Cara-Beth Burnside is a skateboarder of legendary status whose presence and perseverance within the subculture has transcended decades. She has witnessed the highs and lows of skateboarding as an industry, as well as the shifting attitudes towards female skaters, which she helped transform. Considering the impact of her story, this feature is in two-parts, beginning in the 1970s.
Burnside was born in 1968, and along with her brother, took up skateboarding at the Big O skatepark in Orange county. In an interview for Conde Nast: Sports for Women Cara-Beth shared that at around age 10 or 11, “I went to this new skate park… The Powerflex Team was there, and oh my God, this one girl was just charging! I ditched my roller skates and started skateboarding the next day” (Egan).
In an episode of Off the Wall TV, Burnside explains to Jeff Grosso that she had been roller-skating next door at the Holiday roller rink, and when she saw the Powerflex girls, she knew she could do the same. And then, with the mentorship of pro skater Duane Peters, Cara-Beth would soon be ripping! Burnside acknowledged how Peters, probably the most punk and hardcore skater of all time, encouraged her. Burnside stated in Thrasher that, “He was so nice to me and even though I was a little kid he treated me with respect. I remember him telling me to do a roll-in in the vert pool at Big O. ‘You better learn that trick or you’re not going to win a contest’” (Fo).
Not only did Peters take notice of Cara-Beth, but TV producers as well. In 1980, Burnside and fellow skateboarder Edie Robertson from team Sims starred in a half-hour TV special called “Different Kind of Winning.”
Cara-Beth plays “Jody” who is sponsored by her dad’s company and is pressured by him to be competitive, and Edie plays “Carmen” a new girl in town. The two girls rally together, competing against the guys and show camaraderie by sharing a board. The TV special is endearing and pretty rad, and Cara-Beth’s skill is featured in the final competition scene:
Cara-Beth was skating transition from the start, whether it was bowl, pipe, or pool. She first began to appear in contest results in the girls 13 & under categories in 1979, and she was soon recruited by Gale Webb for her Powerflex team, then Vans, Santa Cruz (which was announced in the August 23, 1980 issue of SkatnNews), NHS, and Indy. The bi-weekly skateboarding newspaper, Skat’nNews reported on the scene, in particular the ASPO contest series:
- February 1979 – 2nd place in bowl for unsponsored girls 13 & under, at the Big O skatepark / Hobie Amateur contest in Orange County.
- July 1979 – 1st place in pipe & pool for girls 13 & under, at Pomona.
- September 1979 – 3rd place in pool against all women, at Vans/Offshore contest at Upland.
- October 1979 – 2nd place in girls 12-16 at the Big O skatepark / All-American Amateur Series.
- February 1980 – 2nd place against all women, at Big O skatepark / Pro-Am contest. No cash prizes for amateurs, even though she beat two.
- February 1980 – 1st place in pipe-pasting for girls 14-16, at the Big O skatepark.
- April 1980 – 1st place in pool for girls 14-16, at the Oasis skatepark.
- April 1980 – 2nd place in pool for Amateur women at Reseda Pro-Am pool contest.
- July 1980 – 1st place in pool for Amateur Girls at Del Mar skate park.
- August 1980 – 1st place in Amateur Girls Skatercross and Pool, 2nd place in Slalom, Reseda, CA.
- August 1980 – 1st place in Amateur Girls – Oasis Skatepark, San Diego.
- September 1980 – 1st place in Girls Pool and 3rd place in Slalom at Marina Park.
- October 1980 – 1st place in Girls Pool at Colton Ranch, Colton, CA.
- November 1980 – 1st place in both Girls Pool and Banked Slalom at the Gold Cup, at Pipeline at Upland, CA.
- December 1980 – 1st place in pool for Amateur Girls at Big O skatepark.
- December 1980 – 1st place in pool and 2nd place in slalom for Amateurs Girls at Lakewood.
A photo of Cara-Beth by Rusty Harris appeared in the September 3, 1980 issue of Skat’n News as she won the pool contest at the Oasis Skatepark the previous month. The coverage on the contest stated that, “Carabeth Burnside still leads the girls class, which has failed to draw more entries this season. It’s unfortunate because Carabeth really skates well and should be able to show her ability against other skaters.”
