A while back I interviewed Fabiana Delfino, and we talked about how we both felt there weren’t enough female filmers and photographers working in the pro skating ranks. She told me she often found it hard to find women to film or shoot photos with, and it got me thinking about just how many women were actually out there filming, shooting, writing, and working the media angle of skateboarding.
After some quick searches I realized that really I was living under a rock, and there are a bunch of women covering sides of skateboarding that we just aren’t paying attention to. And if us guys at Jenkem, given our obsessive consumption of skate media, were unaware of some of their work, you might be unaware as well.
We wanted to highlight some of these women as a reminder that you don’t need a big media operation to have an impact and have your message resonate. Read on to learn how they’re creating new spaces in skate media.
ZORAH OLIVIA – Photographer
You put out this video where you briefly talk about overcoming the feeling of being the “annoying girl” at the skatepark. Can you talk more about that?
I mean, I still feel like that sometimes [laughs]. I’ll go to the skatepark and shoot photos of girls and the guys will just give me the side eye, or it’s like this vibe that they don’t take me seriously or I don’t know what I’m doing. It’s uncomfortable at first, but then I’m like, they don’t know who I am, and I do know what I’m doing. So it’s really proving to yourself instead of proving to others that you’re supposed to be there.
But besides random boys at the skatepark, I never really got that vibe within the industry. It’s mostly really supportive and encouraging. I work at Shepard Fairey’s art gallery and some pro came to an opening, and I was like, “Oh yeah, you know Andrew Reynolds? I take photos of him and his daughter.” He said sarcastically, “Yeah, and I always hang out with Tony Hawk.” And I was like, “No, I really do” [laughs].
How early did you get into shooting skate photos?
I went to Camp Woodward for 6 years as a skate camper, then when I was 16 I switched out of skating and into photography. That first week of camp they fully immersed us with shooting with pros. I remember Mike Mo [Capaldi] was there that week—and Sean Malto—and I got put right in front of them and asked if I could take portraits. We learned the dynamics between photographers and skaters, and understanding the composition and how specific skate tricks are supposed to look, so that was when everything was like, “Oh shit, this is what I like taking pictures of.”
After my first week as a photo camper, they offered me an internship, so I got to stay at camp for free. I would go back as a photo intern until I was 19 and went off to college and majored in photography. They had me back last summer as the first female VIP photo instructor in camp history. That was really cool. I was there for girl’s week and there were around 20 female photo campers and only one male camper.
Outside of skate photography, are there other photographers who influence you?
My two main influences are Annie Leibovitz and Sally Mann. They are two incredibly strong female photographers and they capture the essence of their subjects so deeply. I love skate photographers too, but I try not to compare my work to what other skate photographers are doing. ‘Cause then I get stuck in that trap of, “They’re doing more than me, or they get to go on trips and I want to go on trips.”
But like Atiba [Jefferson], I look up to him because he is in front of all these legendary people, even Michael Jordan. I am influenced by his drive and his passion, I want to be at his level one day. Looking to photographers like him to know that it’s possible to have a solid career, but also knowing that he’s not just doing skating. He shoots commercial work, he does NBA and he’s in skating. Exercising your brain in different creative outlets, that’s what’s influential to me.
What advice would you give to young girls who want to pick up skate photography but don’t know where to start?
Your photos aren’t gonna be good at first. No one is just gonna fucking go out and get rad skate images right off the bat. You gotta start to understand what the tricks look like. Every skater is different, every style is different, and you just gotta practice and do it all the time. But going to the skatepark and meeting people is the easiest way to go about it.
The first thing you should do is study Thrasher or look at skate photos and get inspired. Not trying to copy that image, but just studying it. If that’s something you really want to do, you have to step out of your comfort zone. More often than not people are going to be hyped that somebody wants to take a picture of them, and they might also be learning, so you can both be learning with each other. The worst someone can say is, “No.”
SHARI WHITE – the skate witches/filmer
What got you started filming?
