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Elissa Steamer – Just Skateboarding

There were women in skateboarding before Elissa Steamer, but she was the first one to really pull off a career. For many years, her name basically was the only one that came to mind when you were thinking about women in skateboarding. She was the role model for all the ones that came after her. That’s why it was a no-brainer for Sarah to feature her in this issue.

You got into surfing a lot, right? 

Yeah, totally. I went yesterday. But I haven’t really been surfing that much lately, because I’ve been skating more again. And also working on Gnarhunters takes up a lot of my time.

How’s Gnarhunters going and what are you doing there? 

Basically, I’m the only one really. I do the designs, everything for the computer or the spreadsheets. Just everything. I’ll even be down there packing boxes, shipping.

What was the reason for starting it?

Well, I didn’t quit skating, but I stopped being a professional skateboarder. It was around 2011 and I had no sponsors and wasn’t really trying to attain any either. I was just amped on surfing, and me and a friend started throwing the word around. I made a stencil, we started spray-painting it on our surfboards and T-shirts and so on. It just became something to throw my energy into because I didn’t really have anything else to focus on other than learning to surf. Also I never created things out of my brain to actually put it on fabric. It started sort of like a joke surf gang thing, then it turned into making a couple of T-shirts and a website, and then it started snowballing. Now I sponsor most of the legendary skaters that surf, which is amazing.

Would you rather consider it a skate or a surf brand?

It’s kinda like surfing brought to you by skateboarders.

So it keeps growing?

Yeah, it is. But also it’s becoming a nightmare because I have to focus a lot of my energy on admin stuff. I’m basically working 24 hours a day. Whether I’m thinking about doing something or I’m actually doing it, it’s getting to the point to where I’m gonna need some help.

And you’re back in the pro ranks again at Baker, which also means less time for Gnarhunters, I guess.

Well, I spend the first part of my day computing and then I spend the second part of my day to round up a posse to go skate and get clips.

Are you filming for a video part?

Actually, I got a couple projects going on, but the main one is the Baker video. But I haven’t gotten a clip in, like, weeks and it’s kinda depressing.

I guess there are times like that. How did you happen to get on Baker?

In October 2017, I went skating with Frank [Gerwer]. I had a really good time skating, which I haven’t had in a long time back then. I skated three days in a row and realized that I was getting more and more comfortable on my board. The previous six years to that, I had skated, like, once a month, once every two months. Then I started skating a lot again and I was hanging with Chico [Brenes], and he was putting clips of me on Instagram. People were hitting me up and I fell in love with skateboarding again. I was like, “Damn, I’m gonna get my job back.” I was talking to Kaspar [van Lierop] and signed a Nike deal, and I was hitting up Van Engelen, who was flowing me FA and Hockey boards. And one day, completely out of the blue, Andrew [Reynolds] hit me up and was like, “Do you have any board sponsors?” I told him that Van Engelen is sending me boards and he said, “I’m gonna put you on Baker and give you a board.”

Why did you lose the love for skateboarding at one point?

I don’t think that I lost the love for skateboarding. I think I lost the love for doing it. I had knee surgery, was really into surfing – doing something new just took over. I just fell in love with something new for a while but never really lost the love. I have been skating since I’ve been ten years old. 25 years non-stop, every day, then you find something new that you want to get good at.

If you look back at your career, is there something you’d change?

I feel pretty good about what I’ve done and the way I handled myself. I don’t feel that I really compromised too much. I think I never really did anything I didn’t want to. There are random things that you have to do to keep the money flowing in, like go to a photo shoot for a catalogue or something, but other than that, I handled myself pretty well. I don’t have any regrets.

"Obviously, the world is a boys club, but I never thought that anything would have turned out differently if I had been a male"

Was there ever a point where you were thinking, “If I was a man, things would be totally different right now!”

