Skateboarding and the skateboard industry—no matter how polished parts of it may look today—were built on twin cornerstones of "Fuck You" and "I'll Do It Myself." When roller-skate manufacturers, the surf industry, and mainstream America at large failed to produce the products we needed to excel in the '70s (urethane wheels, precision bearings, trucks that turned, et cetera), skateboarders rolled up their sleeves, hoisted a middle finger, and built it themselves. Now, some 50 years since the dawn of our "industry," girl and women skateboarders worldwide face a similar scenario. Except this time, the entrenched status quo that is unwilling or unable to help them is the very industry supposedly built to include them.
Lacey Baker has tried playing her position. She rode for Element and a few other establishment pillars only to feel like she was continuously the bastard stepchild on the team. She has tried to live off of the meager contest earnings set up by Women's X Games and most recently Women's Street League—only to return to school for two years before working a nine-to-five in order to finance her skate "career." Now 24, Lacey is determined to take matters into her own hands. With Lisa Whitaker, Vanessa Torres, Amy Caron, and her crew at Meow Skateboards—in the DIY tradition of the industry's original pioneers in the '70s—Baker has decided to give up trying to find a place in the existing industry and instead simply up and build her own. Here's her full story to date.
Photos by Cameron Strand
What's been going on lately?
I just recently quit my job so that I could skate more. So that's kind of a big deal because I've been working full-time for the last two and a half years. It makes it kind of difficult to skate. I think I can progress more and maybe even… It would be nice to get paid, but I don't really get that right now, so I'm working freelance and just trying to skate as much as I can. I'm heading to New York in a bit to skate out there. I'm working on a video part.
Are you still working in graphic design?
Yeah. For the past two and a half years I was working in-house at a company. So I was working like nine-to-five in the marketing department there. I did a lot of their promos, flyers, catalogs, and all that good stuff. But I'm getting into freelance now with a friend of mine, John, who owns a branding agency, helping him to do logos, flyers, and the same types of things at a little bit of a better pay rate.
Is it scary to step away from the nine-to-five to live off skating?
Yeah, it is. Because I've given it a shot in the past where there were basically no opportunities for me to do anything. That was why I originally went back to school. I was going to go back for four years and get my bachelor's. But at school, I just had no income at all, so I got an associate's degree to graduate sooner and get a job. I was getting paid for a little while by a few of my sponsors, but the industry kind of shifted since then and I was no longer getting paid. I felt like I didn't know anyone in the industry, so I just worked for a while and skated in my free time. But I feel like it might be a good time to give it another try.
"The only part of my story that that contributes to is the fact that I got a board while I was in foster care."
I suppose when times are good the industry has more money to spread around.
Yeah. Even companies that aren't skateboarding companies originally but are trying to get into it. They try it out and then realize like, "Oh, we're not a skate company, so we won't make money here." And then they cut the whole team.
I'll go back and do the standard stuff. I read that you got your first board in foster care. Is that pretty much accurate?
That's as far as the story goes. Somebody made this video saying that I grew up in foster care and making it this whole big deal, but it really wasn't. The only part of my story that that contributes to is the fact that I got a board while I was in foster care. But my mom got her shit together and got us back really quickly. There wasn't like some weird struggle with that.
I read too that your dad was a guitarist for a couple of bands and that he had passed away. Was that when you were younger?
He passed away when I was a freshman in high school. But he also wasn't really around before that. Do you know Jeffery Marshall?
I know the name.
He's my brother. We have the same dad. Jeff obviously rips at skating, but he hasn't really been doing much with it lately. Our dad was in T.S.O.L. and some other rockabilly bands [The Cruzados, Dino's Revenge].
Was he in the movie Road House ['89] with Patrick Swayze.
He was. I don't know exactly what scene though. I think it was just a bar scene where he was playing guitar as an extra or something. He was definitely a ripper on the guitar. But yeah, he passed away when I was in high school.
