LIZZIE ARMANTO INTERVIEW BY INDIGO SMITH
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANTHONY ACOSTA AND DAVE SWIFT AND OLGA AGUILAR
Breaking the barriers of skateboarding, Lizzie Armanto turns every hurdle into a mere steppingstone. Armanto’s love for swift round wall and buttery pool coping comes effortlessly, demonstrating to the skate world how to be stylish and shred. No matter how heavy the slam or unfamiliar the obstacle, she crushes any roadblock in her way. Lizzie Armanto is a skateboarder at heart who bestows respect to skateboarding history while creating her own.
“Once I went to that event, being around all that energy of people that were pushing themselves and just skating, and pushing their limits, it was contagious and I found the place I wanted to be.”
Hey Lizzie! It’s Indigo.
Nice to meet you.
You too. I want to concentrate on your loop experience and skating full pipes, but I have a few other questions I’d like to ask first if that’s all right.
Okay. Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Simi Valley, but I was raised all over Los Angeles, with Santa Monica being the place I’ve lived the longest.
When did you start skating?
I started skating when I was 14 at the Cove.
How did skating get on your radar?
My younger brother wanted to try skateboarding and my mom signed us up for the Cove Skatepark. That was one of the options we could do after school, either that or the library. The skatepark was a lot of fun, so that’s where we would go after school. It was nice because we could go there and I didn’t have to really watch my brother. I could just be in the park and do my own thing.
That’s awesome. I have a little brother who skates too. Do you still skate with your younger brother?
He skates to get around, but he’s not really skating skating so to speak.
Did y’all push each other when you were younger?
In the beginning, kinda. When we were starting, there was some competition, but then he pretty much slammed on flat ground and chipped his tooth and he was over skateboarding for a bit. It was something he came back to, but he was never as passionate after that experience, which I totally understand.
I get it, not wanting to lose any more teeth. Did you have a crew at the Cove?
In the beginning, I would go with my brother. At some point, I started skating with my neighbor who lived upstairs and I was meeting other people at the Cove. If I wasn’t skating with them, I’d skate with the older guys at the skatepark because they would be sessioning and you could just join them and they’d be cool. They were very friendly where everyone else my age was kinda dumb.
What got you to keep skating and progress from cruising to shredding?
I saw someone skating the flow bowl at the Cove and they made it look really easy, and something just clicked. I understood like, “It’s that simple.” I had this feeling that if I kept skating, at some point, it would be that easy. Then I started getting boards from Santa Monica Airlines, which is like a historic skate brand, and they asked me if I wanted to skate at the Pro-Tec Pool Party, which at the time was the biggest bowl event, I didn’t know that, but I was like, “Yeah. That sounds cool.” It gave me a reason to put more tricks together. Going to a contest, I wanted to make sure I knew how to do something, so I started practicing. Once I went to that event, being around all that energy of people that were pushing themselves and just skating, and pushing their limits, it was contagious and I found the place I wanted to be.
When did you start going to the Combi?
I started going there to practice for that Pro-Tec Pool Party, which was in 2009. After that event, I started going to as many contests as I could. The following year I won my first event, which was a big deal. From starting contests and being like, “This is awesome,” I was pushing myself so much over that summer.
What was the first contest that you won?
No. The first event that I won was one of the Florida Bowlriders contests. In 2010, I also won the Women’s Combi Classic. They had separated the men from the women to give them their own event. It was cool but, at the same time, it felt not as cool because the men’s contest was such a big deal. They built stands and people from all over would come. The women’s event was small in comparison, but it was a different time.
Now it seems like there are more viewers on the girls events than ever. The time I met you, in 2013 at Florida Bowlriders at Kona, you gave me your board. It stoked me out to go to Woodward that summer. That same year you got first place in Barcelona at X Games. What was that like?
Yeah. At that time, I feel like women’s events were really small and they paled in comparison to the men’s events. The prize purses were sad and there were only so many girls, and the scene was much smaller. It was a really big deal for X Games to add women’s park, because it had a prize purse that was $30,000, which was very significant at the time because if you could win a contest then you could support yourself, relatively. It basically opened up a lot more opportunities. Also, going to X Games, it was like having the check mark of being validated. It was a really big deal and then they just cut it off the next year. I don’t think they had funding because they went so big on the tour in 2013 that the next year was just cut.
