I’m fascinated by the incredible progression of women skateboarders in Japan and only have a few leads from back in the day, in the form of mystery photos. First off is this kickass 1980s photo by legendary photographer Yoshiro Higai showcasing a gang of female skaters from his book Judo Air (2015). Who were they? Did they have a name for their group? They’re showcasing Skull Skates, Vision Street Wear, and Body Glove brands, so possibly around 1986.
And then, in the March 1990 issue of Thrasher there’s an article called “Fistful of Yen” by M. Fo reporting on a mob of American bro skateboarders competing in Japan. Immediately, the photo that caught my eye was the tiny picture on the bottom right of page 73. There’s a rad female skateboarder chilling with her crew, giving the camera a “hang ten,” and of course, she’s not referenced anywhere in the article. Who was she?
I’ve taken note that Kim Cespedes went to Japan in the late 1970s with Gregg Weaver and Rodney Jesse, so it’s highly possible that a young girl saw her and decided she could do the same. Cespedes explains, “we were sponsored by Nike and Coca-Cola. We ran the very first freestyle skateboard contest in Tokyo. The Japanese people treated us like kings and queens. It was phenomenal. We had a great time… The event was so big, it was televised over there.”
Ellen Oneal shared a similar story, as she went to Japan with the G&S team in 1977 and considers the experience one of her fondest memories. “Needless to say we were put up in the nicest hotel in downtown Tokyo, put on numerous demos and were treated like royalty. We traveled to Sapporo on the bullet train, visited Osaka and Kyoto. We were doted on as if we were celebrities! (Well, I guess we were?) Everything from the finest Kobe beef steakhouses to all the sushi we could eat.”
Deanna Calkins was included in skateboarding ads for Santori soda pop and Arnold Palmer Sports Wear in the late 1970s, intended for the Japanese market. As well, Kathy Bomeisler had a gig filming a commercial for ‘BVD’ clothing (a company owned by ‘Fruit of the Loom’) intended for Japanese TV, as well as a soda pop commercial for Japan in the mid 1970s. Below, photos of actress Jodie Foster on her skateboard appeared in Japanese magazines in 1977 and ’78.
Edie Robertson also shared a photo of her 1980 trip to Tokyo, Japan where she performed a skateboard demo at the Karakuen Half Pipe.
I’ll admit I know little about how skateboarding was received over the years in Japan, the highs and lows in popularity, beyond the more current boom, which I think has a lot to do with filmer / photographer Yuri Murai’s efforts since 2012, in particular her “Joy and Sorrow” videos.
In a 2017 interview for Sidewalk magazine with Hannah Bailey, Yuri Murai shared that, “I don’t know how many girl skaters exist in other countries but the population has increased in the last 10 years in Japan. It has changed from the time when it was rare that even one single girl skater was skating at a skate park to a time when it is normal that two or three girl skaters are there.”
Yuri was crucial in celebrating and sharing out the wealth of female skateboarding talent, and explained that, “I had always wondered why there were no girl skate videos, although there are many boy skate videos. I met many girl skaters who were really good but made mistakes while skating a line or in a competition. I thought, if only there was a video that I could use to shout out to the world that there are many good and cool girl skaters in Japan. So I decided to make it.”
From when that first DVD was released in 2013, Yuri was sought out by other female skateboarders and the project snowballed! Simultaneously, more contests, girls’ categories and sponsorships emerged in Japan resulting in the powerhouse team of female skaters today! Misugu Okamoto, Aori Nishimura, Momiji Nishiya, Funa Nakayama, Sakura Yosozumi, Yumeka Oda, Cocona Hiraka, Kihana Ogawa, Mami Tezuka, Kisa Nakamura, Rizu Akama, Hina Maeda, Kotone Nishimura, and so many more!
But who were the original female skaters in Japan?! Grateful for any insight, photos and names.
- Bailey, Hannah. “Joy and Sorrow 3 – Interview with Japanese video-maker Yuri Murai.” Sidewalk magazine. June 13, 2017.
- Balma, Larry. “Kim Cespedes Interview.” Tracker. July 2016.
- Oneal, Ellen. “G&S Japan Trip ’77.” Lives on Boards: the Skateboarders Journal. Morro Skateboard Group, Morro Bay (2009), pp.311-312.