JoAnn Gillespie

JoAnn Gillespie, AKA Rawkmom, is given props in the book Skater Girl: a girls’ guide to skateboarding (2007) by Patty Segovia and Rebecca Heller for her role in taking on the Women’s Skateboard Network in 1992, which had been established by Lynn Kramer in 1989 through the ‘zine Equal Time and had grown to some 250 members internationally.

Lynn remembered receiving a letter from JoAnn when she was living in Goleta, CA, which was printed in Equal Time (January 1990), all about her brutal skateboarding accident ollieing a railroad tie. The letter was memorable as JoAnn explained in detail how she landed on the board upright and had to get “12 stitches you know where.” It was the perfect venue for the letter, as I’m sure other female skaters could relate or at least empathize. JoAnn also didn’t filter the fact that her bail happened at the Powell Peralta picnic “so it was really embarrassing and very bloody. I can’t skate for a while but I plan to skate. I miss my skate even though it hurt me.”

This letter is such a great example of how hardcore JoAnn is! She’s the real deal, and I had the privilege of chatting with her on December 17th, 2022. JoAnn recounted how, as a kid with boundless energy, growing up in the East Bay area, her parents tried to find outlets that would sustain her need for adrenaline and action!

It was no surprise that she sought out daring sports like horse-jumping, considering that her dad was a race car driver, and her uncle was a flat-track Harley Davidson racer. In fact, Frank and Doug Gillespie appeared in the classic film, On Any Sunday (1971). JoAnn was surrounded by motorsports in her formative years, although her passion was always horses (which explains why she is now running a ranch called Rawking Horse Ranch!).

In high school, JoAnn cultivated a love of punk music and skate punk boyfriends. She remembered how she would sit on the vert ramp in Orinda, rocking a mohawk, smoking clove cigarettes in 1984 / 85, watching the guys. She would heckle them mercilessly, especially when they bailed considering that she was used to serious falls while horse-jumping. “I’m like, ‘I catch so much more air than you guys on my horse.’ They would fall and I go, ‘You think that’s a fall?’ And I would just talk shit all day.”

Photo: Erin Gilmore

The challenge was when JoAnn went off to college in Santa Barbara and she no longer had access to horses and her regular routine of working with a trainer was interrupted. As JoAnn explained, college was a bit of an ordeal and she barely limped through considering all the distractions. Santa Barbara was chosen by JoAnn because she knew the town had a really great punk rock scene due to the presence of RKL “Rich Kids on LSD.” JoAnn noted that the front man “was an amazing skateboarder, had a vert ramp in his parents’ backyard in Montecito… and that band really spoke to me as a kid. To this day, it’s one of my favourite bands.”

Santa Barbara and Isla Vista where her college was located did not disappoint! JoAnn pulled into her apartment parking space in her Volkswagen GTI packed to the brim and coated in stickers, and literally the moment she turned off the motor she could hear punk music that wasn’t coming from her stereo. JoAnn immediately introduced herself to some punk kid from across the road, who then brought over a crew of his friends who would go on to become members of Lagwagon.

Isla Vista was so contained that it made more sense for JoAnn to rip around on a skateboard, so she picked one up from an ex-boyfriend or one of her neighbours and just embraced it. Word soon got around that she owned a car and had an appreciation for punk music! Skater punks like Kit Erickson (RIP) and Frankie Hill, essentially 13 and 14-year-old groms, would be sitting on her couch the moment she got home from class, insisting they take her skateboarding. As a result, JoAnn was initiated by going to some gnarly spots and because of her horse jumping background, she knew that to skate she had to commit 100%.

Here’s some footage of the scene back in 1990 via Sk8 TV:

JoAnn started out by skating ditches and the Tea Bowls reservoir, ripping through dirt and dodging rent-a-cops. JoAnn appreciated the soul-skater mentality that came out of Santa Barbara versus some of the attitude she witnessed in L.A. It was also pretty ideal having the Powell Peralta factory in the vicinity. She soon connected with one of her early skateboarding idols, Krishna Swenson who was fortunate to have a ramp at her parent’s house in downtown Santa Barbara off Bath Street. Their friendship was inevitable, considering that Krishna also loved horses.

