AMELIA BRODKA INTERVIEW BY BRITT KELLER;
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOSH METZGER AND OLGA AGUILAR.
Most people have one or two standout highlights that define them and their impact on the world. Not so for Amelia Brodka, whose commitment to skateboarding and making the world a better place has led her to leave her mark in many significant ways. Professional skateboarder. Documentary filmmaker. Olympic athlete. Nonprofit Co-Founder and President. Badass human. All of these accomplishments describe Amelia and the ways she is shaping the world, but none of them fully capture the force of nature – the sheer determination and joy – that Amelia brings to all that she does. It was an honor to hear her story, and I can’t wait to see what she does next. – INTRODUCTION BY BRITT KELLER
Amelia, how are you doing? I’m super excited to be doing this interview.
Oh my gosh, you’re so sweet. Thank you so much. I’m stoked that we get to chat. It’s been a bit.
I know and I’m really excited to have a tiny part in helping you tell your amazing story. Let’s start with the basics. Why don’t you tell us where you were born and raised?
I was born and raised in Nowa Sarzyna, Poland in this really tiny town. It didn’t have a hospital or a supermarket, and I didn’t see any skateboarding there, unfortunately. I remember going to visit my grandparents’ farm and it was pretty mellow. It was a pretty basic, but fun upbringing.
When did you move to the States?
We moved to New Jersey when I was about eight years old. It’s a funny story because my father tells a story about entering a visa lottery to go to the U.S. as a joke with one of his college buddies. He was like, “Oh, wouldn’t that be funny if we were able to go to the States?” It was some situation where they heard the winners on the radio, so they’re listening to the radio and my dad’s name is called. He’s like, “Well, gosh, I have to go now.” That was around the time that I was two or three. He came to the States and loved it and he applied so that my mom could come as well, so she came to the States while we stayed with my grandparents in Poland. She tells a story that they did this road trip on the East Coast and, as soon as they got to Disney, my mom’s heart sank. She’s like, “My kids are in Poland, and there’s this rusty old carnival that comes to the little village there every summer, and I’m over here at Disney. To think that my kids aren’t going to be able to experience this, it just breaks my heart.” That’s when they decided they would try to move to the U.S. As far as I was concerned, my dad lived in America and my mom came home. One day I was talking to my dad on the phone and he’s like, “Hey, you all are going to visit me for summer vacation.” I was like, “That’s so cool.” I started daydreaming about walking through jungles with a giant parrot on my shoulder and there would be crocodiles. I’m not really sure what that was based on, but that’s what I thought America would be like. When we got off the plane at Newark Airport, and we got into the car, I’m just seeing these huge highways and smokestacks and I’m like, “Wait a minute. Is this really America? There is no jungle.” It was a really strange summer because none of us really spoke English. Even though my parents had been here, they didn’t communicate very well. My brother, Mike, had been watching Muzzy and he had learned a little bit of English from there, so he was our translator. I was over it because I was a kid and my friends were far away and I couldn’t talk to anybody. I was like, “When are we going back to Poland? School is going to start soon.” My parents were like, “We thought you would try school here.” I was so bummed. I was like, “How? I can’t even speak English. What is the situation?” I like to think that I’m still here on summer vacation. It’s been a good solid vacation. That’s for sure.
When did you start skateboarding and how did you get started?
I started skateboarding when I was 12. At the time, skateboarding was growing in popularity. I lived in New Jersey, so it’s not something that we saw every day, but it was around the time when Tony Hawk had just landed the 900 and his video game was out, so I was seeing it all over the place and I thought it was really cool. One year the X Games came to Philadelphia, and my parents wanted to go watch it, so we went on a family trip to the X Games and one of my friends came with me. I remember walking through the arena and we were waiting for Men’s Best Trick to start, and then we saw a vert ramp off in the corner. My friend and I walked closer to it, and we soon realized that it was women and girls skating this huge ramp. The announcer was saying that one of the girls was 12 years old, and we were 12 years old. It was Lyn-Z Adams Hawkins and Cara-Beth Burnside and it was this incredible situation where our minds opened to the possibilities. From that moment on, I became completely obsessed with skateboarding.
