Leilani Kiyabu

Leilani Kiyabu was called an overnight success in her “Who’s Hot” feature by Jim Goodrich in the December 1978 issue of Skateboarder. “Lani” was born in Germany, then moved to Hawaii where she learned to skate at age 11, but without support, she set it aside until her family moved to San Diego, where she was fortunate to have a neighbour with a ramp. “I didn’t really want to skate in front of the guys right away, but they just pushed me and made me try harder.”

Photo: Jim Goodrich

Her friend, Layne Oaks got her a job at the El Cajon skatepark, and pools and ramps became her favourite terrain. In October 30, 1977 she competed at a Halloween contest at El Cajon and placed 3rd in Girls Freestyle, and in the Bowl-riding event she was up against the boys age 14-17 and won!

Leilani was soon sponsored by Banzai skateboards and the day after she joined the team was flown to Newark, CA for a contest. On May 26, 1978, she won the Hester-Bowl #3 competition at the Ride-On skatepark in Newark, ahead of Kim Cespedes, after Robin Logan broke her arm.

Curtis Hesselgrave reported on the Hester #3 contest for Skateboarder, noting that, “Kim Cespedes and Leilani Kiyabu duelled for the prize. Both women skated strongly, riding the top of the bowl in carves and kick turns. After 3 runs each, Leilani came out ahead, performing beautiful frontside and backside kick turns on the coping and some very tasty cess slides. It’s great to see the women competing in the bowls, demonstrating by their presence that this high energy area of skating is not limited to men alone. Let’s see more of you ladies!”

Kiyabu wished that more girls were competing, and her favourite skaters were Vicky Vickers and Ellen Oneal. Kiyabu had actually collided with Vickers in the Doubles bowl event at the Newark contest, but there were no hard feelings. Di Dootson reported that, “It was a fast bowl, and deep. In their Doubles practise Lani and Vicki collided in the bottom as both were coming down from the lip. Lani was hurt a bit but Vicki was hurt with internal injuries and taken to the hospital. Both girls are fine now but Vicki was laid up for a week. A sobering incident.”

Photos: Eric Holt, Jim Goodrich

A few months later in July 1978, Kiyabu and Terry Lawrence went head to head at the Big O Skatepark in Orange County. Terry took first prize as they hit 15 one-wheelers, and Lelilani 12. And the following year, February 1979 at the Lakewood Pro bowl contest, Lawrence again took first place over Kiyabu, although she was nursing a knee injury.

Kiyabu was sponsored by G&S, and joined the “Skateboard Mania” show, which premiered at the L.A. Forum in Los Angeles, 1978. It involved a 2-year roadtrip, performing almost daily with skaters having “parts” in the show. Leilani, Kerry Cooper, and Deanna Calkins played “Asteroid Sisters,” with Vicki Vickers as the “Space Queen,” and Laurie McDonald and Judi Oyama (among a host of others) played skate aliens.

Apparently, the heroic skateboarders would battle against an “Evil Emperor,” with everyone dressed in glitter! Amazing.

Leilani Kiyabu’s favourite parks were Spring Valley and Oasis.

Contest results:

  • 1st place in Bowl (mixed gender), 3rd place in Girls Freestyle. October 1977 at El Cajon skatepark.
  • 1st place in Women’s Bowl, Hester’s series #3. May 1978 in Newark, CA at the Ride-On Skatepark.
  • 2nd place in Women’s Park, Hester’s series #4. July 1978 in Orange, CA at the Big O Skatepark.
  • 2nd place in Women’s Bowl, Lakewood Pro. February 1979.


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