SKATE LIKE A GIRL
“Gizmo”, Nike SB’s first all-female skate video, in celebration of Elissa Steamer and all the other women who have broken barriers
A skater’s life is one of failure and learning, falling down and getting up again. But for many women in this boy’s club, getting up is even harder, when all your efforts only prove that “you skate good for a girl.” For the professional women in skating living the dream means defying expectations. Just ask Elissa Steamer, the first one to do it.
There is arguably no one who has done more to lay the foundation for women in skateboarding than Elissa Steamer. Widely acknowledged as the first professional female skater, she is one of skateboarding’s true icons. Holding her own alongside the guys in the 90’s, she changed the game for women. It’s a disservice to Steamer to make her accomplishments about her gender — she is a skater first and foremost and that did all the talking for her — but in a landscape dominated by men, where women are so often left out of the narrative, it’s important for women to get their due.
Nike SB has done just that with their latest skating film: “Gizmo”. Named after Steamer’s childhood moniker, Gizmo is an homage to her contribution to skateboarding and all the women that came after her. It comprises an all-female cast of Lacey Baker, Leticia Bufoni, Hayley Wilson, Sarah Meurle, Josie Millard, Nicole Hause, Aori Nishimura, Rayssa Leal and, of course, Elissa Steamer.
Ahead of the premier, we spoke to Steamer about the project, how she broke walls in skateboarding and whether she ever imagined making it this far — she did.
SARAH OSEI The name “Gizmo”, where does that come from?
ELISSA STEAMER Well, it was like my childhood nickname up until I was like… I don’t know, seventeen or eighteen, all my skate friends called me that — they called me “Giz”. And it came from one of my dad’s friends, he began to call me that when the Gremlins movie came out. I skated with his son so it like kinda stuck. He was calling me that and then it spread to all of my other friends, and then everybody just knew me by that name. Then strangely I thought it was gone, I was actually excited that I hadn’t heard it in 20 years or something. And then I was in Italy just last month and Scuba texted me and said that they wanted to name the video “Gizmo” because Kelly Bird knew me back then — he’s one of the higher ups over there, like brand manager — and he’s known me for years. So I was like “Okay, well, I don’t like the name, but it’s special so we can run with it.” And now here I am talking about it, haha.
SO You’re credited as being the first professional female skater.
SO Even though of course there have always been female skaters, why do you think that you broke those walls?
ES Why did I? Um… I don’t know. I think I was just such a skate rat and that was all I did and just all I really cared about was skateboarding. I obviously had a dream to be a professional skater when I was a child, but who knows if that dream comes to fruition. I just skated all the time and that was my life. I ate and slept and breathed skateboarding, that was all I did. So why me? I don’t know. I have no idea… It had to be somebody I guess.
SO That’s true.
“I remember being like fourteen or fifteen and pretending that I was having like a female pro contest on the street.”
– ELISSA STEAMER
SO Now in this project you’re alongside so many other phenomenal female skaters. When you started, could you have imagined being in a space with so many professional women in the sport?
ES That’s funny because when I was younger there were a couple videos that didn’t feature women, but had women segments in them, or snippets actually. And I remember being like fourteen or fifteen and they repaved my street in front of my house and I remember pretending that I was having like a female pro contest on the street and I was skating against Cara-Beth Burnside and Lori Rigsby and this woman named Anita — I forget her last name — the women that were featured in videos… So I guess that I could have imagined that because I did imagine it then (Steamer laughs mischievously)
SO How did this project actually come about with Nike?
ES You know, I took like six years off skateboarding — not just professional skateboarding but actual skateboarding. Then in the end of 2017 I started skating again with some friends in San Francisco and I was like “I’m gonna get my job back.” So I called up Casper, who’s like the… global sports marketing guy? And I told him “I’m coming for my job back” and he’s like “Okay, I haven’t heard from you in six years but whatever.” Haha! And then I was skating and like a month or two later he actually hit me up because he’d seen that I was skating somehow — maybe on Instagram — and he’s like “let’s talk about that thing that we talked about.” So we started talking and then I got put back on the program and then in like April or May of 2018 they told me: “We wanna make a full-length video that features women.” It was gonna be mixed at first, I think. You know, things are ever-changing, ideas and conceptions… But it was gonna be mixed at first, but feature women and then they changed the script and they were like “We’re gonna make a women’s full-length.” And they asked me to hop on board with the idea and then we just started traveling from the end of May to film for it.
SO That happened pretty fast.
ES Yeah, yeah, it was quick. Less than a year really. That’s a short frame of time to film a full-length video these years. It was really on a total of four trips which spanned probably ten days each so… it was just over a month of filming.
“I think the main thing that you get from skateboarding is that you learn about persistence and how to get back up after you fall.”
SO That’s crazy.
ES A skateboard trick goes by in two seconds, so you’re trying to get two-three minutes of footage and there’s like near misses and big misses haha! So, no, that’s not a lot of time really.
SO Even though skating has come so far it’s still a very male-dominated sport. What do you want people, especially women and girls, to take away from watching this?
ES Um… I don’t know, I mean I never really thought of what I want people to take away from it, you know. I never thought of skateboarding as this vehicle for … I never thought of it as my voice, but slowly over time it’s become that. And I think that skateboarding’s a great vehicle for change and inclusion and empowerment so I think the main thing that you get from skateboarding is that you learn about persistence and how to get back up after you fall. So I don’t know what message I want the video to convey to people but I guess just want them to get sparked off it or something.
SO Just out of curiosity, what’s the worst skating injury you’ve ever had?
ES Well, I mean they’re all kinda different… But the biggest bummer that I’ve had was knocking my teeth out — that sucked… But you know, I could still skate after that, so is knocking your teeth out worse than hurting your knee, where you have to get surgery? I don’t know, it’s give and take really, haha!
SO Depends on perspective: do you wanna smile or skate?
ES (laughs) Yeah.
Interview SARAH OSEI