'80s Skateboarder, Stephanie Person - What You Didn't Read in Thrasher!

Monday, February 22, 2021

Stephanie Person skating a demo at the 49ers football game

 

You may not know her skate history (yet), but one thing for sure is Stephanie Person paved the way for so many girls today, and it’s time her story was heard.

 

This started out as an interview but developed into more of a long and interesting conversation because Stephanie’s story is compelling, intense, and honest. Her path in skateboarding during the ’80s was not always easy. Still, she was always out there making things happen for herself and ultimately changing the game for the girls and women who came after her.

 

Read on to hear what it was like to be the very first, Black female pro skateboarder.

 

*This article has been edited and condensed for clarity

 


Cindy: I know you started skateboarding at age 16, and your rise was pretty fast; how did you start making a name for yourself in skateboarding?


Stephanie: I put on a skateboard competition when I was in high school; actually, this skater kid came up to me; he said, let’s do a competition at our high school, but then they said that was a liability. So then we asked to do it at the community center.


 

We needed sponsors and prizes. The skater kid said to me, you make the calls – so I was like, OK, I will. I had TransWorld and Thrasher Magazines, and I looked in the back. All the phone numbers were there, and every company that I called donated something for the competition as prizes. So I had UPS coming to my house every day for a couple of weeks. In fact, Gullwing was my first truck sponsor because of this.


Then the Community Center said they changed their mind because they were worried about the liability. I was like, oh my God, everyone is coming from everywhere, now what?


So I ended up changing the date to the 4th of July and holding it in a Park and Ride parking lot, as I knew it would be empty that day. My mom kept saying, don’t do it. If someone gets hurt, I’m going to be liable - because I wasn’t eighteen at the time.


We had banners going around this entire parking lot, and five hundred kids came. We had sponsored amateurs from everywhere. And that’s when my name got on the map.

 


 Stephanie with her skate team



Cindy: That is huge, putting on a skate contest and getting all the sponsors lined up – especially since you were only in high school. What did you do next?


Stephanie: Then the O’Brien brothers, who were sponsored skaters, knocked on my door. They wanted me to throw another contest during the time the Capitola Classic was coming -all the pros come in for that. I said no as the first contest almost gave me a nervous breakdown. Eventually, I said yes, and I did everything again. All the guys came from the Capitola Classic, and Kevin Thatcher asked, are you the Black girl that threw this contest? I said yes, and the next thing I knew, it was everywhere that Stephanie Person put on the Montague Contest.


Cindy: Did you also travel for contests within California?


Stephanie: Then I started entering other competitions; there was one in Oceanside, and they did have a female freestyle division. I was about seventeen. I started skating street. Then I did CASL contests and did a lot of those in Southern California in the '80s. Then I met Cara-Beth Burnside, and vert skating took off again. That's when Judi Oyama (’70s pro-female vert skater on Santa Cruz) called up Richard Novak and got me hooked up with Santa Cruz.

 

 

 

Photo of Stephanie by Judi Oyama


 


Cindy: I hope you don’t mind Stephanie, but we decided to ask Judi what made her push for you to be on the Santa Cruz team. Here are Judi’s memories from that time…

 


“The first time I saw Stephanie skate, she caught my eye, not because she was a young woman vert skater, but because she was aggressive and had a style that was strong and fluid. She didn’t hold back and went for moves that most guys couldn’t even make. I knew that Stephanie had talent and would be a good representative for Santa Cruz Skateboards. She coached me to knee slide on the Raging Waters half pipe before I tried to ride it. She said if you can fall, you won’t get hurt. Sitting on the edge and taking the leap of faith that I wouldn’t get hurt was a great tip. I use it to this day when I see young girls learning to ride the deep stuff.” ~ Judi Oyama  



Cindy: When you finished High School, did things change for you?


