Although Candy Jacobs is known around Europe and in the Netherlands, where she’s from, you may not know much about her if you aren’t tuned into the contest scene. We had only recently found out about her despite being in the game for years and qualifying for the Olympics happening next Summer. She clearly can rip and were curious why she’s had a hard time getting much recognition or money from sponsors.
Until a few years ago, Candy made ends meet working as a youth worker, but she more recently quit that job to focus on skating full-time. She still teaches workshops at elementary schools to help kids become more confident and resilient.
If you’re curious about how Olympic preparation can mess with skaters’ heads, or just how difficult navigating the sponsorship landscape can be, Candy’s story is definitely a look behind the curtain.
You mentioned that being injured recently helped you reflect on some things in your life. What changed for you?
I was completely caught up in competitive skateboarding. Every time I went skating I thought, today I need to practice these four tricks so that I can consistently stick them on this ten-stair rail at SLS. And that’s an approach to skateboarding that doesn’t sit well with me. It takes away everything that makes skateboarding fun and meaningful to me. So I had time to reorient myself.
I now realize that I was riding along with the Olympic bullet train without reflecting on its impact on me as a person. And I probably won’t be the only one who’s gone through stuff like this. We are the first generation to learn how an event of that scale can affect your perception of and approach to skateboarding.
Before you’ve told me you wanted to make sure the Olympics wouldn’t affect your mental health, and that you’d only work toward it if you could do it on your own terms.
I know. It’s almost like, when all you ever want is to be different from your parents, you often end up exactly like them. But anyway, I found out only yesterday that I’m pretty much qualified for Tokyo, even if I’d skip all of the upcoming qualifiers. At first I didn’t believe it, but Hans [van Dorssen, of the Dutch Skateboard Federation] had another look at it and confirmed it. The only threat is the person who’s currently ranked 37th, but they would have to win everything from now on, which is really unlikely.
How do you balance thinking about those competitions with the assumption that Tokyo might be the pinnacle of your skate career?
I’m not sure. On the one hand, it all feels like I’ve got a brilliant opportunity to now do the things I want. But on the other hand, I don’t believe any of it, neither that I’m qualified nor that I can prioritize my own hopes and desires over the Olympics. It’s this kind of never-ending uncertainty that marks my career as a skateboarder, and no one really talks about the feeling of precarity that comes with being a pro.
Sometimes it feels like you have to live like this one skate trip or event is the last one you’ll ever be invited to. Because this might very well be the case, and the non-skating world frames it that way. You cannot imagine how often people asked me when I’d get a real job until the Olympics became a thing. And now everyone thinks that’s the greatest thing ever.
Some big cheese members of the Dutch Olympic Committee told me, “Sure, you can win 100 gold medals at skate contests, but there’s no competition that’s as important as the Olympics.” But that’s bullshit. I really believe I already skated in the contests that are most meaningful to me.
“It’s this kind of never-ending uncertainty that marks my career as a skateboarder.”
Do you consider this to be a broader issue in skateboarding?
I think so. I was really stoked to see Ryan Lay’s piece on his experiences as a pro. Yes, there’s a gender gap that we as skateboarders are slowly starting to unpack, understand, and change. And let’s not forget how geography, race, and class affect your position in skating. But there are also issues most professional skateboarders share. It is a precarious career path, with few opportunities, a faulty support system, and dumb rules.
What’s your relationship like with sponsors?
Things have changed a bit for me. Alex White recently became Krux’s team manager and texted me to ask me about my sponsorships. I explained that I got flowed for Ace and she said, “I see lots of potential for you if you were to join us at Krux. We’d embrace you with open arms, and I’ll ensure you’ll get a pro model and get the opportunity to go on skate trips with us.”
So now I’m riding for Krux, and it’s my first proper sponsorship deal within skateboarding. A bit weird, right? I’m 29 and I’ve been around for a while, but nothing really came to fruition until now.
And it’s still really hard to receive support as a woman skateboarder from Europe. In 2018, when I joined the Dutch national team, I saw how everyone else was getting insane deals. I rode for Etnies at the time and was part of their flow team for about nine years. Etnies had never paid me, nor invited me for any skate trips, even when I proposed that I would cover my own travel and accommodation.
Being loyal to them for such a long time and promoting their gear for years at end, I thought it would be reasonable to ask them if there’d be the potential of a better deal, or at least to feel like I was actually part of their team. They couldn’t offer me anything other than shoes, so I decided to leave. As you know, I’m not interested in money and I would’ve accepted any offer. This was all about being valued and recognized. And fuck it, now I buy my own shoes.
“They expect me to ride for a big board brand before they’d even consider flowing me, rather than focus on who I am and what I can offer them.”
And the system’s weird, man. When I talk to shoe companies, they expect me to ride for a big board brand before they’d even consider flowing me, rather than focus on who I am and what I can offer them. Years ago I decided to skate for Blackriver, a German board and fingerboard company. I love them. They support me in whatever way they can, and our values resonate. They’re like family to me. But other potential sponsors see this as a hindrance. It’s a relatively small company that is unknown in the U.S., so why should they include me in their team?
