Legendary Hermosa Beach skateboarder Cindy Whitehead wrapped up her 2014 TEDx Talk by saying, “Never be afraid to live life balls to the wall and do epic shit.” It's a succinct summation of the philosophy by which she lives her life, one that's inspired her to do everything from going pro as a teenager in the '70s, when girls were hardly represented in the sport, to hopping a fence near the Sepulveda Pass and skating down the 405 during Carmageddon II in 2012.
The sentiment oozes from the pages of It's Not About Pretty: A Book About Radical Skater Girls, which Whitehead published through her Girl Is Not a 4 Letter Word foundation in February. The 100-plus-page book captures 65 female skateboarders in action in photos taken over the course of several years by Whitehead's husband, sports photographer Ian Logan. The women represented range in age from 5 to 50 and are pictured in a context that mirrors the way their male counterparts are widely represented in books and magazines. They do kicks in the streets, handstands on vert ramps; in one photo, a skater pulls back her beanie to ice an enormous knot on her forehead. It's the first and only photo book to be published that focuses solely on female skateboarders.
Since she retired from skating, Whitehead has dedicated herself to gaining visibility for female skaters, from her work as a sports stylist to her foundation's outreach. In a lot of ways, sadly, not much has changed for women in skating since Whitehead went pro in the '70s. Men still get the majority of the coverage, which means that most girls don't even entertain the idea of getting into skateboarding. “I do feel like it’s getting better,” Whitehead says, “but like with so many things, it’s five steps forward, two steps back.”
A big step forward: skateboarding's inclusion in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, along with surfing, baseball/softball, karate and sports climbing. Whitehead says lots of skaters are ambivalent about the development; skateboarding isn't like a traditional sport insofar as there aren't coaches or teams or drug testing. Plus, as Whitehead puts it, a lot of skaters see it more as a lifestyle than a sport. “It's sort of an anti-sport,” she says. At the same time, the Olympics will put female skaters squarely in the international eye (the competition will be divided by gender, as usual).
Between the Olympics, Nike's new Equality campaign, an Urban Outfitters' spring “lookbook” that features “skater girls” and the inclusion of It's Not About Pretty: A Book About Radical Skater Girls in the Smithsonian's collection, Whitehead believes strides are being made for women in sports to be taken more seriously. “I think the biggest way is for women to support other women and not feel that women are a threat or enemy,” she says. “Let’s build each other up; if we do that we’re unstoppable.”