It seems impossible that somebody could be a skater and graduate from two of the greatest schools in the world. I’m sure there are douchey tech bros at MIT that ride Boosted Boards to school, but I mean like real skaters—skaters that ride for cool brands and skate in the Olympics, like Alexis Sablone.
Alexis is one of the most impressive skateboarders out there, no matter how you frame it. She deserves recognition for what she has achieved over her career and for what she has managed to do on top of it. She opened a skate shop with her childhood best friend and WKND pro skater, Trevor Thompson. She also works on her art, which is frequently featured on boards and apparel, and she’s also a bonafide architect who designs skateable plazas all over the world. In whatever free time she has left, she coaches the American women’s Olympic skateboard team.
We wanted to know more about this miracle of productivity; because frankly, we could have used some of those skills to finish Jenkem Vol 3. So we found time in her busy schedule to sit down and talk about what it actually means to be talented.
Excelling in academia and at high levels across all sorts of different fields, have you been inducted into any cults or secret societies?
Yeah, like private, behind-closed-doors type of societies.
No, I can’t say [that I have]. MIT definitely had some weird dark dungeons under there and they have tunnels connecting the whole place.
Yeah, my college had that too. Pretty spooky.
One time my grad school classmates and I were staying up all night because we had a big midterm or something the next day, and one of them was trying to figure out some math stuff and was like, “Oh, fuck me. I’m going to find someone else at MIT that is way smarter to help with this stuff.” She ventured into the dungeons and came back and she said she found someone working on an invisibility cloak. It was like three in the morning. If that’s going on, I’m sure there’s all sorts of secretive stuff.
But I wasn’t really a part of any of it, I just built cardboard models.
Would you consider yourself a genius?
No. But creatively when I’m in a certain part of any project I’m working on, I sometimes think that I’m a genius and that I just came up with the best thing ever. I’m like, oh my god. The fuck? [laughs]
Do you think other people think you’re a genius?
People have said that before, and that makes me feel very cool, but I don’t know. I’m not in the dungeon making an invisibility cloak so I know that there are a lot of other people who are a lot smarter than me. I’m just playing with cardboard and they’re making people disappear.
Did you ever try to skate in those weird MIT Tunnels?
Yeah, MIT’s campus was just so big and there are a lot of weird industrial buildings. It’s full of labyrinths down there, but it’s all like “caution” and “laboratory, do not enter.” That’s where I would go skate sometimes in the winter. I would skate on the architecture floor as well. It was the fourth floor but it was early in the morning and no one was going to tell you no. You could get away with anything.
Since you have so many ongoing projects, do you work better with deadlines?
I don’t know if it’s better. It always feels like torture and I never feel like anything is done. I always end up pulling all-nighters, which is probably a bad habit I got from my architecture school days. I always end up not sleeping for like 48 hours leading up to a deadline. I push it right to the end every time and won’t sleep until it’s finished.
What percent of your friend group consists of skaters?
I don’t know. That’s a tough one because I feel like I have a lot of different friend groups. I’ve never been a person that’s like, these are my ten best friends and that’s my friend group. Trevor [Thompson] is like my brother and he makes up a big part of my life.
I’d say it’s probably half and half. Or maybe a little more non-skate friends. But in terms of their quantity, I definitely have more skateboard friends, it’s just that they’re spread all over.
“I’m a floater. I was friends with everyone in High School pretty much but I skated alone most of the time.”
Were you a drifter in high school?
Yeah, I’m a floater. I was friends with everyone pretty much but I skated alone most of the time, except for the weekends. During the week it was schoolwork and sports. I was friends with everyone but I wasn’t a part of any clique. There weren’t even skaters in my high school so that wasn’t even a possible clique.
Did you date in high school?
My high school went seventh to twelfth grade, so I had a couple of little seventh-grade boyfriends. There was one skater that was my first boyfriend and we would skate on the weekends. We talked on the phone at night while we watched TV, but nothing else.
I was starting to figure out that I was gay and then I was like, what am I doing? As I moved into high school everyone was hooking up and going to parties on the weekends, but I didn’t drink and I didn’t want a boyfriend. I wanted to skate. I’d go to Boston on the weekends and be with people who helped me improve, or go skate with Trevor in Milford. That was not only what I wanted to do, but it was a good excuse for me to escape. In retrospect, it was just me trying to figure it all out.
Do you think if you had a child and they skated you’d make them wear a helmet?
I don’t know because I don’t want to be a hypocrite. If they were young enough I would at least try to get them to wear a helmet.
My mom told me to wear a helmet. I didn’t do it even though we always said we were wearing them. You get to a certain level of confidence and you know that if you fall and something really bad happens, you usually can protect yourself in other ways.
Have you ever considered trying to make a reinforced beanie-type helmet fusion?
I should’ve known where that question was going.
No, it wasn’t even an agenda. It just popped into my head [laughs].
I’m wearing a baseball hat right now. It’s like a hundred degrees and I like to wear something because…I don’t actually know why. It’s like a security blanket.
I just like a hat. It’s a great accessory. But beanie helmet? I don’t think I would ever suggest a beanie helmet to anyone. It sounds pretty ugly. But maybe I just have to try it on.
I know you worked at a restaurant. Was there anything you learned from being in the service industry that’s stuck with you?
When you work in the service industry I feel like the main takeaway is just that everyone should work in service, for at least a little bit to have an appreciation for it and realize how many motherfuckers there are out there that are so rude and disrespectful. Working as a barista and working in the back of a restaurant were two of the most fun jobs I’ve ever had. It definitely beats working at an architecture firm.
Working in the back of a restaurant, tickets are coming in constantly, work time is over before you know it, and you’re working feverishly the whole time. It’s definitely exhausting, but I think that there’s some appeal to that because you’re busy.
Working in architecture firms, it felt like I was looking at the clock. I was like, clicking away, working on a project that wasn’t my own. It didn’t feel the same as when you were in school and you were working on your own projects. I think that’s why I always came back to skateboarding. It’s what pushed me to try to make skateboarding a career like all of the other ones. Skating has given me so much freedom that it is hard to go back to anything else after that.
It’s definitely been a process to get to the place where skateboarding gives me freedom. There’s been a lot of stress and I had to do all those contests that I didn’t really want to do. But when it’s good, I feel very lucky that I made it to this position in skating.
“I couldn’t trust skateboarding to make a living for so long.”
What portion of your income is contingent on contest money?
I mean, none now. It used to be 100% and that’s why I had to do contests because sponsors weren’t paying girls to skate. For years it was just one X Games each year where I would hurl myself to try and make a year’s living in one day. If it didn’t work, I was trying to figure out student loans and what else to do.
By the time the Olympics came around, or in the year leading up to it, it was the first time I didn’t need to do this contest thing. I was doing it, I guess, just because I wanted to. At that point it had been ten years of doing contests because I needed to, and then in some strange way that worked. Then I was in a position where I could maybe be in the Olympics if I wanted to. It just felt stupid to not try. Now I can say that I don’t need contests, but I don’t know how many other girl skaters that’s true for.
I couldn’t trust skateboarding to make a living for so long. Even now it’s like, I don’t know if this salary is forever. So I think that’s why I take on so many projects and keep myself busy and stressed. And it’s not just for money, obviously, because all the things I happen to be doing are things that I’m really passionate about or really into. I think it’s also that I don’t trust any one thing to support me.
Have you been able to meet people you’ve looked up to outside of skating?
Kind of. Not to say that I didn’t have any heroes but there weren’t that many people inside or outside of skating that I was like, this is the person! It’s more like people you come across that are either professors in school or skaters in the industry or whatever. They become your heroes after you meet them because they’re actually cool people too, and then you have a whole different level of respect for them.
I have a couple of professors like that. Professor Madeline in undergrad helped me get into architecture because the class she taught was so weird and not anything like regular architecture that I was tricked into thinking that was the path I wanted. She’s just one of the strangest people I’ve ever met that she pushed me so hard. At the same time, her class was so rigorous.
And in skating, the obvious hero I had growing up was Elissa [Steamer]. Naturally, I wanted to reject whatever people expected me to like, so I was always like, what, am I supposed to like Elissa just because I’m a girl? Fuck Elissa! Years later I actually met her and realized how awesome she was as a person. Then I was able to see how much impact she actually did have on me when I was young, whether I wanted to admit it or not. But it was only after meeting her and becoming older and more mature that I could realize the impact she had.