Were your parents supportive back then?
They didn’t get it, but they knew it was something I was interested in. They said, “You’re getting good grades and you clearly like skateboarding, so we’ll drop you off at the park.”
I’ve heard stories that you were always the one getting other people stoked to skate and organizing trips to the closest vert ramp. Where does that drive come from?
I was so obsessed with skateboarding. All I wanted to do was skate. In my parents’ mind, education was first. They convinced me to do extra schooling to get into this competitive academic program, which I had no interest in, but they said that they would send me to Woodward if I got into the academic program. I was like, “Deal. I’ll give up all of my Saturdays and two summers just so I can go to Woodward for two weeks.” And that was an incredible experience. I think the trips that you’re referring to were after I completed that academic program, which worked to get you scholarships to private schools. They had linked me up with a boarding school and I ended up at Gould Academy in Maine. They had an outdoor mini ramp, but it was covered in ice most of the year, and the closest skatepark, Rye Airfield, was two and a half hours away. I couldn’t take a bus or public transportation or get a ride because it’s a whole situation with boarding school. The only way that I could go there was to organize a field trip. I knew that I had to fill up a miniature bus in order for teachers to sign off on driving people over two and a half hours to go skate on Saturday or Sunday. You had to propose an idea by Tuesday and then make sure by Thursday that there were enough people to go if you even wanted to dream of that kind of a trip, so I made it my mission to talk people into going. I would give them bearings or pay for their session or help them with their homework on the way there. I had to do announcements each morning at the school, so I would get up in front of the school and sell them so hard on this trip to Rye Airfield and tell them it would be an amazing adventure. It was the only way that I could go. In my brain, I was still imagining that day I’d skate vert like Lyn-Z Adams Hawkins, and that was my only access to try.
“I had to do these announcements each morning at the school, so I would get up in front of the school and sell them so hard on this trip to Rye Airfield and tell them it would be an amazing adventure. It was the only way that I could go. In my brain, I was imagining that day I’d skate vert like Lyn-Z Adams Hawkins, and that was my only access to try.”
You are the reason that there’s a whole crew of skaters in Maine from back then?
No. There were a lot of skaters, but they had to find things that were skateable, which there weren’t a ton. Dave Bean also got a lot of skateparks built there and made a lot of skate events happen. He made the school have a skateboarding program, which was way before its time. I wouldn’t say I’m the reason, but I definitely got on that bandwagon.
You’ve mentioned Lyn-Z Adams Hawkins and Cara-Beth. Who were other skaters that you were looking up to back then?
I’d say Lyn-Z Adams Hawkins, Cara-Beth Burnside, Mimi Knoop, Tony Hawk and Daewon Song. There was a period of time where I was watching Vanessa Torres’ Elementality Volume One part every day. That’s when Almost Round 3 came out, so I was watching a lot of Daewon and Ryan Sheckler as well. DVS Skate More, Almost Round 3 and Elementality Volume One were my top 3 videos. A lot of the skaters in those parts were inspirational to me. To see Vanessa Torres in that mix, it was mind blowing.
That’s awesome. When did you realize that you were good at skateboarding?
I don’t know if there was a moment where I realized I was good. I was just like, “I am going to do this.” It was complete stubbornness. I remember trying to get sponsored and I made a ton of ‘sponsor me’ videos and sent them out to all of these places and I would never hear anything back. One time, my friend, Libby Redepenning, who was at the same school in Maine, sent my ‘sponsor me’ video to Ed Templeton. I was not aware of this and one day she got an email back from Ed Templeton. He was like, “She rips. She should keep skating.” I was like, “Yes! This is amazing!” I’ll definitely never forget that. That was really encouraging.
I hope that you still have a copy of that sponsor me video. I would love to see it.
