You’ve most likely seen the iconic Powell Peralta ad featuring Anita Tessensohn and Leaf Trienen which declared that “Some Girls Play With Dolls. Real Women Skate.” The ad came out in the December 1987 issue of Thrasher and February 1988 issue of Transworld Magazine and were promptly cut-out and pasted to the walls of isolated women skaters around the world – as seen in the 1990 movie Grinding to Win (the first to film to revolve around a female skater).
In the 1980s, the mainstream magazines never bothered to follow-up with interviews of these mystery skaters, so thank goodness for Lynn Kramer’s ‘zine Equal Time. Kramer and photographer, George Medlock interviewed Anita for Vol. 1 No. 3 in 1989 in Anita’s home in Torrance, CA (she was also given the cover!) when she was 19 years old.
Anita was raised in Eugene, Oregon but was born in Los Angeles, and has Indonesian heritage. She first took up skateboarding in Eugene at age 15 in 1985 after seeing a skater out in the streets. She saved up and bought her first skateboard, which was a Santa Cruz “Jammer” at a local bike store. It is worth noting that Anita was an elite level gymnast from ages 9 – 15.
Skating street was Anita’s preference with mini-ramp a close second, although she did try vert and freestyle. She was also fortunate to have a crew of five to ten female skaters to terrorize the streets with, including Leaf and Circe Wallace, who would go on to be a widely-recognized professional snowboarder. They would often meet at Eugene’s “Cage Ramp.”
When asked by Kramer how she got sponsored by Powell-Peralta, Anita said, “I don’t know. I just went to a pro contest in Eugene, and I talked to Stacy [Peralta] after someone said, ‘Hey, check out these girls.’ He took a few pictures, and gave me a board.” Anita later confirmed that it was the “Willamette Dammit Skate” contest, which she had attended the previous years, being inspired by Mark Gonzales ripping it up in the rain in 1986, and Tommy Guerrero who won in 1987.
The famous Powell-Peralta ad with Leaf was taken in Eugene, literally a day after Stacy asked if Anita wanted to receive skateboards and the boards that they were holding, weren’t even their own. Anita shared that she had no idea about the ad in advance. “They didn’t even tell me ‘til it was out in the magazine. He goes, ‘Oh yeah, Anita, I forgot to tell you. I did an ad with you.’ Someone at Venture told me about it. I was like, ‘What?! I sure am glad I knew of it.” Anita also confirmed that the reception was great “People seemed pretty stoked and we got a lot of encouragement” (2023).
Anita ended up moving to Southern California in 1987, after finishing highschool. She can also be spotted within the mob scene of “Camp Bones” in 1987 (wearing red pants), when the entire Powell Peralta crew came together at the Santa Barbara warehouse and were documented by Jim Knight. An archival video of the weekend is shared on the Powell Peralta archives via Youtube here.
The following year, the game-changing video Public Domain (1988) was released and Anita was included, landing flip tricks and board slides, as well as Sophie Bourgeois performing freestyle, and Lori Rigsbee, who was killing it on the mini-ramp and spine. Anita enjoyed skating Hermosa Pier where Sophie’s part was filmed, and ran into Lori just a few times. Anita reported that, “I had a lot of fun filming for the Public Domain video. It was filmed in one day at some banks in Gardena, CA. My friend Dee Dee Devine was there with me. She’s passed away; hearing her laugh in the video always fills my heart!” (2023).
For many skaters of that generation, Public Domain was their first exposure to women skateboarding and at such a competent level. Anita is filmed saying, “I encourage girls to skate – sure. Anybody who wants to skate should skate.”
In California, Anita was enjoying skating banks with parking barriers and while she wasn’t one to intently practise a trick, she was working on kickflips over hips and having fun messing around. In Equal Time she said, “If you’re taking it too seriously, you’re obviously too serious. You get too involved with it, and you get really frustrated with it.”
Anita loved meeting people and touring with skateboarding. Her parents met in Venice, which meant that Anita often visited and became comfortable skating there. She met Jesse Martinez early on and witnessed Christian Hosoi in action on the streets in Venice. In San Francisco, Anita met the legendary skater KZ Zapata, who wrote the zine Push, push then Go! and in Huntington Beach, she met Saecha Clarke and Christy Jordahl.
Once she was part of Powell Peralta, Anita was sent to a couple of CASL contests and performed a demo with the team. Anita didn’t mind competing, considering it a change of pace, and wasn’t phased by competing against guys. “But a girls division is a little more fun. There’s no snaking. You don’t have to worry about some six foot tall guy knocking you on your butt” (Kramer).
