Adidas's First Female Skate Pro, Nora Vasconcellos, Is a World Champion Shredder
A playful new documentary spotlights the 24-year-old shredder, who draws inspiration from Shel Silverstein and snatched a world championship in Shanghai.
This article originally appeared on i-D.
It’s been a big year for Nora Vasconcellos. Like really big. In August alone, Vasconcellos went pro for Welcome Skateboards, guested on Thrasher and Viceland’s summertime showdown King of the Road, landed on the Vans Park Series podium in Huntington Beach, and exhibited her artwork for the first time in adidas Skateboarding’s group show, The Showcase. Just weeks later, Vasconcellos bettered her bronze run with an all-out win in Shanghai, nabbing the Vans Park Series 2017 World Championship title.
With a little over one week left on the 2017 calendar, Vasconcellos has another cause for celebration. Today, adidas Skateboarding releases a brand-new documentary about the Massachusetts-native ripper with a penchant for purple pants and backside airs. Directed by Giovanni Reda, Nora is a heartfelt portrait of Vasconcellos’s boundless creativity and infectious enthusiasm, on and off a skateboard.
The first woman to ink a sponsorship deal with the German brand’s skateboarding imprint, Vasconcellos has developed an enthusiastic fanbase of skaters across generations and gender identities. (Her Instagram videos rack up far more views than her Massachusetts town’s entire population). Nora features perspectives of all kinds. Legends like Andrew Reynolds and Jeff Grasso discuss Vasconcellos’s distinctive style of transition skating, in which technical fluidity collides with adventurousness. The film also features Reynolds’s 11-year-old daughter, Stella, who rips in the bowl and makes watercolor illustrations, too.
Nora is a deeply personal project that blends home movies (including one of pint-sized Vasconcellos opening her first skateboard on Christmas) and interviews with family about personal struggles as well as professional triumphs. It shines a light on all the wonderful weirdness that makes Vasconcellos unique. Yet the film doesn’t shy from the wider issues women face in skateboarding. Elissa Steamer (the world’s first female pro), Lacey Baker, Alexis Sablone, and Rachelle Vinberg (teenage founder of The Skate Kitchen collective) discuss the challenging culture, and the progress that’s being made.
Below, Vasconcellos opens up about preppy style and pushing forward.
i-D: Dude, it’s crazy you’re from Pembroke. I’m from a similarly small town less than an hour away.
Nora Vasconcellos: I love Massachusetts so much! I think growing up in a small town gives you a greater advantage when it comes to being your own person. That close-knit community was super healthy for me. I was such a dork, a weirdo! I’d make up music videos and fake SNL skits with my friends. All of that — all those little pieces — formed me into who I am today. I’m really happy about where I come from.
How did your interest in making art develop there? Do you feel those creative energies collide with skating?
Totally. My dad is a freelance illustrator, so growing up, he had a studio attached to our kitchen. Being around art was just part of daily life. We were always painting, making sculptures, doing puzzles. Everything was really hands-on. The solitary act of going and skating in my neighbor’s driveway, trying to figure things out, really went hand-in-hand with how I grew up — being around art, creating something rather than staring at a TV screen.
But even though I was the type of kid who was always interested in art, and took art classes throughout high school, I didn’t really develop my own artistic style until I was about 20 years old. I was really into doing hyperrealistic work — making landscapes look as true to life as I could. It wasn’t until a couple years ago that I started doodling without thinking — just drawing. That happened when I moved to California, and was skating more.
That’s interesting to hear, because your style of skateboarding is really distinctive. You bring so much control and ease to transition. Where did that sensibility come from?
I pull from very different places. Even before I was into skateboarding, I was really into surfing. That’s probably why I was drawn to skating transition more. And when I’d go to the skatepark, there would be some pros skating the street section. Brandon Westgate, Nick Dompierre — these guys who I was super intimidated by when I was like, 13. So I’d just go to the bowl and skate by myself. Which I’m sure is why I skate transition as well. [ Laughs]. But I think the first skate video that kind of changed things for me was Enjoi’s Bag of Suck. That video really transcended the whole mix of super-fun, super-creative skating. Louie Barletta and Jason Adams — I was just obsessed with their skating in that video. But I was a little vert baby, you know? It’s funny how I saw these street skaters as what I wanted to skate like, but here I am also wanting how to learn how to do backside airs for years. It’s a very weird mix! But when people draw from things that are very opposite, that’s what makes stuff cool.
Andrew Reynolds called you one of his favorite skaters!
I know. Like, what? How much did they pay him to say that! [ Laughs].
It’s so genuine! But going back to those feelings of intimidation: it’s always seemed weird to me that skateboarding is rooted in creativity and an anti-establishment ethos, but hasn’t always welcomed women and queer people.
Totally. I think most skaters are really open people, are very good people, are conscious of their place in the world. But growing up and skating with boys, it was, “You’re doing that like a girl” or using the term “gay” derogatively as part of that hardcore, anti-establishment idea. I don’t think they realized it was developing a negative, hateful way of existing. In the past year or so, it’s become much more accessible for skateboarders and artists to put things on the internet and express their views. I think of Brian [Anderson, who last year came out in a Vice Sports documentary also helmed by Nora director Giovanni Reda], and Henry Jones, who makes amazing illustrations about skateboarders loving each other.
I love his drawings so much! Yeah!
And then you have all these skaters share them, or like them, or comment on them — guys you think are super aggressive, but you have no idea that’s how they feel. I think people are becoming better about being more openly sensitive, aware, and understanding. You can be hardcore, you can be metal, you can be a fucking punk skater — but you can do all those things in a way where they don’t hurt other people. I think we’re getting better at opening up a conversation about different people being involved and accepted in skateboarding. And I think social media has helped a lot with that whole idea. Even just skateboarders who are sharing how they take care of themselves now. Like, “Yeah, I eat bananas because I’m trying to huck myself down 18 stairs.” You don’t have to be an 18-year-old boy who smokes weed. You can be different! Sometimes it just takes one or two people with influence to open things up.
Totally! The film brought in those icons like Andrew Reynolds and Elissa Steamer, but also Lacey Baker and Sage Elsesser. Tell me about your relationships with those guys.
Sage is the best! He really brings that vibe of classic street skating. He’s also very outspoken, and I’ve always loved that about him. We met for the first time in Copenhagen this summer, and he did the interview after that. But I’ve known Lacey for a long time. Even before I met her, I watched her on Girls Skate Network blog cams. Lacey, Vanessa [Torres], and Amy [Caron], it was like — you wanna hang out with them, you know? That was the vibe they always gave out, and at the same time, they were killing it. So to see where Lacey is now, how she’s come into her own success, is just amazing. She had to be in this [documentary]. It was really important for me.
You say in the film you’re inspired by Shel Silverstein and Missy Elliott, too.
I don’t like one particular thing — I like things that are polar opposites. Like the preppy look, for example. Of course it has to do with coming from Massachusetts, but I think it’s a kind of ironic twist to dress preppy when you’re skateboarding. I like the idea that I look like I just went golfing! [ Laughs]. Growing up, I was always into Missy Elliott and her full adidas tracksuits. I wanted to be that girl who danced in her videos.
The one from the Disney Channel!
Yes! With the pigtails! Man, I was such a dork. It’s so funny how you get older and look back, especially working on a project like this, and examine why you are the way that you are.
What was the biggest realization you came away with?
If I can be unapologetically myself, I can go so much further. To have people, girls especially, DM me and tell me I inspired them to do something, or try something…when you put yourself out there, it can be really rewarding.