In a sport filled with trendsetters, non conformists and rule breakers, it can be surprisingly hard for athletes to stand out among the crowd. US skater Lacey Baker however, has always followed her own path. She's an artist, a musician, a poster child for androgyny, a fighter against corporate misogyny, oh, and one of the best skateboarders on the planet.
Now far from her beginnings as a standard Cali skate kid, Lacey Baker has come into her own this year. Coming off consecutive Street League Women's Super Crown victories in 2016 and 2017, the 26-year-old has won The Berrics' 2018 Populist video contest, released a signature Nike SB shoe featuring her own designs and become the centre of Nike's Equality campaign, with the likes of The New York Times, Vogue and Rolling Stone singing her praises.
We chatted to the goofy-footed Californian skater on her visit to London to compete in Street League Skateboarding, back in June.
How important were contests and ‘organised skateboarding’ to you as a younger skater?
When I was 11 my mom registered me to do my first contest. Winning that contest, I actually won a trip to skate in Australia where I met my Team Manager, friend, and founder of Meow Skateboards. There were very few, if any, actual women's skate divisions or women's skate contests until recently however. In high school my sponsors started sending out me to compete a bunch in Europe and Canada, Czech Republic, Prague.
Were there specifically female-only contests at that point?
There have always been some sort of female-centric contest but the purses were never that big, or equal to the men's. I used to skate the men's contests in the AM division. I didn't even know if there were other female skaters when I was a kid, maybe we all just competed by age or in the AM division.
On one hand - equal opportunity and compensation for equal work is imperative - especially at contests where everyone is skating the same course. And on the other hand, it's not about accepting women, it's about celebrating the differences, it's like comparing apples to oranges.
Do events give female skateboarding a platform within a media that is still predominantly focused on male skateboarding?
Some skaters have created a professional skate career outside of skating contests. For women in skateboarding, it's not at that stage yet but there is promising momentum in the right direction. Contests serve as our primary source of income.
I think international contests that air on network television or has a big social media presence increases awareness of skateboarding in general to the mainstream for sure.View on Instagram
Visibility must be one of the main driving forces in the increase in participation numbers in terms of women’s skateboarding, right? What are your thoughts on that and how do mainstream high-profile media-led events like Street League contribute it?
The existing skate industry is definitely starting to notice that it's not just like two girls in the world who skate. And this isn't just a right-now phenomenon. For example in LA several years ago the Berrics held a Girls Skate Day in LA and like 200 girls showed up. And that's just one city.
I think the skate content of girls skating with their crews popping up everywhere now is super compelling, it's relatable too. Social media has changed the game for sure. Events like Street League do a good job of introducing skateboarding as a whole to the world. Mimi Knoop and WSA has been putting on televised women's skateboarding contests for like 13 years, so I was stoked when SLS added it 2 years ago. It will be even more impactful on driving participation when there is just as much women's skateboarding as there is men's skateboarding content on TV and we'll get that with the Olympics fingers crossed.
The biggest breakdown is that it's still hard to get high end skate shoes that fit most women. My friend went to five stores before finding a pair that fit, so accessibility will increase participation for sure, most girls are just going to walk out or tell the sales guy they need more smaller sizes. Don't women still spend more than men on retail? The more visibility there is for women skating, the more people are going to realise - Oh this is actually a thing - and is something that never should have not been taken seriously.View on Instagram
One thing that has always been discussed historically is how the contest circuit has provided a way for female skateboarders to get paid and concentrate on progressing, without having to rely on the traditional sponsorship model of earning a ‘living’ as a skateboarder. Would you say that is still the case?
I'd prefer to rely on that traditional sponsorship model and earn a living as a skateboarder who complements her skating with occasional contests. It's more reliable, consistent and you can plan ahead better that way especially if you're supporting a family. There's a lot of uncertainty if you depend on contest winnings.
I do like to skate contests though, I always have and not everyone does. There used to be only one contest or pay check opportunity a year. Now with Street League, X Games and Dew Tour there are two to three happening, so that's definitely a step in the right direction. With progression I feel like it happens when you're skating every day and these occasional contests are just a great place to showcase how far women's skateboarding has come.
The stakes are super high to have a clean run so I'm not sure if contests are where we are seeing the hardest tricks being done per se. There are still twice as many contests for men and more traditional sponsorship opportunities for the top male skaters but I'm confident there will continue to be more and more opportunities each year for female skaters. SLS for example is adding women and offering equal prize money to all their stops next year.
What are your thoughts on the people who argue that men and women should skate together in contests, rather than being separated?
Sometimes we do - X Games Real Street had 4 men and one women this year and Samarria Brevard held it down for sure, she's such a powerful street skater regardless of gender. It's an age long question really and it's not unique to skateboarding. Contests are not real life, skateboarding is not by nature a competition sport.
To me it's a act of self expression like art or music. You are competitive like with the particular trick or a spot. As a small woman, you don't have the power to push as hard as larger men, the body mass to keep that speed for bigger tricks, or the ability to take the impact of wiping out or bailing down a serious stair set. Men can do fucking gnarly shit and that combined with technical skating is obviously mind blowing.View on Instagram
You are both Street League veterans (and contest veterans more generally) but both grew up street skating – how does the mind-set needed for an event like SLS differ from say, filming street skating? How do you prepare?
There is always the limit of what your body can take in the streets and in contests. But in contests there are thousands of people watching, pressure, the stakes are high to take home that pay check, and you are being timed either timed runs or X number of attempts. You don't get to try it a dozen times.
SLS in London was a big deal for the nation’s skate scene and even more so for the female skateboarding community – what do you hope that people take from the event?
I love the women's skate community out here. I've been skating with Josie, Sarah and a bunch of the other girls for a long time and it's awesome how much leadership has risen out of here much attributed to Lucy Adams.
Maybe young girls will watch and realise they can be anything they want to be and it doesn't matter what anyone thinks. And that skateboarding is for everyone, especially women.