Elissa Steamer Gizmo interview

28.05.2019 Exclusive, Interviews

Sirus F Gahan caught up with legendary skateboarder Elissa Steamer at the London premiere of Gizmo, Nike SB‘s first all-female skate film (which you can watch here) for a quick chat about working on the new film, her hiatus from professional skateboarding, Chico Brenes, being welcomed back with open arms and female empowerment.

Interview: Gahan
Portrait: Veldman

Do you have any memories from skating the UK back in the day?
One of the first times I left the States was to come to Europe, and the first place we came was England. We went to Radlands back in 1999, in Southampton? Northampton?

Yes, Northampton.
Skating there and stuff. I remember we went to a museum the day we arrived just trying to stay awake. It was really cool.

How did Gizmo come together as a project?
The people at Nike said they wanted to do a video project featuring women and asked if I’d be part of it. I said: “Yeah.” After a couple of trips it became an all-women film. We just filmed for it for like a year. We just made it (laughs) and that’s how it happened!

Previously whenever you’ve had video parts it was more a process of accumulating footage with various filmers, then getting it all together at the end. Was this video a different experience?
Yes it was. If I wanted to film something it had to be in the same format or whatever, so instead of collecting footage with other people, I’d just film with Jason (Hernandez) and Tyler (Smolinksi) for this.  They both live in LA and I live in SF, so it was only ever on trips that I’d get to get footage.

Can you talk a little bit about leaving and then returning to professional skateboarding? What made you leave in the first place
Well, in 2011 I didn’t have a board sponsor and therefore I didn’t have a shoe sponsor. Back then you had to have a board sponsor to be considered a professional skateboarder. Things have changed since. There was a series of things: I took up surfing a lot, I had knee surgery, and I didn’t have a shoe contract or a board sponsor. I just like started doing my own thing and surfing, laying low and working on Gnarhunters and stuff like that.

Then the return was I guess at the end of 2017. I started skating and actually enjoying myself. I was skating with Frank a lot.

Frank Gerwer?
Yes, I skated with Frank Gerwer a bunch and just enjoyed myself. So then I just called up Kasper (van Lierop) at Nike one day and told him I want my old job back (laughs). I didn’t have a board sponsor then either, but I noticed that things had changed – people were having shoe deals without board sponsors. I started putting out a couple clips here and there and he started getting in touch with me. We just kinda worked something out, then I actually got on Baker two days after I signed the contract with Nike.

So you said between 2011 and 2017 you were laying low, surfing a lot. Were you skating that whole time too?
No. Between 2011-15 I probably skated 10 or 15 times.

You just fell out of love with it?
Yes, I guess so.  

Were you injured during that time?
I did have knee surgery in 2011 and I just never got back into it. I mean, I did the rehab to be able to walk and be strong, surf and stuff like that. I just didn’t start to skate again. You know I skated almost every day for a long time, since I was 10 years old. I was 36 or 37 or something and I don’t know, I just took a little break. It was kind of a much-needed break too because I fell back in love with it. I always followed it and loved it, I just didn’t do it that much.

In terms of coming back, I heard that Chico (Brenes) really helped getting you out skating again.
Yes, to some extent. He would hit me up and tell me to come skate, and then every time I’d be skating he’d be filming me, and making me film him and stuff like that (laughs). I think it was just like an inspiration, not like a pat on the back, but like a kick in the ass to get me out to skate and stuff.

Was he making skating fun for you again? Less of a chore and more of a fun session…
Oh yes for sure. Chico’s always fun to skate with because he’s loud and energetic and he always has a good time. I would see him every once and a while and he’d be like: “Let’s skate”, then he started surfing, so he started hitting me up about surfing. Then the tables shifted: he got super into surfing and I got into skating again.

It seemed like the industry welcomed you back wholeheartedly, with arms wide open. Was that a surprise? What did you think the reception would be?
I don’t really know what I thought, but yes, it was really exciting. I felt very welcomed back and supported. I was just so stoked that I wanted to do something and it worked out, you know? Skateboarding didn’t turn its back on me, which is rad. Even though I may have turned my back on skateboarding, because I didn’t do it for a long time. It felt good to be welcomed back with open arms and love. It was really great.

Frontside tailslide, Veldman

What’s skating like now, after your hiatus? How’s your body?
Well, my body’s old you know? Some days are better than others.

You’ve said previously that you’re behind total inclusivity in skateboarding, having it less about just girls or just guys skating together, and more about everyone together. How does this view with projects like Gizmo? Should there be more projects like this, giving girls a space for themselves?
Oh yes, I think there should be space for whatever anybody wants. If people want to do a video where they only ride fakie, I think there should be space for that you know (laughs). Whatever you want, that’s the beauty of skateboarding: creative freedom. You don’t have to do something; you get to do whatever you want.

Do you feel like brands should be doing more to push all-female projects?
No I think it should be a free for all, but I think it’s nice that they did this with Gizmo. It’s a totally different experience to any one I ever had before.

What were the differences travelling for Gizmo, compared to something like a Toy trip back in the day?
It was no different shooting it, it was just that the people were different and the vibes were different.

I read in your Solo interview that female empowerment wasn’t a goal of yours when you were younger. Has that changed?
I think it’s important to me now, female empowerment, human empowerment. I think it’s all really important, I think women as a society… you know I don’t know about the British society, but the American society kind of tells women they’re not worth it, so they should get paid less for doing the same job as a man. Society kind of tells you that you should look a certain way, so you can get a certain way, or you should be a certain way so you can get something. If you speak up, you’re bitchy, you know? If you state your needs, you’re complaining. I feel like that’s kind of bullshit and should be different.