Growing up skating in the mid-2000’s, the only female skater on my radar was Elissa Steamer. But every summer, when my mom would tell me the X-Games was on TV, I would remember one more skater girl, Marisa Dal Santo. I knew she had big-time sponsors like Zero and Emerica, but I only seemed to see coverage of her when she would go on TV to collect X-Games medals.
Marisa never looked like a cheesy contest skater. In ripped jeans, a Chicago Bears jersey, and fat Emericas, she was punk. So in 2009 when I heard she was coming out with a full part in Zero’s Strange World, I was thrilled. I thought finally, we’re going to start getting the Marisa street footage we want and she’s going to get that pro board. But after Strange World, Marisa returned to the contest circuit and dissolved from most skateboarders’ minds.
It’s not until last year when her name resurfaced as part of Zero’s 20th anniversary. I was glad to have a reason to talk with her and find out why one of the gnarliest woman in skateboarding ever disappeared.
There weren’t many sponsored female skateboarders in the early 2000’s. Did you feel like the token girl skater?
Nah, not really. I never took that into consideration. I was never really a girl in the way it’s defined by certain people. I grew up skating with guys and I never had girlfriends. If girls skated that was sick but I thought everything else girls my age were doing was wack. I was more hyped that I was one of the few girls in skating, honestly.
What was the worst thing about being the only chick in the van?
In the van there would be a bunch of dudes a little older than me talking about banging girls. I would never get uncomfortable but it was something that was new to me. That was the worst of it really.
Was it weird pooping in hotel rooms with a bunch of guys?
No way, I don’t care. It is what it is.
Did the guys pee in the van?
For sure, in gallon jugs and Gatorade bottles. It kind of bummed me out because they would be drinking beer. I wanted to join in and drink but I would have to stop to use a bathroom and I didn’t want to go through all that. So I would watch them have this good old time pissing in bottles while I was sober. I never peed in the van, it would’ve been too much work.
I read you were homecoming queen in high school. Is that true?
Oh god. Yeah, I was.
Was that one of your crowning life achievements?
I wasn’t expecting it all. My friend put me on the ballot and a bunch of people voted for me because they thought I would show up looking all girly. I’ve been dressing the same my whole life so I wasn’t into that at all. I was an outcast and just skated, the other girls were cheerleaders and volleyball players, your typical homecoming queens. I don’t think the people who put it together were psyched when I won. They “didn’t think I represented the school well,” was a quote I heard.
Did you have to dance with the homecoming king?
No man, there was no king. I just had to go to a shitty football game and hug the school mascot. They gave me a tiara and a sash, it was so cheesy and dumb. I rode on a parade float through town and threw candy to little kids. I didn’t have many friends in high school and the ones I did have wouldn’t be caught dead at any of that stuff. At the homecoming dance I was backstage with the other girl contestants. They called my name last and I came out yelling, trying to get the crowd riled up because I didn’t give a fuck. Then I got off stage, drank a Capri Sun, and walked home.
You recently had a Zero board re-released and a “best of” video come out. What was the reason behind that?
It was a guest board for the 20th anniversary of Zero. That came about pretty randomly. I was in California and went to the Zero office and Jamie was there. I hadn’t seen him in a while so we were catching up, then he mentioned to my friends, “You know I offered to turn Marisa pro.” The guest board spawned from that. I didn’t think it would actually happen but we kept in touch and it just worked out. I didn’t have to do shit for that video part. There were more recent clips from The Reed Video and clips from when I was really little so it made it less serious. Getting coverage while not doing shit is pretty cool.
So you turned down going pro for Zero back in the day?
Yeah, I really just wasn’t feeling it. It was already at a time when I was thinking, “If I do this then I’m stuck out here [in California].” I just wanted to mess around and have fun with my friends, I didn’t want to put my life on the line skateboarding anymore. But I still got my name on a board, I guess [laughs]. I got my cake and ate it too.
Are you getting royalties for the guest board?
