Last week we looked back to a time over 20 years ago to honor the pioneers of park skating: the ATV skaters of the 90s. This week, however, we are firmly rooted in the present and we’re going to have a gander at some of today’s best and most versatile skaters.
But what to call them? As we said last week, “All Terrain Vehicle (ATV)” doesn’t sit well with anyone and needs an upgrade. Maybe: Conquer All Terrain Skaters (CATS)? Or, Skate Everything Always Skaters (SEAS)? Or maybe we should just call them, “skateboarders?” Because that’s what skaters do: they skate. Everything.
“I feel like the future of skating is you’re not going to be a street skater, or you’re not just going to be a park skater, not just a bowl skater, you’re going to have to skate everything.” —Curren Caples
[Much like our last list, this one is intentionally incomplete and in no particular order.]
I don’t know where to begin with Elissa because there’s nothing I can say that will adequately describe or encapsulate what this amazing human being has done for skateboarding. I was going to start with something like, “If there were a Skateboarding Hall Of Fame, Elissa would be in it,” but then I remembered that there actually is a Skateboarding Hall Of Fame and she is indeed in it (inducted 2015).
I think one of the most astounding facts I came across while trying to figure out what to write here was that Elissa has been pro for Toy Machine, Baker, and Zero. That’s insane. Who else can boast being pro for three of the biggest, most influential brands in skateboarding history? And as a woman during a time when women skaters didn’t even have sponsors, let alone pro boards?
Mike Vallely said something back in the 90s that essentially amounted to: any woman that skates is way gnarlier and more punk rock than any male skater because they don’t get any respect, or support from the industry, no coverage in the media, no love. And so early women skaters were a rare, but powerful breed and no one embodied their punk rock spirit better than Elissa Steamer.
“When I first turned pro, when I first got on Toy Machine,” Elissa said in an interview about her early experiences, “little kids—little guys—would always say, oh I’m better than her, I should be on Toy Machine. First, I’m like, f--k you. But second, I thought: well, I guess I need to put in more work then. But mostly f--k you.”
Nora has one of the best, most natural looking backside airs in the game. This one was part of her 2018 VPS victory in Shanghai. Anthony Acosta
Nora is skateboarding to me. She’s the entire package and embodies everything great about skateboarding: she can skate everything, she has a well-curated bag of tricks, she’s funny, she’s got a unique look/fashion, and she’s an artist—in short, she’s everything a skater should be on and off the board.
“She’s a lot like Lance [Mountain] with the funny faces. That stuff is attractive to people, that shows she’s a real person. That’s skateboarding. That’s everything you want. That’s how you pick your favorite skateboarder—it’s not always about tricks.”
—Andrew Reynolds, regarding Nora.
“A ton of people pick skateboarding up, but, it’s like, what are you bringing to the table? As far as from here [motions to his heart]. Some people have that, some people don’t. Nora has that in spades.”
—Marc Johnson, regarding Nora.
I first met Vanessa on a Gallaz (now defunct, woman’s footwear brand) tour of Australia in 2002—the first all-women’s tour to be featured in a major, international skateboard magazine (Big Brother, #85). It was on that trip that I understood what Vallely had been saying about women skateboarders. One of my first thoughts after meeting Vanessa and her crew was, “These ladies are gnarly.”
Frankly I was kind of frightened by them—and I’d been on Antihero tours. I later described them as “pirates.” Not only were they loud and rude everywhere we went, and they destroyed and plundered every spot we visited, but they literally stole someone’s boat in the harbor one night.
I was flattered and honored to be named, “Deadbeat Mom,” of the group and I’ve since been made very proud by each and every one of my “daughters,” especially Vanessa whose hard work and perseverance has made her a pioneer and an inspiration to women skaters everywhere.
Interesting fact: we all know that Vanessa has a huge personality and powerful style that she’s able to adapt to any terrain, but I did not know that she was also killing it on the digital streets. Vanessa was the third woman (after Elissa and Lyn-Z) to be featured in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater.
It’s odd to call someone who is still a teenager a “veteran” at anything, but Alana Smith has been a fixture in skateboarding for some time now. She was placing high in contests when she was only 12 and she also gained notoriety as “the first female to land a 540 in competition.” She was also the first woman to land a backflip over a mini-mega ramp gap. All before she was allowed to drive.
As Alana has transitioned into adulthood she’s became a much more well-rounded skater developing more street/tech skills, but still delivered in her smooth casual style.
