The "GIZMO" Interviews: Elissa Steamer
Photos by Ryan Flynn
If you’re like me, Elissa Steamer may have been your favorite Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater character to play back in the early 2000s. And guess what? She’s still ripping! Recent life changes have allowed for a new lease on life, birthing Gnarhunters, getting back on Baker and putting out another part over 20 years since her initial debut in Welcome to Hell. Can we just go ahead and give her that legend title already?
So you’re back in the Bay Area?
That’s dope. You were in Italy?
Yeah, on a Baker trip! We were filming.
Are you working on a part for Baker?
That’s so sick. You’ve filmed a lot of parts. Out of all of the people in this project, you’ve been in the most videos. I was curious if this video project is different than other ones you’ve been a part of.
This one was different because I knew that we were filming for something. We had a deadline. It wasn’t just go out every day and film and then if you have enough it’ll be in something. It was like, okay, we have this project we’re doing and we went on trips to film for it. Nobody really submitted footage. It wasn’t like I would film something with Schmitty and it got submitted. It was only filming with Jason Hernandez or Tyler Smolinski on these trips or if they came up to SF for it. So it was pretty specific of who was filming and what we were filming for.
Speaking of the trips, what cities did you visit for this project and what were the best ones that you’d recommend to other street skaters?
I signed on at the end of the first filming trip which was to Spain. I went to Alicante, which I had never been to, which was sick. I was stoked to go somewhere different than Barcelona. That was rad because me and Rachel were already out in Europe anyways. After that, we went to China. We went to Guangzhou, which was sick. I had never been to China before. And then we went to Melbourne and Auckland. Then we got an Airbnb in LA for a few weeks. Guangzhou was just all marble and banks, perfect ledges and all the ground was amazing. Not the raddest place for after skating. Auckland was pretty sweet—kind of like an SF vibe.
Up against the wall, backside 50-50 with a deadline
I saw how on tour ya’ll had the “Gay Bench.” Want to share what that was?
That started when Rachel and I came to Spain when they asked if I would come film for Gizmo. When we got in the van, Sam and Lacey were in there and they had space on their bench. They were, like, “Want to sit on the Gay Bench?” And I guess it had been the Gay Bench for them for the week prior. It just started, and now every time Lacey and I are on a trip, it’s the Gay Bench. I’m actually in the middle of doing a Gay Bench painting. I was just in China with Sam and we had a momentary Gay Bench.
It seems like a way better time to be an openly gay skater, or just not fit the norm. It’s refreshing. People don’t give a fuck!
Yeah, it feels good! It’s oddly comfortable. I can’t remember a time of feeling repressed or anything about my sexuality. My sexuality has went weird ways before. I don’t remember a time where I was, like, Fuck I wish I could be gay! I just started dating women and I just didn’t really hide it. Maybe it’s the time or it’s me not giving a fuck or maybe it’s the support of people like Lacey or Sam—or it’s a mix of all of it!
I think the younger skaters are more progressive and more of them are coming out and it’s more normal, so it’s not only your generation who aren’t giving a fuck, the younger ones are affirming this culture.
Especially skaters, but we do have a far way to go. I’ve been places recently where the “F word” gets thrown around derogatorily.
Yeah, and, like, Sex Change or Gay Twist as trick names. It’s, like, come on—we can be more creative than that!
What ways do you think skateboarding can be better? What needs to change beyond linguistically?
There’s still a lot of gender inequality issues happening with everything—like Alexis and I were talking about in her recent Thrasher interview.
One other thing I’ve been thinking about lately is how men that get older can kind of enter this “legends” category where they still have a pro board or have a shoe, still get to judge or do the Legends Division and they’re still able to support themselves. You might be one of the first women to be able to do that, deservedly so.
