In the February 23, 2015, issue of Wired magazine, an article by Katherine Sierra (a former freestyle skater from the 1980s) appeared called, “Silicon Valley could learn a lot from skater culture. Just not how to be a meritocracy,” which was in response to a Wired article lauding skateboarding legend, Rodney Mullen. Sierra explained how skateboarding was once her life, but that in 1983 “skate culture drove a stake through my heart.”
Sierra had been a sponsored skater riding for Santa Cruz, preparing for international contests until she experienced a serious injury. “When my knee exploded in a bad kickflip pirouette, my competition and sponsorship was over, but I worked my ass off for a year in physical therapy so I might skate again for the love of it. When my leg was finally ready, I rejoined the skate world only to find I’d phase-shifted into an alternative universe. Freestyle had vanished, and so had most of the women. The world-class footwork and flat tricks I did were now mocked mercilessly… I was not a ‘real’ skater.” She noted how skateboarding was once a domain in which women thrived, and then suddenly it flipped and it was like the industry decided that women weren’t worthy of participating or celebrating, or even selling their products to.
While Sierra still enjoyed “carving the lazy hills of the Altadena suburbs” with her surfer friends on occasion, it soon became evident that she was the only girl left in her group. Sierra wrote, “In the ‘80s, skate culture devolved from a vibrant, reasonably gender-balanced community into an aggressively narrow demographic of teen boys. If you think tech has sexism issues, skate culture makes tech feel like one big Oprah show.” The article went on to use skateboarding as an example and warning for the tech industry, as Sierra found her new passion which was programming and the freedom of writing code.
Sierra was especially frustrated by a TedTalk from her former hero, Rodney Mullen which included a PowerPoint filled exclusively of men. This is sad considering that Rodney’s girlfriend, Sophie Bourgeois was an exceptional slalom and freestyle skater, and that he could not recognize his own privilege, just like the leading men in technology, according to Sierra. Skateboarding and programming are supposed to be places of refuge for society’s “outcasts,” but sadly, blind privilege and even misogyny has been allowed to dominate at times. There was a lot of discussion about the toxic ads from Enjoi and Hubba, to name a few and the article triggered significant debate online.
Fortunately, in 2015 when the article came out, there was strong evidence that change was in effect for both skateboarding and the tech industry, and Sierra’s article ended on a hopeful note, being the existence of the non-profit organization Skateistan! Sierra concluded that, if she were to present a PowerPoint on what skating can teach tech, she would make sure to include, Ellen Berryman, Edie Robertson, Ellen Oneal, Terry Brown, Desiree Von Essen, and many more! “Because if you think the male skaters are inspirational, you should get to know the women.” Amen to that!
- Sierra, Katherine. “Silicon Valley could learn a lot from skater culture. Just not how to be a meritocracy.” Wired. February 23, 2015.