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Nora Vasconcellos Interview

One of the Guys

There is this home video on YouTube showing the five-year-old Nora getting her first skateboard for Christmas. “Skateboard!” she screams full of excitement after she ripped off the wrapping paper and you can tell that she fell in love right away. There was no turning back from this point. Not much has changed since then. Well, in 2012 she moved from her hometown Pembroke on the East Coast to California and she sure left the naivety of childhood behind and became a young woman with a pretty clarified view on things and a vision that she tries to accomplish with hard work, which got her numerous sponsor deals – but, besides that, when you look into her eyes, you can still see the same shine from Christmas ’97.

When you got on Welcome, you worked in the warehouse as well. Wasn’t it crazy stressful as Welcome got bigger?

Totally. Myself and Daniel Vargas were the first two employees and we worked at Jason Celaya’s [Founder of Welcome, editor’s note] house. I was on a TV tray on his laptop and wrapping up T-shirts. With every new warehouse, my position changed a little bit and it went to just being on the computer, handling international logistics, and putting in orders. It was really cool to learn all this stuff by just working for a skateboard company. Now I have skills I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. It’s always really cool to be working at the ground level and see it grow.

How big did it grow?

We’re in our fourth warehouse space and we have nine employees. It’s really cool cause everybody skates. When I was working there, on certain days we would all go to the skatepark.

How was it when a lot of team riders quit Welcome?

For us as a company, it was a lot better to weed out people who were not committed to Welcome. What happened was, we were gonna film a video and we couldn’t get our biggest team riders to film for this video and we were, like, “This is not right! You should be stoked.” And then people were expecting to be paid all this money… Just the same stuff that always happens when skateboard companies do well and people don’t know how things work. They expect things in return and it’s, like, “You’re not even lifting your weight.” It was good, though, because Jason said, “If you’re not in this 100%, get out!” It opened the door for people who were wanting to be a part of it and right now our team is so sick cause every single person gets along. We can all meet up and hang out on the road like true friends and that’s more important than anything. But it’s funny cause you still see people say, “I miss the original Welcome team,” talking about Nolan [Johnson] or Erick Winkowski or Logie [Logan Devlin] or whoever, but the original Welcome team was Shane Cox and Daniel Vargas and they’re still there.

You put out a great video with Fetish. What were the reactions?

It was really cool because it’s our first video and a lot of the team riders were new in the fact that we hadn’t put something out as a collective.

Now you’re filming a Thrasher part. Could that be your pro part? 

I would love for that to be the case and that’s kind of the goal, but it’s a lot of work to do.

You recently got on adidas. How did that change your life? 

Everything changed – well – nothing changed, but I’m able to skateboard, that’s all I do. I was working for Welcome up until last July and then I transitioned out of working there full time. I went to Europe for Copenhagen Open and Park Series and after that it was just skate mode. I’m just learning how to use the time wisely. It’s crazy, but once things happen, your schedule fills up pretty fast. There’s a month where you have nothing to do and then they call and ask, “Hey, can we use you Friday? And we need you in New York on the 20th and then you’re going to Japan for ten days.” People ask if this isn’t exhausting and I think it’s yes and no. I mean, going to work 9 to 5 is exhausting. This is nice because a) it’s skateboarding, that’s what I’ve always wanted to do, and b) every project we’re working on is a little bit different.

Jascha [Muller, adidas Skateboarding Global Sports Marketing Manager, editor’s note] told me the first time you met him was kind of a weird situation. What happened? 

I went to New York City and we had a really nice lunch and then he said, “I have to take you to the skatepark to see if you actually can skate.” And we got to Pier 62 and he watched me skate around. I told him, “You’re stressing me out so hard.” Still to this day, I think he was kind of serious and wanted to see if I actually can skate.

Did he tell you, “Do a kickflip, do a backside air…” 

No, thank god he wasn’t calling things out, but it was so weird. I hope I never have to do this again. But it was Jascha, so it’s fun.

You really think he wanted to check you? 

I don’t know. I think he was kind of playing with me, but maybe he wanted to check, cause he brings it up all the time and I’m, like, “You got me good,” but I think he seriously wanted to make sure I didn’t push mongo or something. But I kind of understand it, though, cause, in this day and age, you can have people who put themselves out to the world in a certain way, whether it’s through Instagram or social media, and when you’re actually around them in person, they’re totally different. I actually have seen skateboarders in little clips and thought they’re sick and then in person they’re not sick. [laughs]

There’s hardly any doubt that you’re sick. You won the Transworld Female Readers’ Choice Award 2016. What does that mean to you? 

The thing I really like about it is that it’s not a contest. Cause if you win a contest, all it means is that you skated better than other people that day. But for this award people had to actively vote and when I vote for somebody, e.g. for SOTY, I think of everything, the personality, how they look on a skateboard, and if they make you wanna go out skate and have fun. So I was really stoked.

It seems like women finally get more and more recognition in skateboarding. What do you think are the reasons for that? 

