Cindy Whitehead

Cindy Whitehead was inducted into the Skateboarding Hall of Fame in 2016 for both her accomplishments as a pro skater in the 1970s and her relentless advocacy for women in skateboarding that continues today. She spearheads the skateboarding movement “Girl is NOT a 4 Letter Word,” which includes a website, archive, interviews, social media, and publications It’s Not About Pretty: a book about radical skater girls (2017) and inspirational journals for girls and teens.

Cindy grew up in Hermosa Beach, Southern California and when she was 8 years-old she tried out skateboarding, back when clay wheels were the norm. At age 9, “my mom, brother, and I left Hermosa to travel in a Volkswagen camper van through Mexico and Guatemala for a year. I learned to surf on the beaches near Mazatlán. And I learned that being a green-eyed, blonde kid in Mexico was not the norm—so I became used to being ‘different’ and being okay with that” (Amell 183).

Cindy returned to skateboarding in the mid-1970s at age 14 with more focus, cruising the streets and around the Hermosa pier starting out in freestyle. Her first sponsor was the Weber team. Finally, a skatepark opened up in Torrance called Skateboard World and her focus changed to transition skating. “‘Kathie [Bomeisler] introduced me to bowl riding,’ relates Cindy, ‘and eventually I started to ride the half-pipe with the help of the Kalb brothers’” (Hazelton).

Cindy became a regular at the skatepark. “I spent every waking minute in the half-pipe there. I loved the feeling of skating up and down the huge vertical walls and seeing how far out of the pipe my board and wheels could get” (Amell 183). She also enjoyed being better at something than her brother, who could “barely do a 360!”

Skateboard World became a new sponsor, paying her entry fees at contests, and allowing Cindy to skate and play video games for free (Lannes). At age 16, Cindy claimed a centrefold photo and interview in Wide World of Skateboarding (June 1978), which also gave her the platform to speak out about women in skateboarding, and that they should do what they loved and not be deterred by attitudes of what was socially acceptable for a girl to pursue. The photo was taken at the clear plastic 360 ramp in Fountain Valley.

The centrefold also changed things for Cindy, “Like when surfer or skater kids would stop me in stores and say ‘Hey it’s Rad Lady’ because that was the name of the article. And at first I was kind of embarrassed by that tagline and then later in life I realized that it was sort of cool actually… it gave me more sponsorship, and it gave me a little bit more coverage. It was also sort of the catalyst for me turning pro” (Lannes). Cindy was quite clear in the interview that the idea of women being “weaker” and therefore unable to skate was unacceptable – “‘I feel that if you have set your mind to it, anything is possible… Why should you limit yourself to what is easy and acceptable to others?’ says Cindy. ‘I feel you should push your personal limits’” (Hazelton).

Her impressive skating on transition led to more sponsorships with Z-Flex, Tracker Trucks, Sims Skateboards, Puma Tennis shoes, Rector, and Fly-a-Way Helmets. The Puma sponsorship happened simply because Cindy walked in the door and pitched herself. She decided to do what the guys were doing and ask for what she wanted. Cindy’s determination and skill resulted in status as a professional, and a fantastic lifestyle for a 17 year old touring and competing across the U.S. Although pro back in the 1970s was still scraping by, and cash prizes at a contest were minimal, especially for women.

With little supervision, Cindy had to learn to stand up for herself, especially when she had to drop into a pool and assert herself during a skate session. When she was 17, “traveling on a skate tour for the WSA (World Skating Association) to New Jersey, Ohio and Florida to skate all the great parks we had heard opening up there—like Cherry Hill and Apple. No real adult supervision, just skating every day with my guy friends, flying to the next place on the list and missing school for three weeks straight” (Smith 304).

During this wild tour the crew were arrested for attempting to skate empty backyard pools, shot at with buckshot for trespassing and skating fullpipes in Arizona, and Whitehead had to hold her own with a mob of guys who simultaneously hassled and supported her. As a result, skateboarding “taught me to be outspoken and to ask for what I want. It showed me that falling doesn’t mean you stay down—in order to ride you have to get back up—and it taught me that everyone is different, so don’t imitate” (Amell 183).

The iconic photos of Cindy skating and rocking her headphones, which she duct-taped to her helmet was strategic. “Sometimes I’d overhear comments from male skaters or people watching—some positive, and some wondering out loud why a fifteen-year-old girl was skateboarding hard like the boys surrounding her. I wanted to be free in my own head” (Amell 183). Flooding her ears with music helped Cindy skate inside her own world without distraction.