Who were you skating with at the time?
Back then I was still living at home in Santa Monica with my parents and going to as many events as I could, but also trying to figure out what I was doing with my life. I was going to SMC, which is the local community college, and just driving to Combi all the time. Whoever was there I would skate with. I would go with Allysha Le, who is my best friend. Some of the locals, like Chris Russell, would go all the time. We would skate with a lot of the legends, like Christian Hosoi and Jeff Grosso and all their friends. Wherever there was a session we would go.
What was it like having those legends around you? Do you think it pushed you?
They would just go there and have fun and try tricks and we would just go there and do the same. In a sense, I think I’m lucky that I didn’t grow up with skating because I didn’t know how influential those dudes were. Obviously, when you are with them, they are awesome and have good energy, but there’s not this preconceived idea of who they are, so you just learn about them organically. It was like, “That’s just Christian.” And it’s Christian Hosoi, and he’s a really insane dude who has lived this crazy life.
You’re like, “I skated with Hosoi,” and people are probably like, “What?” But it’s just a normal Tuesday at the Combi.
Yeah. Living in Southern California, we are definitely spoiled with a lot of good skateparks and amazing skateboarders and good weather.
Did you have someone taking you to new parks? How did you discover backyard pools?
On ConcreteDisciples.com, you could look up local skateparks in different areas. Also when you become friends with other skaters, they are like, “We are going to go to this park,” or “You should check out this park if you go over here.” Also going to contests and traveling, you start seeing all these different parks and the locals will tell you things you should hit up. It was also seeing photos and videos. For backyard pool skating, it’s just making friends with people who do that. I’m not going out looking for backyard pools, but I have friends who will do that and I’ll join them to skate. It’s such a skill to know how to find backyard pools and navigate those territories.
“There’s this second of just sky, loop, and then sky on your peripherals. it goes by so quick.”
What pushed you from skating parks to loving pools? It’s a different scene.
At the skatepark, I was always drawn to skating in the pool at the skatepark. For me, when you first start, it’s always the biggest thing. Once I was doing it, I just had the most fun there. Some of those people would go skate in backyard pools also. It’s one of those things. It’s really similar to skating DIY stuff because it was made to skate, but it’s imperfect. When you go skate in a backyard pool, it’s not made to skate and a lot of the time it’s not perfect. It’s a challenge and I feel like it’s one of those things that, if you can do it, there’s like this classic thing to it, or mysticism or magic, or whatever you want to call it.
That’s so cool. I grew up watching you and Allysha Le tearing up pools. It was so gnarly. Props to y’all. Do you prefer pool coping to metal coping?
Yeah. Pool coping is my favorite. I have a ramp and it’s all pool coping.
That’s a dream.
So you’re doing all these competitions. Did you have any sponsors besides SMA? How were you going to these contests?
I would go online and try to find the cheapest way to get there and lodging. I would see if there were friends nearby and stay at their house or see if I could go with other people that were traveling there. I would have to make a budget beforehand. I feel like none of my friends had to do this. It was only me. I see the value in it, but it sucked. My parents would pay for it and, at some point, I started getting help along the way. If I placed well, I would get a little bit of cash and that would fund that trip or the next trip.
How did you get on Birdhouse? Through the contests or did you know Tony Hawk?
In 2013, at the Bondi Bowl-A-Rama, the Australian bowl contest series, Grosso was there and he was asking me what board brands I wanted to be on. I had never really thought about it because I got boards from SMA and, at the time, when you looked at a magazine it was all street skating. All the core companies, they just showed street skating, so I felt it was hard to relate to based on that. Also there weren’t women on any of those companies or that were being highlighted. When he asked me that question, I looked at what was out there and I felt like Birdhouse was the closest one I could relate to because they had a team that was a mix of transition and street skaters. Obviously, Tony, he’s a vert skater, so I put it out there to all my friends that knew Tony, that I wanted to ride their boards. Word got around to him and then he reached out to me and said he wanted to take me on demos. I started travelling with them and he told me he wanted to put me on the team, which was really cool and special.
Did you go on tours outside the USA?