I think about that a lot too. I think, Damn, do I belong here? Am I just milking something? I know people appreciate me, but any minute are people going to say, “Oh great, another bean to tail?” My last three photos my foot has been off my board and grabbing the nose. And I’m, like, Oh God, no! Is that it? Is this all I have to offer? But then I’m thinking about things I’ve been doing recently and stuff that I want to achieve and I’m, like, Maybe I have stuff to offer and even if I don’t—fuck it, who cares!
Everyone love Elissa. Bean to tail, the Shanghai dragon
There is an audience for you! That’s what skateboarding comes down to—what’s your drive, but also what’s your personality? Who do you inspire? For men, it’s a little more crowded. But for women, there’s more space. There’s just less of us. What you do will inspire certain people who wouldn’t be excited by a guy.
Were you proud of the tricks you were able to get for this video? Did it re-motivate you to get back in the streets?
I was just thinking about that yesterday. I wonder if my skateboarding is going to translate into this day and age because I feel like everybody’s looser and groovy and I feel like the whole time we skated ledges in a straight line. I just hope that I’m a little groovy at least! I was stoked to get back in the streets. I was already kind of in the streets because I got on Baker and found out we were making a video, so I was out filming. But I knew that was a far-away deadline. When they approached me about this Nike video I was, like, not like pressured, but it felt good to be working on something that I knew was going to come to fruition. I was definitely out there, but I wasn’t going on trips to film with photographers and other skaters. It definitely made me want to step it up a little bit. I mean, obviously I can’t step it up like I used to be able to, but I did a couple things that I was pretty proud of.
Nice! Growing up you were “the girl who skated” and now you’re in a video that’s all women and you have a lot of visibility like Lacey and Leticia. How does that transition feel to you?
It’s not weird; it’s actually pretty cool! To go on trips, it’s a trip, you know! Me, Lacey, Leticia, Hayley, Sarah just out skating. It feels good! It’s rad that we’re actually out there doing it and I think—I haven’t seen the video yet—it’s just a skateboard video that happens to be us. I think that will hopefully be rad!
Do you think things like the newest Nike commercial, featuring you, Nicole and Lacey—along with a bunch of other badass women athletes—would have positively impacted you as a child? Does content like this matter?
Yeah, totally. Anything I saw skateboarding-wise influenced me when I was young. The Vision Psycho Skates video, I saw that and I remember seeing a late-night vert contest and them interviewing Reese Simpson. It was stoney and cool and that sparked my interest
How old were you when you saw that?
Probably nine or ten.
And you started skating after that?
As soon as I saw skateboarding I was sparked and interested in it. It was just a matter of getting my hands on a real skateboard. There were some skaters from my town—Tim Mott and Billy Moses were local legends. They were probably 17 or 18 when I was a child. I would see them around town and they had dyed silver hair, McSqueeb haircuts, sick-ass clothes and Life’s A Beach shoes. They were fucking cool. One time they came to the rec center where I used to go to summer day camp. My mom would drop me off there. They came and did a demo in the racquetball courts. I remember them slamming into the walls with their boards and pushing it up into a handstand and street planting down. I was, like, That’s it! It was the coolest thing ever.
Did you start skating with them?
That day I borrowed a board and there was a little slanted ledge that was wide enough to ride on outside the rec center. I remember one time waiting for my mom to come and get me and those guys rolling out of the rec center. One of them had a Powell board with a dragon. I starting skating and I would see them around. That guy Tim Mott was my main influence in skateboarding. I would see him around a lot. He must have lived near me.There was always a rumor that they were going to build a skatepark in Fort Myers, which would not be a big deal now, but in 1984 or ’85 it was a huge deal because there were no skateparks for hundreds of miles. I remember him telling me I was lucky we didn’t have a park, because if we did we would fail out of school. I just thought he was cool. They just sparked me.
So did they let you skate with them?
Yeah, they would let me borrow their boards. I stepped on it and I could tic-tac straight away.
Switch front nose a long way from the rec center
How did you get a skateboard during this time? Was there a local skateshop?