I do. My parents were moving out of our house and they had me go through my childhood room and I found that ‘Sponsor me’ video. I have it on DVD with a little booklet that I made. It’s super embarrassing and great. It’s pretty hilarious.
Yes! How did you get your first sponsor?
The first sponsor I had was Worship skateboards, but it was a strange sponsorship because it was a discount. Then Dave Bean talked to Rye Airfield and they were my first paying sponsor. I was absolutely in awe that someone was giving me money to skate. It was $100 a month and, at age 16, that completely blew my mind. I went to compete in Oregon Trifecta with Dave Bean, and then I started getting sponsored by Scarecrow Skateboards. I usually refer to Jim Gray as my first real board sponsor, so that was awesome. Jim is such a rad dude.
I agree. What was your first pro model?
Well, I had a board with my name on it on Sobiriety Skateboards, which became Tragedy Skateboards. It was cool because I didn’t have a sponsor for a while after Scarecrow went under. I was living in California and skating in Encinitas and Jeff Faulk from Sobiriety Skateboards asked me if I wanted to ride for his company, which was really cool and inspiring. He made his own boards out of his garage. Technically, that was the first board with my name on it, but Arbor was the first official board company to make me a pro model. I’ll never forget when you and Alan talked to me about my first pro wheel on Speedlab, and I love the way that wheel came out. My brother got to help design it. He also designed both of my first boards, which is really cool.
He’s so talented. It was one of my favorite graphics. That Amelia wheel is my favorite. It’s cool to see you get that recognition. I love seeing your name on boards and our wheels. The pro model release party that Arbor threw for you looked awesome. Can you tell me how that went down?
Oh my gosh, it was really funny. First off, I have the most amazing and supportive husband. We knew the board was coming out, so that wasn’t a surprise. I’d been riding for Arbor for eight years and I love being with the brand and I knew that, with a brand that big, you have to work your way up to get that level of support. They weren’t even doing pro models for a while. I think they just started a few years ago. After their first pro model came out with Shuriken Shannon, I inquired whether it’s something that I could work towards, and they told me they wanted to make a pro model for me. I love the brand and the boards and they were always super supportive. In the beginning of 2019, they called me and they were like, “Amelia, how would you like a board with your name on it? We’re going to do it.” I was over the moon because it was a dream of mine. It was an awesome process because I got to design the shape and test different wheelbases and tail shapes and be involved in the design. It was great to be a part of the process. Then the pandemic hit, which slowed down production, and I knew that there probably wasn’t going to be any board release party in the middle of COVID. Then production got delayed and the boards got stuck on the boats that were being held at bay. It was one thing after another. I’d already shot an ad for the board and that ad came out, which was really cool, but there was no way to celebrate or get together with people. Alec had known that I wanted to do something, and this whole time he’d been talking to Arbor and planning this whole thing. Luckily, by the time the boards came out, things were starting to get normal-ish. Arbor hit me up that week and said, “Your boards came in. Would you like to come in on Saturday, and we’ll shoot some photos?” I was like, “Great.” I was super excited to pick up my boards. The night before, Alec said, “Do you want to go to this restaurant?” I was like, “Oh, no. I have physical therapy.” My knee was tweaked, so I didn’t want to cancel the appointment, but then the physical therapist called and canceled. He was like, “I have to go to LA. It’s really urgent.” I was like, “Can I see someone else?” They were like, “No.” It was funny. What I didn’t know is that Alec had called the physical therapist and made them call me to cancel. Then I got a text from Calli Kelsay and she told me that she needed our help. She lives at this amazing ranch and she was setting it up for our friend Beaver Fleming’s engagement party, which was the next day. I was like, “She wants us to come over and we should go and help.” I was like, “It’s kind of weird that she wants us there when it’s getting dark. How are we going to help set up for an event in the dark?” Alec was like, “I don’t know, but we should definitely go and help out.” I was like, “You’re right. She probably has lights or something.” We went there and I wasn’t expecting anything except to help with event setup. We pulled up to the house and Calli and her husband were introducing me to their goats. I’m over there talking to goats and walking around their farm, and I came around the corner and everybody jumped out from behind the ramp. They have the boards in these planters as though they are growing from the ground. I was completely shocked. It was great. My friend Ronnie even flew out from New York. I wasn’t expecting anything because it was in the pandemic. Luckily, we had Calli’s blessing of an outdoor space, and Alec is really good at surprises.