On one of my first Birdhouse tours, we went to Canada and went to three different cities. Then we did demos in Australia, Portugal and Argentina. At some point, we did a demo in Mexico City. There was a lot of cool places we went and I think the biggest tour we did was when we went to Europe and brought the whole team. Tony had all these vert demos set up, but there were also street demos in line with it. We would go to a park that had both or they had a big bowl. Some of them were organized, like festivals, and other ones were renegade, like Birdhouse coming to a park. It was really cool. It was the first time I was traveling with the team and it was for two weeks. I was really nervous because I was worried if the team didn’t like me that would be a big bummer.
Did you skate with anyone on the team prior to going on tour?
I met some of them for a demo in Ohio, but I only went for the first day or two of the tour and then I had to go. The Europe tour was my first whole trip with them. Skating-wise, they’re really gnarly, and they’re all characters, so I was shy and scared.
Were you travelling around in a van?
We were traveling all over Europe, so we would take flights to different areas and have vans. At one point, we took a bus to the next place, and that was crazy. We stayed in hotels, which was nice.
Cool. I want to ask about Grosso since he was your mentor and friend. What was it like skating with him?
It was fun to skate with him. I started skating with him at Combi and he would bring his boombox and he had his crew and everyone was super nice. They would all go there to have fun. It was casual. Everyone would end up trying something and sometimes we would all end up trying the same thing and you could ask for help. I feel like Grosso seemed like this big scary dude, but once you talked to him, he was really nice. I always thought of him as a big teddy bear. He could also be moody, which was relatable. Growing up, you don’t see that side of most people. I thought he was really empathetic and easy to relate to. He would ask you about what’s going on. He had hundred and one stories and he was an amazing story teller, so he would tell me all these fucked up situations. He would have really good similes, or go into Greek Mythology and I thought that was all very sick.
Right on. What kind of tricks were your go-tos for contests in the beginning?
When I learned inverts, it felt like a big deal. Going even further back, I remember when I learned front smith grinds, and I was really shocked because, in my head, you had to be really good to learn how to do that. It was weird because I wasn’t really good, but I could do this trick. I don’t know, my mind was blown. I grew up skating with Allysha, like I said, and, in my head, she has been ripping forever. She has mute airs on lock, and I still can barely do mute airs. I can do them, but they suck in comparison. I remember trying to learn backside airs and I kept early-grabbing. I couldn’t figure out how to late-grab. It was at a point where her and Elijah Berle’s little brother, Evan Berle, were yelling at me, “Late grab!” I didn’t understand how to do it, but it was really funny because I was like, “Help me,” and they’re just yelling at me. It was a really funny time at the skatepark.
Do you and Allysha still push each other?
Yeah. We still skate together. Usually, we don’t go to a session with tricks that we are planning on doing. We just let it happen.
I learned how to do Indy airs by watching Allysha do them. She’s rad! What year did you get sponsored by Birdhouse?
Is that the same year you got on Vans?
It was the same year, I got on Vans officially. In 2013, I started getting shoes. Then, at the end of 2013, I slammed and tore my PCL, so I couldn’t skate. My parents were like, “You should start taking more college classes.” At that same time, I was like, “I need to focus on skating, go to PT, and try to figure out how to make skating work for me.” My parents weren’t stoked about my decision, but I knew if it didn’t work out I could go back to school. If I went back to school and got a degree then, it was just going to be harder to go back to skating because, like physically, you don’t get the years back from when you’re younger, so I knew that was the time. I started getting boards from Birdhouse and I started getting shoes from Vans, so I had my gear covered, but I wasn’t on contract with anyone, so I found a manager. At the time, having a manager was not normal, but I felt like that was what I needed to negotiate my contracts and figure out how to make skateboarding work for me. When you go to the industry and try to advocate for yourself, and say, “Hey, pay me this much money because you should,” it doesn’t really convince anyone to put you on contract and take you seriously. Having a manager, they can see the deliverables that maybe a sponsor would need and how they could use you, and make the relationship mutually beneficial. For me and, in my parents’ eyes, that was the verification that I was doing the right thing and I had a “job.” I was really stoked that I could focus on skating, so that changed a lot for me. Also it was not having the stress or pressure of feeling like you’re floating. There’s a lot of pressure being a young adult to figure out what you are doing with your life. With something like skating, it’s not a 9-5 and there are not many guarantees. Even if you make it that far, there is still a lot of uncertainty that you have to deal with, more than the next person.