Poppy Starr Olsen, tuck knee invert, Shanghai. Anthony Acosta
Much like Alana, Poppy began her journey at a very young age and primarily on the transitions in her hometown of Newcastle, Australia. Frankly, from my experience, I think that the route anyone getting into skating should take to become the most well-rounded skater they can be is the one that skaters like Poppy and Alana went down: learn how to roll first. And the best place to begin that is—well, anywhere, really, but your local skatepark is going to be smooth and safe with lots of inspiring locals to learn from. Learn to pilot and command your board before you start trying to learn your favorite pro’s tricks.
Poppy enjoys rolling into, onto, over, and around just about everything, including—breakfast? In this installment of “Tripping With” from Yeah Girl, Poppy designs her ultimate “happy place” skate spot constructed entirely out of breakfast items: there’s a sunny-side-up egg bump, a tranny to hash brown wall ride, a sausage slappy curb, a bacon rainbow rail, and, of course, the spot is populated by all of Poppy’s friends because, as she said, “Every session needs friends!” Nice one, Poppy.
Fabiana Delfino at the 2019 Vans Showdown in Huntington Beach, CA. Anthony Acosta
As it said in the intro to Fabiana’s 2019 Jenkem interview, “Although women’s skateboarding is growing rapidly and impressively, it’s still rare to find women who go all in on street skating. Many prefer skateparks and bowls, or find their niche as crossover fashion influencers, or focus on training for big contests. Fabiana has pretty much zero interest in those spheres. Instead, she wants to keep filming full-parts, the way women like Alexis Sablone and Elissa Steamer did before her.”
Fabiana grew up skating parks in Florida, so she has that tranny background and foundation to her skating, but, much like one of her biggest influences, Elissa Steamer (who is also from Florida), she’s probably better known today for killing it in slightly grimier environments. Fabiana is gnarly and she is not afraid to get bloody—she never leaves home, for instance, without her bandanas because, as she said in a recent interview, they can be used for everything, including a tourniquet.
Pedro Barros says that orange is the new back… side 540. Anthony Acosta
There’s been a misconception outside of skateboarding that skateboarders are always in competition with each other, especially across borders. I always laugh because my experience has been completely the opposite: skateboarding is about progression, so when we see something new, we skate towards it, not away from it. Growing up in California where the industry is, we’ve seen waves of skaters from different parts of the world descend here. There was the UK/European invasion, there was an Australian invasion, there was a Canadian invasion, all of whom brought new and exciting perspectives of skateboarding to the table which were assimilated into skateboarding’s collective conscious.
For me, one of the most exciting arrivals was that of the Brazilians. When we saw Bob Burnquist, Carlos De Andrade, [MORE] and all these dudes who were able to skate everything at 100 mph, regular or switch, we didn’t see this as confrontation—completely the opposite—we said, “What is going on in Brazil?” and then we went to Brazil because we wanted to drink whatever it was they were drinking. (Which turns out to be Layback Beer.)
Pedro resurrects those memories of Brazil every time we see him skate. So fast, so much power, so raw—it could be argued that he is the apotheosis of modern skating. And he makes me want to visit Brazil again because, yeah, what is going on down there?
Thus, while Elijah's burning wheels prepare,
From Carmel's height, to sweep the fields of air,
The prophet's mantle, ere his flight began,
Dropt on the world—a sacred gift to man.
—Thomas Campbell, The Pleasures Of Hope (1799)
I have no idea what any of that means, but it mentions the prophet Elijah’s “burning wheels” that are going to “sweep the fields of air.” I’ve never seen Elijah do a sweeper, I’m sure he can do a proper one, but he’s certainly no stranger to the air or flight and his wheels do seem to be burning at times, especially when he’s on fire. And there are times when you’re in the presence of Elijah’s skating that you feel as if you’re witnessing “a sacred gift to man.”
Although I imagine the German fellow that Elijah fell on at the bottom of that Hubba in his Propeller part would argue that what he received was not a “gift,” nor was it “sacred.” (It did “dropt” in on his world, though.)
The point to all this is: get out of Elijah’s way when his wheels are on fire and he’s flying through the air.
