8 Female Skaters That Changed History

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By Nina Zietman – Skateboarding is a man’s world. At least, until these female pioneers came along and shook things up a bit. From the famous image of Patti McGee’s handstand on the cover of Life magazine in 1965 to Hillary Thompson, the world’s first transsexual pro skater, these women have been pushing new boundaries in skateboarding for decades. Without them, female skating wouldn’t be what it is today.

There are plenty of sick new pros you should know – Lizzie Armanto, Nora Vasconcellos, Marisa Dal Santo, Alexis Sablone – but we’ve decided to focus on the chicks who’ve paved the way for skaters today.

8 Female Skaters That Changed History


Patti McGee

Patti was doing a handstand on a skateboard on the cover of LIFE magazine in May 1965 long before bra burning and protests outside the Washington Monument.

Patti was the first woman to become a pro skateboarder, after winning the Women’s National Skateboard Championship. She was sponsored by HOBIE skateboards and demonstrated her 360s on them around the world.

By the time Tony Alva and Stacy Peralta were ripping around SoCal, Patti had quit skateboarding altogether to become a turquoise miner in Nevada and later a leathersmith. But her early exposure and talent paved the way for future generation of female riders. Photo: Skateboarder Magazine via Mpora


Peggy Oki

Remember the Z-Boys crew of the 1970s… They were all boys, right? Wrong. Peggy Oki was the only female on the original Zephyr skateboard team – and she still skates today, well into her fifties!

But it wasn’t smooth riding, even among her own sex. “Some of the girls didn’t like the fact that I skated like a guy, so they protested me to the judges and one of the judges said I skated better than some of the guys.” Photo via Peggy Oki


Cara-Beth Burnside

Cara-Beth burst onto the skate scene in 1989, when she was featured on the cover of Thrasher magazine, dressed in pink and rocking a ponytail, while busting out of a vert ramp.

After a career as a pro snowboarder (she was part of the first ever US Olympic snowboard team back in 1998), Burnside went on to convince ESPN to host a girls demo stand at the 2002 X-Games.

This was a huge step forward for women’s skating, as the year after saw the first X-Games women’s vert event. By 2005, the prize money for men and women was equal.

To top it all off, she was the first women to have a signature skate shoe. How rad is that! Photo: Transworld Business via Mpora


Elissa Steamer

I remember playing Tony Hawk Pro Skater and there only being one female character to choose from. She was Elissa Steamer.

Back in the early 90s, Elissa smashed through a predominantly male-dominated scene with her part in Toy Machine’s 1996 video, Welcome To Hell. There were other female riders around, but Elissa was the first female skater to be shown as equal to her male counterparts.

However it wasn’t until 1998 when she won the Slam City Jam women’s division – and finally went pro – that she began to make a name for herself worldwide with her individual, dope style.

Need proof? Just check out her part in Jump Off A Building! Photo: Mpora


Lyn-Z Adams Hawkins

Lyn-Z was never the best girl in grom skate comps, she explains in an interview with Cooler, but she worked hard and went on to become the first female to land a McTwist 540 in a skate comp.

Growing up San Diego meant she was skating alongside Tony Hawk from a young age. Aged 15, she became the first female to skate the DC Mega Ramp and the second youngest to ever win an X-Games gold medal.

What’s rad is she doesn’t limit herself to one discipline. She skates verts, bowl, street and mega ramp – and used to compete in snowboard comps on the side. With eight X-Games medals under her belt, she’s without a doubt one of the best female skaters of all time. Photo: Jaesen Kanter via Mpora

vanessatorres-mediaVanessa Torres

“Just 21, [Torres] is known as the bad girl of skateboarding. The table-flipping, golf-cart-stealing, cigarette-smoking, trash-talking, school-quitting, home-leaving, contest-winning kind of outlaw who can board-slide a knob-welded rail,” said her local newspaper The Orange County Register in 2007.

Vanessa was super talented from a young age. Balancing school and skating got to be too much, so she quit when she was 17 and moved to Southern California.

Before long she had won the very first Skate Street event at the X-Games and joined Lyn-Z and Elissa as skate video game characters! Photo: ASA Entertainment via Mpora


Lucy Adams

For British female skaters, it’s Lucy Adams that instantly comes to mind when you think of influential women in skating.

She’s been at the top of the British skate scene since 2009, winning the UK Skateboard Champs and Girls UK Skate Jam numerous times.

Now she runs running skate coach sessions for girls as well as older women to get involved and not be intimidated by skate parks! Photo: Lex Kembery via Mpora

HillaryThompson-5050UP-Raleigh1Hillary Thompson

Hillary is one of the world’s most predominant transsexual skateboarders.

Assigned male at birth, at 19, Hillary began taking hormones as part of her physical transition. Hilary was skating long before she began the transition, and the increase of oestrogen in her hormones has meant a decline in muscle mass. So Hillary said she had to relearn tricks, such as kickflips and really high ollies, to adapt to that.

Even in a community as rad as skateboarding, transphobia still exists. Which is why it’s great that Hillary is out there, unafraid to be herself. Photo: Jenkem via Mpora

About the contributor

Nina_ZietmanNina Zietman is a freelance journalist and photographer, specializing in surfing, snowboarding and adventure travel. Currently, Nina is the Associate Editor of Mpora, Europe’s biggest action sports and adventure site. You can follow Nina on Twitter @NinaZietman

This article originally appeared on Mpora and is republished here with permission. You can follow Mpora on Twitter and Facebook.



  • charlos

    hey just a heads up, using language like “born a man” to describe hillary thompson is offensive. trans women are women, and were born women, no matter what her birth certificate says. <3

    • Nina Z

      Hi Charlos, Apologies – I didn’t mean to use offensive language. I haven’t written about transgenderism as a topic before, so wasn’t aware of which terms can be deemed offensive (although it now seems obvious in retrospect). I’ve emailed the editor and the entry will be changed as appropriate. Apologies again. All the best, Nina

  • Elisa

    Sweet piece Nina! I grew up in the early 80’s as a skater and I didn’t know many girls my age who were interested in skateboarding (nor did it seem most would even attempt a “boy sport”). These ladies you write about clearly broke through many gender barriers in the sport for women and girls! Right on! I’m almost 40 now and I still like to grind.

  • bolshevegan

    Hey, you could really improve that para about Thompson, suggestion below:

    She was assigned male at birth, but has known she was a woman for as long as she can remember. Aged 19, she started taking hormones as part of her transition.

    You also use “homophobia” instead of “transphobia”, both might be present but they’re not interchangeable terms.

    Cool article otherwise – nice one 🙂

    • Nina Z

      Apologies, as I mentioned to charlos above, I’m new to writing about transgenderism and wasn’t sure what the correct terms were. You are absolutely right – the article is being amended now. All the best, Nina

  • Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughtful comments and suggested edits to this piece. We welcome the feedback and have worked with the contributor to make the appropriate changes.

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