Constant change. So you’re on Vans and Birdhouse. Do you have other sponsors?
I was getting wheels, bearings and trucks, and I had miscellaneous sponsors through the years. In 2015, I got on Monster, which was a big deal. Obviously, being on a board brand is really important for skateboarding-wise. Being on a shoe brand and an energy drink, you can be financially stable and have the freedom to pick and choose what you want to do.
So you can keep skateboarding because of these sponsors, and were you making money from contests as well? Had equal prize money come about yet?
That didn’t happen until 2018. It was the Vans Girl’s Combi Pool Classic to first level the prize purse and then everyone else followed suit. I think that same year or the year after, WSL, the surfing league, did the same thing. They did this huge PR story about how the men and the women are now equal. Skateboarding did it first, but they didn’t toot their own horn about it. Maybe they should have. Vans was the leader of that charge.
That was Kristy Van Doren, right?
Yeah. It was her.
It’s cool that you are a part of the team that started that opportunity for women and it’s starting to be more universal at contests. When did you go pro?
In 2017, I put out my Thrasher part. Let me back up. We were filming “Saturdays” and I was already filming my Thrasher part but, then “Saturdays” came along, so I just filmed for both, doing the best I could with the time given. They told me that they were going to film Tony’s intro part and it was a block from my house at Brighton Zeuner’s ramp. I slammed at the beginning of that week, so I could barely skate but, obviously, I’m going to show up, just be there to support and see if I can even skate. I get there late because all the dudes are always late, so it’s not a big deal. I guess Axel knew about this and he’s stuck at the house with me just stressing. Everyone’s texting him like, “Get Lizzie over here now. We’re all here.” I’m like an hour or two late. I was like, “Let’s make lunch and then we’ll go over there, maybe I’ll do laundry and then we’ll go.” I was just making up stuff to do because I’m not skating, so it doesn’t matter. Also Axel can’t say “Hey, you need to go,” because it’s not his thing, and there’s no way for him to do anything, so he’s just stuck. Eventually, we get over there and everyone was like, “Hey, Lizzie, what’s going on?” Everyone’s being super nice and I didn’t even think twice about it. I tried to skate and I literally hung up on a backside air. There was another one where I fly off the ramp. Usually, you just bail and slide out, but there was one where I tried to do something and just went off the side of the ramp. I was like, “I’m so sketchy and out of control.” I ended up slamming on my elbow again, and I have a swell-bow, so I went in to get ice. Then Tony’s wife is like, “Hey, Lizzie, come here!” Someone else goes and gets me ice, and I just hang out and sit with her on the grass in front of the ramp, watching the session just kind of feeling like a fool, to be honest. Jeff falls and that year or the year before he had neck fused together, and he was riddled with different injuries and he was struggling with getting back on board. You didn’t really bug Jeff when he fell, you just let him do his thing. Tony goes up to him and is like, “Are you okay, Jeff?” Then Jeff is walking over all dramatic and then he pulls out the mag, and gives it to me, and it’s a photo of me that Burnett took, and it’s at that ramp. It was really surreal because in my lifetime there was never a woman on the cover of Thrasher, so it was really hard for me to believe that I was on the cover. I was tripping and, next thing I know, Tony pulls up and hands me my board. Then my mom shows up out of nowhere. I just started crying because it was overwhelming, but it was really cool and amazing. I was tripping over there being so many people there on a Wednesday afternoon.
That’s crazy. You had no idea you were going to go pro?
I knew it was going to happen at some point. They were coming out with the video and trying to figure out how they were going to turn everyone pro, because they weren’t going to turn everyone pro at the premiere and I didn’t think they would do it off my first part. I had dropped that Thrasher part and I just thought they would give it to me later. Also, they showed me the mock up for the graphic that they were going to do for my first board and it was terrible. It was so bad. I told them, “You can’t do this.” So I reached out to an artist I had looked up too, a local artist in Santa Monica. Fortunately, he was able to put something together, so we had the graphic, which was cool, but you never know when it’s actually going to happen.
Wow. When did you get your first Vans shoes colorway?
With my first colorway, they let me do this capsule collection, and it was super rushed. I had input on it, but there were no samples. It was just an idea and sent. I tried to do a mock-up of this Chinatown print, like the Chinatown pajamas. I tried to do my own play on of that. I thought it was cool. Now, in retrospect, after I’ve done a couple collections, I know how I would change it.