No, I always fought for equal payment, I negotiated for myself. I fought for pay at Toy Machine, I fought for pay at etnies and I got it. Obviously, the world is a boys club, but I never thought that anything would have turned out differently if I had been a male. Actually, I sometimes think the opposite. How fortunate am I to be a woman at that time in skateboarding? There wasn’t many of us and I worked hard. Skateboarding is the only job that I ever worked super hard at. I had several jobs. I made pizza, worked at a bookstore, did telemarketing. Skateboarding is the only job that I took seriously. I was out every day, hitting up the photographers and filmers. Even if the tricks I was doing… I would find something different to do. Something where people wouldn’t be like, “Oh, this is good for a girl.” I’d try to find something where they’d be, “Oh, that was sick.” That was my goal. Just to be good at skateboarding. Just to be out skateboarding and living the dream.

You were a role model for a lot of women. Did you think back then that the scene would change in the future? Did you expect it to change even earlier or has it progressed more than you imagined?

I honestly didn’t think about that too much. I wasn’t in it for empowerment or anything like that. Even though I know that skateboarding is a great tool for empowerment, inclusivity, self-esteem building, and life in general. It’s crazy how many life skills can be acquired via a toy. But I wasn’t thinking about that. I just wanted to skate and get stoned and drink beers with my friends. That was my dream since I was a child. I’d pretend on my street that I was a pro skateboarder and then it just happened. So I wasn’t thinking too much about what I was doing for women or a sport or skateboarding in general. I was just doing it.

There are more and more women in skateboarding nowadays. But what has still to change?

The world is changing, skateboarding is changing and it’s almost like there’s segregation of skateboarding in general. I would like to see less segregation and more inclusivity. Even the term “women” or “female” skateboarding. I’d like it to become more skateboarding as a whole. I think that’s where the future is. Though I know there is a whole subdivision of contests. Now there’s actually a platform for two different genders. I’d like it to be just skateboarding. Not that I have anything against it, but I feel like it used to be just skateboarding. I was listening to Jamie Thomas’s podcast with Oliver Percovich from Skateistan the other day and he was talking about how in Afghanistan society is very separated by class, race, and wealth. When the kids were skateboarding, they were all skating together, whereas if they weren’t skateboarding, they wouldn’t associate with each other. But they shared this common love. That’s how skateboarding has always been. It’s all inclusive to a point where race, gender, handicap become totally irrelevant. Everybody shares the love for this toy, which helps us to learn to overcome racism, sexism, and all these things.

Soloskatemag Elissa Air

frontside ollie

But there are also skaters who are sexist or homophobic. Did you realize that as well or were you always around people that were welcoming and open-minded?

I’ve always been involved with a circle of people that were welcoming. As far as open-minded… You know everybody has their struggles and everybody comes from different backgrounds. Some people might be homophobic or something. With the exception of a couple of instances, I’ve been welcomed with open arms. I feel like skateboarders are way more open-minded than the regular population. I feel like everybody could do better though. But skateboarding as a whole is a well-rounded and open-minded and diverse community for the greater good of the world. I don’t see too much hatred in skateboarding. Skaters are far more advanced than the rest of the population when it comes to issues like that.

How was it back in the days, being in the Toy Machine van? Did they behave differently because a woman was around?

No, nothing changed. I was just there and everybody was still partying, everybody was still vulgar, reading porn magazines. It was all the same. Still dick and fart jokes all day long.

And you liked it that way?

Yeah, I was fine with it. If something was offensive to me – whereas it was really hard to offend me – I would probably just disassociate it, get more stoned or something. It was just business as usual with everybody. I was glad that people weren’t walking on eggshells around me because I wanted to fit in. I didn’t want to be the reason for people to not carry on the way they are. I was raised by wolves, so it’s fine.

"For the general consensus, it’s probably that if a women skates, she’s doing something masculine and people start to question which way her sexuality swings on the spectrum"

You partied a lot, did drugs, alcohol. How do you look back at those years nowadays?

I just look back at them. They just happened. It was fun at first and then it became somewhat of a coping mechanism and then I couldn’t cope with the coping, so I had to do something else.

A coping mechanism for what?

For life. It was just a way that I learned to navigate the world. To deal with any past or present pain I had. That was the way I dealt with it.

And at one point, you learned to handle it differently?

Yeah, I did. I quit drinking and doing drugs. I asked for help and I got the help I needed to get a sufficient substitute to not do that anymore. I learned how to live on a different basis.

