Jana Payne

Jana Payne (Booker) has been repeatedly recognized as a major influence on skaters like Vicki Vickers, Kym Milburn, and Terry Lawrence and has now been inducted into the Skateboard Hall of Fame (2022). Jana is also a survivor of childhood sexual assault which came about through her skateboarding coach in the 1970s and has been processing her experience through the healing power of art and the impact of the #metoo movement.

For her SHOF acceptance speech she said, “I want to stand up here for women in sports. I left skateboarding because I got molested by my coach. And, I think that’s something that we need to talk about, and people have been talking about it… I love the sport but I left it, in a sense, to save myself from more harm. And I’m just so grateful – this is a very healing moment for me to honour that little girl inside of me that was dishonoured all those years ago. Thank you so much – it means so much to me.”

In a group interview (June 2020) with Ken Hada and several female legends, Jana shared how she was raised in Anaheim and that when the Concrete Wave skatepark opened in the mid-1970s (located right behind Disneyland) and five blocks from her house, she started skating with intention. After only three months at the park she was recruited for the Concrete Wave team, and other sponsors followed including Sims, Vans, and Gordon and Smith (G&S), which Stacy Peralta himself invited her to join. Jana even revealed that she was very enterprising at Concrete Wave and offered to help around the park, like sweeping and picking up gear to avoid paying an entry fee! (April 2020).

In the November 1977 issue of Skateboarder, Jana received a “Who’s Hot” feature by Brian Gillogly (pp. 108-109) at age 14. Jana shared that technically she was “standing up and riding” at age one, but that it was only years later when her big brother Bob got into freestyle that she received some instruction. Gillogly praised her highly, writing that, “Jana shows a distinct preference for vertical and near-vertical skating, and particularly pool riding. If the style which she has developed there is often characterized as more masculine than feminine, perhaps it is time to reassess those terms, especially regarding a female who deals so thoroughly with radical terrain.” Amen to that!

Jana was fortunate to hit up a popular spot called the Fruit Bowl before it was destroyed and Gillogly noted that she was hitting tile on her second or third day. To Ken Hada she said, “I don’t know if anybody remembers the Fruit Bowl, but I ended up going to the Fruit Bowl and getting on the Sims team. And then, you know, it was like the Big O, Skatopia – I skated all those places which had way better pools. Concrete Wave only had the one pool and it was pretty much a disaster. The shallow end was a great transition, but their deep end was really bad, but that’s where I started” (June 2020).

Even though photographer James Cassimus described her as “possibly the hottest female skater” in the scene, Jana remembered feeling a bit upset about her main feature photo, “because it didn’t look like any big deal.” In 2020, she explained how she actually had a cool line, ripping over some astroturf, going over a bump, around the bowl into a 12 foot lip-slide. “I remember thinking, ‘oh, that doesn’t look like a very cool trick,’ but my feet were on the edge of the board pushing it. You know, my feet weren’t even on the board” and she experienced such a thrill of moving fast and effortlessly. Gillogly at least tried to express how impressive her style was and tricks including lip-slides and fakie 360s.

Jana especially loved the Skatopia halfpipe to learn and progress in vert. Kim Adrian even remembered Jana’s persistence learning to drop-in, just trying it over and over until she finally succeeded. Jana was a determined skater, and if she got snaked, even if it was Tony Alva, she would call them out and even yelled at him (although admitted that when he turned around to figure out who was yelling, she denied it). “Well, I was kind of aggressive sometimes with other kids and especially boys, you know, they were not treating me right… I had two brothers that were older than me, so I didn’t have any problems sticking up for myself with the guys. I had a big mouth” (June 2020).

In Skateboarder, Jana even admitted to taking out a dude after getting really upset. “I’ll be in the front of a line and somebody will come up, put their board down right in front of me and take off. One day I just got really mad and grabbed the guy by the shirt and threw him down. Just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean I don’t care” (1977). Cassimus followed up with another great photo of Jana for the December 1977 issue of Skateboarder rocking her G&S gear with fireworks in the background.

Jana also appeared in print in the March 1978 issue of Sessions magazine for receiving an “honorable mention” for her performance at the Concrete Wave competition in November 1977. Russ Howell considered this event the first ever pool contest, and I’m assuming that, instead of competing against the girls like Suzette Owens, Canon ‘Bunny’ Price, Tara Kaylor and Elaine Poirier, she went up against the boys her own age.

In April 1978, Jana participated at the Hang-Ten Skateboard Olympics at Magic Mountain placing second in Junior Women’s (13-17) freestyle behind Suzette Owens and ahead of Cindy Whitehead as described in the May 1978 issue of National Skateboard Review. Jana was evidently versatile in freestyle, pool, bowl, and slalom. More results followed, although she never went professional because she was part of a petition rallying for skateboarding to be in the Olympics, which required one to remain an amateur.

Contest results included:

  • June 1978 at the I.S.A. National Freestyle contest at Oceanside she placed 4th in freestyle for sponsored amateur girls.
  • February 1979, Jana won the girls 13-15 2A freestyle contest at Upland, CA.
  • March 1979, she won the halfpipe contest at Skatopia in the girls 13-15 3A category.
  • March / April 1979, USASA Nationals at Whirling Wheels Skatepark, Escondido CA Jana was first in slalom for girls 13-15.

