They call it the “Breeding Ground”: the skatepark at Venice Beach, California, where the world’s best skateboarders have been finding their feet ever since the sport was invented. But the phrase could just as easily apply to a whole swath of the Los Angeles area, where urban sports from cycling to free-running, and every racquet, water, or board sport imaginable are practiced every day.
L.A. is also a breeding ground for innovation, whether that’s in design, engineering, skills or simply attitude. A place where new ideas come to life, with an optimistic, enterprising outlook in the endless California sunshine. So Venice Beach seems a good place to hop in the 2017 Mazda CX-5 (the sport utility vehicle that was partially designed in Irvine, 50 miles south of Venice Beach) and meet some people who are challenging the status quo, pushing the boundaries in their chosen sports.
Cruising the boardwalk, on one of her own-brand longboards, is Cindy Whitehead. A recent inductee to the Skateboarding Hall of Fame, Cindy made her name as a teenager skating this exact spot in the 1970s. It was a sport dominated by young men, but Cindy wasn’t perturbed. She pushed, ollied, and ground her way into the limelight. It was, and still is, a fight for women to get recognition in skateboarding, which is why, in 2013, Cindy created the brand “Girl is NOT a 4 Letter Word.”
Cindy halts in front of the Mazda CX-5, its vibrant Soul Red Crystal paintwork looking as liquid as the Pacific Ocean, with the early morning sunlight flowing over its body.
“Skateboarding has a lot of contradictions to it. We are rebellious, yet we have our own rules and girls have always been outsiders. Now that skateboarding has become mainstream we are still the outsiders,” says Cindy. “The magazines weren’t covering the girls, even 35 years after I first started skateboarding—I thought, they are out there, but nobody is telling their stories. So we set up a website to focus on all the girls in skateboarding. We also have a team that we support, but we cover everyone. It doesn’t matter whether it’s downhill longboarding, longboard dancing, street skating…we cover it all.”
Girl is NOT a 4 Letter Word also features young women in other action sports including surfing and BMX, but Cindy believes that skateboarding still has the furthest to go when it comes to redressing inequality. But she’s hopeful that, as with many sports, the Olympic Games will raise awareness.
“Tokyo in 2020 will be the first Olympics to have skateboarding, so we hope that some of our girls will qualify. And in 2024 we hope that the Olympics will come back to L.A., because this is where skateboarding started. We were soul skaters, we skated everything, boardwalks, empty pools and even dry river beds,” adds Cindy, before pushing off on her board to seek out the next prodigy in the Breeding Ground.
If you’re wondering how a river bed could be skated, just think back to the movies where numerous car chases, from “Grease” to “The Terminator” have been staged in the concrete culvert of the Los Angeles River. If you can drive a car on the river bed, then you can certainly ride a skateboard.
The Breeding Ground at Venice Beach is the most famous skatepark in California (perhaps the world), but Stoner Skate Plaza and Charmette Bonpua are popular too. Soul skaters will also head to the Sunset Car Wash, Hollywood High School, JKwon Plaza, and the Chinatown Ledge.