Stephanie Person is the first black female professional skateboarder and her contributions throughout the 1980s are legendary. Back in the day, Stephanie was acknowledged in the zine Ladies Skateworld by Lauri Kuulei Wong (Vol 1 No 1, April 1986), featured on the cover and within Equal Time zine by Lynn Kramer (Vol 1 No 2, April 1989), published an article called “Equal Time” in Poweredge magazine (March 1989), and was interviewed for the UK magazine Skateboard! in their November 1989 issue.
More recently, ’70s skateboard legend Cindy Whitehead interviewed Stephanie for Girl Is Not a 4 Letter Word website (February 22, 2021), which provided deeper context and more photos after her interview in Thrasher (September 2020) with Chris Pastras.
Stephanie grew up in San Jose and shared with Pastras that, “My friend found this chewed-up piece of crap skateboard at the apartments she lived in. She let me borrow it for two weeks and after I had to give it back, my mom got one for me for my 17th birthday.” Stephanie was adamant that she would take a skateboard over a dress even though there were no other girls skateboarding that she knew, let alone another black skater with the exception of Camden Scott in SF.
In 1984, skateboarding took priority for Stephanie at age 16, as she wasn’t satisfied with being on the track team, the softball and basketball teams or any other organized high school sport. For her first two years, Stephanie was a street skater and she was soon noticed at Derby Park in Santa Cruz. Stephanie appears in action within the classic Bones Brigade video Future Primitive (1985) at 44:57 in a striped t-shirt. Even within the mob scene Stephanie doesn’t hesitate and throws down a sweet boneless:
Stephanie abandoned her cheerleading friends, preferring the underground punk scene she was checking out in San Francisco and embraced skateboarding. In her interview with Cindy Whitehead, Stephanie shared how she took initiative along with a skater friend in high school to launch a competition at their local community center. To gather prizes, she flipped through TransWorld and Thrasher magazines, found the phone numbers listed in their back pages, “and every company that I called donated something for the competition as prizes… In fact, Gullwing was my first truck sponsor because of this” (Whitehead).
And when the community center bailed on her because of liability fears, Stephanie said, “I ended up changing the date to the 4th of July and holding it in a Park and Ride parking lot, as I knew it would be empty that day” (Whitehead). While her mom was nervous about the liability coming down on her, Stephanie forged on, putting banners around the parking-lot and hosting some 500 kids, “And that’s when my name got on the map.” While the experience was nerve-wracking, she eventually did it again and became known as the black girl who “put on the Montague Contest.”
From there, Stephanie told Cindy that she began entering street contests such as Oceanside and CASL events in Southern California, but with the growing popularity of vert, and since she met Cara-beth Burnside, Stephanie shifted focus to transition skating. Once Stephanie graduated from high school, “I ended up moving to Southern California and living with eight street skaters. I was skating vert at that time, but I stayed with them in that house for about six months. I was like, everyone is so sponsored, and I don’t see any other girls ever except a couple, so I thought, why can’t I be sponsored?” (Whitehead).
Based on her early success organizing prize donations, Stephanie started making the calls to line up sponsors. “I was first sponsored by Madrid back then, and a skateboard shop in San Jose was my first shop sponsor. Then Rector Pads, Speed Wheels, Venture, Billabong, and Swatch. That was very interesting because I called Swatch up and said, ‘you guys have a new team out, but you don’t have any girls.’ They said they had their team, but I kept explaining that having a female team rider would bring so much more attention to their demos” (Whitehead).
One of those demos was skating a vert ramp during the half-time of a San Francisco 49ers football game with Christian Hosoi and Rob Roskopp. Stephanie told Pastras that it was a highlight of her career, considering that 65,000 people were in the audience.