Stephanie: I ended up moving to Southern California and living with eight street skaters, I was skating vert at that time, but I stayed with them in that house for about six months


I was like, everyone is so sponsored, and I don’t see any other girls ever except a couple, so I thought, why can’t I be sponsored? So I started calling around, just like I did, to get sponsors for those skateboard competitions. I ended up getting sponsored by a ton of companies.


I was first sponsored by Madrid back then, and a skateboard shop in San Jose was my first shop sponsor. Then Rector Pads, Speed Wheels, Venture, Billabong, and Swatch. That was very interesting because I called Swatch up and said, “you guys have a new team out, but you don’t have any girls.” They said they had their team, but I kept explaining that having a female team rider would bring so much more attention to their demos.



I had opened up a 49er’s football game on the vert ramp – Christian Hosoi was there. We were asked to do stuff like that from time to time, so I explained that when you have a big crowd watching, not everyone skates, and most people don’t even know what a 50/50 grind is, but when they watch a girl drop-in, that gets attention. The company agreed, and then I was on Swatch.


Editors Note: Swatch was a popular company that made inexpensive (compared to quartz) watches with colorful plastic faces and bands. Swatch was very well-known and successful in the mid-’80s – ultra-cool. They tapped into musicians and skateboarders to popularize their brand. 

 


I got all these sponsors myself, which people found to be very different; if there was a sponsor I wanted, I went after it.

 


 

 

    1986 Thunder Trucks Ad in Thrasher featuring Stephanie Person

 


 

Cindy: I noticed something interesting when I was researching you, Stephanie. You used to skate for Thunder Trucks, is that right?


 Stephanie: Yes.

 

Cindy: And they did an ad with you in Thrasher magazine, way back in 1986.

 

Stephanie: Yes, they did.

 

Cindy: It’s interesting because Samarria Brevard, the only Black female skater we have on the women’s USA National skateboard team, is currently sponsored by Thunder Trucks. I don’t think people realize that you paved the way for this situation, and for other situations that we will get to later in this interview.

 

Editors Note: It was almost unheard of for a company to put an ad in a mag like Thrasher of a female skater in 1986. Forget Black or White. Just talking about gender here. It was rare. And if you add race on top of gender, Stephanie was really setting herself apart and breaking skateboarding stereotypes for generations to come.

 

 

Stephanie: I’ve been in Thrasher a few times.

 

Cindy: You’ve been in quite a few magazines that people may not be aware of, right?

 

Stephanie: Yeah, there was a skateboard magazine called Power Edge, and I wrote an article for that called “Equal Time” or something. I was in Thrasher in a feature about girls skateboarding called "Sugar and Spice...?" And the Thunder Trucks ad in Thrasher. I was in TransWorld and had a few other photos in magazines here and there. I was also in the 1984 skate video, Future Primitive – doing a boneless. In 2010 I was featured in "How We Roll" a six-month exhibition of Black Surf and Skate Culture at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles. They used that photo of me about the exhibit on a billboard during the X Games that year - that was cool! 

 

 

 

 

 Stephanie (BW shot on right) "Sugar and Spice..?" April 1986 issue of Thrasher

 

 

Cindy: People may not realize how rare it was for a girl to get coverage skating vert back in those days. In the 70s, Skateboarder magazine covered the girls doing freestyle, slalom, and a few banked walls. Then when we transitioned into vert, it became more about the guys in every issue. It was almost as if they were saying, "girls don’t skate pools and half-pipes." But you pushed past that and kept pushing for coverage when it was mainly TransWorld and Thrasher. 

 

How many girls did you skate with back then?

 

 

Stephanie: There was; Cara-Beth, Lori Rigsby, and I, and everybody else was not very strong. They weren’t very legit.



Cindy: And you girls didn’t have female divisions in contests like we did, right? We had the Gold Cup Series and the Hester Series, and we had to go out there and skate and practice for those contests every day. But what did you girls have as far as contests?


Stephanie: There were no female competitions, so we skated against the guys.