I also read that he died of AIDS from IV drug use. It sounded pretty gnarly.
Yeah. It was unrelated to the foster care situation. He just wasn't around by then. My mom just needed to get her shit together.
"I just became obsessed. I didn't see my first video until I was maybe 10. I saw Baker 2G."
When did skating really click for you?
I would skate all the time growing up. In the yard and shit. Try to do ollies. But I would also fuck around on bikes and stuff like that. Whatever was around. Then I became really obsessed with skating by about seven or eight. I started trying to learn kickflips, and that was pretty much all that I cared about.
What attracted you to skateboarding specifically?
I never saw videos or anything, but I just became obsessed. I didn't see my first video until I was maybe 10. I saw Baker 2G ['00]. I didn't know shit about skating. My brother's friend that lived at the end of the cul de sac—he skated. But really I was skating on my own. I finally met a friend of mine called Evan; he's still one of my best friends. We grew up skating together, so we learned how to do tricks together. I met him at an NA [Narcotics Anonymous] meeting when I was going with my mom. His mom was in the program too, so we would both go skate together. He was a big inspiration. But a lot of the time I was just skating alone in my front yard.
Did you get psyched on the Baker name after you saw Baker 2G?
[Laughs] I was in elementary school and everybody would tell me like, "You should get sponsored by Baker because your last name is Baker." But regardless of my name, it was just one of my favorite companies because of that video and also Andrew Reynolds is just one of my biggest inspirations. I watched Flip Sorry ['02] a lot too. We had a little VHS player that we recorded a bunch of skate videos on. It was like Flip, Sorry, and Yeah Right! ['03]. We would watch those on repeat and just skate the front yard.
When did you first get a sponsor or even the idea that it might be something you would pursue for real?
I remember skating the front yard one day and I would always tell my mom that I wanted to be a pro skater. She says I ran in the house one day, all hyped and shit telling her about it. Eventually we met this guy Ryan Miller who is still a really close homie. He was doing these skate classes and my mom enrolled me in the classes as like a Christmas gift when I was like 10. Then I had done some of his classes and he would just start taking me to skate. He would drive all the way from the I.E. [Inland Empire] to pick me up in Covina [California], then drive all the way back to skate Chaffey with him and all his friends. They were all way older than me, and I was just this little girl trying to get up on the ledges at Chaffey.
That's rad you got to skate Chaffey.
Yeah. When I first went there I was like, "Oh my God, this place is amazing." They would tell me about the manual pad that used to be there, and I'd just be like, "I wish I was born in the '90s!" So he was the one who suggested like, "You should skate CASL [California Amateur Skateboard League] contests. So that was kind of how I got into competing. Like my mom would take me to all the contests around SoCal and do that whole game. It was fun. I loved it.
Did you skate against the dudes? Was there even a girls' division?
There was no girls' division; there were just age groups. So I skated in the age 10 to 15 group. I don't think I ever did that well. I remember one year I got second at the Chula Vista one. I don't even know how that happened. But I remember thinking it was pretty sick like, "Damn!" Because I was the only girl in the contest.
"I wish I could just get a fucking paycheck. But that's just the reality right now."
That's sick. That was actually one of my later questions. Do you think they should even have a girls' division?
Yeah. I mean the difference between men and women—men are just biologically stronger than us, so they can take harder slams and jump higher and do more shit like that. But the ability to understand skateboarding and the physics of it doesn't really change. I feel like if I was a dude, or had the body that could take a slam like that, I would probably be doing gnarlier shit. As far as working hard and skating every day, we don't do anything different than the guys do. They just do gnarlier shit.
Sometimes that can add to the style side. Like I always thought Elissa Steamer had one of the raddest styles, period.
For sure. That's kind of how I try to skate. Just approach it in a more creative way or different way so that I don't have to break myself off. I can't afford to get injured anyways. I don't even have insurance right now.
