As much as some of us don’t want to admit it, in 2015, skateboarding is still a “guys industry”. Sure, there’s more girls skateboarding now than ever, but the opportunities for women to make money off of skateboarding or to have a long term career are scarce. But despite the system, there’s a strong current of women bolstering their vision of skating, without caring about who makes what pink graphic or what bullshit marketing scheme is being pushed on them.
Vanessa Torres is one of those people leading this wave, and in speaking to her, I found out that she’s one of the most outspoken, candid, and driven skaters out there. At 29-years-old, Torres has seen a few cycles in the industry, did a stint on a big company with Element, been featured in Tony Hawk’s “Proving Ground” video game, and was the first female skater to win a gold medal at the X-Games.
Currently enjoying a bit of a reboot due to her newfound sobriety and happy home at Meow Skateboards, Torres’ career seems invigorated. I had one of the deepest list of questions I’ve ever brought to an interview in preparation for our conversation, but found that simply saying, “How are you?” lead to one of the most insightful talks I’ve ever had with a professional skateboarder, ever.
How’s it going? I heard you recently quit drinking?
Yeah, this Thanksgiving was probably my first time experiencing my family sober, so that was pretty hilarious. I think it’s the most wise decision I’ve ever made for myself. Now when I want to skate I’m not wasting days being a hungover piece of shit. Honestly, even if you just go out and have a few drinks, you’re still a little shaky when you try to skate the next day – you just don’t notice until you stop.
I’m actually working on a piece about skaters who have gone sober or have always been sober.
Drinking is such a huge part of the lifestyle of skating — it goes hand-in-hand. That’s why I feel like I was so caught up in it, because that was what I was supposed to be doing. No one was telling me otherwise, and, if anything, a lot of people were enabling my drinking because nobody likes to drink alone, right? People do. I do. Misery loves company.
Showing the sober side of skating would be great because there are probably plenty of people out there that can relate or need to see something like that. For me, I just knew I was going down a really bad path and it wasn’t getting any better. I just cold turkeyed that shit. I feel fortunate, because it’s been an easy transition, and that’s because of skating. I feel like most people get sober and don’t have any sort of outlet, and those people tend to relapse.
It seems like you have a really strong community around you though. In Street League, the guys are so serious, but you all were laughing and looked like you were just having fun.
[Laughs] There’s so few of us, you know what I mean? We’re stronger in numbers. We all share a common love for skateboarding, but it’s such a different camaraderie for women, because we’re the ones that are working really hard to keep this shit on the map — nobody else. We get some support from guys, but we’re not the top priority. They’re cordial and respectful, but none of them go out of their way to promote — though that would be a pretty positive thing if dudes were out there putting out a good word for women’s skateboarding. But hey, they obviously have other shit to do, so we have to do that ourselves.
”Everyone wants equality, but no one is really being realistic about the fact that that’s not what it is and that’s not what it’s going to be.”
Do you feel like women’s skateboarding is kind of cut off from the larger skateboard industry?
Yeah! I’ll be completely honest, I’ve been in the industry for a really long time and nobody’s saying it like I’m saying it now. There’s definitely some segregation, and as much as I’m part of this community of really strong women — even ones who don’t skate but are very much involved to contributing to women in skating, who want to see it grow and prosper — everyone wants equality, but no one is really being realistic about the fact that that’s not what it is and that’s not what it’s going to be. Women’s skateboarding is in a class of its own, and it’s completely its own world. Politics have made it that way, but I also look at it and think that it can be a very positive thing.
Let’s grow it and make this our own. Let’s bring more women in, and I feel as though it’s totally fine if it’s our own thing. It might take a while, and it may not catch on, but if it doesn’t it doesn’t. It’s perceived as this negative thing, but it’s really not. I’m getting older and I see all these girls coming out who are hungry and ripping and I want to see those girls make it in skateboarding. If that’s separate from the whole “guys” deal, that’s totally fine. We can make it happen.
What made you decide to skate Street League in a gay rights t-shirt?
