your legs need to have downward momentum in order to counter the impact of the landing. You also can't quickly extend your legs at the last second if you were intitially extending too slowly. Your legs will be too far bent to absorb the impact. Similarly to when you first execute your ollie, the best thing you can do to figure out the timing of your descent is to think carefully about the dimensions of the stair set.
As your wheels hit the ground, don't stop pushing your legs down just yet. You have to wait for the momentum of the rest of your body to catch up. Once you feel your upper body coming down, gradually bend your legs to keep up with your downward momentum. If you find your legs fully bent, chances are you'll start leaning back and you can put your arms out in front of you to compensate.
Even now you can still mess up riding away. Once you notice that your downward momentum has been absorbed, you need to stand upright fairly quickly. This is where I struggle the most, because so much happens in the second after your wheels hit the ground. If you wait too long to stand up, your downward momentum (which is keeping you on the board) will have run out and you'll probably slide out. If you try to stand up too quickly, you'll be fighting that momentum, and putting too much force on your board. Chances are at least one of your wheels will hit the board (wheel bite) and send you flying forward.
Don't feel discouraged if any of these scenarios occurs multiple times. If you're landing on your board, you will land it eventually, but you might have to stop and think about what you're doing incorrectly.
Determination is probably the most important factor because you not only have to have a good ollie, you have to commit to it. When you're in the air it will be tempting to kick your board away as you suddenly realize just what you're doing. If you didn't execute your olllie quite right, you should do this, but if everything looks okay you have to try to focus on rolling away. I've watched a friend try to ollie a big stair set for over an hour and only actually commit to two or three attempts. In general he had a solid ollie, and most of his attempts weren't worth kicking out, he just couldn't force himself to land on the board.
It can be difficult to avoid unnecessary kick outs because it's a psychological problem. You could be only half committing to your attempt and not realize it until you watch your feet kick away the board right after lift off. This a subconscious reaction, and comes from the "fight-or-flight response," which involves how you deal with a stressful or potential harmful event. Your brain is trying to do you a favor by ensuring that you make it down the stairs as safely as possible. What you need to do is send a different message through your brain. Right before your ollie, try to tell yourself to commit to it because this is actually when the subconscious "kick out" instinct is about to execute.
This won't always work because instinct is difficult to overcome. You may still doubt the quality or timing of your ollie even if it's okay, or feel like your footing is wrong, or that you're leaning too much one way. You could actually be having these technical issues despite convincing yourself to commit before ollieing. If you continue to struggle with either mental or technical issues, I recommend practicing on a stair set or gap you're already comfortable with. This is good for muscle memory and confidence.