If guys are on tour and they’re partying, people are like, “Look at these cool dudes.” Do you think the public perception is different when women are doing the same things?

It depends on the circle they’re running it in. The general public might feel different about it. But whoever that person is, if they’re with their friends and peers, it’s probably not looked upon differently. But I feel like women face a lot more scrutiny in many issues.

When you were on Toy Machine, you probably hung out with Brian Anderson a lot too. Did you talk to him about gender issues and sexuality even before his coming out?

I hung out with him all the time. Every summer for five years on many trips. We’re great friends, so we spent time together a lot, but this was never a topic. He was pretty well hidden for a while and then he came out to the people that he thought would be appropriate to come out to back in the day. We’re talking about the early 2000s. My experience with him was that once he came out to me, he was comfortable to be who he was around me. So I was grateful for that. But sexuality can be an issue for a lot of people. 

Do you think that sexuality affects the perception of female skaters and the way other people interact with them? And do you think gay male skaters are perceived differently than gay female skaters?

Yeah, I do. I think a lot of the women skaters that I know are gay. Skateboarding’s a pretty masculine thing. When I say masculine, I don’t say it’s male or for boys only, I just say it’s masculine. For the general consensus, it’s probably that if a women skates, she’s doing something masculine and people start to question which way her sexuality swings on the spectrum. I don’t really know the male experience, but I feel like a male skateboarder might be considered hetero until proven otherwise.

It seems like for female skaters it’s easier to say that they are gay, while Brian Anderson’s coming out was a huge thing.

I guess it would be more normative and accepted, but I don’t know why that is. I don’t even know why it’s an issue in the first place. The only thing I could think of is fear. The people who are judging it are scared and therefore they want to condemn it, put it over there, and tell everyone it’s bad. It’s fucking baffling to me why it’s an issue.

Do you think brands look at it from a marketing perspective?

Yeah, most definitely.

So would you say that it’s harder for gays to get sponsors? 

I don’t think so, but we also don’t have too much experience with it. I know there’s plenty of gay women that have sponsors. Good sponsors. I bet they’re going into it knowing that they’re gay. But it’s a different case with men. Women’s marketing has always been sexualized. It’s a different thing when a women is marketed as a skateboarder alone and not sexualized. But for men we would need to have more experience to make a judgment call.

Skateboarding is also growing older and sometimes I get strange reactions from people. They’re like, “Haha, he has grey hair and still plays with his toy.” Do you get this kind of reaction even more as a woman?

I don’t know, I don’t have that experience that you have. But I have rolled up to skateparks before and little kids were like, “How old are you?” And I told them and they were like, “Oh, you’re old.” Great. But I have been thinking about that recently because I am really old. What do people think when they see me at a spot with a filmer, going crazy, screaming?

"I remember talking to Ed Templeton about money when I was younger and he was like, “You’re fortunate if you get to buy a Honda Civic off of skateboarding.”"

And I guess you’re at spots a lot more recently since you’re filming for a part.

Oh, for sure.

Is it harder to film a video part nowadays?

 haven’t filmed one yet – I’ll let you know in a year or something. But it’s definitely more challenging because I have all this other day-to-day stuff. So to get out and get going is more difficult. And it’s harder to get off the ground.

I’m looking forward to seeing the part. I have one last question: how did you get in the Tony Hawk video game and how did it change your life?

They just put me in it. They called me and said, “We want to give you that money to do this thing.” And I was like, “Great!” And they gave me the money, I did the thing and the people that were skating all over the place would recognize me. It would sometimes bum me out though. The mainstream only noticed you because you’re in a video game and didn’t recognize all the shit I had to learn to get into the video game. Like, I actually ride a skateboard. I’m not that digital being. But how did it change my life? It got me paid.

Would your career have been different if that had not happen?

No, cause I’ve been on this path for a couple of years. I was sponsored, turned pro and then that just came along. I was already doing it. 

But it was still like winning the lottery, I guess.

I wouldn’t call it winning the lottery, but it had its perks for sure. I was able to buy a house and a car. I remember talking to Ed Templeton about money when I was younger and he was like, “You’re fortunate if you get to buy a Honda Civic off of skateboarding.” I’ll always remember that.

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