Lanna Apisukh believes everyone should skateboard. The New York–based photographer has spent the past five years taking images of skateboarders she meets at skate parks around the city, capturing on film the joy and the freedom of the sport.
Skateboarding is having a cultural moment, fueled by TikTok, quarantine boredom, and the recent inclusion of the sport in the Olympics. According to NPR, skate shops are scrambling to keep inventory on the shelves as more people, especially girls, head outside.
BuzzFeed News spoke with Apisukh about the rising popularity of skateboarding and how she approaches people to photograph. By focusing mostly on portraits of women in skate parks, Apisukh's work provides refreshing insight into a world that has traditionally been dominated by men and dismissed as child's play. Everybody Skate, her ongoing project, makes the sport look extremely cool — and extremely welcoming.
I think it's awesome to see skateboarding on the world’s stage in the Olympic Games. Maybe our society’s perception of the rebellious, renegade skater will change and skaters will become more accepted as professionals and athletes. I definitely think it’s a positive thing for women’s skateboarding, since women haven’t had as much access to contests, sponsorships, or media exposure compared to the men. But for me personally, skateboarding will always be less about the industry and more of an art form and lifestyle. I think a lot of skaters would probably agree with that.
Skateboarding and photography seem to go hand in hand. Can you talk about how you started this project and why you chose to focus on women?
I started shooting women’s skateboarding events around 2016 as a fun way to celebrate these new faces of skateboarding. It eventually evolved into a portrait project in 2018, highlighting women and nonbinary skaters, which I now call Everybody Skate (because everybody should skate, not just the boys!). I also started an Instagram page for the project, which has been a lot of fun to share with the community.
It’s fun to capture action and the big board tricks on camera, but I’ve always been more drawn to making portraits with the skaters — and on film, which is what this project is largely shot on. My process is much slower when shooting on film, which gives me a chance to really connect with each person and hear their stories. The feeling of a mechanical camera in my hands emulates skateboarding — agility, hardware, no batteries needed! I also love the look of film and its imperfections, like dust on a film scan or a grainy image; I feel it complements the rugged and raw nature of street skateboarding.
Skateboarding has its own culture around it. Can you talk a bit about that and about how these women are making it their own? What makes for a good or cool skateboarder?
I’ve always found skateboarding culture to be really fascinating, since it attracts the most radical thinkers and creative types. But historically, it has lacked gender diversity and is mostly dominated by men. We still have a long way to go, but at least we’re headed in the right direction. Especially now that women’s skateboarding has been highlighted in the Olympic Games, I think we’ll start to see more women getting on boards this summer.
A lot of the change we are seeing in the skateboarding landscape right now is a direct result of women and nonbinary people claiming their space in the streets and at the parks. A lot of support also comes from women-led skate organizations, such as Skate Like a Girl and Quell Skateboarding. They empower nontraditional skaters by hosting skate clinics for all ages and skill levels, creating a safe space for young women [and] nonbinary and trans people to feel comfortable on their boards, and that truly has had a positive impact on skating over the years.
I think what makes a good skateboarder is someone who has confidence and can flow and ride the streets or transitions with their own personal style. I also admire skaters who can transform a clunky ledge or a trash can into something they can skate; it really takes a creative imagination to skate street, and I love that!
Do you skateboard? How did you get into it?
The first time I picked up a skateboard was in high school in the late ’90s. It was my brother’s deck, and it looked so fun to ride; I remember watching him and his friends throw tricks in the driveway. Eventually, when I got to college, I met a few girls who skated on campus, and got really into it then. Some of us even formed a group called Bitches on Boards, and we skated the streets and skate parks all around Seattle, where we went to school.
But before all that, I was a competitive elite gymnast for many years and also competed as a Division One athlete all throughout college. Once I retired from gymnastics, I got more into skateboarding, since it was fun and still challenged me physically and mentally without the stress of competition. It also connected me to a community and to the public space — something I hadn’t experienced after training in private gymnastics clubs for so long.
All these people look so cool and fashionable! What are some of the trends that you saw while making this piece?
OMG. I love checking out the ways skaters dress and how they flow on a board. It’s truly an outlet for creative self-expression, style, and individuality. One thing I’ve noticed is that the ’90s are back. Baby-doll tops paired with baggy jeans held up by a shoestring is definitely big in New York City. I’ve also noticed an uptick in bucket hats and visors. I once saw a skater wearing vintage DC shoes from the early 2000s. No idea how they got them, but I suspect Depop or eBay. It’s a fashion zoo out there, and I love it!