Kristi Sanders & I Discuss Skateboarding

MoFo asked if Kristi Sanders and I would like to interview each other about skateboarding, and he mentioned a few points for us to touch on. Here is what happened!!

T: How old were you when you started skateboarding, and what made you start? Were there many women skating around you at the time?

K: I believe I was maybe 22 or 23? It was summer and the mountain snow was long gone. Skateboarding seemed like an obvious alternative to snowboarding, and soon thereafter skating replaced snowboarding.  There weren’t many women skating then, which made the few that did so apparent. My first couple years of skating I can recall two women that were regulars at the Vans Block of Orange; Karina Gibbs, and Madonna (can’t remember her maiden name) Thorne. They were both advanced skaters. Karina was dropping into the vert ramp, and Madonna could ollie into the mini ramp. They might as well have just transported from Altrusian Time Pylons because what they were doing was so alien to me. I was still mastering a kick turn! But the impression they left was less about their skill level, and more about their mindset.  They skated with authority, they didn’t ask permission. Even in a heavy lineup I never once heard “mind if I drop in here?” They skated like they belonged. No! They skated as though skateboarding belonged to them. 

How old were YOU when you started skateboarding and what made you start? Were there many women skating around you at the time? What was your impression of the women you did see skateboarding? I know you enjoy skating pools. What was the first pool you skated? 

T: I started skating at 36 years old, as is common for women. I started because my friend Shoshana von Blanckensee who was a nurse and working in the ER had another nurse ask her if she wanted to start skating in the parking lot on their break. After she’d been doing that for a week or two, she called me (I remember it was a PHONE CALL, not text, because it wasn’t as unseemly to call at that time in history) and mentioned she was doing something she thought I would like, which was skateboarding. We went to a small stretch of flat sidewalk on the top of Bernal Hill in San Francisco and I grabbed onto her arms and rolled up and down the sidewalk. Even though I was not comfortable or natural AT ALL, I knew I wanted to learn to skate very badly. The only other thing I’ve known that deep in my bones is that I am a writer.

Weirdly when I started I had a large crew of women I was skating with, most just learning. That was super helpful and made me much more comfortable than I would have been otherwise. I also met Holly Sheehan who was one of the people who started Skate Like a Girl in Seattle. She was so encouraging and stoked on our decision to learn that she introduced us to other women who skated and helped set up a community for us. It was ridiculously great and supportive. Almost all of the women I met were street skaters. They came out of the 90’s skate culture that was all about street spots, ledges, rails, stairs. They were rad skaters, though street wasn’t ultimately what I was drawn to. When I started going to the Pacifica skatepark, I learned about transition and dropping in. That got me OBSESSED. It took me over a year and a half to finally learn to drop in. I was hell bent on it.

Bob Lake took me to my first pool, which was Lorraine’s in Modesto. I think it was 2011 or 2012 when I first went there. It was amazing. I think it was a Blue Haven. I liked the idiosyncratic surface of pools, how you had to be in your body and just respond to what came, rather than checking out and depending on the perfection of the terrain. I still love skating pools and transition. I love a frontside grind on pool coping. That’s the extent of my TRICKS. I like flowing lines and abandoned spaces. I like having a crew of beautiful humans all together, stoking each other out.

Do you have a specific kind of terrain you love?

K: Pools, bowls, curbs, parking lots, skateparks, ramps… I skate them all! Lately my interest is in pools. I don’t skate them enough. Pala’s 3-week (un-buried) stint got me fired up on pool skating, followed by our recent Nude bowl AZ-CA session. How incredible was that? Although I think the stoke of the Nude bowl was more about the crew (you know who you all are) and less about the terrain. Some of my best skate experiences have been skating pools with you, Bob and the other round-wall cats. 

T: Has your experience of skateboarding changed as you’ve gotten older?

K: I cherish skateboarding even more now that I’m older.  Every aspect of it. In my younger days skateboarding was a junkie-thirst… must learn everything right NOW! It was all about demanding skills from skateboarding and inevitably craving more. Skateboarding for me now, as a seasoned human being, is more about experiencing skateboarding. Going on more trips, sharing the stoke with friends. Ironically I’m learning more skills now by expecting less and just enjoying the journey of skateboarding. The value of skateboarding has compounded over time, especially the way it has influenced my perspective on life. I’m definitely jumping more fences now than I did in my youth (both figuratively and literally).  I’ve always met rad people via skateboarding, the difference is now that I’m older I’m meeting friends that I share other commonalities with. How many friends do you know that discuss the environmental advantages to Earthship building or the timeless perfection of PJ Harvey’s 4-track demos while blowtorching the wet surface of a pool? This is mature, adult skateboarding at its finest! Also, in my early days of skateboarding there weren’t all of these philanthropic organizations providing a platform to use skateboarding as a tool for change. Volunteering for SkatePAL was one of the best experiences of my life, something I might not have considered doing as a skateboarder in my youth. 

You’re a writer and stand-up comedian. Have you written any skate-related pieces or used skateboarding in your comedy performances? Have you ever dreamt about skateboarding. If so, what was the dream? 