Cindy: We had that same situation in the beginning, and then we got women’s competitions.

 


Stephanie at a backyard ramp with her male skater friends



Stephanie: My entire adult skate career, I don’t know how many dozens and dozens of competitions I entered, but I was always skating against the guys.


Cindy: So, we actually went backward during that time with women in skate. For our group, when the skateparks closed, a lot of the girls dropped out to go to college, or they were focused on relationships, etc. You were the generation that kept that underground scene going. So punk compared to any other part of skateboarding.



Stephanie: Super underground, especially living in Northern California, because they were really into punk rock and all the punk bands. In Southern California, it was more like George Michael and dayglow. When I was in high school, I was listening to Ska, and I was listening to rockabilly and punk, that very NorCal vibe.


Cindy: Judi Oyama and I talked about that over the years. You have to really want it when you live in NorCal, because it was not like SoCal, where there were skate parks everywhere, and it was easy to skate. And almost all the manufacturers were down here. Luckily, you have NHS up there, and you skated for Santa Cruz, which we’ll get to in a second. But even now, there is this whole thing about being from NorCal – to me, NorCal is very punk and core in skate – like Steve Olsen core.

 



Stephanie in Fallbrook late'80s ~ Photo Mark Waters



Stephanie: I think during your era, it was like, a lot of parks closed of insurance problems.

 And after that, I believe that women really, just in general, had a hard time. 

 

Back then, I think when I was around, guys would try to pit me against Cara-Beth and Lori all the time, just because we were the only females. I don’t like that feeling. It gives me a rash.


Cindy: Yes, Judi and I have always been on the same page with that – bringing girls up with you is what we should all be doing. Unfortunately, some don’t feel that there is enough of the pie to go around, and that creates an insular situation – which no one benefits from in the long run.


Cindy: I read that in 1988 you turned pro. Is that correct?


Stephanie: Yes, but it wasn’t like that was the year I turned pro. You really didn’t have a choice – there were no amateur competitions in Europe where I was skating, so you had to compete in the pro divisions.


Cindy: It’s interesting to hear this and discuss it because nowadays, people feel that being pro means you have a pro model board. Girls didn’t have that back in the day – in freestyle days, yes – but only a couple girls had those pro models, but not during the vert days in the late ’70s and ’80s. During my era, you turned pro by going to a contest, entering the women’s pro division, and then you couldn’t go back to AM.


Stephanie: There were no amateur contests, no girls divisions in Europe. You just skated. A lot of the Americans were coming over to Europe to skate. So first I went over there to visit, then I moved there. I was skating with Tony Hawk and skating in the Pro Series. I lived there for 16 years.


The story behind that is so crazy because there was a picture of me doing a Frontside Air on an L-shaped ramp at a waterslide park which ran in the San Jose Mercury newspaper. I had Santa Cruz wheels in it – Richard Novak put it on the office wall there. Soon after, he asked for the team’s ideas and insights for a new video, and I was the only one who sent a page of ideas in. Later I approached Richard with a plan for me and Jeff Hedges, another AM, to go to Europe, promote the brand, hand out stickers, meet with shops, etc. Jeff said, “he will never pay for us to go to Europe,” but after hearing my pitch, Richard pulled out his Rolodex and started going through it and asked when we wanted to go and when do you want to come back – I’m green lighting this for you guys to go.


When we got back, I found out that the guys were complaining about me – they were saying I slept with everyone in Europe, which was not true because I was a virgin until I was 24 years old. I was getting too much attention, and there was jealousy, and I was asked to leave the team. I was about 20 years old at this point. I felt like had I been a guy, none of this would have been a problem.  


This got me to Death Box, which back then was a small company in Europe, which ended up turning into Flip with Jeremy Fox. They asked me to ride for them, so it ended up being in my favor that I got off Santa Cruz and rode for them.


Cindy: What age were you when you first started with Santa Cruz?