We’ll talk more about Alec in a moment. The pictures for your party were amazing. The look on your face told the whole story. You grew up skateboarding on East Coast crust, but you’ve been living on the West Coast for a long time now. What are some differences you’ve noticed with terrain and vibe between the two scenes?
I know things are changing a lot now on the East Coast in terms of skateparks and access, but I never really had a skatepark near me. Growing up, I skated curbs and not the beautiful red curbs that are already slick and smooth. This was a crusty curb that you had to wax for a few days and tend to in order to get some semblance of a grind. The streets were rough there as well, so you search for gritty spots, and I skated a lot of loading docks, which was really fun. There was a time where an indoor park popped up half an hour away from me. It was called RexPlex. One day my parents came home from IKEA and said, “We found a skatepark.” I thought, “That’s ridiculous. My parents don’t even know what a skatepark is.” They were like, “Get in the car right now. There’s a skatepark.” I didn’t believe them, and we got there and it was absolutely beautiful. There was a vert ramp, a micro mini ramp and a street course. I was in paradise. My parents would drop me off there a lot. Then one day, I came home from boarding school and the whole complex was shut down. I was so upset because there were no other parks. Then we saw some old big quarterpipes in the back of what was now an abandoned building and I begged my parents to take the quarter pipes home. They were like, “How? They’re all wet and moldy. Where are we going to put them?” I couldn’t even accept that. I was so upset that they wouldn’t take the quarterpipes home. Being at boarding school, I would skate whatever I could, and at home there were times where I was just skating in my parents’ basement on the carpet because it was raining or snowing. The East Coast vibe was a bit intimidating. I didn’t care because I really wanted to skate, but it felt like I would show up to the park and, when kids saw me, they were like, “Oh, do you want to play SKATE?” They wanted to challenge me. It felt like they were asking, “Do you belong here?” I don’t remember it being very friendly. At the same time, I was always wearing headphones and ignoring everybody. It just felt strangely competitive whenever you did get to go to a skatepark or session a manual pad or whatever. When I moved out to the West Coast, it didn’t even cross my mind that there were people who only skate transition. To me, that sounded like a luxury, because I would just skate whenever I could, and that didn’t always mean having access to a park. Now I’m one of those people. Now, when I’m visiting my parents, I’m like, “The street is kind of rough over here. I don’t really feel like skating this. It’s not that great.” I’m so spoiled now. It’s amazing out here and the sun is shining all the time. Now my biggest issue isn’t snow on the ground that I have to shovel off to skate a little flat ground square. It’s that there are so many parks, and where do I feel like skating? It’s like night and day, and people are so nice here, and they’re so inviting at the park. I don’t know if that’s changed on the East Coast. I’m sure it has because I’ve met wonderful people when I travel there. It was just a different scenario coming out here to California to skate. Even the sidewalks are perfect and everything looks like a dreamy skate spot.
Well, you can ride anything, street, vert, park or all of it. Do you have a preference?
I definitely don’t skate as much street as I used to. That’s where I had the most injuries. I tried to get back into it two years ago because it’s super fun. Five minutes later, I rolled my ankle and I was out for months. I remember going back to the vert ramp my first day back and Andy MacDonald was skating there. He’s like, “Oh, you’ve been hurt. Skating street?” I was like, “Yeah.” If you don’t do it a lot and you don’t bail right, it can happen. I skate flat ground a lot still, but that’s the extent of my street skating. Some days I’m super obsessed with vert, but I really enjoy skating park style stuff. It feels like a combination of all of it. When you go to a park course, you can skate something that’s close to vert or a mini ramp, or a bowl in the same session. If you’re not feeling like skating something big, there are many options and variables in one space. That’s been fun and the most enjoyable for me recently, but I like it all. I just love to skate. I’m definitely a bit more spoiled now than I was growing up.