I have the high-top purple ones with the kitties on the insole, the pro version.
That’s my first real collection where I had time to figure it out, and have an idea, and really see the execution of it. The other one was so rushed. It was awesome that they let me do something, but there wasn’t much thought into it. I was really stoked to do the purple collection. At the time, they were like, “Are you sure you want purple? It’s a really bright color and bold.” Basically, in marketing they are like, “Here’s what sells. Most people want this.” I was like, “No. This is what I want and this is what I’m going to do.” When it first came out, it was really quiet, and I didn’t hear much about it, but, over the years, it’s one of those collections that people still ask me for, so it’s really cool. I was really hyped to do the slip-ons with the black sole just because it felt like something I’d see in Hot Topic and, growing up, I used to go to Hot Topic a lot. It was fun and we got to do the reflective on it, and I just love all those little details.
Did you ever think about doing your own skate clothing? You’re always so stylish.
Well, that’s what I do with Vans, technically. It would be hard. I would have to step away from Vans to do my own thing. With the resources there, it’s really fun to do the designs and have someone else do the execution of production. I don’t think, for clothing, that’s my thing. I just like designing. I have the set up that I want and it’s cool because I can focus on skating and whatever is going on.
Rad. Moving to a discussion about the loop. Did you know what you were getting yourself into when Tony asked you to do the loop? Had you see all of the slams?
I hadn’t seen the slams and that was on purpose because, when Tony asked me to do the loop, he asked me very casually. I don’t know how you ask someone to do the loop, but it was something I had to think about. He was kind of like, “People who want to do the loop, they know if they want to do the loop.” I was like, “I don’t know if I want to do the loop, but if you take it out I’ll come and make my decision.” He was like, “Okay.” A year or so later, he gets a company to throw an event, so they can bring out the loop. He sends out this group text to anyone who will come like, “We’re bringing out the loop.” I was like, “Okay, cool, I’ll be there.” I didn’t put too much more thought into it. So I go to the event and everyone was talking about there being less than 20 people who had ever done it and the risk factor is so high. The loop is different than anything else, so it’s like you have to learn a new thing. Seeing it firsthand, it’s so much bigger in real life. So the event was going on and there was a live stream and a crowd and it was crazy. There was so much going on that it was like the worst situation you could be in for trying to learn something like that. You kinda need to be in the zone and focused. Then everyone who felt like they were going to do it had to commit because, once they start taking out the pads, that’s it. You can’t put the pads back in for the next person. Jeromy Green was the first person to do it. Right before Jeromy did it, he went all the way up and around and, instead of carving he went back into the entrance, so he smacked his face, and cracked his tooth, and it was bleeding. He walks over to make it on the next try and he shows me his bloody teeth and it was the last thing I wanted to see at that point. In my head, I was like, “You’re going to make it or you’re going to die.” He made it the next try, then Charlie Blair tried it and he made it. Then Riley Hawk tried it and he tackled the flat bottom. He went all the way around and literally bounced. It was horrific, but he was okay. They are announcing the whole thing, and it’s crazy, and then that was it. Everyone starts leaving and they are getting ready to take the loop apart and I was like, “Wait. We can still skate it, right? It doesn’t have to go down right now.” Some of the people who worked there were like, “We’re taking it down. We’re done.” Tony was like, “No. Lizzie is going to skate it. You guys are keeping it up. She wants to try it.” They were like, “Okay.” So I went on the ramp and pumped around, trying to warm up. You can’t really warm up on the loop because it’s just a drop-in to the thing. There is no half doing it. So I started trying it and there were a handful of other people skating with me. I had Aaron [Homoki] come skate with me and he would go into the pads, trying to be supportive. People started getting over it and stopped skating it, and it was literally only Aaron and I. Shawn Hale told me, “Just don’t pump.” At some point, I was like, “Okay, Tony told me this. I’m not pumping.” Then I just locked my legs and didn’t do anything, and I just stuck to the wall. I was like, “Oh my god. This is how you do it.” That was the scariest point for me because I was like, “Am I going to do this thing or should I just stop now because there’s no point in continuing on and, at the last second, when they are taking out all the pads be like, “No, I’m good.” From that point, I was like, “I’m either going to make it and it’ll be fine or I’m going to die.” In my head, I was just kept thinking, “If you make it, it’s fine.” I kept trying and I got in a rhythm of dropping in and going around and I got a little further each time and then we would take a pad out. We did that all the way up until there was the last pad, and you kind of had to push the pad up, so it was higher, and every time I’d go, it would slip down a little bit and they would let it go. At some point, I was like, “Okay.” I wanted to try it with no pads. So I tried it and then I bailed before I got to the top, but somehow I still went with the momentum and knee slid all the way around. It was crazy, but I was fine. I got back up there and went again, making it mostly through, then I leaned too far back or too far forward a couple times. Then I tried it with no pads five or six times, which is a lot. There was one time I made it out and all the way around, but then five feet later, as I was rolling away, I slid out. I made the loop. I did it, and everyone came and rushed me. I was like, “Wait. That wasn’t really a clean landing. I need to do it for real.” Tony tells me to go. So I go up there and I make it! It was really trippy because you are so in tunnel vision and you’ve been visualizing the same thing, and you get in a zone, and then, all of a sudden, you are rolling away across the parking lot. It was really crazy. I did the thing.