Curren Caples, standup nosegrind over the spine gap. Anthony Acosta
I’ve always prided myself on being able to tell in an instant whether someone is a proper skateboarder or not just by the way they push. You can tell immediately whether someone belongs on a board. A slightly more nuanced eye is required to tell whether someone on skateboard surfs or not, but there are some giveaways: blonde hair, nice tan, very sandy, etc..
It was obvious to me the first time I saw Curren skate that he surfed. I’ll admit it was mostly because he looked like a handsome California surfer, but his surfy, flowing style had “wave rider” written all over it. The way he carves into and out of tricks on tranny and even in the street is redolent of the way he glides across the face of a wave. The second I saw him riding, I was like, “Oh, yeah, you know how to pilot a board.”
If surfing could help me become a better, more versatile skater with a smooth style like Curren Caples, I might be willing to get over my fear of the ocean.
Hell of a Year: Ronnie Sandoval via Thrasher
It’s no wonder that Ronnie seems to have such an effortless approach to everything he skates. He grew up skating the infamous Channel Street DIY Park under the bridge in San Pedro. While it was built by skateboarders for skateboarders, it is somehow very unfriendly to skateboarding. If you’ve never been there, you know the place is difficult to skate. And that was where Ronnie grew up skating. So if that’s where you learned how to skate, everything else must be cake.
This collection is about skaters who skate everything, but there aren’t many here who can list “dinosaur” as something they skate. Ronnie, however, can after he made an eggplant revert off a prehistoric beast in Oregon.
That is what is known as “an extinction event” because after Ronnie’s eggplant that spot is officially dead.
Do you think Grant wears a jacket for f/s airs because it gets cold way up there above the coping? Chris Ortiz
Remember when Grant wasn’t on Antihero? How was that even possible? There must have been some sort of mixup at the hospital because the dude was born to ride for the 18. Grant’s a perfect fit because he’s a collage of all the best things Antihero: a touch of Trujillo, a dash of Cardiel, a pinch of his father’s (Thomas Taylor) flair, and voila: “Grantihero.” I mean, cmon, even his name fits.
And when I said earlier “it could be argued that [Pedro] is the apotheosis of modern skating,” what I meant by “argument” is Grant Taylor. Like Pedro, Grant’s skating is, at least in my eyes, what skateboarding is supposed to look like. He has, for instance, one of the best f/s ollies in the history of f/s ollies.
Check out this session Grant had for an upcoming Indy ad with two other skate-everything legends, Lance Mountain and Peter Hewitt.
I once had a roommate in San Francisco named, Scott, that thought the members of Led Zeppelin were aliens from another planet. His evidence was that their music was “out of this world” and was beyond the ability of humans to compose. He wasn’t being hyperbolic or metaphorical, he really, truly believed they were aliens.
Of course Scott was completely bonkers and I moved out after a short stay, but I think of my old roommate when I see Ishod skate. How can anyone ride a skateboard so well, so effortlessly? It doesn’t seem humanly possible. And that’s when I have to resist the allure of the “alien” conclusion. “Well, if you can’t explain it, then the answer is definitely: ALIENS!”
But still, something doesn’t add up? I mean, Ishod is really, really, really good at skating everything. Then again, he is from New Jersey.
I think one of the first things I heard about Jake Wooten when he emerged on the scene was that he was “insane.” The person who said this meant it in the best possible way. Jake’s not mentally ill or anything, he just doesn’t really take his own well-being into account when he’s skating and the result is a very dangerous but awe-inspiring style. By his own admission:
“I’m pretty well known for not knowing what I’m doing at certain times when I go to places,” Jake said recently in a Berrics video, “because I get too fired up about everything that’s going on and I just don’t pay attention to what I need to be paying attention to.”
Jake is probably one of the best examples of that peculiarly modern synthesis of classic tranny style imbued with heavy street tech influence. His lip trick wizardry is, well, insane.
To me, Rowan Zorilla is Ethan Fowler 2.0. Their names rhyme, they both have had Vans pro shoe models, and they both have the most unnaturally natural styles. Skateboarding comes so naturally to both of them that it actually looks kind of weird. Because, let’s admit it, skateboarding is dangerous, and uncomfortable, and it doesn’t come easy to the majority of us. So there’s something uncanny about someone skateboarding without the Struggle.
Rowan looks at home on his board no matter whether he’s just cruising the quarter pipes around Vans Park 198 in Brooklyn or shooting dirty Baker gnar on the streets of LA. Rowan is like the past, present, and future of skateboarding all rolled up in one amazing and very talented individual.