Alexis Sablone Interview

Sablone Intro 750pxSablone 1 750px(Clockwise from top left) Malmo installation 2018, Alexis at 13 (Photo: O’Meally), top view of the skateable face, the artist in green (Photo: Mehring)

How are you feeling?
In general or about this interview?

In general, I’m feeling fine. I’m excited about this interview, but I’m dreading the actual interview.

Why is that?
Because I don’t like answering stuff on the spot the wrong way.

The beauty is, all you have to do is tell the truth. There are no wrong answers here. So you have a Thrasher interview. That’s a big deal. I heard it’s ten pages so that’s a really big deal. Have you had an interview of this magnitude before?

What meeting were you in yesterday?
We are getting kicked out of our house so it was a roommate meeting.

Why are you getting kicked out?
Just because the owner is selling it.

Do you have something lined up?
Not yet.

You’ve lived in quite a few places, right?
Yeah, I have.

Are you going to move back to San Francisco?
No, definitely not.

You don’t like San Francisco?
I just really like New York.

I really love New York too.
You should move to New York.

I like San Francisco a lot. I have a good situation.
I wouldn’t know. We didn’t hang out when I lived in San Francisco.

I wish we could go back in time and hang out because I think you’re awesome.
Thanks. I think you’re awesome too. We blew it.

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Speaking of awesome, why do you touch everything?
And smell stuff? Probably because I’m curious and maybe a little bit OCD. I just do it without thinking. I think I’ve always done it. But smelling stuff, like books, I just can’t not do it. I have to smell a book if I pick it up.

I can respect that. There’s a good smell to a nicely-printed book.
They all have different kinds of smells so I always want to know what smell they have. There’s a magazine smell, a bookstore-not-so-good smell.

Are you an animal person?
Yeah, I’m an animal person but I wouldn’t say an extreme one. I love dogs. I’ve come around to cats too.

Sablone 2 750pxSwitch kickflip on Elissa’s turf     Photo: Papke

Do you have any pets?
No, just the mice in my apartment.

What is your studio for?
Art stuff.

You’re a jack of all trades.
Exactly, like a Renaissance woman.

You’re a skateboarder, an architect, an artist, an animator. Tell us more.
That’s about it. They overlap a lot.

One time I saw you at a contest for the first time in ten years, and I came up to you and said, “We missed you.” And you asked me, “All you do is skateboard? You don’t have to work or anything?” I told you, “It can get boring at times.” And you said, “If it gets boring, that’s your fault.” I took that advice with me. I was, like, Damn, who is this wise person?
Was that at Maloof? I don’t remember saying that! I can’t believe I said that to you.

Yes! You don’t remember? I still carry that to this day. If life is boring, that’s my fault. Do you believe that?
Yes, I do. Skateboarding all the time can get boring. That’s why I do more. It’s funny the things that you say that stick with other people but maybe you don’t remember saying them. That reminds me of my first year in college. I moved to New York and I was meeting up with Lee. Puleo had this warehouse in what would be Williamsburg. Back then there was nothing. So first time taking the train out to Brooklyn and we found it. He showed up and the three of us were skating. At the end he was talking to us. He asked, “What are you doing in New York?” I told him that I just moved for school. He was, like, “Where are you going?” I said, “Columbia.” He asked what I was studying, I was maybe a week into school. I had no idea what I was studying. I was, like, “Um, maybe art.” He said, “You’re going to Columbia to study art? You should be shot.” I hoped it wouldn’t affect me too much but it did. I don’t know if he remembers saying that but I never forgot it.

I don’t even get it. I know Columbia is not an art school.
I took it as, like, You have the chance to study at Columbia and you’re going to study art when you could just do that on your own? I don’t know. That’s how I took it. I didn’t ask him what he meant by it because I was scared. But I never forgot it. I was, like, Wow Puleo disapproves of me. So, fuck—that sucks. I think if he said that now I would have a smarter response, but I was young.

So you’re living with your girlfriend, Keshia?
No, she lives in Harlem and I live in Crown Heights, so opposite sides of the city. We just go back and forth.

Sablone 3 750pxThat’s not a good book you’re smelling back there. Backside 180, NYC      Photo: Mehring

Did you want to talk about sexuality?
Do I want to talk about sexuality? I’m gay. Ta-da!

