Archive for the ‘Essays and Musings’ Category

If you’ve followed this blog or known me, you know I’m an advocate for social justice.  I have long wondered if I should talk about racism in action sports, but that’s a tricky one because some sports are more diverse than others.  There are programs like Burton’s Chill Foundation and Black Girls Surf addressing the inequality, but the industry as a whole, like the majority of America and the rest of the world, has remained mum about systemic racism, notably the unjust killing of Black individuals by police.  Until now.

Even though #BlackoutTuesday was mostly an act of performative allyship, it’s a step.  Non-Black athletes who have never brought up race posted a black square in solidarity.  The message did get lost when Black athletes posted the square too.  We should be hearing from them.

X Games recognized this need to amplify Black voices, and they doubled down on Instagram after getting criticisms for their support of the Black Lives Matter movement with quotes from their Black competitors.  The boldest was this quote from skater Ishod Wair:

This country is so disgustingly and blatantly racist. The vale [sic] has been pulled for the world to see once again that the system never meant to protect us. Failing to put rules in place to stop the madness not even acknowledging the serious issue at hand. If we don’t come together things won’t change.”

X Games have since gone back to their regular programming, but maybe we’ll see a bit more diversity in the athletes featured and invited.

Another skater they quoted was Nyjah Huston, who went out to protest.

 

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WE WONT BE UNHEARD!! JUSTICE IS A MUST😤

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Nyjah has also talked about being 1/4 Black yet raised in a Rastafarian household and what that has meant in terms of identity. (more…)

I’ve debated whether I wanted to bring up COVID-19 on this blog.  However, I am connected to the medical community (I’m just on the non-human side of things), and I felt it would be irresponsible not to speak up.  I have been disappointed in the lackadaisical response to the pandemic by some members’ of the action sports community in the U.S.

Although local governments have started reopening measures, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to grow.  If you look at the latest data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, which compares cases within the U.S. and with other countries, the U.S.’s number of confirmed cases per 100,000 people (dark green) is still trending upwards.  We have yet to truly “flatten the curve”.

Even though most action sports athletes are young and healthy, there are those who have survived battles against severe illnesses and may not have as strong of an immune system.  Heck, asthma will increase your chances of being more affected by COVID-19 since it attacks the respiratory systems.  Then there’s the older legends of the sports, and family members who may not be as healthy.  Over 1.5 million people have died from the virus in the U.S.  We don’t need to lose more.

I recognize that the spirit of action sports revolves around risk taking, but as many professionals will maintain, it’s a calculated risk.  It’s fine to go surf, skate, or ride, but it’s unwise to hang out with your crew afterwards. Surfline did a feature about how some areas were more successful in maintaining social distance and how closing beaches didn’t solve the issue. A lot of it is personal responsibility.

 

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Cody Thompson offers great advice for anyone catching waves.

This weekend, my Instagram has been filled with announcements of skatepark opening and videos of private gatherings.  I know parks can insist on temperature checks and reduced capacity like my workplace, but I worry about how these rules are going to be enforced. That’s been hard to do at my job, which is an essential operation (in terms of how we have very expensive things and organisms that need to be maintained). Conversely, this may reduce the crowding on sidewalks and in neighborhoods because everyone wanted to get a bit of fresh air while sheltering in place.

I take issues with private gatherings when pros start coming and going to each other’s houses. That defeats the purpose of the quarantine. You don’t know if your friends have COVID-19 unless y’all were tested so y’all may be spreading it. As I mentioned above, just because our local governments have started to relax certain rules doesn’t mean the virus has started to go away. Think about why events are still being cancelled rather than operating with 25% the amount of people (or doing what my mom suggested and filming without an audience for TV).  There’s a risk with gathering in groups, and corporations don’t want that burden. We as individuals should consider the same.

I don’t want to be a party pooper, especially since action sports athletes have done a lot of good in raising money or handing out masks for those in need. I know the culture likes to rebel and reject authority, but this virus has had devastating effects. Our sessions and parties can wait, and we can get creative with on-line content. Please stay safe and do the right thing.