You deserve to be spoiled. Lately, I’ve been going to so many parks and there are all sorts of amazing features and I will obsess over one trick on one feature for hours. With that in mind, my favorite trick of yours is your crail slide. It is always super stylish. I’m curious if you’ve got a go-to trick or anything you’re working on now?
I say my go-to trick is a front smith. It’s the most satisfying trick, and it’s a trick that I’m comfortable doing on all sizes of terrain. With a crail slide, if I was skating something small, I wouldn’t be able to do it right. Yesterday, I got into this wormhole, like what you were saying. I was at this park with so many different features and I found this dinky thing that was like a bank, but it’s kind of a quarterpipe. It didn’t have real coping. It had like an edge coping, and I got laser-focused on it. There’s this whole beautiful park and I was like, “I’m going to do one trick on this bank quarterpipe thing.” I was trying to do a front blunt, which is such a cool trick. I’ve done it before, but I never got it down. I realized this might be the perfect spot for it and I was like, “I’m gonna obsess over this right here.” It didn’t even make sense. It wasn’t very wide and there was a fence and a pole there, so every time I bailed, my board would hit the fence or the pole and chip my tail, but I didn’t care. I was going to get it right. It sounds like we should session together and get obsessed over one strange feature.
Yes. You should come back here so we can show you all of the new East Coast crust. I want to talk about competition skating because you’ve got such a great history there. Tell me about your first competition.
My first competition was a mini ramp contest at Woodward. I remember hearing about the contest that morning and I got really excited. I learned a bunch of mini ramp tricks that week, so I was going to go and figure out a run. I had learned blunt to rock that year and I was doing a frontside ollie revert over this tiny channel. I was obsessed with a nose stall revert and I remember those tricks in that run because I was so excited about it. I went to that contest and did the beginner division and got second place and I was so hyped. I was like, “This is the best thing ever. I want to do more competitions.” It’s fun getting to a park or a vert ramp and trying to figure out which tricks will work well in what spots and trying to put pieces together like a painting. You’re imagining what will work and then trying to put it into practice. When they call your name and it really counts and you’re nervous, it feels different than just skateboarding. You’re in this whole different mindset that is really satisfying if it goes well. It’s also soul crushing if it doesn’t go well. There’s something about putting yourself up against that challenge that is similar to learning a new trick, except you have limited opportunities to make that one thing work. The times where your run works out the way that you imagined it are such a great feeling and it feels like an out of body experience. I’ve always enjoyed it and it helps me push myself. I always felt the results are secondary to the experience of putting yourself in the situation and seeing if you can do what you set out to do.
“We were finally there and it was happening and I was like, “I can’t lose it right now. I have to skate.” I had never felt something like that before. It was this flood of emotions and I had to get myself together. My heat was about to start and I dropped in for my first run and I thought, “I did it! I’m an Olympian!”
I like the way that you think about that. Do you feel like the pressure of competitive skating elevates your skating or does it sometimes push you off your game a bit?
It’s a little bit of both. It’s like the luck of the draw because there have definitely been times where I land stuff that I had no business trying to commit to, and you get away with that sketchy run. Maybe you clipped your wheel and you’re still going and you finish your run anyway hanging on for dear life. There’s that exhilarating aspect of it. There are also times where I’ve landed tricks that I haven’t even done outside of a competition, which is really fun. It’s an added way to help you commit to things that are kind of scary. There have definitely been times where it’s 2am the night before the contest and I haven’t been able to sleep because I’m so nervous. Things still either go well or they don’t, and there’s a lot of emotions that come with that. Ultimately, it’s been a rewarding experience putting myself in uncomfortable situations and figuring out how to cope with it, and how to grow and how to control my emotions and reactions to things. Sometimes it goes well and sometimes it’s just not my day.