Same. So how long have you been with her?
About two-and-a-half years.

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Was PJ Ladd ever your boyfriend?
No, he wasn’t my boyfriend. We were inseparable. It was a confusing time.

How did he come out swinging so hard?
I don’t know. He was a skateboarding prodigy and he was obsessed with it. It was back before Instagram. The people around him knew how good he was but the rest of the world still hadn’t seen it. It was back in the day when people were still mind blown. Now I see tricks on Instagram every day and I’m, like, Who’s that person? Which is insane, but it was different back then.

Who filmed that video? Who filmed your stuff?
Dave Korden.

How old were you in that video?
Fourteen or 15.

You came out swinging, too! Trust me, everyone was scared. I was, like, Shit, now I have to do handrails? You kickflipped front 50ed a rail! I went to that rail and was, like, I can’t do anything on this!
Well, that wasn’t in that video, first of all. That was in the first issue of Skateboarder magazine. So that was a little after. I went to Miami and I was skating a bunch of your spots from Welcome to Hell.

Really? Like the stage and the triangle?
Yes, exactly. The stage and the triangle.

Sablone 4 750pxWorking in marble. Varial heel     Photo: Papke

That’s sick. Burnett said you kickflipped into the triangle.
Yeah, it’s pretty scary.

highAlexisSablone MIA photoPAPKE 3 DZ DZ 1 750pxPhoto: Papke

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There’s, like, rebar sticking up in front of it, right?
Yes! And I think it was the closest I’ve ever been to getting arrested.

You’ve never been arrested before?
No, never. A cop came up. I had only tried one. I flung my board and jumped into it. He was kicking us out and I was, like, “One more try?” He was, like, “Nope.” He was not having it at all. He had sunglasses on—the worst kind of dude. So I tried it again in front of him and I ate shit. He said, “I’m bringing you in. Give me your ID.” I told him I didn’t have it. He asked me how old I was and I told him a couple years younger than I actually was. I said something, like, “I’m 29.”

Why did you lie?
I don’t know! I think it was instinct. Thinking back to other times this has happened, it works. If you’re 17 and you say you’re 14, you know? But I couldn’t be like, “I’m 14!” I realized as I was saying it that it wouldn’t help my case.

So what happened? You landed it and he didn’t arrest you?
I had to just suck up. I told him, “I’m so sorry. I’ve always dreamed of coming to this spot. I wasn’t trying to disobey. I’m so sorry.” We went back two hours later and did it.

highAlexisSablone MIA photoPAPKE 1 DZ DZ 1 750pxJoke: What’s the only animal with an asshole on its back?     Photo: Papke

So shortly after the PJ Ladd video, what happened? You disappeared for a second there.
Yeah, I went to college. I felt like everyone around me, like, Jereme, PJ and Ryan, they were moving to the West Coast. I just didn’t want that. I wanted to go to school. I just thought, I’m going to move out to LA and just skate every day? That sounds boring. I moved to New York and quit my sponsors. I was still skating, but just for fun.

Tell me about Columbia.
Well, it’s Barnard college but it’s all women. I studied architecture and disappeared into the studio for four years.

What was it like going to a women’s college? Is that when you discovered you were gay?
Of course. It’s different than a lot of women’s colleges. You share a campus with Columbia. The architecture program was guys and girls, so it wasn’t only women. It’s weird how that works out. I didn’t go thinking, Oh, I’m gay. This is going to be great. I think it was subconscious. I remember being in the orientation at the beginning and looking around and they were lighting candles and stuff. I was, like, What did I get myself into? This is going to be insane. It ended up being great. I loved it.

Sablone 5 750pxPuleo approved? Let’s ask Mike Smith instead. Rainbow grind, rail down     Photo: Coulthard

Did you join a sorority?
No, no sororities. I worked a lot and would be in the studio all night. I would go skate by myself, probably super dangerous, at three in the morning at Riverside Park. I would climb the fence into the skatepark. I felt more protected because I was fenced in. I wouldn’t really go downtown so I wouldn’t really skate with anyone during that time. I grew up skating alone so it’s natural to me. I hated that about New York when I first moved there. I felt like you couldn’t do anything alone, not without someone watching you. Within a few months I figured out no one cares what you’re doing in New York. It took me awhile to get used to that.