Dear Grosso,

I know you don’t start Loveletters to Skateboarding this way, and you’d probably make fun of me for being so formal.  You were never one for frills or euphemisms. Skateboarding is full of hard slams, and you definitely had your share, physically and figuratively.  Very few people can say they went to the “School of Hard Knocks” on Facebook without sounding like a poser, but you definitely went there (and maybe got held back a year or two).

For a while, I didn’t know about your career.  You were just some weird announcer guy who also made Youtube videos.  Those videos though had intriguing content, and pretty soon I realized the wealth of knowledge you held.  I learned about the skate scenes in my town and my grandfather’s homeland.  I learned about all the well-known skaters without the sanitization of mainstream media.  I learned what it meant to be a real skater.

As for your announcing, again your unapologetically raw approach brought energy and a realness—”color commentary” indeed.  I saw the rapport you had with skaters, particularly the women.  In supporting them, I felt like you’re supporting me… even though you’d probably call me a bunch of names I don’t generally approve of for chickening out of certain moves.  Tough love is still love.

Thank you for everything you’ve done for skateboarding.  You were a ripper even after the “end” of your pro career. While your official role might have shifted from pro to commentator and mentor, you were always a skater. Except when you became a father. I’m sharing the “Father and Sons” episode of Loveletters because I think it best embodies you, father and skater.

Ride in Peace Jeff Grosso
April 28, 1968 – March 31, 2020
 

I’ve been listening to The Monday M.A.S.S. podcast, and in a recent episode, the hosts Chris Coté and Todd Richards discussed the mandatory helmet rule for under-18 competitors in Olympics-sanctioned park and street skateboarding events.   Based on what I saw in the X Games Shanghai replays, X Games doesn’t have such a rule.  World Skate, however, does, and last year, Jagger Eaton was disqualified as a result of the head of delegation of the Brazilian Federation of Skateboarding filing a complaint.

There’s a lot to unpack with that particular incident, especially as Jagger’s DQ allowed Brailian skater Murilo Peres to advance to the finals.  The idea of filing complaints fuels the criticisms of skateboarding’s inclusion into the Olympics.  There’s bureaucracy, regulation, and competitivenessthings directly in opposition to skating’s free-wheeling, anti-establishment rules.  I’m not sure the complaint was filed out of concern for Jagger’s safety but rather a seizing of the opportunity to advance.  Not exactly cool.

However, safety is something to consider.  The brain is still developing in adolescents, and although helmets don’t prevent brain injury, they at least protect the skull, which in turn protects the brain and also doesn’t finish growing until adulthood.  Last year, a pilot study was published in Frontiers in Neurology that revealed adolescent mice with a mild brain injury don’t suffer worse effects from a subsequent injury.  Their skulls do get changed, which could be a means of protection from future injuries or a consequence of development being altered.  There isn’t a clear answer, and this is just one study.  Also, note that they specified “mild” TBI.

Skateboarding is going to reach a broader audience with the Olympics.  Not everyone is going to have someone to teach them how to fall properly or access to skateparks where you don’t have to worry about cars and random obstacles (I mean, I used the back of the couch as a balance beam after watching gymnasts in the 1996 Olympics).  It’s better for the competitive skaters to set an example for young kids whose development may be impacted by injuries to the skull and brain until we obtain more information the consequences of early TBI.

References
McColl, Thomas J et al. “Mild Traumatic Brain Injury in Adolescent Mice Alters Skull Bone Properties to Influence a Subsequent Brain Impact at Adulthood: A Pilot Study.” Frontiers in neurology vol. 9 372. 25 May. 2018, doi:10.3389/fneur.2018.00372

“Can we keep politics out of it?” is a phrase often repeated but not quite fully understood.  I say that as someone whose existence is political.  I’m the queer daughter of immigrants, and as as result, I can’t keep my politics out of action sports.  Whether the lack of exposure of female athletes or the choice of vocabulary that directly affects LGBT kids in a negative manner, I’m going to challenge the status quo of our community.  Nowadays, the pros are taking similar views, whether it’s Gus Kenworthy coming out in such an open manner or Colton Satterfield leaving Monster Energy for religious reasons.

