If you were a skate nerd in the early 00s the name Alexis Sablone should bring back some warm memories. Her part in the groundbreaking video, PJ Ladds Wonderful Horrible Life displayed a young girl hucking herself down massive gaps scored to “Mambo Italiano.” Even though it was only a minute long, seeing her skate such big stuff – and wrecking herself just as hard – was still an uncommon sight for the time.
Sure, we saw Elissa Steamer skate handrails and gaps with Toy Machine and Baker the decade before, but besides that, there weren’t many female skaters that reached a global audience as much as Alexis did.
Since then we haven’t heard much from Alexis except for the occasional contest coverage, and I always wondered why we didn’t see another part from her. So I’m sure you will be equally dumbfounded to hear that since then, she has graduated from Columbia undergrad, is currently a graduate architecture student at MIT and is designing a nuclear containment facility. – James Lee
As someone who has been in the game for a while, is there basically no money to be made in female pro skating?
Um, I wouldn’t say that. I’d say it’s harder. Leticia Bufoni is doing really well. She’s been savvy about her career, so I wouldn’t say it’s impossible. Most girls are flow in the same context where guys would be professional. Honestly, there are still fewer girls, it’s growing more slowly, and I guess companies are less willing to put money into it.
Growing up did you ever want to be a pro?
I don’t know if I ever dreamed about seeing my name on a skateboard—I just wanted to get as good as I could. I was too young to care about what it could do for me financially, and by the time I was old enough to worry about that stuff, I was past the point of caring whether I was a pro skateboarder or not.
I should’ve probably asked if you consider yourself a pro skateboarder, before asking if you wanted to be one.
Yeah, I don’t know. I’ve always thought that you’re not a pro unless your name is on a board. But, I guess, from an outsider’s perspective, if you’re making enough money to live off of something, then you’re a professional. I don’t think about it unless a kid at the skatepark asks me. Whenever they do, I just say “no,” haha.
Do you like skating contests? I saw that you gave it up for a while but now you are in Street League.
I’ve always kind of hated them. For me, it’s just such a super nerve racking and unnatural experience. I usually skate by myself—flatground or maybe a ledge…so for me, a contest is just, like, a bizarre day of skating: an arena full of people, buzzers go off, cameras point at you, you jump down something big. Years ago, I got pretty hurt on the very first trick of my run and never wanted to compete again. I didn’t do another contest for 10 years until I needed to pay for my degree, then I came back.
I also hate it when any non-skateboarders I know watch me. They have no idea what’s happening, and also, who wants they’re mom to watch them jump down 15 stairs? Last year, I flew to Texas for X-Games without telling anyone in my family. I was hoping the whole event would just happen without them realizing it, but my little brother and sister saw an X-Games commercial on TV and notified the whole family. They know how I am, so they just pretended to be unaware until after the contest was over…Haha.
“I can make a year’s worth of school tuition or a year’s worth of income in one day, and my chance to do so lasts 45 seconds.”
Do you have any pre-contest rituals?
I try to lie to myself — I basically pretend there is no contest until the moment it happens. I also never sleep the night before at all — maybe that counts as a ritual or just proves that my other ritual is ineffective….
I’m sure some of the guys get nervous too, but you have to realize that for women there are so few chances to compete. This year we have more contests like Street League and Kimberley Diamond Cup, but there have been years where X-Games is the only contest, and it’s the only place for girls to make any money in skating. I can make a year’s worth of school tuition or a year’s worth of income in one day, and my chance to do so lasts 45 seconds. That’s a pretty stressful situation.
Did you skate with the Coliseum crew a lot during the PJ Ladd Wonderful Horrible Life era?
Yeah, that was the end of highschool for me. I would go to Boston every weekend and skate the windowsills and aquarium. That was the spot. I skated with PJ all the time. And I knew Jereme (Rogers) when we were like 12 and went to Woodward together. He introduced me to the Coliseum guys, and then PJ and I became super close. Then we started filming for the video.
At the time there was never any question that he was insanely talented and his part was gonna blow people’s minds. But I didn’t think the video was gonna be such a big deal. I remember seeing on the dvd case, “Over 1 million copies sold,” and thinking that Coliseum was just fucking with people. But then I found out somehow, years later, like, oh, that actually happened. haha.
PJ is sort of a strange character too. He would only film when no one else was around. It was also funny because he’s terrible at picking up his phone. People would be trying to get in touch with him so they would call me and ask, “Hey do you know where PJ is?”
“PJ and I would literally just drive around to empty parking lots listening to The Cranberries on repeat.”
What do you think made you and PJ Ladd click at that time?
I don’t know. He’s a character. I had never met anyone like him and I think he could probably say the same about me. He definitely had extreme moods kind of, and could be either really social and personable, or he could be kind of fixated on something and wouldn’t say much to you. Obviously, this was years ago, and I don’t want to misrepresent him now.
I think our friendship worked because he skated alone a lot growing up. He had this box that he skated in his dad’s shop, so I think we were both independent. We just clicked because I was okay if he wanted to skate with me but didn’t want to talk to me. And it was nice to have someone else there to be excited over skating, and about learning things.
We would drive around a lot in his car, and he was really into Pulp then and I only listened to radio rap. The only thing we could agree on was The Cranberries. So PJ and I would literally just drive around to empty parking lots listening to The Cranberries on repeat.
Was it weird skating with a crew of older dudes?