Becoming a skateboarder felt natural for Jana. “I found exactly the thing I wanted to do, and it was easy, and I had such a great time doing it. I was a gymnast before that and did other athletic things, but nothing that, you know, gave me the thrill… On a skateboard, especially since there were parks and places to go and, you know, I don’t know if any of you ladies remember, but in the 70s in California there was a drought so there was a lot of pools, private pools to skate” (June 2020).

Jana recalled skating with lots of guys, and while she was aware that there were local girls lurking at the skatepark to look pretty and meeting guys, “I was not one of them. I didn’t care about how I looked. I just was there to skate” (June 2020). She even had a great memory of bicycling down Katella Avenue with her skateboard in tow, “which is a street that runs along the other side of Disneyland. We would go all the way to Orange and we found a place that made steel pipes and there was a huge fence around it with the barbed wire and everything. And we climbed over this fence. And would go in there and skate these like 18-foot pipes that were steel and they’d actually rock back and forth when. We’d skate in them. And we’d get all rusty from doing it, but there was actually a Doberman in the in the place and we ran from this Doberman and threw our skateboards over the fence and somehow got away from getting attacked by this dog… in that time it’s like there was nothing that we wouldn’t do to try to skate something new… we didn’t care if we were trespassing or not” (June 2020).

The one aspect of skateboarding sponsorship Jana didn’t enjoy was being hired by a clothing company called Dittos. “We would go to all the Miller’s Outposts with a group of kids and do demonstrations of skateboarding. And then they would make us do these plays and I hated that part of it. It’s like, ‘I’m a skateboarder, I’m not an actress.’ I just wanna skate… don’t make me act out some stupid thing… And then I remember being on Vans and doing parades and stuff the Vans skateboard team” (June 2020).

During the group conversation with Ken Hada, fellow skaters Kim Adrian and Amy Bradshaw recalled seeing Jana perform a headstand, which no one was doing at the time, and being blown away. Jana vaguely remembered the event and struggling to ride her pool board on the slalom course and then performing a freestyle routine to the song “Lazy” by Deep Purple!

When Kim asked what everyone loved the most about skateboarding Jana said, “Being able to have control of something that’s moving and moving fast and to be to feel so at home, on it, and to feel like you’re in control of what you’re doing” (June 2020).

Jana was recognized by Terry Lawrence in his “Who’s Hot!” feature with King James in the June 1978 issue of Skateboarder saying, “I started at the Concrete Wave about a year ago when I first saw Jana Payne. I just wanted to do what she was doing so I started riding there every day…” Vicki Vickers, in her “Who’s Hot” article with Jim Goodrich in the December 1978 issue of Skateboarder had shared how her one of her favorite female skaters was Jana.

And then things came to a dramatic halt, and this was not because skateparks failed and the industry dwindled.

Jana publicly shared a secret with Ken Hada prompted by the #metoo movement within his skatopia.net podcast after witnessing other victims come forward. While she had felt afraid of being demonized and called a liar, as though it was her fault, Jana decided to share the truth about being sexually assaulted by her skateboarding coach as a youth. She expanded on the experience of speaking freely for the first time with Ken and how it fueled her artwork, in a follow-up interview called “I Had a Conversation” linked here.

Jana overcame a lot of adversity, even going blind in 2015, but emphasized the impact of therapy, meditation, being kind to yourself, and art as a “vehicle to connect with people,” which was present in her life before she found skateboarding. Jana would go to art classes with her mom as a child and eventually worked at the Disney Imagineering department as a commercial artist before it became a path for healing.

“As a skateboarder, there was really not a lot of women there to advocate for young girls and being in a male-dominated sport, and having coaches that were male, I ended up being molested and that totally scared me and I was supposed to go out of the country with my team, and I was scared. And so, I just decided to save myself – I would quit skateboarding even though it was a huge thing for me” (April 2020).

After being molested, Jana noted that it was a benchmark of going down hill. “Being traumatized and not understanding it – hiding it. And having parents who weren’t involved in my life…” And then no one asked her why she was quitting skateboarding even though she was State champion. Jana speculated that her mom, who was diagnosed with bi-polar, was depressed and just not present to help likely due to her own trauma. Her mom was not a fan of skateboarding or anything perceived as masculine, so never offered support. Jana knew she was breaking gender roles but often felt like an outcast at school and home, which triggered a lot of anger. When Jana quit skateboarding, she lost touch with so many friends and a sense of identity and couldn’t explain herself to others at the time.

With Ken, Jana was able to reflect on what she was dealing with internally and the hurt she was living with as a child and the impact it had on her health. The interview is incredible and absolutely heart-breaking especially when Jana shared the moment she saw herself as a vulnerable girl in an old skateboard video even though she had tried to present a tough exterior. You will cry, but please listen to this courageous story! Jana now lives in Tucson, Arizona and is a designer / sculptor for Jana Booker Design.

One thing Jana proposed at the very end of the podcast was a kind of reckoning and story-sharing for female skaters of all ages about these kinds of toxic / traumatic experiences, perhaps even a film to explore the impact of sexual violence, so that we know we’re not alone. She also provided her contact information to reach out.

If any of this content has been triggering, do connect with a trusted friend or family member, pursue counseling and legal action when you’re ready. Also consider checking out Consent Is Rad launched by Dr. Indigo Willing, and follow their Instagram page, which is an initiative to reduce sexual violence within skateboarding and build a community of support.

Thank you Jana for your kickass skateboarding and your bravery.

References:

Photos: Jim Cassimus, Ken Hada, Leslie Smith, Jana’s personal collection.

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