One of the major reasons is social media. There’s so many girls who are really talented and can create their own platform without any sponsors or any support. You put your stuff online and it can’t be ignored. So I think it’s a mix of that and a mix of stuff like the Olympics. In order for men to be included in the Olympics, they have to include the women. [laughs] They wouldn’t be here without us. Figuratively and literally. For me, that’s fine as long as you guys are paying a little more attention to us now.

"I looked up to Elissa Steamer, who was always one of the guys, and she wasn’t somebody whose looks got her where she was, it was her ability and who she was as a person."

So skateboarding was forced to integrate women? 

Oh totally, that’s the whole reason that we have a place at the Vans Park Series or in Street League. It’s because those events will become qualifiers for the Olympics. It’s good and it’s also the harsh truth of it all. I have no problem with that if it’s gonna make me able to have a career as a skateboarder. Especially cause with snowboarding, it changed female snowboarding. When snowboarding went to the Olympics, it created a new platform for females. Now there’s girls who don’t do any contests, they just film and do editorial stuff and they’re some of the biggest pro snowboarders in the world.

There are more and more female skateboarders, but I barely know any female filmers, photographers, or artists. Is that the next step to get more women into the industry? 

I think, like with anything, it’s kind of individual crews of people. That’s how any photographer or filmer gets popular, it’s just by producing work. At the same time, it’s hard too because with the influx of women who are talented and who are working very hard, you’re also gonna have the influx of people who just wanna hop on the bandwagon. You have to weed through those people. I’ve seen plenty of girls come and go cause they want a piece of it or they think they get attention from doing it, but, in the end, if you love skateboarding, it will show. I think with filmers or photographers who are women, it’s starting to happen more and more.

What do you think is the best way to give women in skateboarding a bigger platform: Is it to build own companies just for girls or is it better to integrate into existing brands? 

I think it’s really cool that there are a lot of women who have their own brands, like Hoopla or Meow, and I also think a lot of women have to start to come out of their comfort zone. If you wanna ride for a company or get on trips and be a part of it, you have to proof that you can be one of the guys. And one of the biggest things in doing that is you have to learn that you can’t have an ego. You have to be, like, “If I want to be on this team, I have to work really hard for it cause I know there’s a handful of guys who deserve to be in the position I am.” I always think about that. There’s so many kids who’d be good enough and will never have that chance, but right now I have that chance, so I try to be the best I can be and make the most out of it. I think it’ll be really good in the future to have female-specific companies, but it’s also really good for girls to go beyond their comfort level and learn a little bit more about the industry. Don’t just expect to have a pro board. That’s what I see a lot with the girls. There’s a lot of girls, a lot of skateboarders, who just don’t know how it works. It’s a process and you have to put time in.

Is it a problem, more than with guys, that women are marketed in a certain way. Like, she skates, but she’s also a hot babe or something like that?

I think people are learning that they can’t use that anymore, because women are so outspoken in this day and age that it’s all see through. When you see a girl that’s marketed as a “hot babe”“ and she’s one of the guys, you know that tactic’s used, it’s kind of a hollow tactic. I looked up to Elissa Steamer, who was always one of the guys, and she wasn’t somebody whose looks got her where she was, it was her ability and who she was as a person. So, for me, that’s the mould I would like to hopefully fit into. I would be really bummed if people would be looking at me just as a face. But maybe forever the biggest issue with being a girl is being taken seriously. Some skateboarder lately asked me, “Why do you skateboard?” I was, like, “Because I love it.” He wanted me to give him an answer, like, “Oh, the guys I know did it and I wanted to hang out with them.” He wanted me to answer like it was a tool to meet guys or something. It was the weirdest question. It’s like asking, “Why do you drink water?” Ever since I was little, I never thought of myself as a girl and if I do this, I get this because I’m a girl. That, to me, is the most backward plan of existence. I’m just fortunate that I grew up in a house where both of my parents were equal people.


Nora Vasconcellos 360 Flip Zander Takemoto

360 Flip

Even for me, sometimes it’s hard to hang out or party with skateboarders. Isn’t it even harder for you?

I’ve always been taught if I don’t wanna do something, it’s very easy to say no. But I definitely find that I don’t have the energy level that some of the guys have and I know I’ll never have that level. You just learn what you can handle and what you can’t handle.

But you were on King of the Road. I’m sure that was a harsh experience. 

It was surprisingly way better than I thought. I thought I’m gonna die, it’s gonna be so gnarly – and it was. But once you’re in the van with everybody, you’re feeding of each other’s energy and you also don’t have an option.

From wild tours to fine arts. Besides skateboarding, you like drawing. Did you ever do a board graphic for Welcome? 

No, but I helped with a lot of colorways and stuff like that, but Jason’s primarily drawing everything. I did a board graphic for Meow, it was a graphic for my friend Amy Caron.

You rode for Hoopla, did you do a board graphic for them as well? 

No, they’re owned by Skate One, which is Powell, so it’s super impossible to get graphics approved. It costs you an arm or leg to change a simple graphic, which is unfortunate. My friend Mimi Knoop, who runs the company and is a co-owner, she and Cara-Beth Burnside created it all, but Mimi is a really talented artist and created the logo and all that, and her artwork is so amazing. If she had free reign, she would make the best stuff.