Photos: Erik Hatch and Scott Starr

Krishna had a mini-ramp and then expanded it into a vert ramp. Tony Buyalos (RIP), who became Krishna’s husband and founder of Shorty’s, moved in and the network of Santa Barbara skateboarders ebbed and flowed amongst the various backyard ramps. JoAnn recounted the photo that Scott Starr (RIP) took of Krishna skating her ramp which was published in Thrasher. JoAnn believed it should have been the cover photo, it was just so beautiful.

JoAnn also had fond memories of meeting KZ Zapata, who was a skater riding sponsored by Santa Monica Airlines (SMA) and a fellow drummer in various bands. In fact, they recently had a bachelorette reunion party and JoAnn got to share how much she respected KZ!

JoAnn loved the fluid nature of skating ramp, although she would still skate curbs and street, and launch herself off an 8-stair, but skating transition was more her style. She liked grinding coping, working the spine, and dropping-in on over-vert walls gave her a rush. There were also a lot of fires in the early 1990s, which resulted in empty pools and burned down houses, which meant she was versatile on many terrains.

Photos: Ethan Fox

When JoAnn’s friends built Powell Skate Zone park, which was a mile from campus, she had another great outlet besides her own mini-ramp. There was a wealth of backyard mini-ramps in the area, and it made sense to have one, too. JoAnn’s first ramp was made of inferior materials and the calculations were off, which triggered complaints, but she could still skate it. The next attempt at a ramp was dialed-in! According to JoAnn, “it was just butter!” and she gave Lagwagon drummer Derrick Plourde (RIP) the credit for his ramp building skill.

Erik Hatch filmed some sessions at JoAnn’s ramp back in 1989-1991 and acknowledged how awesome it was:

JoAnn had the confidence from horse-riding (and the chaos of a bunch of kids on their 1000-pound beasts prepping for a show) to bust into snake-sessions and hold her own. And if it was her own ramp, she could kick-turn for hours and do whatever she wanted.

The ramp was four-feet tall, and to encourage the girls who were beginners she would screw in 2×4 blocks to help them drop-in at lower levels. Folks would crash on her couch and travel from afar to skate her ramp, including Sue Hazel from England who remembers meeting Cara-beth Burnside there. And there were a lot of women who became regulars, like Christy Smith-Fuhrer, Erica Martin, and Claudine Gossett (who is dating Tommy Guerrero).

Photo: Scott Starr

Occasionally there was some conflict with the guys in her life who could be a bit possessive and not quite understand why she would take off in a car full of dudes to go skateboarding, but that wasn’t going to prevent JoAnn from doing what she loved. She did admit to having a crush on pro skater Jason Lee after recognizing his style at Skate Zone, which is understandable!

JoAnn vaguely remembered stumbling upon Lynn Kramer’s Equal Time ‘zine, possibly at a local skate shop and in no time, Lynn was skating her ramp. In Volume 2, No. 1, Lynn even wrote an article about her trip to Santa Barbara in December 1989. While skating the Tea bowls, Lynn stated that, “JoAnn had the place wired. She could carve up the steep face to the catwalk, and she knew all the speed lines through the holes made by dynamite (the cities contribution).” JoAnn gave her the grand tour!

JoAnn then admitted that “I brag about [Lynn] all the time because she is my hero… She was and still is completely obsessed [with skateboarding]… She’s the fastest woman in the world!” JoAnn also remembered Lynn passing over the ‘zine and Women’s Skateboard Network to her in 1992. JoAnn released a fourth issue of Equal Time, and since they were all about equal opportunity, Frankie Hill was the cover-boy. The issue was substantial but ended up being the last one that was published. It was noted in Skater Girl that the economic recession at the time made the publication difficult to retain, but progress was still made.

Photos: Brian Bailey (Dan & Ruth’s Sign-In Bowl), Ethan Fox (cover)

JoAnn was then invited by Ethan Fox to participate in his skateboard video, called Sk8Hers (1992), and even listed her and Rhonda Doyle as Associate Producers. “Ethan just stalked us, found us, filmed us, put it together, put it on VHS,” explained JoAnn. He was able to recognize that women skaters had value! Rhonda, Cara-beth, Patty Segovia, Saecha Clarke, Patti Hoffman, Diane Desiderio, Julie Sack, Heidi Fitzgerald, Peggy Walden, and JoAnn had parts, among others. JoAnn was especially impressed with Saecha, considered an innovative street skater for the time was, landing flip tricks and grinds, and the legacy that was Hoffman, who was still out there supporting women after several decades.

