Skateboard pioneer Cindy Whitehead paves the way for the next generation of girl skaters
On May 13, 2016, former pro skateboarder Cindy Whitehead, a top-ranked vert skater in the '70s and a pioneer of the sport, was inducted into the Pro Skateboarding Hall of Fame. Musician Joan Jett, a woman whose tunes inspired Whitehead to push limits, gave the induction speech. "Cindy is all about breaking rules, taking risks, asking for what you want and not shrinking yourself to be light," Jett said that day. "A girl after my own heart."
Today, a pair of Whitehead's skate-tattered Pumas, along with her Sims team jersey and padded skate shorts, reside at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. She holds the distinction of being the only female skateboarder to be featured in a centerfold and two-page story in a major men's skate magazine. She runs a clothing brand, and she almost broke the internet in 2012 when her husband, photographer Ian Logan, posted a photo he took of her skateboarding down I-405 in Los Angeles while the highway was closed for the demolition of the Mulholland Bridge.
But those accolades have little to do with why Whitehead means so much to her sport. She has earned that distinction by spending the past two decades lifting up future generations of female skateboarders. Ask Whitehead about the current crop of skaters, and she can rattle off the bios and achievements of countless young women as easily as she can recount her own. In 2013, she started a girl-empowerment skate brand and movement called "Girl is NOT a 4 Letter Word," which supports and gives back to women in action sports. She regularly features photographs and interviews with up-and-coming skaters on the brand's website, and in 2014, she gave a TED Talk of the same name at TEDxYouth in Santa Monica.
"Don't be afraid to stand up and speak your mind," Whitehead said to close her TED Talk. "Don't be afraid to rock the boat. Don't be afraid to channel your inner rebel, and never be afraid to live life balls to the wall and do epic s---."
That's a mantra Whitehead has embodied since she turned pro in the mid-1970s. Back then, like any teen girl, she wanted her bedroom walls to reflect her passion. "But I couldn't find photos of girl skaters to put on my walls," she said. "I would look through skate magazines, but there were so few photos of girls and no posters. In all my years skateboarding, nobody has done a book about female skateboarders."
Late last month, Whitehead and Logan released their newest passion project, a 144-page hardcover book of Logan's photography featuring amateur and pro female skateboarders titled, "It's Not About Pretty: A Book About Radical Skater Girls." The pages are filled with colorful photography featuring women who Whitehead says inspire her through their skating and their actions off their boards.
"I've been waiting 35 years for this book," Whitehead said. "It's a documentary of girl skateboarders in this time, amateurs and pros who come from all types of skateboarding. We're so happy to give this book to them."
Whitehead shared a few of her favorite shots from the book and explained why the women in the photos are making history while making the sport better for the next generation of radical skater girls.
Lizzie Armanto, 24, Santa Monica, California
"Lizzie has been breaking barriers left and right, ushering women's skateboarding into mainstream media. That's what Tony Hawk did for the boys, and it's important because it shows that girl skaters are relevant outside of the skateboarding world.
"And she's doing it on her own terms. She's the most famous female skater in the world, but she doesn't take herself too seriously. She has two parts coming out in male-dominated skate films for 'Birdhouse' and 'Thrasher,' which is unheard of. As a skater, she's super exciting to watch. Her contest runs vary every time, and she's so smooth. She's very progressive, and I love her height on airs. She boosts."
Brighton Zeuner, 12, Encinitas, California
"When you watch Brighton ride, the lines she picks, her consistency and her ability to do back-to-back tricks say so much about her as a skater. To be 12 years old and have that much focus and be able to hold her own with pro skaters is incredible. She won the Vans Park Series women's world championship in August, in her first year as a pro. What more can I say than that? She is redefining what is possible for young female skaters. She trains hard. She has a vert ramp in her backyard. She's a little machine -- but with so much style. She's awesome to watch on a skateboard."
Poppy Starr Olsen, 16, Bondi Beach, Australia
"Poppy won her first contest as a pro, the 2016 Vans Girls Combi Bowl Classic, and beat all the top girls. She's also an amazingly talented artist and a motivational speaker who's spoken at Google. She's given a TEDx Talk.
"She funds her trips to the U.S. to compete with motivational speaking, by selling a line of greeting cards featuring her artwork and by painting the stoplight boxes in her hometown. I think her artwork will be collected for years to come. On a skateboard, she does a lot of tricks other girls aren't doing yet. I'm impressed the thoughts come to her to even try these tricks."