Well, I’m going to brag on you a bit. You got first at the 2017 and 2018 European Park Championships. You got second in the 2017 Australian Bowl Championships and you came in first at the 2020 Polish Park Skateboarding Championships. You went to the 2020 Olympics and competed in Women’s Park too. You’re exceptional.
You’re very sweet. Thank you.
I’ve seen a lot of footage of you skating at the competition level, and the thing that I love about watching you skate is that I can tell that you love it. The stoke is real for you, and the whole world got to see that when you were at the Olympics. How was the Olympic experience and what was it like skating on that level on that stage?
I still can’t believe it happened. It was like a crazy dream while I was in the middle of it too. The process was crazy in a lot of ways. We were the first group to qualify for the Olympics as skateboarders, and because of that we were kind of the guinea pigs. The people putting on the events were figuring it out too and they did their best with limited resources, but there were so many skateboarders and so many variables. A lot of times some of those qualifying events were not fun. You’d go to practice and there were 25 people in the bowl at once. You had to figure out how to not die, but also practice, so it was a bit stressful. To do those qualifying events, and then throw the pandemic in the middle of it, you’re going for this huge goal and putting everything else on hold. You spent a bunch of money trying to go to these events and rack up these points and then you didn’t know if the Olympics was going to happen or if there were going to be any more qualifiers. It felt like everything that could go wrong went wrong in the qualifying. It was one obstacle after another. It was insane to finally pull up in Tokyo and be like, “Holy shit. We’re at the Olympics.” It was this beautiful unifying process because we’d all experienced it and all of us skated because we love it, especially the girls. Prior to the Olympics being announced there weren’t as many opportunities for girls in skateboarding. It felt like we shared this experience of women’s skateboarding being on the outskirts and then, all of a sudden, being super trendy, and then being in the Olympics. It was a crazy series of events. It was a different type of Olympics because the pandemic was very much still around and it was really limiting as to what we could do. There was the terrifying looming thought of any day you could test positive for COVID and then be put away in a holding cell, and miss the whole thing. It was surreal and I’ve never in my life felt heat that way. I’ve done the East Coast humidity in the summer, but this was next level. Our practices were only 40 minutes long, and there were tons of people in the same practice. I’m not sure why we all had to fight each other for runs at the Olympics, but we did. There actually wasn’t a ton of skating done that week, but I’d be lightheaded from the heat after a 40-minute practice session. In between runs, I had to hide under an umbrella and wear a vest made out of ice. It was insane, so that was an interesting variable. I will say the park was amazing. That was probably the best park I’d ever skated, so I loved it. Another amazing thing, because there weren’t other Polish skateboarders that had qualified for the Olympics, I was able to bring Alec as my coach, and share the experience with my husband. Having him there by my side, it was wonderful. Before the competition was about to start, Bryce Wettstein pulled out her ukulele and she’s jamming in the tent, and we all started singing. Then I watched the first heat. I was in heat three and, right before my heat was going to start, I almost started crying. It hit me all at once, all of the emotions of the crazy journey. We were finally there and it was happening and I was like, “I can’t lose it right now. I have to skate.” I had never felt something like that before. It was this flood of emotions and I had to get myself together. My heat was about to start and I dropped in for my first run and I thought, “I did it! I’m an Olympian!” I’m riding across the flat bottom and I had all of these thoughts flying through my head. I did one 50-50 and then fell on my next wall. I was like, “Okay, cool. I’ll have to do a bit better than that. That was a little bit embarrassing.” It was so distracting to be there. I don’t even know how else to put it. Then having the opportunities to land my run, but then missing the last trick each time, it felt like the end of the world. I was like, “I got here and then I didn’t even do the thing.” It was so strangely disappointing, even though the whole goal was to get there and it was a great experience. It was this strange burden that I’m still processing. I’m like, “Yeah, I went there, but I didn’t land my run.” Simultaneously, it’s this awesome thing that feels like a crazy dream come true.