I’ve previously posted about action sports athletes championing environmentalist causes.  It’s a great example about how politics is tied with the culture.  Winter and water sports depend on the existence of natural environments, which are legislated upon through policies regarding climate change, pollution, and protected areas.  Then you have motocross sitting on the other side with riders protesting restrictions on fuel emissions (although innovations in electric bikes and four-strokes are providing a compromise) and where they can ride.

Politics doesn’t have to refer to the issues of one particular country’s government.  Imprimatur examines the decisions, trends, and identities that affect the economic. social, and creative aspects of BMX.  A lot of its articles remind us that a component of BMX involve making money, whether it’s pro aspirations or being able to access footage of other riders.  Sometimes it does get into the larger scope of things, especially with Chelsea Fietsgodin’s essays about microaggressions and the use of certain symbols.

If you know me or this blog, you know that I have a very specific point of view, and it’s obvious at how I’m trying to avoid expressing my strong opinions.  I could make an entire post about how I’ve had to cut ties with friends in the community and unfollowed certain athletes specifically due to their opinions on certain sociopolitical issues (and how they’ve expressed it).  The point of this post in particular is to challenge the notion that politics can be left out of action sports.  That’s a privilege only some can enjoy, and it might be taken away so…
43340005_1464558923677618_6491474164573011968_o Graphic by Violet DeVille

There’s even a site dedicated to getting American skaters to vote.  The deadline to register to vote for this year’s midterm elections, which are important (laws on all levels affect usjust think about city ordinances and skate parks), is today in some states and inching close in the rest. So if you haven’t registered yet, plug your info into Skaters Vote.

I won’t lie about how difficult it is to be an informed voter, but there are great resources out there (sample ballots and voter guides are your friend) and even if you choose to focus voting on one issues, that’s a start too.  We’re a community of revolution, and we now span multiple generations so we can get our voices heard and make the world a better place.

I have several issues with Shaun White, who used to be one of my favorite snowboarders.  I’ve followed his career since we were both 14 years old, but over the years, I started to see the criticisms that the community had for him.  It was glaringly obvious at the U.S. Grand Prix this weekend, and Todd Richards has invited a discussion on Shaun’s perfect score.  I want to talk about another issue, one that is much bigger and yet no longer discussed.  In 2016, Shaun’s former bandmate Lena Zawaideh sued him for unpaid wages and sexual harassment.

They reached a settlement early last year, a few months before the Harvey Weinstein cases broke news and the #MeToo movement began.  I wonder if Shaun would have been let off the hook as easily because settlement or not, people are starting to take a stand against sexual harassment, especially in a workplace setting.  The texts that Lena used as evidence could be interpreted in different ways, but in some of them, Shaun is clearly behaving as superior.  Therefore, even if they were “joking” as he claimed, it is still unethical conduct as he is in a position of power.

The exchange is reminiscent of the viral short story “Cat Person”, which highlights a power imbalance between a man and a woman.  Even though Shaun is not much older than Lena and doesn’t hurl misogynistic comments in the texts (she does accuse him of such overall however), he does threaten to send her home for wearing an unappealing outfit and expresses “disappointment” in her decision to keep her hair long.  It’s the kind of language that borders on abusive.

Is this the kind of person we want representing our country?  Okay, this may be the wrong question to ask given who our President is.  The Summer Olympics is currently marred by the horrendous cases of abuse from the U..S.A. Gymnastics team doctor and the silencing of his victims, which included members of the famous Fierce Five.  The U.S. Olympic Committee and the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association should be doing more to take a stand, especially since they seem to have no problem with pressuring Scotty Lago to leave after risque but consensual photos of him were taken.  Should we only care about the athletes’ behavior only during the Olympics?

The snowboarding community hasn’t had the greatest track record with sexual harassment.  Although female snowboarders are finally getting the respect from peers, there are still the little microaggressions that happen behind the scenes.  Recently in a Shredbots video, Red Gerard, another member of Team U.S.A., jokes about wanting a “big booty ‘ho” for Christmas.  While he may have been quoting a song, it’s still discouraging to hear that come out of his mouth.  This is the sort of “locker room” talk that leads to men not facing consequences for harassing (or even assaulting) women.  It’s fine to joke, but we can do it without treating women, or anyone else, like garbage.  We can do better Team U.S.A.  We should do better.