How come that they’re under the roof of Powell? 

They were gonna start the company and because of their relationship with George Powell, they were able to have that initial funding that most people don’t have right away. You have everything you need and you know it works and so it’s hard. Because as great as it is, it is really difficult for them to make their own decisions because everything has to go to the higher-ups and be approved. With a company like Meow, that’s my friend Lisa’s [Whitaker] company, it’s all her thing, she has the freedom to do whatever she wants. It’s very interesting to see the pros and cons of both sides.

Nora Vasconcellos Bs Air Nyc Zander Taketomo Tune

Backside Air

Was it hard to quit Hoopla for Welcome cause you are roommates with Cara-Beth?

It was really hard, especially at that time cause I didn’t know many people, and Mimi had always been one of the first people I’ve known in California and she’s like an older sister to me. So it sucked, but I took her to dinner and explained her what I was gonna do and she had no problem with it. It was hard, but she totally understood what I wanted.

And you still live with Cara-Beth and her seven cats

All her cats and my friend Nicole and her boyfriend Josh. Nicole rides for Hoopla. So we have a full cats skate house.

Talking business moves, I read that Ryan Clements is your manager. 

He’s my agent, my manager, he handles not necessarily my money but more or less my relationships. He was one of the big factors on getting on adidas. Especially when you’re a girl, it’s very difficult to be taken seriously. It was hard for me to go up to brands and present my vision of what I wanted to do. So Ryan was that middleman and helped me get what I need to live as a skater.

So you took it really seriously. Did you actually plan your steps?

I signed with Ryan only a year ago and I just told him what my vision was and what I wanted to accomplish. My major thing was I wanted to go pro for Welcome, so I needed the time to film a video part and I needed the other sponsors. I needed the shoe sponsor, I needed all that stuff and it worked out really good cause adidas was looking at myself and a couple other girls. They thought it was a great idea to bring a girl, but it was kind of finding the right one. It was a really long process and then I met Jascha six months after the initial conversations and signed with them in September.

"Even when I started skateboarding, I never thought I would pursue skateboarding as a career and then I never thought anyone would ever care."

It’s interesting that you only signed the deal cause you wanted to have the time to film a part to go pro for Welcome.

Well, it’s not like that. [laughs] For me, the ultimate vision is to go pro for them, to go on trips, and be part of the team. It’s more or less having everybody who supports me all align with that same vision.

You have some awesome sponsors. For example, what is movietickets.com?

It’s the sickest thing ever. I get these credit cards and go to the movies for free and I just have to have a sticker on my board. They pay me too, but… It’s funny how people have sponsors now that are not skateboard related, but this one’s such a random thing and I use it, I go to movies every week and I can bring my friends.

What are your favorite movies? 

One of my favorite movies of recent years was Interstellar. This year, I really enjoyed Manchester by the Sea, and La La Land was really good. And I actually just watched this new King Kong movie.

Everybody seems to love La La Land, but it’s a musical… 

I love musicals. Here’s the trick to musicals. I bought the soundtrack before the movie came out. You jam to the soundtrack in the car and then you go to the movie and you know every song and you can sing along and you’re the only one… It’s such a different experience when you know the songs.

There’s another topic I wanted to talk about: fashion. Cause I always wondered why there is no specific skateboard fashion for girls? Women’s fashion is so diverse, but in skateboarding it’s mostly shirts and pants – just like the boys. And there would be such a big potential in doing stuff, but nobody does it. 

It’s really amazing that you actually noticed that because you’re a guy and I think the only people who are noticing this are other girls. Girls will dm me and ask, “Where do you get your pants?” Cause they want a certain type of pants, but they don’t want to look like a guy. I think one of the most exciting things about a company like adidas is to have the outlet to give girls what they want. That’s one of the goals.

That’s what I was thinking, you have the chance to create women skateboard fashion. 

I think one of the hardest things to make is the pants. Cause with every girl I ever met and even myself, always finding pants that are either flattering on yourself or functionable, so you can skate in them, is hard. And also it’s like sometimes you wanna have the same aesthetic that the guys have, but it’s how you make it a little bit more feminine or how you make it fit your body better, so there’s always a little bit of a challenge. But I think making girl-specific skateboarding pants or a chino would be huge.

Are you already working on it? 

We’ve talked a lot about it. We haven’t done any designs or anything, but it’s definitely one of the next things to work on. It’s just wild. It is a lot of responsibility to design clothes for other people.

Since you’re Female Skater of the Year now, do you feel more pressure because you’re a role model? 

It’s such a weird thing cause even when I started skateboarding, I never thought I would pursue skateboarding as a career and then I never thought anyone would ever care. [laughs] I never thought people were interested in what I was gonna be doing. It’s really rewarding when people hit you up and tell you that they love what you’re doing. I don’t really feel pressure, it just feels rewarding.

Nora Vasconcellos Bs Smith Nyc Zander Taketomo

Backside Smithgrind

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