No. I grew up skating by myself or skating with a bunch of guys. I mean, I was skateboarding in the mid 90’s in Connecticut; there was no group of girls. I had never even seen another girl skater until I went to my first contest. I didn’t care. In fact, I liked it because when I was younger I wasn’t interested in doing “girl” things. I’m still not, I feel like I’ve always just tried to do my own thing.
As a graduate architecture student at MIT, have you noticed any parallels between skate culture and architecture culture?
Oh yeah, totally. They’re both weird and cultish, and attract particular types — often obsessive and a little masochistic. In architecture we obsess over our projects and can sit around talking about miniscule details for hours. Skate nerds are the same, they’re just obsessed with different details.
Do you find skateboarders dumb compared to your architecture friends?
Definitely not. Maybe I don’t talk with them about geometric operations or programming robots to carve things, but skateboarders are definitely thoughtful, creative and strange in their own right. At least my friends are, haha. I don’t know exactly why skateboarders stick with skateboarding, but it takes a certain kind of person and that type of person is rarely dull.
Do you have any OCD habits in skating or architecture?
It’s hard to see yourself, but I have some weird habits. I do things in fours—I’ll skate until I land something four times in a row. I refuse to put things in my pockets. When I pick up a book, I have to smell it… Architecture is pretty bad for me because it kind of rewards precision and promotes obsessive behavior—you can zoom into a computer forever, making sure that every line is connected and every plane is attached.
What are you working on in your architecture program?
I only have one semester left, so mainly I’m doing my thesis which is on the burial of nuclear waste. The problem of containing toxicity over millennia sounds science fictional, but is actually very real. I’m interested in the notion of permanence and my project will illustrate what may happen when architecture is confronted with a nearly impossible challenge of lasting forever. There will be models and drawings, some sort of fictional narrative, hopefully another animation, too.
Those kinds of structures have to last like 1000’s of years right?
Estimates range from 10,000 to millions of years. Either way, it’s on the order of geological timescales and is really beyond human comprehension. I mean, this is a problem that has stumped government agencies for decades. It’s more the work of an engineer, really, to figure out the logistics of containing something for so long. In the 70s – there was this government sanctioned group called the Human Interference Task Force which combined anthropologists, behavioral scientists, physicists and engineers to try to develop methods for protecting future humans from encountering nuclear burial sites. You realize that beyond the obvious material challenges of such timescales, there is the issue of communication—of conveying consistent messages across millennia. Their goal was to figure out the language barrier, how to relay information to people thousands of years from now, to let them know where the toxic burial sites are. 10,000 years from now, we probably wont be speaking the same languages.
You also had a skateboard data project too right? What was that about?
I basically wanted to translate skateboarding into an animation and ultimately, a still image. Basically, I carved a slot in a skateboard for my phone, and I streamed the phone’s movement data while I was skateboarding into a computer. I basically create an animated image from it. It’s sort of like, if you attribute how rich a color is to the way a skateboarder moves, when the skater pops their board and tries to do a few kickflips, it shows through in the colors. That image would look different from if a skateboarder cruised around super fast but didn’t really pop their boards. I wanted to see what it would be like to condense a whole day of skateboarding into a single picture.
Do you think there is a strong skate community of girls now? What about compared to when you were growing up?
Yeah, I think there is. I’m friends with Lacey [Baker] and Vanessa [Torres] and Marissa [Del Santo] and all those girls. And there are definitely new ones that are sick, and they’re coming from somewhere. I guess I don’t know much about the girl skate community because I’m kind of removed from the skate world altogether.
I’m sure there’s definitely more than when I was growing up in 2000 on the East Coast. Back then if you saw a kid with holes in his shoes – any kind of skate shoe – then you knew he was a skateboarder. Now it’s kind of like everyone is wearing Vans and, if you’re on the West Coast, everyone skateboards.
“there’s really no reason for skating to remain male dominated
it’s just a matter of time.”
Why do you think there are less girls than boys in skating?
I don’t know. I think that skateboarding is an individual practice. It’s not like soccer or something, where every kid on the block tried at one point or another. So, even if you’re lucky enough to find it, it’s rough when you first start out. Skateboarders make everything they do look effortless, but that’s a lie. You suck at first—everyone does. I think that’s why skating probably has a pretty low retention rate haha. If there aren’t many girls starting each year, there can only be so many who will actually stick with it long enough to do something with it.
That said, tons of sports are male dominated, the cool thing about skateboarding is that it’s really not about physical size, strength or doing the best trick. So much of it is about creativity and individual style, so there’s really no reason for skating to remain male dominated—it’s just a matter of time.
September 24, 2015 7:21 pm
Should have got more insight on PJ Ladd from her! Lol
September 24, 2015 11:58 pm
Marisa dal santo killed it mega hard
September 25, 2015 5:27 am
Cool stuff as alway.
How could I get in touch with Alexis ?
We’re both working in the same field, which is pretty narrow, and I would very much like to get in touch.
October 3, 2015 12:35 am
She’s in the student directory at MIT
September 25, 2015 8:03 am
Seriously, the toxicity containment part really made this interview. She’s a very interesting and intelligent person from what it seems, very clever and truly scientific to get involved with such a matter, that’s truly excellent. The fact she’s hanging out with Vanessa Torres is the icing for me! Now to the next ecological project: find a replacement composite to polyurethane that’s environment friendly. Why should people have to stop skateboarding because oil ran out? Huh? Huh? I ‘m smart too. So fuck you.
September 25, 2015 8:05 am
I realise my reply may come off as sarcasm. It’s not. I like Vanessa Torres and found the interview very interesting.