Stephanie also gave props to legendary skater Judi Oyama and explained how, after turning down a pro model from Brand-X, she was approached by Judi at Derby Park who said, “‘You should be sponsored by Santa Cruz.’ I was like, ‘You think?’” (Pastras). Judi went on to recommend Stephanie to Bob Denike, who lived down the street from her, and he confirmed that Stephanie ripped! A call was made to Richard Novak and then Santa Cruz was official when Stephanie was 19 years old. Shoe sponsors Converse and Etnies also stepped up to support Stephanie.
Judi’s first impressions of Stephanie were shared on GirlisNota4LetterWord, including a photo that she took of Stephanie (above). She said that Stephanie stood out because “she was aggressive and had a style that was strong and fluid. She didn’t hold back and went for moves that most guys couldn’t even make. I knew that Stephanie had talent and would be a good representative for Santa Cruz Skateboards” (Whitehead).
Thunder trucks then featured Stephanie in their ad for the February 1986 issue of Thrasher. Stephanie noted that it was a huge deal for her. “I was like, Oh my God, that’s me in the magazine! I went to Go Skate, a shop in Santa Cruz, and this kid opened up the magazine and was like, ‘That’s you, isn’t it?’ And I almost started crying. In her article, Cindy Whitehead tried to emphasize how unheard of it was for a company to choose a female rider to represent them in a Thrasher ad. This was huge! Three years later a photo by George Medlock in the August 1989 issue of Thrasher of Stephanie skating Mike McGill’s ramp appeared, but without any accompanying interview or context.
Stephanie was also included in Bonnie Blouin’s ground-breaking article, “Sugar and Spice..?” within the April 1986 issue of Thrasher, offering a stylish lay-back on a bank along with photos of Blouin, April Hoffman, KZ Zapata, and Michelle Sanderson—all of whom competed at Vancouver’s Transworld Expo ’86 contest. Since there were limited opportunities for women to compete, Stephanie dabbled in choreographed freestyle which was the only option at Expo ’86 even though skaters like Sue Hazel and Cara-beth Burnside were ripping in vert and could’ve established a contest. Stephanie still managed to have a good time even if she didn’t place in the top five, and her freestyle routine is found here within the video Radical Moves:
The commentary in Radical Moves towards the female participants was brutal, and a great example of the toxic attitude towards women in the 1980s, regarding them more as a punchline in a joke than valid competitors. The women’s results were even excluded from the Team points award, as Expo ’86 was supposed to represent an Olympics type format, with skaters competing for their country (Lucero).
Part-way through Radical Moves we shift locations over to Seylynn skatepark in North Vancouver for a bowl contest. There is a tiny blip showing Stephanie Person dropping into the bowl and I wonder if she competed with the guys – I bet she wanted to!
Stephanie had to be confident and strong, especially in the early 1980s when skateboarding wasn’t always considered cool, combined with often being the lone female and “the whole racist aspect of being in skateboarding at that time. And it taught me to speak up. Because I never spoke up for myself before. Skateboarding instilled that in me… Nothing will ever be as hard as being a girl skater. Ever” (Pastras).
In Poweredge magazine, Stephanie expanded on the challenges of being a female skater in the 1980s, and wrote an article called “Equal Time” for their March 1989 issue. “Being female is hard in its own right. But being a female who skates is down right a rarity. In the society in which we live a skateboarding is seen (looked down upon) as a boys toy. So it’s only obvious that being a grown female who rides a skateboard is a far cry from being normal to our society’s standards. But what’s even more frustrating is the fact that female skaters are not understood in the skate community. Seen but not heard is the feeling that a lot of us female skaters experience” (Person).
The essay is absolutely timeless! Stephanie nails it when she talks about the relentless questions that women skaters face, always expected to explain themselves and the classic “why are there not more?” question and the accusations we face if we happen to get injured, as though that justifies why girls shouldn’t skate. It’s infuriating, and I can only imagine how stoked female readers were when this article came out.