It was evident that girls and women were perfectly competent and excelling at skating transition but the turn-out at contests was inconsistent. Skat’n News reported in August 9, 1980 that Park owners and ASPO officials thought the solution was promoting freestyle. Perhaps they thought the less aggressive style of skating would be more appealing to girls, as it had in the past? But perhaps the problem was elsewhere, like lack of coverage of those who were representing!
A letter written by Cecilia Thomas from Beaverton, Oregon within the December 30, 1980 issue of Skat’nNews titled, “Where are the Girls?” resulted in a photo of both Sue Smith and Cara-Beth! Cecilia asked, “How come you guys don’t print pictures of girl skateboarders. I know there’s lots of them out skating but you choose to ignore them. Why? Is it because we don’t act radical or choose not to wear ‘punked-out!’ trash?” The editors acknowledged that it was true and they would aim to step up.
In the January 19, 1981 issue of Skat’n News the ASPO #9 contest at the Big O the previous December showed that six girls competed, with Burnside in first followed by Sue Smith, Lisa Forman, Shirley McLeland, Gale Springer and Joanna Field. And yet, it was decided that even though girls like Burnside and Sue had made tremendous progress, “It’s very possible that next season, they may have to compete with some of the boys, which at this point, it appears that they will do quite well.” Cara-Beth wrapped up 1980 being named as the Amateur Women Gold Cup winner.
In 1981, that prediction came true, and Cara-Beth competed primarily against the guys, often placing in the middle of the pack. On March 28, 1981 at Reseda, CA she placed 6th in bowl against the guys ages 15-17. A photo of her in the April 15, 1981 issue of Skat’n News stated that, “Carabeth Burnside is now competing with the boys and doing quite well. She’s 6th in the 2A overall standings.” She then took 1st place against 14 guys on April 25, 1981 in pool at Whittier, CA and moved herself up into 3rd for overall standings as reported in Skat’n News.
Cara-Beth then tested the waters of competing against pro women at the Variflex Pro/Am Spring Nationals contest in April 24-26, 1981 at The Ranch in Colton, CA. Lori Peralta wrote in the May 1981 issue of Skat’n News that, “There were only five girls entered. Both Pros and Amateurs skated together. Pattie Hoffman took the pro honors with two incredible runs. Not far behind was Carabeth Burnside. Denise Danielson, placed in 3rd (second Pro) edging out Joanna Field. Leigh Parkin placed fifth. Pattie received $100.00 for first Pro, while Carabeth received first place trophy in the Amateur class.”
Hoffman would prove to be Burnside’s main rival, and they were both celebrated in the March 1981 edition of Action Now magazine with the two skaters being featured with photos almost side-by-side. On page 76, Julie Halsey reported that “Patti Hoffman is #1 and wouldn’t settle for anything less… She realizes Carabeth will be a challenge when she turns pro this season; however, Patti intends to defend her ranking, claiming the title for two years in a row.” Three pages later, there’s a promo on Carabeth with a quote saying, “I’m going to beat her…”
This would be the first interview / feature of Burnside in a magazine. Halsey shared that, “Fifteen-year-old Carabeth began her skating experience three years ago under the influence of Skateboarding’s Mom, Gale Webb. Gale connected Carabeth with the Powerflex team which is where she landed her early skills. Then Carabeth ventured further, taking her skating prowess to Alva Skates. Now she’s a Santa Cruz member under the player/coaching of Duane Peters. Big ‘O’ is the home park of both Carabeth and Duane, and they skate together frequently. ‘Duane really helps me a lot, every time he’s around I seem to learn a new trick,’ she adds.” And in the photo you can see she’s riding a mini Duane Peters board, cut down to suit her size.
Halsey asked Burnside if she had any concern about the lack of contest categories for girls. She replied, “If there isn’t a women’s division, I’ll just skate with the boy ams.” Cara-Beth was commended for her intense energy and agility, and the fact that she loved a variety of action sports, including motorcycle dirt-bike riding! Later on, during an interview in 1998, Cara-Beth recognized that while she was keen to compete with anyone and everyone, for many female skaters it was hard to feel part of the scene because, “Who wants to go skateboarding at 13 and get made fun of by guys?” (Egan).