So you graduated from Columbia, then what?
That’s about the same time I ran into you at Maloof. I didn’t want a regular job. I wanted to be an artist and do projects. I needed to live so I was working at a restaurant. There was a kitchen fire so everyone that worked there was out of a job while they rebuilt it. That’s when Manny Mania was happening in New York and someone said something about Maloof and that you could win 25 grand. I asked, “The girls can win 25 grand?” And they’re, like, “Yeah.” So I was, like, “Get me into that contest!” I got in as an alternate and that’s where I saw you.

Did you win?
No, that was the worst. I won the Destroyer Award.

What was the Destroyer Award?
I don’t know. I couldn’t figure out if it was, like, you didn’t land everything but you destroyed the course or you destroyed yourself and ate shit a lot. ’Cause I did. My wheel fell off in that contest. When my wheel fell off I hit my head. Five minutes later I hit my head again. I remember being at the bottom of the stairs and Brian Anderson came to my rescue and was, like, “Are you okay?” I opened my eyes and he was right there.

AlexisSablone Ollie PhotoCoulthard 0X9A5790 DZ DZ 750pxOllie in the streets for the W, no assistance from BA needed     Photo: Coultard

Let’s talk about your approach to competition. I know you can 50-50 and boardslide everything. I remember back in the day if you just 50-50 and boardslid everything and landed it, you would win. I noticed that you go in a little harder than everyone else. When it works out for you it goes amazing, but when it doesn’t, you just mop the floor up.
Yeah, basically. There are probably smarter strategies. I’m just stubborn. You get there and you know what you got and know what you wanna do and you can stick to that plan. In retrospect, you could have boardslid the rail for your last try and you would have won the contest because you had other things. But of course, I try to kickflip front board, eat shit and don’t win anything at all.

At least you tried, right?
I always get really nervous in competitions. It doesn’t feel like you’re competing against other people but you are. You’re just trying to do the best stuff you can do. That’s how I look at it. I don’t want to do something less. It is what it is. I don’t have a perfect strategy. I’ve been doing it a long time and I should, but I don’t.

Well, I like watching you. Did you party your face off in college?
No. I just worked a lot. I went to parties and stuff but I never drank, ever. I’ve never been drunk in my life.

That’s exciting! Not a lot of people can say that.
I know. I never wanted to.

Sablone 6 750pxNever boring. Crooks the Chevy in Gowanus     Photo: Mehring

Speaking of contests, let’s briefly talk about you being an Olympian. You’re on team America.
Yeah, I’m on team USA.

How do you feel about that?
Crazy. It’s not something I ever expected to happen in skateboarding. When I first started skating, that wasn’t part of the plan. I’m nervous about it. I feel like it’s a huge honor, if I make it.

So you’re not guaranteed?
No, I’m on the team but I still have to qualify. I think they only take three and there’s four of us on their team.

You graduated from school. How long of a break did you take in between?
I took four years in between. I started winning money doing contests so that was cool. I thought, I can avoid a regular job for now. I figured I could do projects on the side. Then I started to get bored and I kind of got lost. I was floating around in LA at the time. I always feel when I try to live in LA that I’m just floating. It’s bad. Kind of on a whim I decided to go back to school. I love being in school, honestly. Your only responsibility is to learn, make stuff and do cool projects. I went back to get my masters in architecture. I had some money saved from contests. On top of that, it’s possible to get pretty good scholarships.

MIT is a big deal.
Thanks. I’ve kind of always wanted to go to MIT. I applied and moved to Boston. Well, Somerville, MA. MIT is in Cambridge. That was a three-and-a-half-year masters.

But you were also still skating, entering contests and getting coverage, right?
I wouldn’t say I was getting much coverage.

What boards were you riding then?
I had a huge stockpile of Organika boards. I don’t even remember how Organika ended for me. It kind of just fizzled out. I was living on the West Coast, I was applying to school and I had moved back to New York. I think I just never gave them my address. We just stopped communicating. I had a ton of boards left so I was skating those. I wouldn’t say I was getting coverage. I would be really heavy into school. I would have a review and then fly into Brazil the next day for an X Games having not skated in awhile—just in the hallways at school, going to school and sometimes when I had a break.