I did get a check from the initial run. I thought the prints would be way more limited but Jamie kept making them. I guess I might be expecting another check but I haven’t talked to him yet. Maybe when they all sell out I’ll see another check but I don’t want to reach out to Jamie personally. I’m just talking to my friend who’s the TM now.
Were you getting paid when you were on the Zero team?
I got one check for a little interview I had, I think I was wearing a Zero shirt. But I never regularly got checks. It was a weird time and I wasn’t the only one not getting paid. People were leaving left and right, either getting laid off or quitting from the team or the warehouse. I don’t think anyone was really getting paid at that point.
I feel like Zero was going through some stuff. Black Box was this huge thing and then they started having to make budget cuts and lay off employees on this slow decline. But it would’ve been nice to get a paycheck. It kind of felt like I wasn’t even on the team. I was expecting your typical welcome to Zero type shit but I never had an ad or anything like that. Maybe they didn’t have money or maybe I was just on the B team. Pretty much everyone who wasn’t Chris Cole or Tommy Sandoval was the B team [laughs].
Your Strange World part came out in 2009 and I think it’s one of the gnarliest parts. Did you anticipate that strong of a response when you were working on it?
No, I didn’t even expect to have a part. One day right when I started filming with them Jamie asked me if I had a song I wanted to use. I gave him that Stranglers’ song. The video was nowhere near done, it was just a thought at that point. Then three months before the video comes out he calls me into his office and shows me my part edited to that song. It was unbelievable. I was in a fucking Zero video, I was near tears. Misled Youth was one of the first videos I watched. It was so close to the video coming out and my part was done, then Jamie was like, “Alright, you’re going to want to replace these, redo this, and refilm this trick.” I was intimidated by him so if he told me to do something skatewise I would do it. I guess it worked out.
Did you begrudgingly refilm tricks?
Kind of. There was one specific thing that was filmed long lens and he told me it would look sick fisheye. It was this flat gap in Carlsbad with a tree in the middle, I airwalked it and kicked the tree. Not to bash him and make him sound wack, but I refilmed it and it took forever. Trying it again three years later was hard. I had to go back three or four times to get this clip fisheye and he didn’t even use it. I was pretty bummed.
Do you know if it’s common for company owners to tell their riders to refilm tricks?
I don’t think so, but I don’t mean to talk shit. I would hear things here and there about him making people refilm stuff that he thought was too sketchy. He would see the potential in people and if he thinks you can do it better, he would have no qualms asking you to do it again. I hated that shit. If I land a trick, it’s done and I’m never trying it again. Or I’ll probably die trying it and that’s how I get hurt.
Another time I crooked this straight out rail. I landed it a little sketchy and pretty much broke my foot and ankle in the process. My buddy Matt who was filming said, “If you want him to use that you should probably do it again.” I was stressing out hard. Like, are you fucking kidding me! But I was already so far gone with the trick and my adrenaline was juicing. Luckily I landed it again not long after and they used that one, but I couldn’t skate for five months after that.
What led you to leaving Zero?
I was 22 and I still thought I had it in me. After I broke my wrist at Wallenberg and got surgery I was starting to get my confidence back. I went to San Diego to front board this rail that I had done 10 times before. I tried it a couple times and stuck one. Then on another try I didn’t pop my board, jumped on the rail, and fell backwards. I exploded my other wrist and that was the end of it.
I was like, “Fuck this. I don’t give a shit about skating, I don’t ever want to skate a handrail again. This is bullshit and I’m sick of being pressured into doing shit I don’t want to do.” That was eight months before I quit Zero.
After that I kind of hibernated and started smoking a bunch of weed. I turned my phone off and wanted to cut off all ties. I just wanted to skate with my friends again, I needed to go home. I guess I was giving myself time to see if I did actually want to keep doing this but that never happened. One day I told Jamie I was leaving, and as soon as I left his office it felt like the biggest weight was off my shoulders.
