As a skateboarder from Northern New Jersey that frequently travels into New York City, I experience a particularly odd change in dynamic over the course of my day trips. With a quick hour’s bus ride, I speed from the openness of suburbia to the hustle of metropolis with a shift that feels more like a trip to a different world, rather than a different state. Maybe this is because I’m usually feverishly jotting down notes or reading skate magazines in preparation for some sort of an interview or meeting or event that I’m headed in to cover. One moment, I put my head down into a notebook full of scribbles, and the next I’m holding my breath to keep from huffing bus fumes in the Port Authority.
On one hand, it’s a blessing to be able to live as close as I do to the New York City skateboarding community. Having the privilege to head in for the day to collaborate with the locals that make it happen and the international passerby’s that stop by is one that I never take for granted.
On the other hand, this creates a situation where I often feel as though I only make my way into the greatest city in the world when I need to take care of business. In those moments, the journey from Fairfield through Secaucus becomes a waiting game where my stomach turns with the fear of being unprepared and my mind races with the trepidation of not being able to execute the project that I promised to my subjects and to my superiors.
This is precisely why a passing Instagram post from Valeria Kechichian, Founder and CEO of the Longboard Girls Crew jumped out to me as an opportunity to make the most of a fellow skateboarder’s pass through New York, and break my routine of nerve-wrecking public transportation rides. Valeria and I have known each other for a few months now, and are already well aware of each other’s work: she, a confident and outspoken activist for women’s empowerment and me, an amateur writer whose lack of literary prowess is at least masked by the energy of attempting to get published as much as possible. Wanting to strike up a face-to-face, I proposed meet up somewhere in Brooklyn. Ever the socialite, Valeria kindly accepted and picked out a suitable coffee spot.
As I boarded the same Lakeland Bus that I always do, it was somehow snowing in New Jersey. In April. The temperature was warm enough to get away with wearing a jacket and a tee shirt, but still bitter enough to make me wonder why the hell I hadn’t relocated to the West Coast yet. Then again, perhaps I was considering these things because there was no stress of a grand project clouding my head. Instead, I was heading in to meet an acquaintance, whose badass story of sparking a global community that promotes female empowerment through skateboarding was one that I was already thoroughly familiar with and completely stoked on. With that being said, I threw on the musical stylings of Brooklyn’s own Beach Fossils, and sat back to enjoy my commute for the first time in a while.
Press the play button for the full effect. Seriously: it’s good. You won’t be disappointed.
Apart from still choking over the bus fumes, I found myself able to breathe easier along the way and became keen on noticing things that I hadn’t typically observed before. I began to note all of the random sticker slaps that the subway system had to offer and started inadvertently seeking skate stickers in the process. By catching the downtown ACE train after rush hour, I was rewarded with a nearly empty car full of seats. Here, I caught glimpses of white graffiti tags scattered on the walls of the subway tunnels in between stations and wondered who could be bold enough to trek through pitch-black caverns only as wide as the passing trains themselves. Finally, after a quick transfer and a splash under the East River, I emerged from the confines of public transit into the drizzling streets of Williamsburg.
With a coffee shop already chosen, I took a couple quick lefts and ended up pressed against the windows of a spot called Toby’s Estate. Soon, with a reusable thermos in hand and a denim jacket adorned with “Thrasher” and “Feminist” patches, the LGC CEO made her way in. As such, we wasted no time in chopping up what we have both been up to since we last chat. For anyone familiar with Valeria’s “work,” one could only imagine where this conversation went. Anyone unfamiliar with her efforts should check out her TEDx Talk here. Trust me, Valeria can paint a far better picture of her story than I ever could.
Or, press play here…
For those too lazy to click however, I’ll try to sum things up. Valeria began skateboarding at age 28 in an attempt to replace some of her bad habits with a positive leisure activity. At a time when a woman skateboarding in the streets of Madrid was seen as outlandish, she was able to harness the power of social media to provide not just exposure for females on skateboards and longboards, but quality exposure.
Her emphasis on promoting proper representation of females in action sports allowed her to scale the movement to over 180 countries, with the support of passionate network of ambassadors. Since it’s inception, Valeria has played an instrumental role in a number of notable achievements for the crew including production of the world’s first all-female longboarding film, speeches at countless international conferences and, most recently, the launch of a new non-profit organization.
As we uncovered, the past several years of her life have seemed more like a world tour of globetrotting and couch surfing on her #IDontHaveAHouseLetsAbuseYourFriendsTour. With Brooklyn as another destination along her route, we were able to take the morning to discuss her non-conventional lifestyle and the escape that it allows her from societal confines including expectations and defined structure. As echoed by her public speeches, Kechichian has used the empowerment and momentum gained by stepping on a longboard for the first time at age 28 to propel herself into a world where touring unfamiliar cities has become familiar. Unsatisfied with the thought of settling in one place and unencumbered by the prospect of randomness interrupting her master plan, she lives her life in the company of the international community of riders that she has helped unite through the Longboard Girls Crew and beyond. With each different experience that she shared with me an anecdote from, I considered how crazy it was that out of anywhere in the world she could have skated to next, that a stop just a short trip from my house was the spot. With that, I again felt relaxed in not having to jot notes down but to simply enjoy the moment of being at that specific place in time.
Periodically, the conversation veered into sidebars regarding the logistics of becoming an iconic, community-leading skateboarder in a way that justified my use of quotations around the term “work” earlier. The truth is, Kechichian’s affairs have not always been as glamorous as they seem today. As her stories supported, the path she has carved out in life has only been possible with years of uncertainty and instability – not to mention an optimistic amount of mental fortitude needed to back it up. To this day, we chatted about how she has her hands full with the website launch of the new non-profit she is eagerly waiting to unveil. With this, her end goal is to continue traveling the world and providing enrichment opportunities for as many corners of the globe that she can reach. Based on the destinations she told me she had plans to work with, I have no doubts that her efforts will be far reaching and felt by the masses.
In the end, with another meeting on her agenda and with an evening at University in my future, Kechichian and I resolved to keep in touch as her reusable thermos ran dry. As she set back off to Long Island City, I focused my efforts back to New Jersey, still searching for skate stickers on the backs of all the street signs. In those moments of fresh air just before descending into the world of public transportation, I relished the lack of pressure I felt and that Kechichian was able to help me understand the value in. As skateboarders, the time we spend outside of our typical comfort zones is sometimes the most rewarding. Vulnerable to the potential of variability but inspired by the newness of exploration, traveling is an indispensable piece of skateboarding culture that allows us to escape from our daily routines through blissful immersion. In fact, it’s something that Kechichian and I would encourage the person reading this to go and pursue right… about… now!