About 5 years ago my friend Kristin [Ebeling] and I went to visit our friend Shane Auckland in LA. He films VX and he filmed an edit of us over a couple of weeks and then he was like, “I’m making a full-length, you two can have parts in it.” We weren’t sure we would be able to make it out to film with him frequently enough, so I decided to get a VX and we could film each other or have someone film us. We didn’t know what we were going to do. I didn’t think it was going to necessarily be that I would start filming, just that we would have the camera that we needed. I began to really enjoy the process and became obsessed with it.
Your edits are gaining more traction lately. What else is in the pipeline for The Skate Witches?
We’ve done Havana and Malmö [edits], and I went to Australia to visit my parents so I stopped down in Melbourne and I’m working on that edit right now. I think we’ve had a lot of footage together for a full-length that we want to have ready for Wheels of Fortune which is on May 3 – 5 this year. We haven’t filmed much for it recently but we’re going to put together everything we’ve compiled over the last year.
Do you have a mission or goal for The Skate Witches? Is there a principle you try to stick to?
We try to keep it to street skating. We want to get women getting out on the streets and doing something creative, not just hanging out at skateparks all the time.
Are you interested in doing coverage for more legacy skate outlets or brands?
I guess we haven’t thought about that or considered working for bigger companies too much. We’ve joked though, like, this company should hire us! [laughs] I think having more women in the industry who know what they’re talking about is important, and having a personal connection with skateboarding, knowing what that feels like, and where they’d like to see it go.
Do you have any words of advice to young girls who want to do something like what you’re doing?
I never knew where to start or that I even had started. I was just doing what I wanted to do. I still don’t have a job in skateboarding. I don’t have a career in skateboard filming or anything like that. I’m just making stuff with my friends because I think it’s super fun, and I’m making videos because I wanted to make something that didn’t exist. There have been all women’s videos in the past and stuff, but nothing in the style that we wanted to see. We just wanted to make things for ourselves and include our friends and people we knew that weren’t getting the recognition we felt they deserved.
If that’s what someone else wants to do, they should just go and do those things because they enjoy it, and if something comes of it, something comes of it. You’re still out there having fun with your friends skateboarding.
KIM WOOZY – MAHFIA TV
A lot of the women we talked with for this article mentioned that you and your site Mahfia TV inspired them in some way. Can you tell me how you got involved skate media?
One of my first internships at the end of college was at Osiris Shoes as a social media intern, but we didn’t even call it social media back then. It was like, “Hey, can you run this MySpace page?” [laughs]. When I first started, Osiris was hiring girls off Craigslist to model the girl’s products. They never really had an intention to highlight female skaters as they did on the men’s side. I was like, “Why are you using models? We should be using these amazing skaters.” They were like, “We’re not going to say no, but if you wanna make it happen, you can put in the time.”
We had signed Leticia [Bufoni] and were flowing product to other girls, and even though they didn’t have a budget for it, I started making videos of the girls. We just became really good friends, and my role was like marketing manager/TM.
How did your time at Osiris lead to you starting Mahfia?
After Osiris shut down their girl’s line, I kept making videos of the girls because I had established all of these relationships. We would shoot videos where we would try to incorporate action and lifestyle. That’s where the evolution of Mahfia came from.
We kind of reset around 2011-12. With the explosion of iPhones and GoPros and the ability to self-shoot, self-edit, and just tell your own stories, we saw this massive increase in girl’s content. I thought it was rad that there was more and more girl’s content out, and that wasn’t the case when we first started, so maybe what was needed was a platform for all of that content, and our intention was to curate and produce action girl’s content.
What are some of the biggest struggles you experienced running a skate media outlet?
It became harder and harder to produce content and sustain that financially because a lot of the brands either A) weren’t willing to put money toward girl’s content because they didn’t see the value or B) they were smaller brands that were just getting built up and they didn’t have the budget to do that. Eventually, a lot of the larger brands had in-house teams for content all across the board.
What’s happening with Mahfia now?
The struggle to sustain the company all came to a head when two large companies lifted our footage. For Street League, it was in-arena and on-air content, and for Woodward, it was an episode of Woodward TV.