When asked about negotiating her identity as a female skater, Anita was quite capable of being comfortable as herself in any environment. “I’m a girl. I just happen to skate. If I didn’t skate, I don’t think I would be very much different… I get dressed up every day. I don’t separate them. If I feel like wearing a dress, I’ll wear a dress” (Kramer). Anita also recalled in 2023 that her biggest pet peeve “was being asked to ‘do tricks’ to prove I was actually a skater.”
Anita still had to deal with the usual harassment by the public as a skateboarder. “People hate skateboarders. It’s outlawed everywhere around here. And the skaters ruin it by being obnoxious to people who ask you not to skateboard. Those people ruin it for others. If you respect other people, they’re going to respect you. I hate it, because I can respect other people, but people ruin it.” Her parents were also a mixed combo, with mom being supportive and dad mocking her as a “stupid tomboy”!
Anita persevered, often skating solo, trying to avoid competitive industry types and people with negative attitudes. She simply wanted to get together with good people and have fun. One time she went to Brooklyn, NY riding the subway solo to go skateboard and was recognized for her part, and when asked for her autograph, Anita would turn to figure out who was being spoken to!
In the same issue of Equal Time, a contest in Tempe, Arizona was featured which hosted both street and mini-ramp competitions. Anita and Saecha Clarke battled it out in street. It was reported that, “They both skated really hard. Saecha pulled a stale fish launch, ollie kickflips, and ramp to wall rides. Anita had a really good, consistent second run however, putting her over the top. She pulled all kinds of flatland stuff that’s over before you see it, and a crail grab wall ride. Great skating was done by both.”
In Saecha’s interview for Check it Out Magazine in 2004 she said, “I only knew two girls that skated street, Christy [Jordahl] and Anita Tessensohn. I think Anita was pretty much the first girl street skateboarder.” And while Saecha and Christy were sponsored by Steve Rocco and World Industries, according to Marc McKee, Anita briefly worked in the warehouse. McKee speculated that George Powell probably wasn’t too crazy about the arrangement, but apparently Rocco was keen on hiring women. Anita started out packing boxes, drove the stake-bed truck, oversaw distribution, turned Manager and Customer Service, but the gig was short-lived.
Poweredge magazine also included a photo of Anita in their March 1989 issue within an article called “Equal Time,” (pp 36 – 39) which included a two-page discussion on women in skateboarding by the legendary Stephanie Person, the first African-American female pro, as well as a two-page interview with Cara-beth Burnside by Lisa Campbell.
More recently, there’s a quick glimpse of Anita within an amazing 2009 trailer called “A Girls Skateboarding Documentary” by P.M. and M.A.P. that appears to never have been produced (someone tell me where I can see all the footage!!). Anita stated that “we used to travel around in a pack – terrorize the town…” and I’m assuming she’s talking about her time in Eugene. There’s another clip where she’s talking about practising tricks with other girls, and “if one of us got it, we all had to try it, we all had to get it. But we were all really different women.” In her final clip, Anita said, “Whenever I think of who I am and what I am, I always think of skateboarding.”
In 1988, Anita had the unfortunate experience of getting hit by a car while skating, which happened between the filming of the video and premiere of Public Domain. A lady was backing out of her driveway and didn’t see Anita passing by. “It wasn’t my fault. I could have been walking. I broke my leg. That was in October. So I just started skating three or four months after that. It was really hard to get back into it. It hurts, and you always have to deal with that pain” (Kramer). Anita was in traction for a week and attended the premiere on crutches with her pushing leg in a cast.
During her recovery, Anita moved back to Eugene but kept re-injuring her leg. Anita recalled that, “I discovered dance randomly trying to get range of motion back in my knee after the accident. I instantly fell in love with dance and eventually had to make a choice. I will always wonder what would life be like had I chosen skating. Then I look at my husband and children and can only believe it was the right one” (2023). It’s also worth noting that after two months of dance school Anita received a scholarship in 1990, which changed her life’s direction.
For skateboarding, Anita was sponsored by Powell Peralta, Venture trucks, and Airwalk shoes. These days, she goes by Anita Sanford, and she is a professional dancer and instructor with the Dance Northwest company in Eugene. Anita acknowledged that “gymnastics was puppy love” and gave her a mindset of training that she brought to skateboarding. “Skating was my first LOVE” as it made her feel free and she carried that fearlessness to dance. Anita concluded that “Dance is my soulmate. It offered me a long career and an outlet for expression” (2023).
Photos: George Medlock, Jim Knight, Kline
- Kramer, Lynn. “Anita Tessensohn.” Equal Time. Vol. 1 No. 3, 1989.
- Sanford, Anita. Email correspondence. February 15, 2023.
*Update* – February 5th, 2023, Anita was interviewed for the podcast: The Bones Brigade Audioshow! Tune in here. Photos from Anita’s collection: