In 1965, Patti McGee was featured on the cover of Life Magazine doing a handstand on a skateboard. At the time, sidewalk surfing—like the hula-hoop or Frisbees—was still pretty much a unisex activity. After the Dogtowners brought a more aggressive vibe to it in the ‘70s, girls like Peggy Oki still got down, but skateboarding most definitely became a boys’ club. Through the ‘80s boom, and into the ‘90s, from the Bones Brigade to Menace, barring a few exceptions like Dianne Desiderio, Cara-Beth Burnside, or Lori Rigsby—skateboarding’s fans, pros, and marketing themes were near exclusively male. The few girls that did exist as public figures within the pastime were mostly novelties. For this installment of our Pioneer column, we’d like to argue that Elissa Steamer’s rise to stardom following her introductory part in Welcome to Hell (’96) changed all of that.
This is the full interview text from Elissa’s Pioneer Column in our June 2012 Issue.
What got you into skating?
BMX was real big in the ’80s. I had a BMX bike and I remember getting a BMX magazine and the last page had a Santa Cruz skate ad. So I cut out the skateboard decks, glued them on cardboard then hung them on my wall. Along with like a picture of Billy Idol maybe (Laughs.) One was the Claus Grabke clock and the other was a Schmitt Stix ATV for sure. There was a bike shop by my house called Benjamin Cyclery and they would have all these BMX demos and I guess somebody had a skateboard and I thought that was cool too. I started doing it. The kids in the apartment building I lived in, a couple of the older ones, this one dude had a Billy Ruff. I remember I rode that and I could tic-tac right away. Everybody was like, “Oh my God!” (Laughs.) They were all amazed that I could just hop on it and knew how to tic-tac.
Had you seen any girl skating ever?
No. Not at all. Never.
Did you see like the girls in Public Domain (’88) later on?
Later. This is way before any of that. I’m talking like 1983-84 here. I rode that G&S Billy Ruff and then all the rich kids at my school had like brand new Mongoose scooters and Schmitt Stix ATVs. All these cool boards like the Vision Old Ghosts and all that. I didn’t know anything about it but I was like, “I need a f—king skateboard.” I knew Powell Peralta was just the shit, but my dad wouldn’t buy me a Powell Peralta. So he bought me a Variflex board from the sporting goods store and bought a Powell Peralta sticker to put over it. That was my first board (Laughs.)
Elissa’s breakout part from Toy Machine’s landmark video, Welcome to Hell (’96).