Street League was like, “We needed some women’s skate b-roll so we borrowed it from your YouTube channel. Is it cool if we run with this?” Then a month later they ran a TV spot and used the same content. I thought, well, it already ran and they didn’t ask me, so I sent them an invoice and they paid it.
Then the same thing happened with Woodward but they didn’t give a shit. They emailed me like, “We’re doing this episode on so-and-so, we borrowed some of your footage for b-roll,” and they were like, “We kept your watermark.” I was like, “We are a production company and these are the costs of the clips.” So I gave [the producer] the pricing and he was angry, like, “I’m just disappointed that you’re not down to support women’s skateboarding.” I was like, “Well that’s unfortunate that that’s how you feel. Here’s an invoice” [laughs]. Then later they paid me.
That’s when I was like, I don’t think this business model is really effective. It’s like opening a restaurant and hoping people come in and eat and pay, but instead, they’re stealing the food and you have to chase them down after. There are plenty of other reasons why the business wasn’t working that had a lot to do with me personally, but this tipped the scale in my passion to make a business out of producing content. It felt like we were always a little bit ahead or just in the wrong place, so as of a year ago Mahfia TV was put on the shelf.
HANNAH BAILEY – Neon Stash/Photographer
What got you started shooting skate photos?
I have been working in action sports in communications roles for a long time. Back in 2010-11 I would go to events and see women skating, but there were not many media people covering what they were doing, so I took it upon myself to get behind the camera and bring my audio recorder and interview them and cover their story. It’s very much about being in the position to tell the stories of these inspiring skaters. They are all sizes and ethnicities and languages, so I felt I could show a more positive and genuine representation of women.
The first job I ever did, I went to Malmö with Lucy Adams, a U.K. skater, and all I had was a little point and shoot film camera. It was the first trip I had ever really been on. I shot about 4 rolls of film and they [turned out] fuzzy and a bit blurry but I was like, “They’re great!” I got in touch with Dazed Digital, told them I’ve been on this trip with these amazing women who skate and I got a piece on their site. I was just so passionate about their stories that it didn’t matter that I didn’t have some 4K video camera.
Now you have your creative agency, Neon Stash. What does Neon Stash offer that might be missing from traditional skate media?
At the time I wasn’t thinking in a business sense of what I could offer. I was just so full of energy and inspiration from seeing what existed and realized that there wasn’t a lot of people covering women’s skateboarding. I was already doing a bit of writing and shooting some photos, but also working in communications, so I just wanted to bring it all together under one umbrella to create bigger opportunities to support women in skateboarding.
What challenges do you think women’s skateboarding still faces today?
This is the first time in my whole 11-year career that I’ve talked about being a woman in skate media, so it’s really important that girls and other women read this and can be like, “I could do that too.” I think the biggest challenge is it being fashionable and the interest of the mainstream because there’s a lot of opportunities right now but they are not necessarily all with good intentions.
Recently, I’ve found that I’ve had a lot of media people getting in touch and wanting me to create ideas for skateboarding magazines or skateboarding features, and my ideas get misused or just taken. The challenge is being able to work out which opportunities are good to do and will help you and skateboarding. You should work with people you trust and that you know are doing it for the good of skateboarding as a whole.
OLGA AGUILAR – Photographer
When did you get into skate photography?
Here in Seattle, there’s the organization Skate Like A Girl. It’s focused on teaching young girls how to skate, giving them lessons, and offering support and whatnot. I used to shoot photos of their skate clinics, or at contests, and about 6 or 7 years ago when social media started getting popular, they would ask to use some of my photos for promotion. We also have the Marginal Way DIY. I would photograph there and send those photos to Juice Magazine. That’s really how my photos became a bit more recognized.
I would also shoot contests like the Girl’s Pool Classic at the Combi Pool. I would never see photos of the girl’s contests. At the men’s contests, there were photographers everywhere, but at the girl’s events, there were no filmers, photographers… not in my era. So whenever opportunities like that came up, I would take them.
