Leslie Jo Ritzma (Anderson) from Redondo Beach, California started skateboarding in 1964 at age 7. “I made my own skateboard in 2nd grade from some roller skates and ended up breaking my arm… Roller skate wheels nailed onto a 2 by 4.” The injury didn’t deter her, and in 1977 at age 20, Leslie Jo decided that she wanted to enter the notorious Signal Hill Downhill race even though she was told it was too dangerous for a woman.
In the Los Angeles Times in a historical piece about the Signal Hill contest, Leslie Jo said, “‘I asked if there were women in the race, and I was told they weren’t allowed to enter. I thought that was stupid,’ she remembers saying. After appealing, she was allowed to compete, but she’d never done any downhill skateboarding. She had enough time to practise before the event, with generous helpings of road rash. She did well in the race and her 51 mph put her in the Guinness Book as the world’s fastest female skateboarder” (Horelick).
The LA Times made it sound like Ritzma was a complete novice, but she was actually sponsored by 41st Ave Skateboards and Tunnel Wheels. Ritzma also didn’t take the comment lightly that women were forbidden. In an interview with Tunnel Skateboards she shared that, “It was the ‘70s and women’s rights were going on, so I contacted the Women’s Equal Action League in Washington, D.C., and CBS Sports Spectacular who filmed at Signal Hill. They put pressure on the organizers to allow women.”
Ritzma also admitted that she was scared. “I was laying down, face forward, on my stomach. We made some metal pieces shaped in an ‘L’, and we bolted pieces of tire onto those, so when I pushed my feet down, it slowed me down. Very primitive brakes.” But she made it down the hill in tact and could officially call herself the “fastest female skateboarder in the world” for a brief moment!
And, the story didn’t end there. In the June 1977 issue of the National Skateboard Review Marjorie Haake wrote to Di Dootson wondering why Ritzma wasn’t acknowledged for winning the Women’s Downhill. Haake noted that, “I know that Leslie’s application was filled out, she remarked on them checking her name. The reason Leslie passed up the second run was that she didn’t want to beat Jim Drake’s time. They plan to marry in the near future and would you want your wife to beat you?!”
Ritzma’s letter to Di then follows Marjorie’s, and apparently there was one other woman in the race but she didn’t make it to the finish line. Ritzma wrote, “I beat more than half the people going down the hill at 51 mph. The Guinness people were very happy to acknowledge me as the fastest Woman Downhill Champion, aside from the first and only!”
Di Dootson graciously replied that she is dependent on receiving information from the organizers, and that she was glad that Leslie and Marjorie wrote.
Leslie Jo ended up with a sponsorship from Freeformer after that successful Signal Hill run, and even sold stickers that said, “Leslie Jo Ritzma, Fastest Woman in the World!”
Following up on Leslie Jo, she did take on her ex-husband’s last name and was found in the July 1978 issue of the National Skateboard Review as taking part in Signal Hill in a “skate car,” but perhaps the tragic accident that happened to Tina Trefethen made Leslie Jo decide not to compete after all.
The initial marriage didn’t last (makes you wonder if Mr. Drake really couldn’t handle being beat by his wife!!), but Leslie Jo remarried, took up motorcycle riding, and became a Patient Advocate for soldiers returning from war.
- Dootson, Di. “Letters to the Editor.” National Skateboard Review. June 1977.
- Horelick, Mike. “Board out of their minds.” Los Angeles Times. Nov. 18, 2007.
- Tunnel. “Leslie Jo Ritzma.” Tunnel Skateboards. 2006.