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Did people know you were a big deal at school?
Kind of. It’s funny because in undergrad, nobody knew. They just knew I had a skateboard. All of my friends thought it was really weird when they suddenly saw me on the X Games. They were, like, What the hell? I think they thought I just sorta skated. But by grad school, they knew because I had to be, like, “I need to have this review early because I need to go fly somewhere.” To someone who doesn’t skate, when they hear X Games they think it’s the real deal.

Sablone 7 750pxChallenger? Destroyer! Kickflip into the triangle     Photo: Papke

Who was paying for your travel back then, you?
Yeah, all of that time.

What was it like graduating from MIT? Were you, like, Fuck you, motherfuckers!
Well, I missed my graduation because I had Street League or something. It was good. But I mean, my masters’ thesis was one of the most stressful things I’ve ever done. So to finish that and be done was great.

What did you do your thesis on?
It was kind of an unorthodox thesis. It was a design for an international nuclear waste repository. When you study architecture, most of the projects are fictional because you’re designing something that doesn’t exist. So this had a fictional spin on it. It was telling a story from 10,000 years in the future, looking back and telling a story about our nuclear waste, how it was collected and what we did with it and how we built a place to put it. Humans were responsible for storing it and protecting other humans from it for eternity.

How do you come up with something like that?
There was a lot of research involved. I just thought it was fascinating because the actual timescales of nuclear waste are science fiction. They’re real but they’re just too insane. It’s, like, how do you build something where you store something that is toxic that we are producing now that could still kill people in 100,000 years? We don’t really know how to build stuff that will last 100,000 years. How will whoever is here in the future know where there is a toxic site? I just thought all of that stuff was really interesting. I started from there and did a bunch of research, then started making stuff.

What have you made that is not fictional? What projects have you worked on?
When I was in school and worked at architecture firms I did work on real projects. Are you talking about the skateable sculpture?

Last year I made a skateable structure for Malmö students. That’s probably the largest thing I’ve designed by myself. It’s in a public plaza and it’s basically a sculpture where it is legal to skate. It’s a shared space for the community and for skaters.

You have several boards on WKND. Have you ever had a pro board before that?

What board companies have you ridden for throughout the years?
I rode for Element back in the day. Then I rode for the Firm. I got one package from City Stars. I was really hyped on it, but I don’t think it counts. Then Organika and WKND.

Sablone 8 750pxAvoiding a normal job, and the sidewalk. Ride-on grind. Right on, Sablone     Photo: Papke

What was your favorite skateboard company when you were a kid?
Probably Toy Machine because of Welcome to Hell—I don’t know if you’ve heard of it.

Did you ever want to ride for Menace?
Menace is pretty sick. Back then there were fewer companies and there weren’t ones you didn’t like. They were all sick. Someone would put out a video and then you’d be, like, Maybe this is my favorite company right now? But it’s not like you stopped liking the other ones. Toy Machine was probably my first favorite, but then Photosynthesis came out and then I needed Alien Workshop. But I would say Toy Machine was my first because that was the video that I watched over and over again.

You have a new shoe sponsor, Converse. Are your stoked on that?
Yes, I’m stoked.

What shoes do you wear, Chuck Taylors?
No, I’ve been skating the One Star. I have a shoe coming out probably around the same time this interview comes out. Well, it’s a colorway, but it’s a modified One Star. That’s very exciting. It’s been really sick. I like the team and I feel like I’ve been around the world with them already.

Are you working at an architecture firm now?
No, I’m just a skateboarder and an artist. I do the graphics for WKND and I do animations. It’s skate related but it’s still a job with deadlines and stuff like that.

Are you the art director?
My resumé would say that, but I don’t know if that’s formal. No, it’s more collaborative. Grant owns it and Alia is the graphic designer. Then I’m the artist and co-designer. Alia is engaged to Trevor Thompson, which is why I’m on WKND. He was my first skate friend in the world, so he’s like a brother to me. We’re one little family.