Photos: Ethan Fox

Many of these skaters met at Powell Skate Zone in Santa Barbara, which is likely where JoAnn first connected with Cara-beth, whom she describes as “The Unicorn.” One of the photos Fox took of the Sk8Hers group also appeared in the October 1992 of Thrasher (below).

Cara-beth used the Sk8Hers video as an opportunity to promote Equal Time and introduces JoAnn’s part. She said, “This is JoAnn Gillespie, she’s from Santa Barbara, California. Here she is, riding her backyard ramp and the Powell Skate Zone. JoAnn also has her own ‘zine that’s called Equal Time. It features many girls as well as guys, so if you’re interested write to her and send some photos.”

Meanwhile, skateboarding in the 1990s was not exactly inclusive with magazines like Thrasher and Big Brother obviously having no interest in celebrating female skateboarders, and the companies themselves not viewing women as a worthy market to cater to. JoAnn recalled how she wrote so many letters condemning the trashy graphics, proposing that she get a pro model with an anatomical diagram of a vagina to help the cause. She was pissed!

JoAnn would never hesitate to call out inequity – and she always looked out for her friends. JoAnn recalled how one of her friend’s, who is tough as nails and blind in one eye, kept getting run off the ramp at Skate Zone by Tony Alva, and she just lost it! She could care less about someone’s pro status if they weren’t being respectful, and demanded an apology. A similar thing happened at a contest in Reno, where a mom and pop were hosting an event that included a girls’ division. JoAnn was with Cara-beth, Patty, and Rhonda, trying to warm-up on the ramp but they kept getting attitude from a shitty precocious kid, also known as Colin McKay! The scene just got crazy, and JoAnn was close to punching him out and did end up hurling a skateboard at him.

Back at the hotel, there’s all kinds of rowdy battles happening, and at one point, JoAnn’s dad insists on sending a limousine (which is cheaper than a taxi!) to get her and the crew out of there. Danny Way sees the limo and thinks it’s his, so JoAnn had a good laugh about that one! Apparently, Danny eventually apologized to her (once he became a dad) for the “Big Brother” behaviour of the guys. But at that point, JoAnn decided to just stop talking to these dudes. She had had enough!

Just as Cara-beth took a hiatus from skateboarding to pursue snowboarding, which was less toxic, JoAnn also disconnected from the scene, although she kept skating. She had her bands, her horse, her child and job. And then, Patty Segovia made a bold move and launched the All Girl Skate Jam in 1997. Naturally, JoAnn was involved and was even named as the AGSJ official music director. At one point she found herself juggling the Ladies’ Lounge, the Vans Warped Tour while performing in her band, skateboarding, breast-feeding – a total whirlwind, which she said is a whole other interview!

Vans Warped tour photos below c/o JoAnn:

JoAnn was able to maintain her passions while raising a child, and is known for her promoter’s nickname, which is Rawkmom productions, and for being the founder/president East Bay Punk Rock Riders. Some of her bands include Womentors (drums), Hurting Crew (drums), Dynamite 8 (vocals), and Lazerwolf (vocals). JoAnn also played drums in the Angry Amputees, which performed at the 2001 and 2002 Warped Tour, and was included in Tony Hawk’s Underground Soundtrack. The soundtrack won MTV Videos Music Awards for Best Video Game Soundtrack (2004). The band was on the Dead Teenager label, and even got to record at the Laundry Room Studio in Seattle with the same producers and location as Nirvana.

More recently JoAnn has taught skateboarding to youth, but mainly focuses on horseback riding, horsemanship and equine therapy considering that skateboarding did take its toll on her body. JoAnn admitted to literally having no knees left as a result of skating hard.

Here’s some footage of JoAnn back in 2006 at Martinez, CA skatepark:

JoAnn loved witnessing skateboarding at the Olympics – she found the standard of tricks to be absolutely mind-blowing and has no patience for anyone shitting on the event. The Olympics level of skateboarding is simply another form of many styles of skateboarding, and an opportunity to validate women athletes. She also appreciates the level of inclusion being celebrated these day for all skaters, especially considering that her daughter is trans. “Skateboarding is definitely going through a renaissance… it’s very cathartic because you’re only competing against yourself. You have to want it.”

JoAnn’s final message to skateboarders is to wear your helmet! She has witnessed way too many head injuries and recognizes the importance of protective gear, so be safe! Thank you, JoAnn! You truly rawk!


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