Same with someone like Kenny Hughes. Before I met Kenny Hughes at Woodward, before Third Eye View came out, I didn’t know who he was. But at Woodward I was such an annoying kid and he was so cool to me. It was that kind of stuff that made such an impact on me forever. I don’t know who would talk shit about Kenny, but if someone did talk shit, to the grave I’d be like, no he’s super underrated. You always stand behind the people you meet and are cool to you. That’s my hero.
We probably agree that the skateboard industry has become better over the last couple of years. But is there anything that you miss about the old version of it?
When I hear “industry,” the first thing I think about is like, “men only” and “don’t pay the girls” and some of these other things. So in that respect, no, it’s moving in a better direction now. But it needs to move more and faster and keep going, in my opinion.
But of course there’s so much nostalgia around that era of skateboarding, absolutely. Probably everyone thinks that the era they grew up skating was the golden era, and I’m no different. I grew up skating in the ’90s and that was the coolest.
At the time I was just dying to see another skateboarder, and they didn’t exist. It was so rare and that sucked at the time. I couldn’t wait to go to Woodward and meet someone else from another state that skated. Like, oh, this is what a 13 year-old from Seattle skates like. Cool. We weren’t connected through social media the way we are now and I was dying for that sense of community. I feel like now there’s so much more community, but it’s hard to not romanticize how underground it was.
It was so rare and as a result, it was like if someone did it, they really did it. It wasn’t just some enthusiast. You saw skate shoes and you were like, who’s that person? Can they crooked grind? There was so much excitement because there was another one of us, and it felt like that was a secret society, especially on the east coast in the ‘90s. I fully miss that.
Now it’s on a billboard and it’s fashion and it’s on TV and it’s everywhere. Some people are just doing it for the moment and skateboarding might not have a lasting imprint on their lives. They’re just doing it for the looks. They like the shoes or whatever. It’s different now.
“Skating has given me so much freedom that it is hard to go back to anything else after that.”
I guess it’s natural. As you get older, things in life become less mystical. We know most of the stuff that’s happening and why it’s happening, so life becomes a little duller.
That is a very negative viewpoint on life.
You know what I mean, though? Nothing will hit you like that first album in ninth grade or that first kickflip.
Totally, you’re still trying to form into a person so those things become embedded in you so you’ll never forget the first cool thing you’ve ever seen. Now I can’t even keep track of some shit I saw on Instagram ten minutes ago. I already forgot who and where it was. Now you’ve had more days on Earth and all that, but it’s just the time we’re living in.
I would even argue that things are harder for younger people today. They have so much more in front of them all at once. I know kids still get inspired, but over time it gets hard to impress someone. It used to be like a special effect in a movie. Like, wow! What is that? But now we’re in the metaverse and it’s all over the place now. Maybe part of it is getting older and the world is speeding up.
There’s several web AIs now that can generate impressive original art. You give it a prompt like, “an Eiffel Tower made of cheese,” and it gives you original art based on that. Have you messed with that?
No, I haven’t, but that gets into how we’ve always been afraid of robots taking over from science fiction or coming and cutting off our heads. But it’s crazy in so many ways it’s actually happened. On social media the algorithms tell us what to like and they feed us what we think we found ourselves.
It’s happening in some sense, but in response to an art-making AI, the only comforting thing is, who cares? Art has never been about being proficient and skilled at making images with mediums. It’s always been about the time and the place and the person behind it and the story, and a computer doesn’t have any of that. So there will always be a stranger story that comes out of a human versus an AI that has learned the behavior.
That’s a good point. People can draw what Gonz does and people can draw better than Gonz, but who cares? They don’t have everything else that goes into it.
Exactly. You can expand that to skateboarding too. There are so many people that are so good now that it’s wild, and not to be bitter, but it’s not enough to just be good at skating. Who surprises you or has something that makes them magnetic that you remember their skating, or you’re inspired by it? It’s not just the most skilled skater in the world because that can be boring and predictable.
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