I nearly cried when I read Gus Kenworthy’s coming out story (I probably would have cried if I had been alone in the room).  As a queer-identifying individual, I know how difficult it can be to express that aspect of you.  Anyone who is not a straight, white cis-gendered male is going to have it rough in a lot of places, not just action sports.  Unfortunately our community lags behind in creating more acceptance.

Two and a half years ago, I wrote a post titled “Action sports need to be more gay”.  Now we have one.  Although I don’t want to take away from what Gus has done, the headlines citing him as the first gay action sports athlete erases the struggles of those who came before him.  In fact, Cheryl Maas took a stance against Russia’s anti-gay policies when she was in Sochi.  For many reasons, that didn’t make huge headlines, and the simple truth was that things haven’t changed until now.  Gus won America’s heart as part of the Men’s Ski Slopestyle podium sweep in Sochi and also as the guy who brought home some puppies (though he clarifies that it was his boyfriend at the time who did most of that), and he more than earned freeski cred by being a five-time Association of Freeskiing Professionals champion.  He fits that privileged mold with the exception of being gay.  In other words, he had a lot to lose and yet a lot of power.

Gus-Kenworthy-2015-ESPN-Magazine-Cover-800x960

Photo by Peter Hapak/ ESPN

By sharing his story, Gus has raised awareness of the microaggressions, like using “gay” to mean something “uncool” or automatically assuming that there’s a girlfriend or even this little sketch that implies two men can only be in bed together for comedic purposes.  Those little things hurt, but they’re often hard to see when homophobia is associated with a slur-filled tirade or the Westboro Baptist Church protesting.  Now the action sports community can no longer pretend that a problem with homophobia and toxic masculinity does not exist.  Although contest organizers, sponsors, and other athletes can choose to remain silent or make a bad j, we fans will notice.

For me, I hope that the support means that there can be a safer space not just for LGBTQIA individuals, but anyone who is a minority in the action sports world.  I came into the scene because it promoted “freedom of expression” and united those of us who weren’t into the more popular sports.  I fell out of it partly due to the realization that I’d been seeing a facade.  My liberal politics have distanced me from my old motocross message board buddies; I can’t be myself around them when I’m not sure how they’ll respond to my interest in feminism or queer politics.  The day before Gus’ story broke, a photo of my drag king alter-ego with a skateboard on Instagram received a homophobic slur.  I brushed it off as some immature teenager or self-loathing adult with nothing better to do, but whey should we let anyone get away with such hateful actions?  To be a community, we have to help one another.

And that’s what I will be watching for.  We’ve taken the first step by listening to Gus’ story and Tweeting out our support.  Being an ally is more than that.   I’m still learning and constantly checking my privilege (because even if I identify with the LGBTQIA spectrum, my queerness is not always apparent or as big of a difference as my being female in a male-dominated world).  We’ve got to work together, and I have hope that a bunch of action sports fans will find the courage to be themselves.  Because that is what I feel like I can do even more now.  I don’t know if I’m making it to Aspen for Winter X this year, but if I do, you bet I’m gonna be waving a giant rainbow flag.

Last month, I was super stoked to see Yiwei Zhang take second place in Men’s Snowboard Superpipe at the Dew Tour iON Mountain Championships. More and more Asian riders are making their way into big contests, and that is fantastic. However, I get a sense of dread in seeing them on TV because there is a high possibility that their names will get butchered. This is something that frustrates me immensely especially when you have someone like Xuetong Cai who has been competing for five years and still has ESPN and NBC confusing her last name for her first name.

That’s just unacceptable. Therefore I have decided to create a pronunciation guide for some well-known Chinese and Japanese snowboarders.  Some sounds don’t translate well into English, but I’ve tried my best to approximate (with links on two difficult syllables).  For more information on how to pronounce Japanese and Mandarin correctly, please check out these pages: So You Want to Learn Japanese? and Yabla Chinese – Pinyin Chart.  NOTE: I’m writing first name, then last.

