Cyndy Pendergast was a confident skater in the Mid-West in the 1970s and 1980s and is listed as a “notable member” of the Turf skateboard park on a Wikipedia page. Her name is included along with a host of male skaters, and the legendary Patti Hoffman. The Turf, also known as “Surfin’ Turf” was in Greenfield, Wisconsin and was known as “an indoor/outdoor facility consisting of five sculptured concrete pools providing some of the best terrain of its time.”
Cyndy was on my radar because she appeared in a zine called EDO out of Springfield, VA in 1986 getting inverted in a ramp. A fellow skateboarder named Marla Rainey from Clarendon Hills, IL wrote to editor Christian Satto stating that, “There are five female skaters in the area: Cyndy Pendergast came in 7th place Division A at M.A.R.S. (Midwest Amateur Ramp Series) #1 contest” which was held at Tory Boettcher’s Ramp on June 1, 1985 in Cary, IL. It’s worth noting that Cyndy was competing against John Lucero and Neil Blender.
Thanks to social media and a Facebook post on ADVWoman (which is a super cool adventure motorcycle tour group that Cyndy was part of – riding her KLR650 in Colorado!), I was able to connect with Cyndy and pose some questions.
How were you first introduced to skateboarding?
Not sure, it was before high school so like in the 7th grade or so.
I started skating in the streets and then transitioned to Rainbow Skateboard park in Chicago and my parents would take me up to Greenfield Wisconsin to skate at SurfnTurf (The Turf) which had concrete pools. I pretty much skated vert most of the time unless I found banks in street skating terrain. There seemed to be halfpipes popping up here and there in Chicago way back then plus there is that wave wall at the Aquarium one could ride/surf…just don’t lose your board in the water since the lake was right next to it. Vert/transition is addicting.
Did someone inspire or encourage you?
No, I don’t even know honestly. I remember finding a blue plastic skateboard in a store while out with my mom and asking to buy it. I just thought it was really cool and I felt I could ride it. This makes no sense because I don’t recall having seen anyone ride around my neighborhood, it’s like it just grabbed my attention. I have no idea why and when we brought that home I went outside and proceeded to learn to ride by myself. It was sketch at first, but I picked it up quickly and then I started bombing hills on that little blue crazy board that I would never get on today. I packed up with some other kids on boards that found that same hill and we rode that thing everyday for a couple summers. That thing was dangerous but I was a kid and until you are like 11 or so you are about half immortal with your healing abilities because childhood. I rode at crazy speeds down hills without safety gear running it out at the bottom, no idea how I survived that other than being young enough to do it.
That first board had clay wheels and then either urethane wheels came out or we heard about them and it was funny – the bunch of kids I skated with actually argued a bit about whether we should upgrade from the clay wheels and whether urethane was a fad/gimmick. I look back on those serious discussions and have to bust up laughing about it. I hear skaters today remain skeptical of new gear so perhaps it’s just a skater thing. I fell in love with skateboarding, even more so when I learned vert skating a couple years later.
I know in the 70s there was a good mix of guys and girls skateboarding, but the 80s seemed more intent on being branded as an activity for boys. Were the guys in your community supportive?
I was skating in the mid 70’s and the kids I skated with didn’t care about gender. The occasional kid would look at me in wonder since I look very genderqueer and was usually seen to be male to the point people would argue with me that I must be a boy. This has happened all through my life, and it’s been hard and sometimes funny as I am not trans, it’s just how I look to others. Early on gender was a non-issue in my skating. When I started going to the Surf n Turf Skatepark in Wisconsin (later changed its name to the Turf) nobody bothered me. I was a good skater, and I would get guys coming up to me to ask what I was riding, they wanted to know what board I was on. When I competed against guys (since I was usually the only girl there) I would place pretty consistently in bowl contests there. I also placed pretty high, won one and was like 2nd or 3rd very often. I kinda grew up with the Turf crowd and we all skated together.
Photo: John Lucero
Were there any other girls you skated with?
Usually no, but I had one buddy named Marla Rainey who was a photographer and we would hit street spots together all around Chicago and she wanted to take pictures. I did meet and skate with Pattie Hoffman at the Turf when she visited, that was pretty incredible to meet another female that was a good bowl rider. There were a few other women I rode with, mostly in the street scene back then which was all about finding little vert spots, transition, and banks to skate.
Based on EDO zine it sounded like there was an active competitive scene in the mid-west. What motivated you to enter contests, and did you enjoy them?