I never studied photography, and it was never my intention to be a photographer, but skateboarding is how I learned to take photos. Skate photography is something totally different. You could be an amazing photographer, but if you don’t know anything about skateboarding, you can’t shoot skating right.
You’re pretty well-connected with some of the biggest women in skating today. How did you make those connections?
The truth is, I would just see them around when they were younger and competing. I met most of them at the Combi competitions. But I don’t just care about taking photos of the most famous skaters. I’ll shoot whoever is willing because I like to do it, and if I can get a little feature out of it, cool. I’ve been able to get some support by giving photos to sponsors and things like that. Skateboarding is a world where there are many different ways to directly or indirectly support yourself, and if women can do it too, that’s even better.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into taking photos professionally but doesn’t know where to start?
Relax and have fun with it, and feel confident about your work. A lot of times insecurity makes things difficult or holds women back. Even myself, when I first started shooting, I would get to the place and see other big shot photographers and I would get insecure, but I would shoot my photos and that would be it.
Someone might like your photos or someone might hate them, but if it’s something you like and you’re doing it the way you want to, keep at it with confidence. Results will come later. You’ll start to recognize you’re doing a good job, even if you’re not getting famous or recognized yet. It’s important to know your work is good and not feel pressured.
And there’s no right age to start. I think I started when I was between 30 and 35. I wanted to do it, and I had my insecurities, but I did it [laughs]. I’m a mother of two daughters and I work, so my time is limited, but I’m sure there are so many others out there who would have fewer problems doing great things and getting into skate photography [laughs].
LISA WHITAKER – Meow Skateboards/Filmer
How did you get into filming women’s contests?
When I started skating in the late ’80s, my dad had an over-the-shoulder VHS camera, so I would film all the neighborhood kids. Then when I graduated high school, with the money I got for graduation, I bought my first 8mm camera. I would put it in my backpack and just skate with it around the city.
Anthony Acosta grew up pretty close to me, and he was my little skateboarding guinea pig [laughs]. We skated everywhere, then when I got a car we started skating with dudes in Long Beach. All those guys started getting sponsored so they needed footage and eventually I started submitting stuff to their sponsors and to 411. I also skated and got sponsored by Rookie skateboards in like ’97.
I started traveling to some all-girl contests, like the All Girl Skate Jam, Slam City Jam, and the World Cup Series, where I met a bunch of girls who are still some of my best friends today. Toward the end of when I was competing I would film, then when it was my turn I would put the camera down and take my run, and then come back and film the rest of the contest. Then I realized that I wasn’t that good [laughs] and I was better off behind the camera.
You eventually started Girls Skate Network, which I read took off kind of accidentally. How did it come about?
That was before YouTube, and we were working on making a video called Getting Nowhere Faster. One of the girls made a website for it and I wanted to play around with it, but I needed some content to put on this fake site. I wasn’t intending it to be anything, I was just trying to learn. At that time I had been filming a lot of the girls and taking photos. I was never a photographer, I would just take some photos here and there, so I started putting that content on there and I didn’t think anybody would see it.
It wasn’t that long before I started getting emails from girls around the world who had found the site. I heard about how inspired they were because they couldn’t find any content of girls who skate, and how encouraging the content was for them. One little girl said that she kept asking her parents for a skateboard and they said, “No, it’s only for boys.” Then she found the website and showed her parents that other girls skated and her parents bought her a board. So hearing stories like that it was like, OK, there’s a need for something like this, so I have to keep things going.
Meow Skateboards — which now has Lacey Baker, Mariah Duran, and Vanessa Torres — is basically the premier women’s skateboarding team. Why did you start an all women’s skate brand?
One year at the X Games, out of the top 10 girls in the world, none of them were actually on a team where they were included and marketed. Leticia [Bufoni] was flow, Alexis [Sablone] didn’t have a board sponsor… all of them. There was that era where Elissa [Steamer] had boards on Toy Machine and Vanessa [Torres] had a board on Element, but there was a whole generation after them who never got that opportunity because the market crashed and the ladies were the first to get cut on a lot of the things.
