The Physics of Landing a 1080 Skateboarding Trick

By Norman Chan

A 12-year-old landed the world's first 1080 on a skateboard, and a physics professor ponders the math behind it.

You may have seen the video of 12-year-old Tom Schaar landing the world's first 1080 trick (video below), the first great milestone in skateboarding since Tony Hawk landed the first 900 in 1999. In 1999, Tom Schaar wasn't even born yet. If you're unfamiliar, a 1080 is a full three-revolution aerial spin performed on a ramp, with the skateboarder facing back down the pipe on the landing. It's called a 1080 because that's three times 360 degrees, or one full rotation. A 900 is 2.5 revolutions in the air, and still is by no means an easy feat. But that's the easy math.

More interesting to Rhett Allain, an Associate Professor of Physics at Southeastern Louisiana University (and Wired science columnist), is whether Schaar was able to achieve that 1080 because of his size and weight. Basically, do kids have an physical advantage over adults in performing skateboard tricks? This is where the math gets challenging. Allain walks through his thought process trying to calculate the relative angular acceleration required by two different size bodies for launch, factoring in rotational inertia, frictional force, and an increasing number of variables. I'm not going to pretend to understand the math, but the upshot is that Allain concludes that this is one of those instances where you can't just scale the sizes of objects (like from child to adult) without adjusting the variables for each. Nevertheless, the mental exercise is fun to follow along as an good example of problem solving.

Schaar, for his part, accomplished the 1080 probably without doing the math, instead using 8 years of skateboarding experience as his guide. His father thinks that given a few more years of practice, Schaar could even pull off a 1260.