It was something to do at the park and yes, they were very fun. The contests pushed us quite a bit and really helped develop everybody’s skating level. Back then no YouTube so sometimes the skate rags would have multiple pics/freeze frames of a trick and then we could figure out how to do it or at least how to go for it. But often we’d just see pics of a new trick and have to figure it all out from that one pic on our own. No instruction articles, no help learning unless a buddy figured it out before you, pads and helmet and crash shorts were necessary because you basically hucked your meat to learn new tricks and bailed/biffed until you got it. The pools were pretty deep too with lots of vert hence the need for safety gear. I loved getting air though – airs out of bowls were my favorite thing and after that rippin’ tiles (carving) around in the clover pool. I don’t think anybody cared who won the contests or where you placed, the contests just motivated us all to jam as hard as we could and to use the energy to air higher, we just enjoyed the energy and ripped around the pools in it.
Did any sponsors step up to support you?
Yes, but they did not support me but rather used my name briefly to sell their product locally and then dropped me when I needed gear. They told me I was sponsored, provided stickers they wanted on my board…which I had purchased the board, promised a deck and other gear and when I needed a replacement deck were nasty on the phone and promptly dropped me. That was Madrid.
There was a male pro from Madrid that asked me to join their team when he saw me skate at the Turf but the managers on the phone were really unsupportive. I was pretty turned off on sponsors after that and would purchase decks/shapes I wanted to ride and then spray paint them so you could not tell whose deck it was (none of the following decks were theirs).
I also wrote Santa Cruz and sent them sponsor me pictures (photos of some pretty good airs in the deep keyhole pool at the Turf) and my contest placings which were pretty good & were against guys of which 2 were local sponsored guys and they were extremely sexist in their turn down of me to include commenting on my body in the photos rather than my skating ability. Santa Cruz was also really negative about my short haircut and wrote back “why don’t you grow your hair out?”
I’m beating guys in pool contests and they are worried about my hair length? Yeah…Santa Cruz is not the cool company they portray themselves to be. “Sponsors” really suck and can kiss my ass is pretty much how I feel about sponsors.
For what it’s worth I very often had young boys ask me what I was riding, they were strangers, probably watched the contests or maybe a jam session and they would go get their parents and buy the same deck back then – there was a skateshop right there at the Turf skatepark. They would come out and show me the deck right after & ask me to sign it. More than once I had people come up and ask me to sign their deck. I could do way more tricks in a contest run than one of the local sponsored guys so with that and the people buying gear based off what I was riding and people coming up with a marker and asking me to sign their decks often, I thought I might be worthy of sponsorship with all that happening. But I am female and that is where the sexism showed up. And the rejections were very nasty, no problems at all with the guys I skated with and against in contests but people in California with skate companies just seemed to be total asshats. They never figured out that I was selling a lot of boards without trying and without being sponsored so that’s their loss.
At the Turf skatepark the staff there seemed to like me, and I felt the park supported me as a local rider so that was very cool, just the Turf vibe. After the sexist sponsor nonsense, I would no longer tell people that asked what brand of board I was riding, some of the kids would keep asking and I would explain that I did not promote any brands. They did ask why, and I would tell them what had happened to me. I also went to Rainbow Skatepark and was on their team for awhile which just got me into the park for free most of the time. They had halfpipes and a mini-pool, no concrete but it was local and I just went up to the Turf with the larger pools on the weekends. I was and still am addicted to that weightless feeling you get on vert.
It seemed like skateboard magazines rarely promoted female skaters in the 80s. Were you aware of other female skaters at the time or from the past to inspire you?
Women skaters were in the mags rarely – I knew about Pattie Hoffman and later on heard about Carabeth Burnside – wish I could have met her and seen her skate. The underground skaterags were way cooler than the mainstream so that’s where other female skaters and I would learn of each other and sometimes write each other.
Photo: Marla Rainey
Cyndy is 58 now and continues to live a life of adventure. She explained over email that, “Being winter, my passion right now is snowboarding as well as powsurfing – I still have my Sims from the 70’s – a bindingless snowboard that used to have a skatedeck bolted on top with a bungie cord going over the top for your feet.” Cyndy also explained that she juggles a high-octane job in IT, so I’m super grateful to receive this content and piece together some valuable perspective in women’s skateboard history.
Thanks again Cyndy for taking this time to share!
- Pendergast, Cyndy. Personal interview via emails. February 20 & March 23, 2023.