Where did you go after California?
I was living at my parents in Chicago then I moved out to Denver. It wasn’t supposed to be a full-blown move. I have friends out here and a few of them were trimming weed. I thought it would be cool to escape Chicago’s winter, trim weed, and save up money to keep road tripping until I ran out again. But I ended up staying.
What do you do when you trim weed?
When the plants are ready to be harvested we would cut them down, hang them from chains, and remove the big leafs so they don’t get moldy during curing. Then we would pick branches full of nugs and put them in a bucket to chill for a couple days, then pick the dank nugs. The trim manager was some Juggalo from Aurora, Illinois. Everybody was high as fuck, he would always hook it up with weed.
Did your Juggalo weed manager ever shout “Woop Woop”?
Not so much in the trim room, but I’m sure he does in the wild. He told me stories about painting his face and getting soaked in Faygo, classic Juggalo ish. I’d never been in that close contact with Juggalos before but I hear they run the weed industry out here.
After trimming weed, now what do you do now for work?
I run an Etsy shop selling vintage clothing called GenXtravaganza. I’ve been thrifting for most of my life and I’ve always been obsessed with digging through trash to find the diamond in the rough. It’s so worth it when you find something cool. It all started off the suggestion of a friend. I was always buying clothes that didn’t fit me and bringing them to vintage stores to get double what I was spending, then she told me about Etsy. I checked it out and that’s my job now. I’ve been doing it for four and a half years full-time.
You still occasionally skate contests though, right? When was your last skate contest?
Maybe two years ago, around this time of year. I skated in Street League in Chicago in 2015. It was the first women’s Street League. The day after that I flew down to South Africa to skate in the Kimberley Diamond Cup thing they used to do, then that was the end.
On average, how much money would you win at contests during your prime?
The times I won, it was a lot. On average I’d win a cool five figure check, $10,000 to $40,000. I was feeling pretty on it at the time so I usually did pretty well. I would get like top three in everything until I got jaded and stopped trying. The $40,000 check was definitely the most and probably more than I’ll ever have to this day. I was pretty fortunate to have that because I didn’t have to work or rely on my parents. I was able to figure that out on my own. But I wish I would’ve put some away or invested something.
How did you budget having that kind of infrequent income?
I honestly don’t budget shit. It’s not like I was big ballin’ and buying expensive cars. I was 20 or 21, I moved into my first place. Just paying rent and eating out everyday because I didn’t give a shit about cooking or know how to go about it.
Ever think of coming out of contest retirement?
Probably not. It got to the point where I was dreading them and it was never really something I was looking forward to. It was just a way I made money. It was basically my job. I lived in California for so long with no job because of contests. I became really good friends with some of the other girls in the contests so I would just look forward to hanging out with them. It’s a lot different now, they’re like mini-olympics. When I first started skating in the X-Games there were eight of us, now there’s like 20 girls. I bet everybody is a lot more gung-ho than they used to be.
Do you think contests should integrate men and women?
Before ever going to one I was like, “Fuck a girl’s contest.” I did think they should be integrated. Then I skated Tampa AM once. It wasn’t even as gnarly as it is today but skating that I thought I sucked compared to these dudes. I’m the blue collar skater who’s super simple. I would kickflip the stairs while everybody was switch tre flipping them.
Will we see a woman who can compete with a man? I would never be flat out, “No.” If I was asked that when I was 19, I would’ve been like, “Fuck yeah! Women can do everything men can do.” Now at 30 I’m beginning to realize I can’t ollie high anymore and I can’t do stuff 30 year-old guys can do. But that’s just me. I don’t want to sound like an asshole, but there’s this bro and testosterone culture. Men are like masochists. They like getting punched in the face and getting hurt. There’s more of a mental barrier in skateboarding with females. Guys have to be macho and can’t be pussies but it’s okay for a girl to be a pussy, so the barrier is set right there. But I’m not in contests anymore so I could kind of care less.