I’m not skating for huge corporate companies anymore, and I feel very empowered because I’m doing me. I strive to represent myself and many people — friends, family, anyone… people I haven’t even met — there’s always an opportunity to go out and voice a huge part of my life that way. My friend Worm — she’s a longboarder and a surfer — she mailed it to me a few days before I left for Chicago and I was so hyped to wear it on contest day.
I’m going out there and representing me and the small companies that I ride for without anyone telling me, ‘Oh, I don’t think that’s a good idea. I don’t think that will be received the right way.’ I mean, I don’t give a fuck!
Honestly, I got more recognition for the shirt than… well, probably equal to my skating, but it meant more to me that people were so hyped and responded positively to the shirt because it wasn’t a joke wearing it. I felt pretty good to be out there wearing it, because it’s a huge thing, especially in skateboarding. I feel like there’s so many gay people in skating, but no one is really out and about and expressing it… at least not in the guy’s part of it.
”People are afraid to support something the majority doesn’t.”
Maybe the fear for a lot of guys to come out is from their sponsors?
We’re in the 21st century — it’s insane! And it’s still very much a conservative, censored, and reserved industry. I suppose these things are just going to take time. Once again, I feel like it’s a stereotype, where most dudes thinking about two women being together is a lot more “interesting” than two dudes. People are afraid to support something the majority doesn’t. But it can be really hard when there’s not a lot of people by your side. I get it.
I haven’t really come out in some great, huge, triumphant way, I’ve just always been myself and been honest to myself. It’s never been like, ‘Aww, I’m coming out!’ You know? It’s just part of who I am, so it just happened naturally. It’s definitely an interesting subject in the skate industry, and I feel like there’s not enough light shined on it. It shouldn’t matter, because it doesn’t change how someone skates.
If you think about it in a broader sense, a big part of the problem we have in the US regarding the LGBT community, is awareness — kids aren’t taught about any lifestyles, other than straight. It’s the same in skating. What would happen if a kid walked into a shop and the walls were filled with boards that had two guys kissing?
It would probably be received really awkwardly — kids would leave the shop being like, ‘What did I just see?’
A shop selling a board like that would probably get boycotted or written up in the paper.
Oh, totally. I mean, just having this conversation is bringing some shit to the surface. You would think that skateboarding being bigger than it’s ever been — it’s in its prime and here to stay, that’s what it feels like — you’d think with such an impact on such a huge part of the world that we’d be doing more positive shit with having that privilege of being part of something so huge. But we don’t.
I feel like I do. I feel like I try to contribute and do my part, but also, that’s just me expressing who I am. It just boggles my mind that there’s so much more that the industry could be doing, but isn’t.
Everyone’s just too focused on making fucking money. I get that you need to make money to live, but people get fucking greedy. That’s the image. That’s the image that’s being projected across skateboarding, and that’s what these young girls and boys who want to buy a board, buy product, start skating, they’re easily influenced by that direction, and a lot of it isn’t right.
On the other side of all this, how do you feel about how Leticia Bufoni is being depicted and marketed?
Like I said in the beginning, nobody’s saying it, but I’m going to fucking say it: I think she’s rad. She’s a rad person, and I’ve known her since she was little… super young. She fucking rips, and I feel like this whole perception of her being this sex image… it’s really not even what we’re about. I feel like it kind of shadows her actual ability to skate. It’s being misdirected in a not-so-positive direction. I think she likes doing what she does. [laughs]
She’s probably the only woman in our skate industry that has an agent, skates for these crazy corporate companies, like Nike and this is just my personal opinion, but I feel like Nike likes to get them while they are young so that they can mold their riders, and she’s perfect for that. She’s beautiful, she fucking rips, and she’s probably easily convinced – maybe manipulated – into doing things she doesn’t want to do.
She has a fucking male agent — I haven’t heard really good things about that guy. I’m sure he’s like, ‘Oh yeah, you should probably do that.’ But he’s not thinking about her best interests, he’s thinking about his best interests.
Sure, her agent is just thinking about his percentage.