Stephanie: I think I was like 19 years old then. I went to Europe at age twenty and stayed there for sixteen years. I came back when I was about thirty-five. My family kind of fell apart here in California, so I didn’t know where to go. So I thought I’ll just stay in Europe and live the life. And I did. I toured for five years, all over while I was there.



Cindy: As I remember, that was a point in time for skateboarding that while parks were closing here and people were turning to street. Things in Europe were still happening with vert because they were still embracing what we thought we had lost.

 

 

 

 

 Stephanie in Germany doing an interview at a contest

 

 

 

Stephanie: When I did go to Europe to skate, I found that it was very different. People were very sweet and kind and awesome. It was a very different cultural experience.


J. Grant Brittain was over there covering contests, so people there were now hearing about me, but here in the states, they weren’t because I chose to be in Europe. I was still skating full hardcore, but I ended up losing contact with people like Judi because I was over there for so long.



Cindy: Back when you skated, forget female skaters, there probably weren’t any black skaters, male or female, is that right?


Stephanie: There were maybe a handful of Black male skaters.

 

There were no Black female skaters, except me during that time.


Cindy: Not to mention, you were like one of three girls skating hard – that’s not a lot. This is why it’s crucial to hear stories like yours, Stephanie – we are all getting older. The women’s stories in skateboarding are not being told in depth. When we are gone, those stories will go with us unless they are preserved for future generations.


Stephanie: Oh, I have a lot of stories from back in those days…


Cindy: I know you were recently featured in Thrasher sharing some of your skate history, which is pretty great!


Stephanie: Yes, but when Thrasher interviewed me, there’s all this stuff I really wanted to talk about but didn’t get to.


Cindy: OK, let's talk about that stuff here. 

 


 

For instance, my experience was very different from Lori Rigsby’s. It was: girls shouldn’t skate; get the fuck out of here. Those were, like, tough situations. I went to a skateboard ramp in the south, and the Klan came and tried to beat me up.

 

 

Photo of Stephanie ~ Martin Willners

 

 

I had a very famous skateboarder try and rape me in a hotel room because I was just by myself. I wasn’t Laurie the blonde golden girl, or Cara-Beth, who grew up in the whole royalty of the Vans era and had all those people backing her. I never had a spot either, like Cara-Beth had Del Mar, and all we had was ramps that kept getting torn down. So I never had a consistent skate spot, you’d get used to one ramp, and then that was gone, and you’d have to skate shitty, even worse ramps. 

 

 

 

 

It always felt like I never had backup from a group of guys, I was always fighting my way to stay relevant and be me, and it was never easy. Everything, every single story, every single second of it was absolutely grueling and very hard.




 

 

 

Cindy: That was obviously extremely hard, and I am sorry you had to go through all that, but just know you opened so many doors – like Judi getting you on Santa Cruz, she has quietly done the same thing in the past few years, getting Minna Stess on the team. And, of course, Samarria is now on Thunder Trucks – you paved the way for that door to open up back in 1986. These are only two examples. There are so many more Black girls skating nowadays, and you led the charge.


Cindy: When did you stop skating vert – or have you?


Stephanie: What eventually took me out of skateboarding was I busted my knee – it took ten surgery's  and four years of recovery to get over that. If that never happened, I’d still been skating hard and probably would have done even more.



Cindy: I really appreciate the time and depth you are giving us for this conversation. These are things that we, as female skaters, don’t usually share or get asked about – so thank you for being so honest, raw, and real.


Judi and I think that next up for you should be a Skateboarding Hall of Fame nomination!


Stephanie: Aw, thank you, you girls are so sweet!


Cindy: Thank YOU! I appreciate that you fought so hard for yourself and others in skateboarding. As a Black female skater, you paved the way for so many girls today, so thank you so much for all you’ve done, and just know what there’s a lot of us that definitely appreciate it!


You can follow Stephanie on her Instagram





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