Michelle Sanderson

Michelle Sanderson (Hart) from West Covina, California was a competitive freestyle skater in the early 1980s who persevered during an era when skateboarding had dramatically declined in popularity compared to the 1970s but slowly returned to full force.

Michelle competed in the California Amateur Skateboard League (C.A.S.L.) and National Skateboard Association (NSA) series. In 1983, she placed third in the Oceanside Freestyle event against Diane Veerman (Desiderio) and April Hoffman. In the October 1983 issue of Thrasher a report on the contest said, “In third was Michelle Sanderson, whose constant exposure to skateboarding has influenced her decision to compete. Michelle has an unusually calm and undaunted approach to competition.”

Michelle then competed at the Del Mar Skate Ranch World Series freestyle event, again placing third behind Leslie Ann Miller and Hoffman. In 1984, Michelle traveled to San Francisco for the NSA Summer Olympics at Golden Gate Park in a new event called “streetstyle.” Contest organizer, Sonya Catalano explained that it was “what the kids do everyday when they can’t get to the skateparks.”

Michelle and her fellow competitor April had photos published in Thrasher July 1984 from San Francisco, but they are not included in the results listings, as they were likely expected to compete against the guys. Since the Women’s Skateboard Network had yet to rally for a separate division for women and girls this format was typical for Michelle. For example, in the February 1985 issue of Thrasher her name appears as placing 6th against the guys in the Freestyle Open Am event for the NSA Huntington Beach “World Open Pro/Am” held in October 1984.

Skating with guys wasn’t a bad thing, but the coverage was often imbalanced. In 1985, Michelle appeared in Powell Peralta’s video Future Primitive, in the chapter called “Dislocated Bones” for a second or two. There’s literally more footage of a boy on a tricycle!

Mainstream skateboarding magazines rarely acknowledged, let alone interviewed female skateboarders in the 1980s. Fortunately, Lauri Kuulei Wong, a skater who worked at Del Mar interviewed Michelle for Issue #2 of Ladies Skateworld zine in 1986. Michelle was 17 at the time and sponsored by Madrid and Independent.

“Michelle has been skating for many years and has skated in such contests as C.A.S.L. where she took 3rd place and Vancouver where she took 10th place [at the NSA Vancouver Border War July 1986]. Michelle goes to Covina High where she is a Jr. Not only does she skate freestyle but she also enjoys street skating and Pool skating.”

In the interview for Ladies Skateworld, Michelle shares that she primarily practised in her backyard, Covina Park and occasionally at the Pipeline (likely the Glendora Pipeline skatepark which was close to Covina, although the Upland skatepark was also known as Pipeline). Her goal was to go pro in 1987 and be just as good as the guys! Michelle performed technical tricks like rolling 50/50s, finger flips and pogos.

Due to the writing prowess and influence of skateboarder Bonnie Blouin, Thrasher acknowledged the underground women’s skateboarding scene in the article “Sugar and Spice..?” for the April 1986 issue, which includes a full page colour photo of Michelle, as well as Hoffman, Stephanie Person, Babs Fahrney, KZ Zapata, and Blouin. It’s noted that Michelle is one of the top female freestylers.

A few months later, many of these women would compete at the Transworld Skateboarding world championships in Vancouver for Expo ’86. While there were female skaters capable of skating ramp, only a freestyle contest was offered. Michelle placed 5th but the organizers decided that the women’s efforts would not be counted towards the team standings, which was modeled after the Olympics with each country receiving points. It appeared that the women’s competition was considered more of a sideshow, which is disappointing but not exactly surprising in the 1980s when skateboarding became associated with punk culture, as a domain to prove one’s “masculinity.”

Footage of Michelle competing was included in the video Radical Moves (1986). Feel free to mute the commentary.

Later on, in Radical Moves the contest changed locations over to Seylynn skatepark in North Vancouver for a bowl contest. The narrator Kim Blackett introduces Michelle’s brother, Gary who places 3rd in the amateur bowl. Blackett says, “Gary Sanderson was an all-round nice guy and had a lot of friends and took his skating seriously. His sister Michelle competed in the women’s freestyle. I think she got first place—for best legs.” Apparently, the brother took skateboarding seriously, while the sister was a punchline for a joke. This is what the female skaters endured!

After the Expo competition, it seemed as though Freestyle events were phased out in preference for “streetstyle” and the kind of street contests we know today rather than choreographed routines. Michelle did appear in a Freestyle zine called GTurn competing at the September 1987 NSA contest in Carson, CA and it was acknowledged that she won the “Life’s a Beach” contest in Carlsbad, CA in 1987 ahead of Dee Dee Devine and Karen Trimble.

Michelle then followed a path in medicine, becoming a registered nurse and she continues to be passionate about athletics! Hoping to connect with her via social media and learn more about her story!


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