Yeah, switch the roles and if he was actually a fucking woman, I’m not sure things would be going the same way — she might not be doing the majority of what she’s doing. I think there would be more sensitivity to certain subjects, like posing nude or whatever. She has a dude agent that’s probably pushing her to do these things.
I haven’t personally heard it from her, but I’ve heard from other people that she was really iffy and standoffish when it came to that whole ESPN thing. But, c’mon, she’s not even fucking skating, dude! She’s not even skating! I heard she was trying to do a back disaster photo on this quarterpipe they brought out, but obviously her lady bits were everywhere — she was totally exposed. I guess she ate shit while she was trying it and scraped up her hip, so they put makeup on it. But the whole article, the whole spread was about “action sports,” and falling is part of what we do. We get beat up, dude, that’s how we should be represented. It’s just a fucking joke to me. It’s just a joke.
I think a lot of us, a lot of the women that I’ve talked to or brought up certain magazine pieces she’s done, it’s not really the image that we want to be putting out there, but I guess she’s doing it for all of us. [laughs] Cause none of us are going to do that shit! Nope.
Tell me about the company you ride for, Meow, and how it differs from when you used to ride for Element.
When I first came into the industry, it was a very overwhelming experience because at that age — 14 or 15-years-old — I had no idea what being sponsored was about, being part of a team, contracts, I had no idea. I had my mom reading over my contracts and explaining it to me in english, but I was never personally hands on with my career for the longest time.
Honestly, I’m grateful that I got to experience that whole business side of skating, because it ultimately shaped where I’m at now and who I am now. It works for a lot of people, but for me, I felt like when my contract ended, I think they just completely cut me off, my pay and all that – but I was a shithead. I was young. Young and stupid. [laughs] Making all these mistakes for the first time, but under contract, breaching the contract. You name it, I did it.
I didn’t have anybody telling me otherwise, except for Ryan DeWitt [Marketing at Vans], who recently passed away, who I was super fucking close with — my platonic husband, for real. I love that guy. He always had my back because when my mom wasn’t always around, he was always there. I think he knew I was going to do whatever the fuck I wanted to do, so he was always there to watch over me and watch me make mistakes and hopefully instill some positive direction for the future so I wouldn’t make them again.
”I never had a personal relationship with Element. They put out a bunch of models with my name on them, but I never had any say in what those graphics were.
Not one graphic.”
So, that ended with Element. I feel like I floated around for a while. I was drinking a lot and still skating, but not really as much as I wanted to be. Then Lisa Whitaker, who I’ve known since I was about 14-years-old and pretty much filmed all my skating back then and still does to this day, she started Meow and I… I never had a personal relationship with Element. They put out a bunch of models with my name on them, but I never had any say in what those graphics were. Not one graphic. They were just pushing out boards with my name on them. I’m sure I was not making crazy board sales on Element, but they’re still making money off me.
I think that’s why I felt so compelled and eager to be part of Meow. I had a relationship and friendship with Lisa, and I knew I would have so much more personal interaction with the product and my graphics. That was huge. I’d much rather be part of something like that than be a little part of a huge company. I know exactly what I want to be involved in and what I want to apply myself to. It doesn’t hurt that Lisa is one of my good friend and all my homegirls are part of the same team. It’s exactly how it was supposed to be.
You said Ryan Dewitt looked after you and guided you. Do you feel like you’ll eventually be that person for others too?
I feel like it’s already happening on its own. I don’t feel like I have a choice, but I say it in a positive way, because I’m finally in a place in my life where I can accept that with open arms. I want to be as involved as I can be for future girls coming in, because I’ve lived it.. I’m more than welcoming to questions, or if people ask me for advice I try to give the best direction I possibly can based on my experiences. I’m going to keep skating, but I feel like I very much want to involve myself as much as I can and be a positive influence on the industry.
If you would have asked me that last year or something like that, I probably would have shied away and been like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” But getting sober, for me, my response to it has been nothing but positive, and I want to take advantage of playing that role. I’m looking forward to it, oddly enough.