I read your interview from last year getting at the sexism in the skate industry. I suppose it's part of a wider societal problem. But has your opinion changed at all?
Well, I think what's happening now is that there is some progress because people are speaking out about it. So people are maybe paying attention more now. But you're right, I think it is a construct—it's just how the world is to a degree, and it bleeds over into everything. Skateboarding obviously having been a male-dominated sport, as much as I hate saying that and hate hearing it, it is what it is. I feel like from the girls' side of it, we're sort of on the outside looking in. At this point we're just trying to do our own things—start our own companies and do our own thing. Because the overall feeling is that there is no place for us here in this industry.
I did see a lot more women connecting on Facebook and stuff like that. Connecting with the older girl skaters from the '60s, '70s, '80s, and '90s to truly create your own network and companies.
Yeah. It's really cool. There is just nothing here currently to support us, so Lisa Whitaker started Meow Skateboards for that purpose. And people are stoked on Meow Skateboards. Its super DIY, it's a really small company. It's not like we have some big warehouse with a skatepark in it or anything. We just don't have the money for that. But it's rad to be a part of something that is so authentic. I was trying really hard to get on companies after what happened with Element. Back then Lisa had told me she wanted me on Meow but that I should try and get on something bigger because she thought I'd be able to. I tried to get on like five other companies, and I literally couldn't even get a hold of anybody. I was just like, "What am I doing wasting my time trying to be in this industry that has no space for me?" I called Lisa and told her I wanted to be a part of Meow.
You have talked about Street League adding the women's division. Any thoughts on them plugging it into the Olympics now in 2020? Any thoughts on the Olympics at large?
I have mixed feelings on the Olympics. On one hand, it's the Olympics. I guess it's still a big deal to people. But on the other hand, to us it's just another skate contest too. I think it will help women's skateboarding because at least in that setting men and women will hopefully be treated equally. At least it's a requirement to have both divisions in everything they do.
I suppose the girl skaters at the Olympics will certainly look far different from the girl gymnasts or something.
Yeah. We'll be up there dressed like garbage—wearing dirty clothes from yesterday and bleeding [laughs].
You mentioned all the girls needed long hair and push-up bras too to get scored highly at contests. Is that still an issue for you?
Yeah. I feel like once the Boardr guys started judging the X Games, we were judged more fairly. But it was definitely that year [LA X Games 2013]—other people were just coming up and telling me like, "You should have won." Even months afterwards, they were still coming up to me. I really do wish it was fair. But it isn't. I don't know. It sucks, but it happens. It's happened to me twice. I think judging skateboarding is always really difficult at the same time, so who knows? Everybody is different. But there is a fine line. And it's nothing where I would blame the other people for wearing more feminine clothes or anything. I just blamed the industry and the people who were judging. I have the utmost respect for every one of my peers out there. We all do our own thing, and that's what's so rad about it. But it does suck because contests are really the only way we can make money. I wish that weren't the case. I wish I could just get a fucking paycheck. But that's just the reality right now.
For what it's worth, the younger generations now do seem more gender neutral, as much as I hate that word.
Yeah. I think it's important to have shit that is gender neutral. Gender is a social construct to begin with. The whole reason why girls wear pink and boys wear blue is because that's been ingrained in our society. It doesn't really need to be like that. And there's actually a huge gray area for people that maybe were born female but don't feel that way or vice versa. What about those people? They're alive too. And they matter. I feel like skateboarding could be a good place for them, for us—because it's such an individualistic sport. There really should be no constructs, but I feel that the way the industry has gone, it only allows for you to be one way if you want to be in it. So hopefully, we can break those barriers down and be more accepting.
It seems like the punkest thing you could ever do would be to put a girl on your team.
Thank you for saying that. Yeah, it is. I feel like being a girl skater is more punk than being a dude in skating now. Because dudes have all these fucking corporate sponsors just waiting to pour money down their throats. We don't have that, but we still skate every day because we love it.