I loved it when Stephanie articulates the contradictory statements female skaters endure, which are often thinly veiled criticism, like the classic “I think its cool that you skate, but I don’t think I would want my girlfriend to do it,” and how frustrating that feels. She does offer a hopeful reminder that, “Although not everyone carries this kind of ignorance and narrow-mindedness, for the most part people believe girls and skating shouldn’t mix. But some people out there sincerely support you” (Person). Photos of Stephanie, Cara-beth Burnside, Anita Tessensohn, Lori Rigsbee, and a young ripper named Sabrina Salotti are included in the article.
Stephanie soon began traveling, although on her first trip to Europe she had her skateboard stolen moments before she was to compete in vert at Munster, Germany. She was forced to borrow an unfamiliar board with loose trucks and injured herself. There’s a video from Stephanie’s Keto webpage of her from 1987 that explains the situation:
Stephanie persevered, and she definitely had impact. Nathalie Richter, Germany’s amateur female champion at the time befriended Stephanie and told me that:
“Stephanie just showed up at my local ramp one day with some guys from Munster. She was actually dating Florian Böhm at the time and, being a great female vert skater, plus being really beautiful and being American, she was instantly super popular on Europe. Stephanie has always loved traveling so she took more than one trip to Europe usually with a male skater friend from the US and they would just meet people locally, amaze everybody with their abilities, flow the locals some rad skateboard stuff and just hang out and be invited to stay with people privately. So when we met, we got along right away. We were both super excited to meet each other because we were such a rare kind at that time” (Richter).
Stephanie also reciprocated the hospitality, and when Nathalie came to California (when she was interviewed for Equal Time zine), she stayed at her place. Stephanie encouraged Nathalie to seek out sponsorship and promote herself.
In the November 1989 issue of the UK magazine Skateboard! we finally receive a full-fledged interview of Stephanie while she was in France by Bamber Shaw and photos by Paul Slack Duffy! It was her third time in Europe, and Stephanie loved to travel and meet other skateboarders, and avoid boredom. Stephanie stated that, “It’s really important for people to read and try to understand what I have to say – don’t just take it for another girl just babbling bullshit, it’s important to understand that this sport is not a physical sport, it’s a completely mental sport… and if you’re a female getting into a male dominated field it’s a complete challenge. When a woman does get into that field she’s getting picked upon, scammed upon” (Shaw).
Stephanie understood the mental game that women were facing and how it was hindering them, especially “trying to skate a ramp with no guys encouraging you… they don’t include you in the learning session. I talked to Carabeth Burnside, she’s one of the top female skaters and she completely rips, she still tells me that after 12 years of skating, when she goes to a ramp guys won’t include her in a learning session. These are the things that hold girls back” (Shaw). Stephanie acknowledged that some guys were more open-minded and that it is helpful when someone genuinely encourages you, and not because of what you like, whether you’re attractive to them or not (she gave an example of a bigger girl that guys were trashing and judging).
Since there were no female contest divisions, Stephanie primarily skated with and against the guys. For example, in the ‘zine Ladies Skateworld (Issue #1, April 1986), Lauri Kuulei Wong notes that there was a CASL contest at Del Mar on April 12, 1986 and while Stephanie competed, she wasn’t given a placing since she was in the mix as part of the generic “sponsored” category.
In Skateboard! magazine Stephanie said that contests were kind of a joke. “I’m a sponsored skater, I have six sponsors. This is maybe my 50th competition, and every single one is… completely for myself – all those sponsors and the placings don’t even mean anything because no-one gives a shit… First of all it sucks that you have to complete with the guys, but then in a sense if you can beat the guys that’s something that makes you feel good.” Stephanie did reference the situation in tennis with someone like Steffi Graph receiving recognition among her peers, and that, “I would be so stoked to enter a contest with twenty girls and have it be a real competition” (Shaw).
For things to change, Stephanie believed that companies had to make an investment in women because she felt that there was a girls market out there and that inspiration in the media was needed (Shaw). She also didn’t appreciate being pitted against other women just because there were so few of them. Stephanie said that “guys would try to pit me against Cara-Beth and Lori [Rigsbee] all the time, just because we were the only females. I don’t like that feeling. It gives me a rash” (Pastras).