Japanese male snowboarders

  • Ayumu Hirano = Eye-yoo-moo Hee-rah-no
  • Kazuhiro Kokubo = Kah-zoo-hee-row Koh-koo-boh
  • Kohei Kudo = Koh-hey Koo-doh
  • Ryo Aono = Ree-oh Ah-oh-no
  • Taku Hiraoka = Tah-koo Hee-rah-oh-kah
  • Yuki Kadono = Yoo-kee Kah-doh-no

Japanese female snowboarders

  • Miyabi Onitsuka = Mee-yah-bee Oh-nee-tsu-kah
  • Yuka Fujimori = Yoo-kah Foo-gee-mo-ree

Chinese male snowboaders

  • Yiwei Zhang = Yee-way Zahng

Chinese female snowboarders

  • Shuang Li = Swahng Lee
  • Xuetong Cai = Shue-tohng Tsai
  • Zhifeng Sun = Zh-fung Swen

If you’re still lost, I created a video.  I’m hoping this will give people a better idea of how to say these snowboaders’ names.  After all, we do our best to learn European names so the same diligence should be applied to Asian riders.

This post is a continuation of the discussion on sexism in action sports.  Click here for part 1.

When I first got into action sports, I adopted some of the culture’s misogynistic attitudes without being fully aware of it.  After all, I vehemently supported the idea that a female FMX rider could rise among the ranks of the best.  However, I still joined in the shaming of girls who seemed to be into the sport for the guys.  It’s much like the “fake geek girl” attitude I’ve seen in nerd culture, where attractive women are judged automatically.  Even though no one wants disingenuity, it’s not up to us to determine who is “real” without getting to know them.  Plus action sports wouldn’t be as successful as it is today without the casual fans.  I was lucky to have joined FMX forums run by women in the industry; plus I gave off the little sister vibe.  How we look (or are perceived to appear) shouldn’t matter, but it does.

This brings me to Kim Woozy’s TED Talk:

She made me think about the mixed reactions female action sports athletes have gotten for posing nude for ESPN the Magazine‘s Body Issue.  I am all for anyone embracing their bodies, and nudity shouldn’t be a big deal.  Plus the Body Issue does a great job of highlighting different sizes, shapes, and skin tones, as well as “imperfections” like tan lines and scars.  Nevertheless, Kim and Jen Hudak make good points in their criticisms of sexy shoots.  Why do those get more attention than actual achievements?

One of my friends posted a link on Facebook about the Body Issue, praising the use of Prince Fielder on the cover.  Someone had commented that women don’t seem to get the same treatment, citing Jamie Anderson’s cover.  While the photo of Jamie perfectly captures her spirit and personality, I had to partly agree with the comment.  Jamie’s looks are irrelevant, but the artistic choice for the photo is something to question.  She’s posing (in kind of a stereotypical modeling way too), not snowboarding.  Contrast that with the shot of Coco Ho.  It’s dynamic and more inspiring.

Jamie Anderson.  By Peggy Sirota/ ESPN the Magazine

Jamie Anderson. By Peggy Sirota/ ESPN the Magazine

Coco Ho.  By Morgan Maassen/ ESPN The Magazine

Coco Ho. By Morgan Maassen/ ESPN The Magazine

Now I don’t fault Jamie since she was not in charge of the shoot, but I hope ESPN the Magazine will consider how they depict their cover models (it’s worth noting that the other female cover model, Venus Williams, was also posing and didn’t even have a racket).

Another thing that bothered me about the Body Issue was the behind-the-scenes footage of Travis Pastrana and Lyn-Z Adams Pastrana.  First, I wish Lyn-Z was skateboarding instead of riding in the back.  I know the artistic director probably wanted a fun couple’s shot, but it sends the message that Lyn-Z’s career takes a backseat.  On top of that, they captured Travis joking about how he got to see his “wife’s tits all day”.  Although I’m sure Lyn-Z was not offended by the comment, it’s still derogatory and inappropriate to air.  It reinforces the idea that looks are the most important thing for a girl and disregards the struggles Lyn-Z has faced as a female skateboarder.  I’m very disappointed in both ESPN and Travis Pastrana.

