As recently reported, vert skater Neal Hendrix has been accused of engaging in sexual acts with a minor between 2006 and 2008. Hendrix, who older skaters may remember from the New Deal videos, had been working for Camp Woodward since 2005 and at USA Skateboarding (USAS), a group recognized by the Olympics as the “national governing body for skateboarding in the United States,” since 2003.
In a six-page self-published letter, Julie Lynn Kindstrand Nelson, a vert and bowl skater who goes by Julz Lynn, detailed her abusive sexual relationship with Hendrix when he was in his 30s and she was between 14 and 16.
The Costa Mesa, CA police department confirmed they will investigate Hendrix. Woodward, where Hendrix was the Brand Manager, and USAS, of which he was a founding board member, have both suspended him for the time being. So far Hendrix’s only response was an email to the Wall Street Journal in which he said, “the claims are 100% false.”
While mainstream news outlets referred to Hendrix and Lynn as if all skateboarders are familiar with them, a lot of skateboarders today probably aren’t. Throughout the ‘90s and ‘00s, Hendrix competed in the X Games and the World Cup of Skateboarding, and toured with the Vans Warped Tour and Tony Hawk’s Boom Boom Huck Jam. He still skates vert today, placing 2nd in a competition earlier this year. As Woodward’s Brand Manager, Hendrix was involved in marketing the camp, recruiting visiting athletes, and developing the reality web series Camp Woodward.
Lynn started skating in 2003, and by 2007 was competing and getting sponsored. She’s placed first in a number of contests and earlier this year competed in the X Games and Vans Park Series.
In her letter, Lynn describes meeting Hendrix at the Vans skatepark in Orange, CA in 2006 and quickly becoming close. The then 14-year-old Lynn came to Hendrix for advice on navigating competitions and sponsorships, and within a few months they established a secretive routine where Hendrix would drive Lynn to his apartment for what Lynn called “sex lessons.”
According to the letter, these “sex lessons” included Hendrix showing Lynn photos of “young girls” he would masturbate to, photographing Lynn naked, and forcing her to perform oral sex on himself. Lynn wrote that after Hendrix started pressuring her to have intercourse with him, which she did not do, she decided to stop the visits sometime in 2008.
While this account is disturbing on its own, Lynn went on in her letter to describe how this trauma has had more perverse impacts on her life and skate career. Because Hendrix often served as a contest judge, Lynn would see him publicly for years. She writes that at some of these events Hendrix touched her butt, showed her pictures of his penis, and once invited her up to his hotel room for sex. Her nervousness and anxiety from being around him negatively impacted her skating, and over time as Lynn heard nasty rumors about herself circulating within the skate community, she began feeling ostracized by the industry.
Although Lynn writes that she would warn parents at competitions against leaving their kids alone with Hendrix, she waited 10 years to speak out because she feared she would lose her sponsors and be further outcast. As Lynn states, only after she heard others tell stories of Hendrix “being ‘creepy’ with other young girls and boys” did she decide to bravely come forward.
The attention Lynn’s story is getting and the quick decisions from Woodward and USAS to suspend Hendrix are positive signs. They suggest skateboarding may be becoming more responsive and responsible. But this isn’t exactly an isolated incident, and looking at this case closely reveals areas where skateboarding and everyone involved in our industry have room to improve.
In 2011 a different pro vert skateboarder, Brian Patch, who was colleagues with Hendrix at Woodward, pled guilty to having sex with a minor. The minor Patch had sex with was Lynn. But Patch’s story isn’t extremely well-known within skating — I’d never even heard of him until this news broke.
Unlike Patch, I imagine the news of Hendrix spread quickly because he was involved with the Olympics. But skateboarders before and after Lynn who have experienced their own abuses and traumas—and either haven’t been heard or haven’t been able to speak out—deserve to be believed and supported regardless of how known or unknown their abusers are. Looking forward, hopefully Lynn’s story marks a shift toward reporting and preventing abuse sooner, rather than becomes one more incident in a list of atrocities.
Because skateboarding often mixes kids with adults in unsupervised settings, we need to keep watch on these older-younger power dynamics. In her teenage blog, Lynn wrote about how much she looked up to Hendrix and Patch as heros, and how thrilled she was just to know them. With that in mind, it’s heartbreaking to read Lynn’s account of an older skateboarder abusing his position of influence so horribly. Skateboarders within the industry can do a better job of keeping each other in check to try to prevent these kinds of abuses of power.
Hendrix is also a prime example of skateboarding’s problem with being overly protective of its “legendary” figures. Once a skater becomes old or revered enough to be called a “legend,” their fans may even turn a blind eye towards their shitty behavior, including in the case of Jay Adams, murder charges. Skateboarders are great at complaining about each other, but we need to get better at holding each other accountable for our actions, no matter how influential the skater may be.
In talking with other skateboarders about Lynn’s story, we heard from a woman who worked in skateboarding for the past 15 years. She said she’s heard her own share of stories of older skateboarders taking advantage of potentially underage girls at contests and events. Abuse happens, but it doesn’t have to.
As Lynn’s story shows, just being observant and vocal can make a difference. Lynn didn’t report Hendrix until after she realized she wasn’t the only one seeing his abuse, which resulted in Hendrix’s swift removal from all positions of power.
Skateboarders pride ourselves on calling each other out for the most insignificant things (like how we grab our boards) so we can and should do better at calling out things that have real impact.
Editor’s correction: An earlier version of this article used a photo of Lynn with Jake Brown and another unidentified man. Because Brown has no involvement with the allegations surrounding Hendrix, and because the photo we used of Brown and Lynn was taken under the supervision of Lynn’s father, we have since removed it from the article.