“It’s awesome that so many people got to see skateboarding for the first time and that was their first real experience of it.”
Wow. Did that feel natural in comparison to anything you had skated before?
It’s not like any of that because when you go into it, you don’t turn around. You just keep going. There’s this second of just sky, loop, and then sky on your peripherals. It goes by so quick. Before I even thought about trying the loop, I thought about cradles. It’s like a cradle, but instead of coming back around you keep going into the abyss.
Have you skated a fullpipe and got high on the walls? Is that similar?
I’ve skated fullpipes and you get up to 10 o’clock or 11 o’clock, but it’s not the same. The second you start getting up high, you start scrunching up and trying to figure out how to come back down. If you are going to loop it, you just keep going this way. You do the thing your body is telling you not to do.
Which fullpipes have you skated?
I’ve skated Baldy and miscellaneous fullpipes that aren’t famous. I’ve skated fullpipes in skateparks, like Pier Park in Oregon, the one in San Jose and one in Shanghai, China. There’s the one at Upland skatepark I skated when I first started skating.
Did you see Burnquist try to loop Baldy?
Yeah. He’s a psycho. It’s really big.
Would you think about looping again?
If the motivation was there, yeah. It would be sick to do a natural loop, not the one made to skate or even a skatepark one would be cool. It’s one of those things with the risk versus reward. I feel like I’ve done the loop and it’s one of those things like messing with the bull.
What was it like going to Baldy?
It’s just a little hike. If you don’t know how to get to it, it can be longer, but if you go with someone that knows, it’s not any different than skating a backyard pool.
Was it the same as you see in photos or was it more surreal once you showed up?
The gap there is huge and, if you have to jump the gap, it’s scary because it’s just far enough that you are uncomfortable, unless you are really tall and have a long leg span. The pipe is really bumpy because it’s had years of wear and tear. They try to patch it up, but it’s like skating a DIY.
Did you have softer wheels, or a different set-up, or did you ride the same board?
I ride the same board for everything because it’s too much work to switch everything out.
Out of all of the terrain that you skate, what’s your favorite?
I feel like it’s really based on the session. If you have a good session somewhere, it’s just a good time. A lot of the times that you feel most gratified are when you have to work for it. It’s funny because, afterwards, you’re like, “That was so fun,” but when you’re there struggling all day, the reality is different. You always remember it better than it was. It is satisfying to push yourself through that process and have a goal and achieve it.
Hell yeah. You skate the Vans Park Series a lot. Do you have a favorite course?
There was one in Suzhou, China, that was really sick. I wish we could go skate that one again. There was another one in Shanghai that was pretty sick. It was after the year in Suzhou.
What makes a course better? Is it more ledges or big vert walls or what?
It’s the most fun when there’s a lot of transition and the transitions line up right. You know when you go from a deep end to a shallow end, if they don’t do the measurements right, sometimes the shallow end will be too small. You can pump your hardest and you’re barely getting to the top of the deep end. When you have to work extra hard, it’s not as fun. Also, there’s the right measurements and, when it all comes together well, it’s satisfying. Obviously, you have to have the skills to use the different things too. Sometimes they will make extensions and make the things next to them really tiny, like a little bank, which is a lot of impact, and I’m not really about that. I just like it when things flow, and the work is less on you and it’s built in a way where you have more options than less.