Somehow I came up on a used green Ken Park deck. I tore the griptape off. It was sticky and I would stick it to my feet and I would jump around, like off my couch and stuff. I don’t remember where that board came from but I never got trucks and wheels for it. My first real board my dad got me was a Variflex from Robbie’s Sporting Goods. I wanted a Powell so bad, but the Powell was super expensive and the Variflex came as a complete, so he bought me that and a Powell sticker for a dollar. I put the Powell sticker over the Variflex graphic on the top. I remember being in Hawaii—me, my mom and sister went there because my sister won a beauty pageant and we got to go on a free trip. I had my board and I was skating and I met this skater that could ollie over a board. I thought he was the best skater ever! I remember him looking at the board and me being, like, “It’s a Powell,” and he was, like, “No, it’s not, but it’s cool.” And he still skated with me!
Speaking of being a kid, I heard the new Nike video is named after your childhood nickname. Do you want to talk about that?
Well, yeah, but I kinda don’t really want that nickname to resurface. Gremlins was a popular movie and my dad’s friend would call me Lissie J Gizmo, or something like that, and his son skated with me, and they just started called me Gizmo. They just called me Giz until I was like 17 or 18 maybe. And then I moved to California and I just became Elissa.
Had you worked with Jason Hernandez before Gizmo? How was that for you?
I went on a trip with him back in 2011 called Fear the Sweeper and I filmed a couple of tricks with him but I had never worked on a project with him. I actually never worked on a project in my life before, really. I just kind of skated and when it was time to round up the footage, just call whoever I’d been hanging around. I never really went out with a certain person working on a certain thing before.
Yeah, it’s a different vibe than before, especially if you’re working with the same filmers so the footage lines up.
It was rad. I love both of them. They’re great. Jason’s cool. Tyler’s cool. It was a great experience for me.
Did you get hurt at all in the process?
I was actually just thinking about this when I was driving because I was listening to somebody talking about how they’d gotten hurt filming a bunch of videos. I was, like, Damn I didn’t even get hurt during this one. Knock on wood—trying to find some wood around me in my tin and plastic car. My skateboard is in the back but I can’t reach it.
I got you. I just knocked on my skateboard sitting next to me.
Fully in the green room on a frontside 50-50
So do you have a routine with stretching or drinking water. What feels good to you to get ready to go hit the streets?
I just wake up and drink coffee. I get, like, three cups in and I eat some food and then I’m either gonna skate or not, because I’m either hurting so bad or I feel okay. It takes me a good 45 minutes to warm up for a 30-minute session.
Seems like everyone these days has a personal trainer.
Oh yeah. Well, I’ll tell you what: when I’m around the Olympians and they’re going to the gym in the morning, it’s nice to tag along and ride a bicycle. Sometimes I’ll go too hard and I’ll ruin my session. I don’t have too many activities in me in a given day anymore. I’ll skate or surf and I’m pretty much done for the day.
So I remember watching your Epicly Later’d and it reminded me that you had hurt your knees. Have you torn your ACLs?
No, I never tore an ACL. I’ve had some clean up ups and some microfractures. On my left one I torn my meniscus, on the right I tore it twice and had this thing called a microfracture where they poke holes in your bones so they leak blood and plasma and it coats your cartilage. I was on crutches for two months after I got it.
Was that your worst injury?
No, I don’t think so. I think it was when I knocked my teeth out. That sucked the worst. I was just skating in Arizona at this ledge. I tailslid it and I slipped out, put my hand down and bent my fingers back and hit my face.
Textbook back lip at the Aukland library. Learn your history, kids
Was it an out ledge, like in one of your parts?
Yeah! For a little On Video. I got one new tooth, but chipped all of ‘em. I got stitches and then went to the dentist and got an implant, back when they started doing them. Kind of cool!
How many concussions have you had?
I just hit my face in China the other day, not really hard. I’ve knocked myself really good probably, like, four times or something.
Whose part are you super hyped to see after skating with everyone?