Cara-Beth started feeling that things didn’t seem quite fair as opportunities arose for the guys. For an interview with Broadly website, she stated that, “It was just kind of a rebel sport and that’s what I liked about it. I was just obsessed with getting good. Ramps and contests were getting big in the 80s but there were no girls contests when I wanted to compete. So I just did the amateurs, skating with all the guys. I saw the guys are traveling, the guys had all these cool opportunities – I didn’t have a lot of those. I wanted to be a pro skater so bad and that got really frustrating for me because I wanted to do more with it.”
In the early 1980s, even when skateboarding went through a down phase due to growing concern over insurance and injuries, Cara-Beth tried to maintain her motivation. She finally beat Hoffman at the Skate City Whittier Pro-Am contest, which was the first pro contest of 1981, and then suddenly everyone was gone, the scene had tanked and parks were closing. When she was fifteen she stopped skating for a few years “because it got to the point where there was nothing in it for girls anymore. I was really uptight about it, so I quit skating and got into other sports” (Campbell).
Fortunately, Cara-Beth resumed her passion and took part in Gale Webb’s “Safety in Sports” and “Extreme Sports” shows but it wasn’t until the late 1980s, with the growing movement in San Diego with Lynn Kramer, her ‘zine Equal Time and the Women’s Skateboard Network that something shifted temporarily and felt more hopeful.
1989 was a special year for Cara-Beth. She was featured in Equal Time zine in several issues, with photos taken by George Medlock. Cara-Beth was also interviewed by Lisa Campbell, along with photos within an article called “Equal Time” for the March 1989 issue of Poweredge magazine. By that time, she was sponsored by Vans, Vision, Independent, and Swatch, she was majoring in Psychology at UC Davis, working at the Vans ramp, and practising tricks like Miller flips, which was a first for a female skater.
In the article for Poweredge, Cara-Beth requested that it be known that she felt it was “good for girls to see that girls can skate. I know how it was when I was first getting into skating, how people would say that girls can’t skateboard. I just want to say that you can skateboard, girls can skateboard! And you can be good, its not just a guys sport!” (Campbell).
The cult classic video Hokus Pocus by H-Street was released in 1989, and Burnside was in it representing female skaters. And, a photo by Michele Peretti in the Munster bowl in Germany shows that she had the opportunity to skate overseas, which was one of her goals.
There was also footage for SK8TV being filmed that year featuring Burnside and Lori Rigsbee, which was expected to air on January 21, 1990 to the excitement of readers of Equal Time ‘zine. The recording from a VHS tape below is sketchy, but great to see the two of them together:
Thrasher magazine finally stepped up and put Burnside on their cover for their August 1989 issue, which was a huge first! Dan Cavalheiro took the photo and Cara-Beth was looking fine busting a huge frontside air on the Vans ramp. A Thrasher interview was still to come three years later, but the cover was something, and so well-deserved. It was like a signal flare in the dark shouting “You’re not alone!” to women skateboarders around the world.
See: Part 2 (1990s – 2000s) TBA
Photos: Craig Fineman, Dan Cavalheiro, Gale Webb, George Medlock, Michele Peretti, Rusty Harris, Schroeder.
- Broadly. “Meet the Skate Icon Who Was the First Woman to Grace the Cover of Thrasher Mag.” Vice Life. March 31, 2018.
- Campbell, Lisa. “Equal Time: Cara-Beth Burnside.” Poweredge. March 1989, pp. 36-37.
- Egan, Jennifer. “Girl Over Board.” Conde Nast: Sports for Women. Vol. 2.4 (April 1998): 132-135 + 166.
- Fo, M. “Cara Beth Burnside.” Thrasher. Vol. 10, No 10 (Oct 1991): 44.
- Grosso, Jeff. “Jeff Grosso’s Loveletters to Skateboarding: Girls.” Off the Wall TV. Season 3, Episode 7, October, 2012.
- Halsey, Julie. “Carabeth Burnside.” Action Now magazine. March 1981, p. 79.
- Halsey, Julie. “Patti Hoffman.” Action Now magazine. March 1981, p. 76.