Zhenya Arguelles [Женя Аргуэльес] is regarded by skateboard historians in Russia as the first female to land an ollie and take up skateboarding with enthusiasm back in 1991 at Moscow’s famed hang-out, Gorky Park.
Zhenya learned to skate on a homemade board with roller skates on the bottom, as she was also an active rollerskater. In some ways, considering the current conflict, it feels awkward to be acknowledging Zhenya, but from what I’ve learned about skateboarding in Russia, there’s an aspect of hope because if youth and their passion for skateboarding can override the Iron Curtain, then perhaps Russian youth today can also defy the actions of their current dictator and fight for peace rather than greed and brutality.
In 1991, the Soviet Union fell and there must have been a sense of joy in places like Gorky Park where locals and tourists would relax, hang out and enjoy sports, like ice skating in the winter and skateboarding in the summer. In a feature on old school skater Gleb Bentsiovski from Belarus (and the curator of the world’s first and only USSR skateboarding museum) for Jenkem magazine, Gleb recalled how, “Despite the Soviet Union’s Iron Curtain, information about skateboarding slipped through via different channels starting in the mid-‘70s… In 1978, the first manuals on how to build DIY skateboards surfaced. The Soviet government just couldn’t deny the existence of skateboarding; the topic was interesting. And later that same year, in the USSR Estonian Republic in the city called Võru in the air pollution sensor factory, the first Soviet skateboard – called Rula – was made” (Gabarajevs).
In a 2016 article for Huck mag by Kirill Korobkov, the evolution of Russian skateboarding is further explained. Skateboards and wheels made in Russian military factories during the ‘70s and ‘80s were “reminiscent of the first American boards from the ‘60s… Basically, the Soviet Union was 20 years behind the rest of the skate world. But as Russia emerged from the ashes of the USSR in the early ‘90s, a new economic and political model allowed people to buy imported goods. Through a combination of Russians traveling abroad and westerners working in Moscow… the skate community began to acquire its first proper decks, magazines and videos” (Korobkov).
Ed Gabarajevs recalled seeing the coming-of-age movie Courier directed by Karen Shakhnazarov (1986) and an impactful skateboarding scene that reflected the era. Ivan Mirosnikov, the protagonist bumps into his friend, Bazin in a subway, who was able to get a skateboard from an aunt in Tallinn (Estonia) and was off to skate the Lenin Hills. Instead of doing his job as courier for a Russian newspaper, Ivan discovers the joy of skateboarding.
And then, in a 1988 film called “Primorskiy Bulvar” (Seaside Boulevard) by Aleksandr Polynnikov, it’s a young woman taking up skateboarding, although most of the stunts are performed by men who were considered the best Russian skaters at the time. In the short chapter you get a sense of the Russian skateboarding scene and the style being more ‘70s than ‘80s. Apparently things evolved when the cult classic skateboard movies Thrashin’ and Gleaming the Cube actually made it to Soviet cinemas in 1989 to 1991. Bentsiovski said, “We would watch these movies in cinemas more than once and would memorize key scenes, clothes, boards… everyone wanted to skate street.”
While not much is written about Zhenya, you can sense from the photos that she was part of the crew!
Gabarajevs, Ed. “Check out the one and only Soviet skateboarding museum.” Jenkem magazine. June 9, 2020.
Korobkov, Kirill. “Surfin USSR: the troublesome evolution of skateboarding in Russia.” Huck mag. October 22, 2016.