Then one year my husband and I got our tax refund and he was like, “Do you want to start something with this?” I asked Amy [Caron] and Vanessa if they were interested, because at the time they were on the tail end of their careers so it was no risk to them, and they were in.
I was really good friends with Lacey at the time, but I told her as much as I wanted her to skate for Meow, she wasn’t allowed to. She was on her way up and I thought she deserved to be on something bigger that could do much more for her. She was working on filming that first Thrasher part. After that video came out she tried to get on several companies and nobody was interested, so she came to us a year later and was like, “I don’t care, I want to be a part of this.” Now it’s just grown from there.
Kristin Ebeling -the skate witches/writer
Growing up in Seattle, what was that skate scene like when you were coming up, and what about it inspired you to start doing The Skate Witches?
I was definitely the only girl for a long time, then when I got into high school I met other girls and joined up with Skate Like A Girl.
35th North has a street contest called All City Showdown, and 5 or 6 years ago the owner was down to have a girl’s team. That’s when I thought of my friend Shari [White] who just moved to Vancouver from Australia. We both liked crooked grinds and we both had our shit together [laughs], and we assembled a couple of other girls together.
We had always been obsessed with this YouTube video called “The Skate Witches” of these girls running around scaring boys, wearing leather jackets. They weren’t good at skating, but we liked the vibe of them flipping skateboarding on its head a little bit. Then we were like, let’s make socks, let’s make a zine. We had a reason to get creative beyond just going skating.
Growing up skating and being “the girl,” there were certain dudes that were down for us to come street skating, but sometimes we would only go to spots that we couldn’t skate. Or there were situations where dudes would have a crush on you and you’re just not into it, but you want to go skate, then it gets weird. There are all sort of layers of weirdness when you’re a girl, so we were like, “Oh, we can just do this ourselves.”
How would you define what The Skate Witches is? I referred to it as a crew and Shari was like, “It’s not really a crew.”
I think calling it a crew says, “You’re either in the crew or you’re not, and if you’re not then you’re just a fan.” Shari and I think a lot of the established rules are bullshit, so one thing was we didn’t want to have an official crew. It’s more of a movement or an ethos than a team. People are like “[do] you sponsor people?” and it’s like, no, but we always give free shit away.
I would refer to us as a creative project, like a magazine or a media outlet I guess. The other side is it’s an ethos about being creative and being DIY, getting on the streets, and not caring what people think of you. Anyone who is about that could be a part of our international gang of, I don’t know, witches, I guess [laughs].
(read an excerpt here)
As inclusivity and intersectionality grow in skate media now, what are some common pitfalls that you still see magazines falling into?
A lot of skate content is put together by white men in particular, so I think when that is the lens that it’s coming from, they think those are the only people reading the magazine. You naturally are going to write toward yourself and people that are like you, and I think that creates a problem.
For instance, as I said about your interview with Fabiana, for me as a reader, talking about being a woman skater is boring because I already know that. I want to know what tricks she is trying, what her next video part is going to be like, what her last injury was. I want to read about the same things that I read about in an interview with a guy. I think diversifying who is behind the pen and who is behind the interviews is important.
I mean like, The Skate Witches, Unity, Queer Skateboarding NYC, Quell, Skate Kitchen… there are so many organizations and community groups that are getting people out and skating. I think moving forward, publications and journalists need to bring some of those communities on board so they have a staff as diverse as the community is.
What advice would you give to anyone who is looking to get involved in skate media but might not know how to start?
Speak to your experience and speak your truth. I’d say I found more fans, community, and support by being 100% true to my values and my thoughts than I have saying stuff that I think people want to hear.
If I could give myself any advice 5 years ago it would be that. Don’t be scared of what people think. If you have a problem with something in skateboarding, tell everybody about your experience. I regularly tell people about when I tried to get sponsored but one guy told me I wasn’t pretty enough. I will tell that story forever because it’s fucked up and people need to hear that.