Cindy also noted on an Instagram post that when she was 15, skaters had to improvise with their equipment, this meant “Volleyball knee pads – that slid right off when you fell from the top of the concrete half-pipe – as knee pads. Shorts were short in those days for boys and girls. It wasn’t meant to be any kind of statement it was simply what we had. Most girls didn’t do sports like this so functionalist wasn’t in as of yet. And of course I had to have tunes so I strapped headphones to my helmet to dial in whatever radio station I could find that was playing some badass female empowerment music.”

In her feature for the book Lives on Boards, Cindy recalled how she was “always yelling ‘Dropping in!’ and pushing past the guys hanging around the mouth of the pool… My goal was to see how little of the fourth wheel I could have still on the edge of the pool’s coping… I loved doing that, as no one expected most girls to even hit vert back then” (Smith 303). Cindy craved the adrenaline rush and the feeling of crushing someone’s expectations of what a girl could be expected to do on a skateboard.

Cindy had a blast skating with her buddies, especially Marina Del Rey. “All the Dogtown boys were there… all the guys from Sims who I skated with,” (Lannes), and yet she also recognized that, “It’s hard to be the only girl at the skate park, but who knows? There may be a girl watching you from the sidelines who’s now been inspired to skate too” (Amell 185).

Photos: Brad Bowman

Reflecting on the 1970s, Cindy said, “Girls skating during this time were rare; each skatepark had maybe one girl skating regularly, if at all. During the Hester Pro Series… about eight of us would come together to compete and size each other up. There were girls you had only heard about or possibly had seen a photo of in one of the mags, so competing against each other was always interesting, as you never knew who had learned what trick since the last contest. Some of the best friendships I have ever made have been through skateboarding” (Smith 304).

Photo: Anthony Nex

While freestyle skating was being phased out in the late 1970s and there were fewer women competing in pool and vert, the opportunities started to dwindle and skateboarding as an industry tanked in the early 1980s, referred to by Cindy as “the dead years.” In her interview for Istia TV, Cindy noted that “For me it wasn’t a huge shock but it was very sad. I think it slowly phased out… but I do remember when Marina Del Rey closed. It was a sad day for me and my friends. That was the place I went every day and night” (Lannes). Cindy also gave credit to Cara-Beth Burnside and those who persevered through this lull. At age 22, Cindy retired from skateboarding as a pro but her passion never dwindled.

Here is some footage via GirlisNOTa4letterword of Cindy skating pool at Lakewood in 1981 for cable TV:

Cindy knows how important it is for girls to have role models. In the introduction to her book, It’s Not About Pretty she shares that, “Back in the day, you had to hunt to find pictures of girls in skateboard magazines. I craved those photos, I studied them and cut them out and taped them to my bedroom walls for inspiration,” but there was never enough to plaster her entire room with, and she’s helping to change that. During her early skating years she said, “I was lucky enough to get a centrefold in Wild World of Skateboarding magazine, and that was a big deal at the time, and I guess it still is a big deal… but yes, the coverage was very light!” (Lannes).

Nowadays, with Girl is NOT a 4 Letter Word, Cindy is able to generate funding for collaborative projects and to showcase women skateboarding in the media to raise visibility, inspire and motivate the next generation of skaters, who are absolutely ripping! Cindy’s role as author, photographer and stylist keeps her busy and connected to her life’s passion—skateboarding!

Cindy even delivered a TED talk in 2014 sharing her skateboarding story, cruising in on her skateboard with style, the story behind her 405 Freeway cruise during “Carmageddon” in 2012, and explaining the origins of her brand. Cindy credited her grandmother for emphasizing that she was equal to her older brother, and all the other boys in her neighborhood. These words of encouragement solidified her belief that she could do anything, and to ignore the rest.

Photos: Ian Logan

“People often ask me why I’m still doing it. Skateboarding is in my soul. It’s freedom. It allows me to be creative and expressive, and it always clears my head. I like the rush of it, and I hate to admit it but sometimes I even like the feeling of slamming hard, as it makes me feel I’ve done something challenging and am alive and living life to the fullest” (Amell 183).

Keep up with Cindy and all the action happening on Girl Is NOT a 4 letter Word instagram page.

Contest Results:

  • April 1978 – 3rd in Junior Girls Freestyle at the Magic Mountain Hang Ten Olympics
  • February 1979 – 1st in Women’s 16-19 in Half-pipe at Pomona, CA.
  • Summer 1979 – 3rd place in Women’s Bowl at the Winchester Open in San Jose.
  • September 1979 – 4th in Women’s Bowl at Vans / Upland All American Amateur Series #4 at Upland
  • December 1979 – 3rd place in Women’s Pro at Vans Marina Pro-Am, Marina Del Rey
  • April 1980 – 1st place in Women’s Pro at Reseda Pro-Am pool contest.


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