These are little things that have a major impact.  They contribute to the misogyny that women in action sports (whether they are athletes, industry folks, or fans) face.  When male skaters and riders call each other “pussy” or “bitch”, they are associating femininity with weakness.  That, in turn, alienates the women who are already fighting this double standard of having to be attractive to get attention but not too pretty to where they won’t be taken seriously.  One thing I disagree with Jen on her critique of sexy shoots is how much it will injure a female athlete’s career. It’s less about the photos themselves (because after all, we remember the achivements of Danica Patrick and Elena Hight) and more about that ridiculous double standard and the constant objectification of women by the media and even by their peers. Who cares if some of us wear no make-up and have grease stains on our clothes while others of us wear heels on weekends and are willing to pose nude? Our love of actions sports should be what matters, and until that is the case, I will not stop fighting for more feminism in the culture.

Last month, World of X Games aired a special all about female action sports athletes.  It was so refreshing.  As of late, the X Games has started to give women the coverage they deserve. . .  finally.  It was so disheartening to see women’s events diminish throughout the years, and it hurts when my highlights mostly feature men (I think that’s why I started to pay more attention to the winter sports).  There is hope though.  In addition to the “Women of Action” episode, X Games held a Real Women contest to highlight the athletes who for one reason or another, don’t participate in X.  On top of that, female BMX riders were invited to hit the course during one of the practice sessions.

However, we can hope all we want, and that doesn’t change the harsh reality.  The on-line “Women of Action” series speaks of a glass ceiling that is found in any male-dominated field, be it science or skating.  Then there’s the shameful state of women’s motocross about which I’m glad the TV episode covered.  There are many opinions about the issue, but something is wrong when top riders like Ashley Fiolek and Jessica Patterson are dropped by their sponsors because the series promoter has decided to cut pro racing for women.  We’ve seen this before, like when Cara-Beth Burnside was dropped by the company that helped her become the first female skater to have her own shoe.  Vans won’t even deign to put her on their Legends team despite how much she’s done for the sport, and they’re losing a portion of their customers because of it—and the fact that their designs for women’s shoes have become more stereotypically feminine (we’ll discuss this in part 2).

Speaking of skate legends, check out this TED Talk by Cindy Whitehead.

She highlights the day-to-day issues that women—hobbyists, amateurs, pros, and legends alike—face in doing what they love.  The hateful comments and skepticism are what pushed me away from the scene.  To this day, I feel self-conscious going to local events.  Sexism happens on multiple levels, and it’s so ingrained that the action sports community has to make a hard effort to fight it.  Otherwise it will destroy the potential that the sports have to grow while depriving girls of something wonderful.

We’ve seen women ride with the men: Peggy Oki, Fabiola da Silva, Vicki Golden, and Emma Gilmour to name a few.  They make the case for an elimination of gendered events, but here’s the problem: sexism is systemic.  Male athletes get the coverage and sponsors because they are still the main demographic of action sports fans.  As Cindy mentioned, people automatically assume that an action sports athlete is a man.  The stereotypes are that ingrained in our minds, as is the idea that women are physically less capable than men.

In the “Glass Ceiling” article, ESPN asks James Riordon if size and strength really affect how much air you get and how many spins you do.  His answer: “The discrepancy in upper-body strength isn’t enough to hinder spinning. What it comes down to is there is no physics-based reason why men and women aren’t at the same level, at least not at the top level of the sport.”  Maybe there are other physicists who want to refute his statement, but snowboard Kelly Clark, in the same piece, brings up Chloe Kim who evokes comparisons to a young Shaun White.

It is through snowboarding that we see what happens when women are given the chance to show their stuff.  The Olympics have really helped with giving them more exposure, and as a result, other events have to follow suit.  That leads to increase opportunities, which allows the women push themselves further.  Perhaps the brightest beacon comes with Elena Hight’s double backside alley-oop rodeo, the first for a woman or a man and top voted moment in the history of X.
It seems that enough people out there know what a good thing is when they see it, and I’ll hang onto that hope.