For most skateboarders today, when you hear mention of “The Skate Witches,” you might associate the reference to The Skate Witches ‘zines by Kristen Ebeling and Shari White or the Bronx-based skate crew The Brujas, which both emerged simultaneously in 2014, or even The No Comply Coven that formed in 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa. It makes sense, as they all share a common 1980s inspiration!
In a 2017 interview with Monster Children about the origins of the ‘zine, Ebeling explains that ten years prior her friend showed her Danny Plotnick’s cult-classic video “The Skate Witches” on YouTube. “Because of that video I ended up getting a broom and skateboard Skate Witches tattoo when I was 19. Fast forward a couple years and Tony at 35th North skate shop in Seattle offered us a spot in the All City Showdown video. Once we had our team figured out, we just needed a name. Naturally, we thought The Skate Witches would be a pretty good fit.”
Ebeling and White produced sixteen Skate Witches ‘zines and have gone on to direct and inspire multiple skateboarding projects and initiatives, as described in their Thrasher interview (May 5, 2018) and showcased in a Vans video feature (June 16, 2020).
The original video by Plotnick was two-minutes-long and filmed on Super 8 in the summer of 1986, featuring the entertaining performances of Dana Mendelssohn, Jenny Parker, and Karen Kibler. Plotnick was attending the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor at the time.
The three skate witches wear leather jackets, claim to skate at midnight, steal skateboards, terrorize the guys, and require a pet rat to be part of their crew, all to the classic soundtrack of “Skate and Destroy” by The Faction, which included the legendary Steve Caballero.
In a 2018 interview for the website Damn Arbor, Plotnick shared some of the back story:
“Dana, the witch in the Misfits t-shirt, had talked about wanting to get her old skateboard from her family home and bring it with her back to Ann Arbor. Obviously, Ann Arbor spreads out, and she thought a skateboard would be a great way to get around town a lot quicker. However, she felt she would get hassled by all the boy skateboarders in town… Dana mentioned this when we were all hanging out. Karen, the queen witch, mentioned she used to skate when she lived in Grand Rapids. I joked that they should form a gang called The Skate Witches. Jenny, the witch that keeps pushing guys off their skateboards, said she didn’t skate, but she’d be happy to join the gang.”
While the skateboard gang in real life didn’t quite pan out, as Dana and Karen never retrieved their boards, Plotnick was convinced that the concept was still great fodder for a film, plus, Dana and Danny’s pet rats (Maggie and Mr. Ig Wig) would have a critical role.
Plotnick also spoke to the popularity of the short film, as a glimpse into something authentic, alternative, and pre-digital from the 1980s, outside of mainstream crap that is sometimes associated with the decade, essentially, “the film serves as a time capsule of a certain moment.”
The comment from Dana, being concerned about getting harassed from the guys was also noted. Plotnick shared that, “Skate culture was obviously big in the 1980s, but the documentation and the lore of that era probably features little in the way of women skaters. And any woman skating probably did get grief… The film was born out of Dana’s frustration around the likelihood of being given grief for something she wanted to do.”
Plotnick acknowledged that the appeal to more contemporary groups like The Skate Witches and the Brujas likely relates to that desire to be taken seriously as skaters. Ebeling echoes this sentiment when she shared that “The main motive for the zine is to make non-traditional skaters feel badass and inspired to get out and skate” (Abada). While the ‘zine wasn’t an official crew, since they were open to anyone who was down to contribute, The Brujas were more of a collective.
The Brujas, in interviews for the The New York Times and Vibe.com, highlight that they chose to name their crew in honour of the ’80s video because “their main principal is sisterhood,” building a community of support, and they felt that skateboarding is a political act. Arianna Gil, who helped found the Brujas in 2014 nailed it when she commented on, “Silly boys acting like they’ve never seen a girl before… Skater bros all think they’re rebels, but who are the real outsiders here?”
The Brujas, as a crew that celebrates diversity and the representation and inclusion of BIPOC and LGBTQ2S+ skaters, sparked a movement that continues today and made its way around the world to Johannesburg, South Africa!
The No Comply Coven was initiated in 2017 by Alicia Van Zyl, who had turned 30 and wanted to reignite her passion for skateboarding. The group started out with great intentions, donating blood, distributing goods to people in need, but any attempt at a ladies’ skate session was faced with hostility, threats, and even rape jokes by the local dudes. Fortunately, this only motivated the women, and a coven was born! Now, with the support of Kelly Murray, who is a Coach for Skateistan, things have changed and marginalized skaters in that community are being empowered.
Danny Plotnick is now the Director of Film Studies at the University of San Francisco and has kept loosely in touch with the original skate witches. While Karen is more off-grid and lives in Michigan, Jenny moved to the Pacific Northwest, and Dan would reach out to her whenever he visited the area on tour. He’s still in touch with Dana, who owns a tattoo shop in Ann Arbor (Lucky Monkey Tattoo) as they filmed other features together like a video called “Boston Strangler” by Dana’s band The Vertical Pillows, as well a documentary by Dana about the Detroit hardcore scene. It’s worth mentioning that Dana has also kept her customized Skate Witches leather jacket!
Maybe Dana’s tattoo shop could offer free commemorative skate witches tattoos to skaters at midnight? That would make everything come full circle! Although, I just found out that Plotnick was Lori Damiano’s (OG member of Villa Villa Cola) film teacher at a summer program she attended. Lori D. wrote that, “He screened Skate Witches for us right after I started skating when I was 16. He was a huge influence on me as a young artist and still is a big inspiration and a friend.”
Update [June 26, 2022]: Thanks to Kevin Marks from the Look Back Library, a connection was made, and Dana emailed these fantastic photos of her along with the cherished Skate Witches jacket!!!
- Abada, Adam. “The Skate Witches are giving female skateboarding a voice.” Monster Children. May 8, 2017.
- Barrie, Ben Connor. “Interview with Skate Witches director Danny Plotnick.” Damn Arbor. October 31, 2018.
- Jasmine, Leah. “Skateboards: the witch’s new broom.” After Dark. July 16, 2018.
- Remnick, Noah. “Sisterhood of the Skateboard.” The New York Times. July 29, 2016.