Do you have a favorite go-to skate spot?
I think it’s really just skating with the right people. There are sometimes when you want to go skate with a big group and it’s really fun. Then there are other times where that seems exhausting. You kind of have to just gauge where you’re at. A lot of the time just showing up is the hard part and, once you get going, you don’t even think about it.
I want to talk about your Mega Ramp incident, not the fall itself, but more about what it was like to come back from that and then go to the Olympics. Besides injuries, which are gnarly, how do you regain that confidence, and that mentality to get back on your board?
Well, I feel, to some level, that I’m still getting my confidence back on my board. It’s one of things, with any injury where you slam, there’s kind of a cloud of doubt that follows you. The more you skate and time passes, it slowly fades away, but it’s not one of those things where the next day you’re cured. It’s a process you have to just get through. For me, going through my injury, it was kind of the best time for something like that to happen, just because there weren’t any contests going on and no one was expecting me to show up for anything. I felt like I just wanted to have the time to go back to zero and figure out the basic things that I needed, and then everything else after that. I had Axel, and I had my basic needs taken care of and all of the things that I needed to physically heal up. For the world to be in a pandemic and there being no events, no one was expecting anything of me, so it was perfect. Pressure from the outside can be a lot, especially because the Olympics were coming up, and it was a long process to get to there because it was the first time skateboarding was in the Olympics and they were figuring out all of the little details for how it was going to work. Honestly, it was a lot of hurry up and wait to get to these contests, so the whole time you were on your toes with the schedule. The formats kept changing and it was challenging to deal with. When my injury happened, I was like, I just need to focus on getting better and acknowledging what my needs are instead of just telling everyone I’m going to be okay, even though I know I’m going to be okay.
When did you get back on your board?
I fell at the end of October 2020 and I was able to push on my board in March, but it felt weird because I was so weak. There is a lot of atrophy when you break your leg and aren’t walking, so I wasn’t rushing to get back on my board. I made a point of not rushing it, especially with the Olympics and because of all the pressure, and I put a lot of pressure on myself too. If we take out the Olympics or sponsors, I know I’m going to do everything I can to make it okay, and I don’t need any outside forces pressuring me.
Is that why you kept it under wraps, so you could recover without the pressure of people seeing if you were okay?
Yeah. It can be exhausting, just reaching out to people individually and saying what happened. Before the video was out, I would tell people what happened and they wouldn’t understand. If you say everything in detail of what happened, it doesn’t sound real. It’s like two car crashes in one. Normally, in skateboarding, you are never really going that fast and stopping that instantly.
There are just a few people riding Mega Ramps, so that’s a whole other game. What was the focus when you first got back on your board? Was it skating pools or vert ramps or cruising in skateparks?
I started rolling around a street course to just pump around. Then I was pumping on my vert ramp because it’s a controlled environment and I didn’t have to worry about someone else’s board flying in from across the park. I didn’t really start skating until May when there was that one contest coming up. I was like okay, I need to be able to actually do something. We went on a road trip to Salt Lake and I tried to skate. Your brain doesn’t go back to square one. Your brain knows how to do all these things still. The first couple days I tried to skate as close to how I normally skated and I overdid it. I was so sore and I was struggling with the altitude. After that, I couldn’t skate for two days. We would go to a couple of parks a day and I tried to skate, but even bailing or running out was a lot for me.
“Skateboarding is a huge part of my life and I love doing it, and I think it’s one of the coolest things in the world.”
Were your tricks still there?
Most of the tricks were all there. It was just that I couldn’t trust my body because it was weaker. In my head, I was trying to do the thing and my body was lagging.
Was it weird going back to competitions and not being able to do a few of the tricks that you usually do?
It was, but it’s kind of nice. Sometimes I will go to contests and I forget that I can do some tricks because you get stuck in a routine of doing certain ones. It isn’t until you’re like, “I can do this,” then you mix it up. It was like, “I can’t do these tricks right now, so what can I lean on?” Before the Olympics, I skated the Dew Tour in Des Moines, and I skated practice way better than I skated in the contest. I actually had a realization during the contest. When they called me to do my run, I was like, “I’m going to do these things.” I put myself in that place where I was focusing and trying to get in the zone. It was the first time that I put myself under pressure again, since my slam, and I just felt really crazy. I felt maybe some level of PTSD from the slam. It was fine. In the end, the contest placing didn’t matter. It was more to prove to myself that I’m good. I knew I was going to go to the Olympics and that was one of my goals, but it was also proving to myself that I can go through this traumatic injury and still be okay. It takes a while for that stuff to process and I think I am still processing.
