By Cole Nowicki
How does one remain relevant in the world of professional skateboarding? In a sport [sic] not governed by meritocracy, by wins and losses, it’s mostly intangible. Skill is key, yes. A steady output of coverage, of course. But usually it’s marketability, the determination of which is like trying to weigh a plume of strawberry-kiwi vape smoke on a grocery store scale. Do you have a look? Sure. Have you contributed to the culture. Good. Do you have the population of a medium-sized city worth of Instagram followers? Great! Does any of that mean anything?
What we do know about this strange, mercurial system of shadowy industry governance, about the unseen hands deciding the fate of skaters pining to be PRO AF and PRO AF 4LYFE, is that sometimes those figures shifting behind the curtains get it right. On occasion the people who should have long, successful careers in skateboarding based on what one assumes should matter—skill, coverage, accomplishments, impact, not being an asshole—do.
Elissa Steamer has been in the public eye of skateboarding since 1996. Twenty-three years. She’s ridden for stalwart companies like Toy Machine, Baker, Zero, Etnies, and Nike. Her digital caricature was in the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. THPS! She’s also been in some of the most influential skateboarding videos of all time. Think Welcome to Hell, Baker Bootleg, and Baker2g.
And now at 43 years-old, Elissa has last part in Nike’s newest video, Gizmo. Not only does she close the show, the video is literally named after her—Gizmo Steamer’s nickname.
“They hit me up and told me they wanted to name it that… as a tribute to what I’ve done in skateboarding, I guess.” She told Solo. But there’s no guesswork as to why the folks at the biggest sports equipment and apparel company in the world wanted to name their video after her: Elissa Steamer is the definition of an icon.
Not even a seizure inducing Jason Hernandez timelapse could contain everything she’s accomplished. From being the first female pro—with signature model boards and shoes—to scores of video parts, a glut of contest wins—four golds, one silver and a bronze in the X Games—to the massive impact she’s had on skateboarding culture itself over the past two plus decades.
It would seem like Gizmo, a project featuring Elissa and the next generation of women skaters, would be the perfect topper on Gizmo’s already legendary career. A dedication and declaration of her contribution to the game. What else does she need to prove?
“It’s just my life. It’s all I know.” Elissa demurs when asked about that iconic status of hers. It’s nice, but not front of mind. She just wants to keep rolling. From the Nike video to filming for the upcoming and highly anticipated Baker 4, to snagging coffee sponsorships, to running her skate/surf brand Gnarhunters—this is her life as it’s always been. That’s how she’s stayed relevant, by doing what she loves (skateboarding) and by being who we all love (herself).
She’s gone from an oddity as a woman in professional skateboarding to being celebrated as a pioneer. And while interviewers still ask variants of “what’s it like to be a woman in skateboarding”, “does it suck to always have to smell dudes farts while stuck in the tour van, blah, blah, etc.” those takes are slowly, but thankfully, tapering off. It’s becoming about the skateboarding, who she is, what she’s done. The relevant things. The reason why millions of kids button-mashed their way through the Warehouse as Elissa in THPS, getting that meter up before unloading her patented Judo Madonna special trick (left+down+circle!) over the ramp-to-ramp—because Elissa Steamer fucking rips. Because Elissa Steamer is cool as hell.
If those aren’t the ingredients to a long, successful skateboarding career, who wants to eat that dish?
And in a sport [?] where wins and losses do not dictate your longevity in it, there’s no reason why Elissa can’t keep this professional skateboarding thing going well past 43. The 25th anniversary of her Baker block letter board would fly off the wall.
That’s probably something Steamer wouldn’t mind so much herself, either. Because she isn’t “...trying to stake [her] claim in skateboarding.” She’s done that and so much more. “...this is all bonuses from here on out.”