If you could go back in time today and tell your 12-year-old self two bits of advice, what would it be?
That’s really hard. When I think about it, I’m pretty happy with the way it worked out. When you said “Two bits of advice,” I was thinking two words: “You’re gay?” I already knew then but I don’t think I was ready. I don’t know. Maybe just, “Don’t be so shy and be proud of your accomplishments. It’s going to work out.” I’m still trying to tell myself all that.

I mean, if you’re still trying to tell yourself, that’s good advice then. Okay, so have you ever had the cover?

Sablone 9 750pxActual skateboarding. Alexis’ heelflips are always on the level     Photo: Coulthard

So let’s talk about gender inequality in the industry/the world.
It’s a big topic.

But it’s very important for us to talk about.
Yes. When I was younger I just didn’t want to acknowledge any of that. I didn’t want to think about myself as a female skater. I mean, I am, but first and foremost I’m a skater and I didn’t want to make that distinction because that’s not all I am. But as I’ve gotten older and gotten more perspective on it I just think it’s really important because there is a lot of inequality in the industry.

Yeah, it’s severe. And everyone likes to go on and on about how skateboarding’s for everybody but the industry hasn’t properly supported that idea.

It’s like, we’ll be inclusive but only to a certain extent. We won’t give full inclusivity.
When it comes to pay, it’s like you can have boards for days, but the first actual contract I had was only three years ago. Going back to the cover, I think I told myself that I didn’t deserve it or maybe I’m not good enough—but I’m gonna be. I tried to use it as motivation. But after awhile you see that the picture is so messed up. You look at where the money in the industry is going and who’s being represented and it’s like 99-percent men.

I was going to say, going back to the cover, I always thought, Oh well, that real estate’s reserved for whatever the gnarliest thing is that month. Maybe I’m not doing sick enough things. But then I’ve seen plenty of artistic covers or tricks that I could do on the cover.
Yeah. And maybe in competition, the biggest, fastest or best trick is one thing but in actual skateboarding there’s so much more to it.

I like that you call it “actual skateboarding.”
Yeah, because it’s true. Skateboarding’s about so much more. It’s about who’s doing it and how.

You want to be equal as a skateboarder but at the same time you’re not physically capable of attaining what they’ve attained.
I won’t say that’s not ever possible but, yeah, then you end up calling your own worth and value into question. And then you think that things are the way they are for a reason.

And I’m just lucky to get my little peanuts. But other people have a million peanuts and they’re buying tons of houses but you think, Oh well, I’m fortunate enough to have my little peanuts. I’ve watched my peers make infinitely more money than I have. I’m not saying I’m as good as my peers, but they are my peers.
And then we’re over here thinking, Well, maybe if we get that trick it might be good enough for the cover. It’s fucked up. Everybody is special in their own way, but a good guy skater is a dime a dozen. I mean, how many Elissa Steamers are there, you know?

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The only fair pay I ever got was with the video game. In the past, I’ve actually been asked about pay inequality in a contest. I used to think, Oh, I’m only back lipping this rail and these guys are kickflip back lipping it, so yeah, my $25,000 compared to their $50,000 is legit. But now that I think about it it’s, like, My bones can break just as easily as theirs. My head can just as easily crack open.
And it’s not just about injuries. It’s, like, are you less inspiring? Are people less excited to see you skate? I don’t think that’s true at all, you know? I started with the same mentality. I didn’t ever want to be the one thinking, Oh, it’s not fair. I thought, I’m just gonna make up for it by being better. But it’s difficult to see the problem when your own self-worth is wrapped up in it, and easier to accept things as they are when you’re younger. As the years progress, you see other women in your position and you realize that something is really not right. You realize the real problem is, why am I over here questioning my own validity? This should be different. You know?

It’s tiring having to fight for everything, though, isn’t it? Do you think we nailed it?
I think so. We did our best.

Who do you want to thank?
My mom, obviously. Thrasher for putting me in here—it’s about time. Thanks, Converse and WKND, Dial Tone, Orchard skateshop, ChrystieNYC, Thunder, MOB, Bones bearings. I hope I’m not missing any. And thank you, Elissa, for doing this interview and paving the way.

Sablone 10 750pxPhoto: Mehring
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