Everybody’s because I really haven’t seen much of the footage. Every once in awhile on a trip we would watch a log tape or whatever, but other than that I haven’t seen much. I kind of like it like that—I like the surprise element. I wasn’t even sure if I have a full segment. I don’t even want to know. I mean, I want to know, but I don’t want to know. Does that make sense?
Frontside pivot, definitely not in the kook zone
Yeah, for sure. I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
But I ask Jason every once in awhile, I’ll ask him, “Do I have a strong showing in the video?” And he’s all, “Yeah, don’t worry about it.” I just texted him a song and he was, like, “Somebody already used it. You already have a song.” And I was, like, “What is it?” And he was, like, “Oh, it’s this.” While we’re talking there’s somebody on the street with their pants down and shit all over them.
Damn! The Bay Area is wild!
Exactly! I feel bad for that dude.
What are your hopes for this video?
That we don’t look like kooks. But I mean, obviously if it’s rad, it’ll empower people, which is great. I’m into empowerment and stuff like that. Maybe it will help people grow spiritually! I have no idea.
I’m sure if anything it’ll get people hyped to go street skating and make a video.
That’s all you can hope for—that it gets people stoked on a level!
Aside from this video, what other skate stuff are you up to? It sounds like there’s a few video parts, but anything coming up with Gnarhunters?
I’m basically going to film for Baker. I’m stoked for that! And whatever doesn’t get used in that, I’m going to try to round up footage from people and make a Gnarhunters video.
Always on the hunt for gnar—switch front board in a line
If it’s five minutes, it’s five minutes. If it’s 20, that’s rad. I think that will probably be my next project unless something else comes up.
Your Gnarhunters Nike shoe is coming out soon, right? Stoked for that!
Yeah! It’s a Blazer mid. It’s like a high-top. I don’t know why they call it a mid! It came out great. It’s mellow too. It’s not crazy with animal carpet on it or anything. It’s black.
I gotta get those. I was wondering, have you taken any criticism in the last year from being friends with Jason Jessee and all the stuff that happened with him?
You know what? Sometimes on my Instagram someone will say something. When all that stuff first surfaced, I was in England with Rachel and there was a guy there and he started talking shit about Jason and all this stuff. And we let the guy talk, you know what I mean? And so when he was done we asked him if he knew Jason or if he was just going off of what someone said on the Internet. And he was, like, “Okay, no, I don’t know him.” So we were, like, “We know him and he’s never been homophobic or racist around us.” I like to form my own opinion about people. I don’t like to be told what my opinion about someone is supposed to be. By the end, the guy changed his tone and appreciated the different perspective. That’s the most definitive thing I can think of, but no one’s attacked me for being friends with Jason.
How long have you known him?
Just a couple years.
Did you meet him in the Bay Area or something?
I think I just hit him up one day and asked him to ride for Gnarhunters, then we became friends. I haven’t seen him lately. I hope he’s doing alright.
Street surfing a wall wave—wonder how that second angle looks. Congrats on scoring the last part, Elissa!
He definitely did and said dumb things, but I don’t believe in canceling people.
Totally! I look at it like this, like, you said the thing, you did the thing, right? Now you got to stand in front of it and deal with it. I feel like condemnation is also a form of hate. I feel like if nobody was ever to change in general, the world would never change. Everything would be the same. If we take somebody’s mistake and we say, “you’re canceled for good,” then we don’t offer change and growth for the world.
What are your thoughts on having the last part in Gizmo? Is that a first?
Works for me. Never had curtains before. ‘Twas an honor among such great talent!
Okay, last one–any last thoughts or thank yous to people who made this video happen?
Yeah, thanks to everybody! All the people at Nike for including me, Andrew for putting me on Baker, Rachel for supporting me through all the times I’m laying on the kitchen floor in a fetal position crying, my parents, all my friends, everybody that I come into positive contact with, not even positive—contact that I learn and grow and feel supported from. Jason, Tyler—just everybody!
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