Yeah. How did your parents feel about you being in the Olympics?
They were definitely proud. That was a big deal.
For sure. I want to talk about your outfit at the Olympics because it was super dope. How did you get the inspiration?
Most of the teams had their apparel bought out by Nike or whatever sponsor. Finland was just me on the team, going to the Olympics, so no one bought it out. That gave me the opportunity to make my own uniform, which I was really stoked to do. Looking at all the other uniforms, they felt very much like uniforms and not what people skate in. I mean people looked weird. It was very strange to me. I was stoked to have the opportunity to do my own thing and also look like a skateboarder. That part is really important because you know, when you go skate, you want to feel good. If you’re wearing stuff that’s not yours and you’re under all this pressure, that’s not necessarily the best combo for success. It was so hot too and it’s really hard to prepare for that alone. When I went to design my uniform, I just went with thinking, “What do I normally wear and what are some things that are really me?” I wanted to do a coverall because, in the past, I’ve really liked those, and I felt like coveralls are more fun. I worked together with my friend Rachael Finley, who runs Hot Lava, so it was really fun to collaborate with her on how to do my Olympic uniform. We did the design in Mammoth, on my first trip since my injury. I’d just started walking on my own and we went up to the snow. It was really cool to get away, I felt like it was much needed, and I had her help me. I knew I wanted to do something that would bridge Finnish culture to skateboarding, and it was the perfect storm having Alvar Aalto, being the creator of transition in pools, and me coming from Santa Monica, also being Finnish and a pool skateboarder.
That’s an awesome connection. I just loved that you paid tribute to Alvar Aalto. You were one of the first skateboarders at the Olympics. How does that feel?
I’m really proud to have been a part of it and to represent skateboarding on the biggest stage. I think it’s awesome that so many people got to see skateboarding for the first time and that was their first real experience of it. I think it’s going to get skateboarding to places that probably wouldn’t have considered it before. I feel like all that stuff is super valuable, but it’s also really funny because I feel that the Olympics is this thing that, all of a sudden, I’ve been hit on the head with a magic wand and now I’m valid in the eyes of other people. Skateboarding is a huge part of my life and I love doing it, and I think it’s one of the coolest things in the world, so I’m really happy that I get to do this for my living and live this lifestyle. That’s enough for me. To be a part of the Olympics, I’m super down and that’s awesome and I love what it can do, but I never really thought of the Olympics like other people do. I didn’t watch the Olympics until skateboarding was in it.
Tony Hawk said, “The Olympics needs skateboarding more than skateboarding needs the Olympics.” Tony Alva has said something similar too. Do you agree?
I do. I wonder if it was Tony Alva or Tony Hawk who said it first because they both said it. Tony Alva sent Axel and I the shirts he did, which was really sick.
Awesome. How do you think Grosso would have reacted to the Olympics?
I think it’s one of those things where he would cheer his friends on that are in the Olympics, but I don’t think he was necessarily about it. It’s not like he was going to go compete in the Olympics. I feel that, with anything, there’s a trade-off. Maybe the people that are at the Olympics aren’t necessarily the coolest of the cool in skateboarding and that’s not the whole of skateboarding. Some people will see this event in the Olympics and think this is the end all, and this is what skateboarding is all about, but there is so much more to it.
It’d be good for everyone to understand skateboarding, not just the Olympics.
Yeah. Skateboarding is not for everyone, so I don’t think it’s a problem that it’s there. I don’t think it necessarily matters that some people are not going to get it because, in the end, there are so many people who are going to get it.
Yeah. I think the girls skating did a good job of representing skateboard culture with their supportiveness on the deck too. How was it in Japan during COVID? Were y’all able to hang out with each other?
We were able to hang out with each other, but a lot of the normal things you’d do at the Olympics were not allowed. It was so hard to be in Japan and not get to go out and experience Japan, but I’m just happy that they were able to have it.