T: I have written pieces about skateboarding for The Believer and for I liked writing them, though of course the whole time I was writing I was worried that I wasn’t capturing the true spirit of my experience with skateboarding, and describing that accurately feels urgent since I believe it undermines the reliably boring nature of what adults are expected to do with their lives to create meaning (marriage, children). Obviously you can have all the marriages and children you want, and find meaning in that, but it should not be heralded as the only way to live a meaningful life. No one should feel pressure to do either. I feel like skateboarding untethers the spiritual human experience from capitalism. It’s pure soul, spirit and human connection. There is nothing in the heart of skateboarding that can be bought or sold. Just the plank of wood that gets you there.

Re: stand-up comedy, I did talk about how a lot of the skaters at the Chili Bowl (held by Blood Wizard at Potrero skatepark in San Francisco) look like tiny wizards. Very niche material. It was early on in my stand-up career. People have encouraged me to talk about skateboarding more in my material but I feel pretty ambivalent about it. I like to do weirder/less narrative stuff these days.

I totally dream about skateboarding!!! I can’t remember anything specific, lucky for all of you reading this. But let me assure you, in my dreams, I am pulling off stuff that I can’t in my waking hours and it feels GOOD.

Can you tell us more about your experience with SkatePal? What inspired you to take part in that program? What were the most powerful parts about your time in Palestine?

K: Volunteering with SkatePAL and giving skate lessons in Palestine was an incredible experience that I wrote about in detail here.  I discovered SkatePAL by chance. A friend who already knew I had inquired about volunteer opportunities for Skateistan had tagged me in a SkatePAL Instagram post. Palestine looked like a fascinating place and the month-long volunteer stint seemed like a reasonable amount of time. I immediately applied. 

SkatePAL’s program, or any program for that matter that offers the opportunity for individuals to express their capabilities through skateboarding is inspiring. The most powerful aspect of my experience in Palestine was the generosity.  The locals in Asira Al-Shamaliya, the town we were staying in, were really involved. They offered our crew car rides, hosted our dinners, shared their homes with us. Kindness was a constant and it really left an impression on me. Anyone interested to learn more about the volunteer experience with SkatePAL can read this interview with SkatePAL

What has been the most challenging aspect of skateboarding? What is your most memorable skate experience? 

T: The most challenging part has been learning to skate pools. Any modest skills I’ve developed over the last eight years of skating are put in a very humble place by encountering the inconsistency of pool surfaces, which of course are the whole point and why they are so much fun, and so compelling.

Another challenge is sexism. On one hand, most of the men I’ve skated with are highly evolved humans and have never treated me as anything but an equal. This is particularly true of all the men I’ve met from Virginia Beach. Exceptional humans: Bob Lake, Mike Yaccarino, John Baise, Joe Fro. Men not from that area but majorly influencing my skate life also are Yong-Ki Chang and Billy Valdes, Ray Sotto, Mike Neff, MoFo. But in Southern California, I’ve met some of the most sexist skateboarders ever. Men in their 30s and 40s who relentlessly objectify and denigrate women. I skated with a handful of dudes for a while who said troglodyte garbage like “stinky pink” and “box” and wouldn’t relent on talking about women as objects to fuck for more time than even makes sense for a functioning brain. I let them know in a mellow, off-hand way that it bummed me out and they would just double down on the filth and disrespect. I stopped skating with them. One of the men is still resentful at me for not liking how he spoke. What the hell does he care? I always said, “You’re a grown man, you can speak however you want.” I just choose not to hang around it. They kept their crew together, I struck out on my own. I’m so glad I did.

The first people I skated with in LA were a crew of women and they were really cold and unfriendly, but I had been folded in because of someone I was dating. It felt good to leave that whole scene of mean girls behind. Things have only gotten better since then. I met you, Ji, Shannon, and so many incredible people of whatever dumb gender to skate with after that. It’s never worth staying in a bad situation.

Young women who I don’t really know but inspire me and have amazing style: Eunice Chang, Vanessa Torres, Nora Vasconcellos, Alana Smith, Izy Mutu, Shanae Collins.

Women who I do know and have inspired me (and so many others) and have incredible style: KRISTI “THE COLONEL” SANDERS, Ashley Mott, Cara-Beth Burnside, Mimi Knoop, Cressey Rice, Jean Rusen, Jodi McDonald, Nicole Dodson, Shannon O’Connor, Ji Hong, Jenni Helms, Margaret Cutter, Elyse Clouthier, Holly Maeder Sheehan, Marie, Mels Bells.

I’m sorry to everyone I missed.

Colonel, who would you like to shout out?

K: YOU of course! What is a Colonel without a Captain and a Captain without a Colonel? There are SO many folks that stoke the session and too many to name that inspire. Some I have the opportunity to skate with more, and some less…but all hold equal value….and the value is HIGH! For me, skating really has evolved into the experience shared with others. I love you all (you know who you are)!

2 thoughts on “Kristi Sanders & I Discuss Skateboarding

  1. Mike Neff

    I love this! Even though we have talked about this, I still found out so much from reading this! I love you girls and the stoke you bring to every session and to all of our lives!

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