And there are other bullshit reasons too, like the fact that I use colored griptape. Who gives a fuck? I think skaters are worth sponsoring because they’re rad and take a stand for things that matter. No one will say that a hardflip doesn’t count if the color scheme of your setup is slightly different. Or people might, but that says more about how traditional and conservative skateboarding can be.
Do you ever consider playing the “game” of the skate industry more to try to get more out of it?
People say the same thing about my skatepark. “Why try so hard to get a skatepark in your town? You can also just move to a different city.” Yes, I can, but I know this is bigger than me. I don’t want the next generation to have the same exact struggle, and I want to show that other paths are possible.
I’m not saying this to complain or as an open invitation. I’m just an old lady who’s a skate rat. I point this out because certain brands sponsor young riders whom they can form and shape according to their own standards, and that’s problematic.
You have some non-traditional sponsors like Incentro and Young Capital. What kind of stuff do you do for/with them?
Young Capital has been amazing, they are an employment agency for young professionals. They like to think outside of the box and like to invest in talent. That’s how our paths crossed. Incentro is an IT company. They were sponsoring the Dutch Skateboard Federation and decided to sponsor four riders on the team. We do photoshoots for them, commercials, and try to give back by showing them off. These are pretty unusual sponsorships but they back me for who I am, what I do, and where I came from. I am thankful that they want to be a part of my journey.
You used to be a youth worker, but you left that job to pursue skating full-time. What drew you to working with kids in the first place?
In first grade, everyone wanted to become a dolphin trainer, except for me. I was super interested in education and pedagogy. I had friends who struggled at school or were on the autism spectrum, and then everyone would always say, “Candy, please fix it.” I was six or seven at the time and didn’t realize how awful it is to only think in terms of fixing one’s behavior. It’s so much more complex than that.
Eventually, I got a foster brother and there was always drama with his guardian. I thought I could do better than them. Mind you, I sometimes really feel the need to prove myself. So I initially studied social studies, which had a focus on neurotypical people. It was not exactly what I had hoped for, so I transferred to youth work. And that degree taught me so much about the privileged position I am in.
“That degree taught me so much about the privileged position I am in.”
Does your background as a youth worker affect your relationship with some of the younger skateboarders you see at contests?
It’s not like I feel like a youth worker when I am at Street League, but there are certainly moments where that experience helps me to understand specific situations. For instance, I recognize when there’s some tension between some of the girls and their parents, and I know a bit more about why that’s the case. And of course, I’m having discussions with all these skate goddesses. I do want to make them aware that their lives aren’t normal. It’s extraordinary that, at age 12, you earn more than your parents and receive boxes with free stuff on a weekly basis.
Plus, if you were born in Gaza, you wouldn’t have the same opportunities as you have now. There’s a reason why some countries and regions are dominant in skateboarding. For me, it’s quite an interesting position to be in. When we’re skating together, we’re all skateboarders. But when we’re hanging out, they do see me as an actual adult.
You mentioned earlier that it can be problematic when brands shape young riders.
Why do you think so?
I don’t think it’s necessary problematic for brands to mold young skaters, but it is almost a must in order to be able to skate for certain brands. The issue comes from if you don’t fit the mold or if you already made your own mold. I think it’s really important for young people to create their own identity and to be able to dress, walk, talk, and carry themselves how they want in order to have a congruent life. For me, skateboarding was a way to find and create my own identity.
You were less subtle in your critique when you said “fuck the brands” at Pushing Boarders last year.
I think Pushing Boarders amplified my emotional state of mind. For the entire week, we were surrounded by inspiring people who try and make a difference, whether it’s by building skateparks in Palestine or by organizing women skate events, and that’s exactly when you notice that there are so many powerful people in skateboarding who could make a difference but don’t even try. And that’s incredibly frustrating. So that’s in part why I said it, and I would do so again.
For instance, I believe that when someone is commissioning a skatepark for SLS, they must ensure it will be skateable for the local community, rather than it being demolished the day after the finals. These big corporations need to take responsibility, and we shouldn’t always do whatever just to accommodate or please them.
Anyway, this is why I think it’s important to support gatherings like Pushing Boarders and Wheels of Fortune. They bring together so many perspectives, and everyone is there to learn from and collaborate with each other. So the moment all speakers and attendees return home, they bring some of that knowledge and experience back to their own community. And I feel like that’s a powerful way to effect bottom-up change within skateboarding.
April 2, 2020 4:03 pm
Once again, Jenkem delivers! Interesting persona, we need more of this in skateboarding today.
April 2, 2020 6:15 pm
Very insightful commentary and ideas. Candy rips. Keep this thoughtful content up, Jenk.
April 2, 2020 10:25 pm
April 3, 2020 12:45 pm
Another great interview. Keep it up, Jenk!