Lizzie Armanto interview02.04.2019
We caught up with Vans and Birdhouse professional Lizzie Armanto at the House of Vans event in Berlin for a chat about women’s skateboarding in 2019. Lizzie stars in Vanguards, a new film from Vans, which you can watch here.
Portrait and interview: Kingsford
2019 already feels like a big year for recognition of women’s skateboarding. All-girl videos are in production, all-girl trips are increasingly common and female Olympic teams have recently been announced.
I feel like there have been quite a few leaps recently, each one being a little bit further. I think it’s awesome. There is no reason there shouldn’t be more women in skateboarding and it’s cool to start seeing more coverage and opportunities for more women and girls.
It feels like brands have finally realised there is this potentially huge new market.
Yes. When I first started skating, there was a stigma around being a skateboarder. I mean for men and women. I think for a while people always just saw skateboarders as troublemakers, like obnoxious. More recently there have been so many more appearances of skateboarding in mainstream media and I think that’s helped normalise it. When I first started skateboarding, the participation of women was so small in comparison to now. Now in the am divisions a couple of the contests are packed. They get maxed out. That was never a problem when I was growing up skating. It was usually like: “Is there enough women to throw a contest?”
Do you see women’s skateboarding as separate from men’s? Should it be?
I think skateboarding is not specific to one. I don’t think woman and girls getting into the skate industry need to be in their own category. Women have different style. Everyone has different style, but I think women can have their own feminine style and define that. But I don’t think that the industry should be saying: “Oh yeah we have a girls’ team and a girls’ programme.” It should be just under an umbrella of: “This is the skate team.”
What do you think about girl-only skate sessions as a way to give girls starting out confidence at the skatepark?
It’s funny because I just talked about this with some of my friends. Recently this girl and her dad were talking about how there needs to be more women-exclusive skate camps where they can just focus on learning and not be bothered. When you’re beginning at anything it’s really hard and I’m sure it does help for some people being in the right environment. That’s specific to each person. Everyone has their environment that works for them. I think it’s cool that little girls can have that space and women too if they feel that it’s necessary. I didn’t have that luxury and I don’t even know if it is a luxury. In my opinion I think my style is the way it is because I’ve skated with so many men. I think it’s cool that there are these places for people who want them, but I just want to skate with my friends, not just only my women friends or male friends.
Have you ever competed against men?
I’ve done a few contests where I’ve skated with the guys.
How was that?
It was fun. I still like doing it. I feel like I push myself more, just because the level of skating is so much higher. I have this extra bit of pressure on myself.
In your Thrasher interview you described being in the van with the Birdhouse guys. Do you think guys in that situation change their behaviour because you are there?
I think inherently they do, just because the energy of the van is different. It just is. They don’t hold back completely, I know that for sure. Being in the van is hectic.
Have you ever been on an all-girl trip?
Yes I have. I went on the Thrasher Hotshots thing and it’s different. I think a lot of those girls haven’t been on tour like that before and it takes a second to get used to. I could tell there were some people who were like figuring out the flow of things.
Which is your preference?
I mean I’m so close to all the Birdhouse team. I feel like because they’re my friends, I want to go on trips with them. Not that I don’t want to go on trips with women and girls only – those are fun trips too. They’re a little different.
Are you taken to spots that are right for you when you are on tour with guys?
On a Birdhouse trip a lot of the dudes are street skateboarders and a big part of the day goes out to street skating. It wasn’t until later on that we figured out the flow. Like if we’re in a certain city, I’m going to wake up early and go skate this park in the morning. Then all day I’m with the guys and I’ll skate what I can, but most of the spots aren’t for me. But that would happen on any trip with transition and street. I already feel like they have to go out of their way for me.
But you still enjoy hanging out and watching street skating.
Yeah it’s fun. It’s cool with my friends. When I watch a video online, it’s so different than being there in person and feeling the energy of the session, watching your friends pull off fucked up things or slam really gnarly. It’s very humbling and it’s cool to see each person’s different flow of how they approach it.
Have you ever worked with female photographers and filmers?
Yes I have. I answered this question wrong a long time ago and I got burned out. A couple of people gave me like 20,000 paragraph emails. I have shot with female photographers and videographers and I’m down with it, I think it’s cool, but depending on the trip they (the brand) pick the photographer. Like Vans has a staff photographer for example.
How do you think more girls could be encouraged to start filming or shooting photos?
I feel like I’m the wrong person to ask about that because each person has their own story about how they got into it and found their way. Like some people have a family member who is a photographer and so they love photography and find out skateboard photography is their passion. As more women get into skating, I think that avenue will grow. I think it’s important that companies realise that it’s not about having a token girl or: “We have a female photographer.” It’s about having someone who is qualified, not based on the fact that they are male or female. And that goes for skating too. There are companies that flow girls just because they have a lot of followers, not based on their actual skating.
They are more like influencers.
Yeah. Not that what they do is wrong, but I think there’s a credibility aspect. If you’re putting people on for the wrong reasons… It should be about how you skate. That’s been a big thing for me. Throughout my career I’ve been offered a pro board, I’ve been offered a pro wheel, but I wanted to do it the right way and not just get it because I’m female. I wanted it to be respected by skateboarders.
Do team managers take care of your needs on tour – for example bathroom stops, and separate hotel rooms – or is there still a learning curve?
That all-girl NHS trip was a huge learning curve for the guys looking after us. A lot of the girls hadn’t been on tour and the team managers were like: “How do we deal with girls?” They held it together pretty well, but I could see the wheels in their head turning, like: “What do I do?” Birdhouse and Vans have been really cool. Vans has always made sure I got my own room, same with Birdhouse. There was one situation where we got to the hotel so late we couldn’t check in and it ended up being so sketchy, so we ditched the whole plan and split everyone up into small groups and shared rooms, just so we had a place to sleep. There are always situations where you have to rough it. I say rough it but we were still in a hotel.
Do you feel pressure as a role model in female skateboarding?
I think I put pressure on myself anyway. I feel like everyone should be the best version of themselves and treat others as they want to be treated. If everyone holds themselves more accountable, the world might be a respectable place.
The pressure is there but it’s weird because it’s come along with everything, by pursuing what I wanted to do. I never set up to be a role model. It’s still kind of weird for me in my head. I haven’t wrapped my brain around it.
In terms of women’s skateboarding, things seem to be moving in the right direction, but what still needs to change?
Like I mentioned before, the criteria for any skater being sponsored should be based on ability versus other things. I think part of it is also girls not knowing when to ask for things and when not to. That’s really hard. It’s so weird to ask to be sponsored. You have to be at the level. If you suck I feel you shouldn’t just ask for free products. You should be able to skate and if you know what companies you’re into and the things you want to be a part of, it doesn’t hurt to ask. To a certain degree you’re putting yourself out there and it’s a vulnerable place to be, but you’ll never get there by not asking.