Stephanie’s advice to skateboarders in her interview with Pastras was to ignore the opinions of others “and find your own thoughts. Because people will constantly try to tell you how to exist in skateboarding. Don’t listen to the chatter.” This advice is coming from lived experience considering some gossip from jealous Santa Cruz teammates who accused Stephanie of sleeping with everybody during her first sponsored trip to Europe. The accusation was absolute garbage, as explained to Cindy and showed how absurd the double standards were for women. Stephanie left Santa Cruz for Death Box (which became Flip), as a result.
Even though Stephanie’s first experience in Germany resulted in injury, she decided to leave the U.S. for Europe at age 20, going on tour for five years. She turned pro in 1988 but told Cindy that, “You really didn’t have a choice – there were no amateur competitions in Europe where I was skating, so you had to compete in the pro divisions.” Stephanie ended up living in Europe for 16 years, returning to California at age 35.
As a woman of colour, Stephanie shared some intense situations in her interview with Cindy. “I went to a skateboard ramp in the south, and the Klan came and tried to beat me up… I had a very famous skateboarder try and rape me in a hotel room because I was just be myself… It always felt like I never had backup from a group of guys, I was always fighting my way to stay relevant and be me, and it was never easy. Everything, every single story, every single second of it was absolutely grueling and very hard” (Whitehead). As Cindy expressed, Stephanie’s story is “honest, raw, and real,” and women in skateboarding are indebted to her for her grit and strength.
Stephanie Person forged a solo path for black skateboarders today like Samarria Brevard, Nika Washington, and Beatrice Domond. In 1989, she said “I did everything on my own because I wanted to and that why skateboarding is easy to me in a life sense. You see it, you want it, you take it. I got it because I wanted it” (Shaw).
After living in Europe for almost two decades, Stephanie injured her knee skating in Sweden and returned to the U.S. to recover. Overall, Stephanie had ten knee surgeries and was on crutches for four years, and while it prevented her from performing up to her standards, she persevered and her new health regime has proven successful. Stephanie now focuses on nutritional research, fitness, and the impact of the ketogenic diet.
Stephanie shared with Cindy that, “In 2010 I was featured in ‘How We Roll’ a six-month exhibition of Black Surf and Skate Culture at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles. They used that photo of me about the exhibit on a billboard during the X Games that year – that was cool!” (Whitehead).
Stephanie’s YouTube channel is full of inspirational footage, including skateboarding sessions on a mini-ramp back in 2011.
It’s evident that Stephanie continues to be a fighter and is so deserving of any recognition she receives! Cindy summed up her interview perfectly saying, “I appreciate that you fought so hard for yourself and others in skateboarding. As a Black female skater, you paved the way for so many girls today, so thank you so much for all you’ve done, and just know that there’s a lot of us that definitely appreciate it!” (Whitehead).
Check out more of Stephanie’s YouTube videos here including these skateboarding-related videos:
Her old pro years (including interview):
Skateboarding lessons 2015:
Photos: J. Grant Brittain, Paul Slack Duffy, George Medlock, Judi Oyama, Mark Waters, Martin Willners
- Lucero, John. “Ten days in a zoo.” Thrasher. December 1986, pp. 53-59, 95.
- Pastras, Chris. “Lest we forget: Stephanie Person.” Thrasher. September 2020.
- Person, Stephanie. “Equal Time.” Poweredge magazine. March 1989, pp. 38-39.
- Person, Stephanie. “Stephanie, before and after the ketogenic diet! The skateboard years” (October 30, 2014). Retrieved from YouTube.
- Shaw, Bamber. “Stephanie Person.” Skateboard! magazine. November 1989, pp. 16–19.
- Whitehead, Cindy. “‘80s Skateboarder Stephanie Person: what you didn’t read in Thrasher!” Girl Is Not a 4 Letter Word (February 22, 2021).