Chanelle Rezko of 'Get Born'
words Ryan Mo
photography Kane Ocean
A split exists in the skateboarding identity.
Outsiders don’t know too much about it. When asked about skateboarding, your average Millennial can probably namedrop Tony Hawk, and maybe Tech Decks if they’re a late ‘90s kid.
But this split exists.
In the span of a half-century, skateboarding has grown from its roots in surf culture and carved its initials into all forms of media. It’s an emblem of rebelliousness and youth, proudly used by Marty McFly, Bart Simpson, and Max Goof. Since its boom in the ‘90s, kids in every city have gotten into skateboarding, with about 11 million casual and core skaters in the world and thousands of skateparks. The largest one, over 12,000 m², was built in Shanghai. You have these brands like Quiksilver, RVCA, Vans, and Hurley that establish themselves in the community and finance teams of professional skaters in major events. Once Nike and Adidas got into the mix, things really blew up. Skating became accepted as a sport — the Olympic governing body is even considering its inclusion for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
This comb-over mainstreaming is half of its counterculture history: the industry’s dynastic struggles for power, discussions on authenticity and etiquette, and countless technical innovations from the polyurethane wheel to the Ollie. Skateboarding’s foray into punk music has cultivated anti-authoritarian and anti-establishment attitudes, i.e. a deep suspicion for anyone who tries to disrupt or profit from its existence. This punk influence, combined with a DIY roots mentality, motivated skaters to explore and integrate new modes of expression into skateboarding. Coming up from VHS, print media, and film photography, skate culture has grafted itself onto the Internet, publishing rich think-pieces on corporate takeovers, skatemetrics, and inclusion.
Which brings us here, in this vast digital space with Chanelle Rezko.
Some writers document skaters. Chanelle Rezko, founder of the online platform Get Born, documents skate culture.
She was heading out of Concordia University to get some work done for her site when I called. Along with friends Liv Seidel, Hope Christerson, and Ayda Omidvar, Rezko is one of many Millennials actively revitalizing skate culture.
Chanelle’s passion starts in the northern suburbs of Chicago back in 2004, where she learned to skate with her older brothers’ hand-me-downs, ’90s street brands like World Industries and Zero — “Back when Zero was cool,” she adds. She also watched a lot of skateboarding videos.
“It was just an interest that I had picked up on, because I was really attracted to it physically — it’s so aesthetically pleasing, and it was just something that I took a lot of interest in rather than other things like soccer or dancing. I would just choose skateboarding over everything else.”
Then in junior high, seventh grade to be exact, Rezko met Liv Seidel and Hope Christerson.
Their mutual interest? Skateboarding.
Mutual friends? Skateboarders.
The three were drawn to each other.
“It’s like this magical kind of dangerous feeling that’s... still indescribable today.”
Instead, Rezko described her adventures with Seidel and Christerson. Breaking into school after-hours. Running from cops. Getting into trouble and living on the edge, or as far on the edge as teens holed up in middle class suburbia could go.
“The only thing that was exciting that came out of that town was skateboarding. We’d ditch class and go to the skate park and stay out until midnight and get into other trouble. It was a way to channel all our teenage angst and frustration.”
After graduating, Rezko gave serious consideration to pursue skateboarding, but not like Elissa Steamer or Lyn-Z Hawkins. In an earlier interview with The Fridge Door Gallery, Christerson recalls her friend’s words:
“For me, Chanelle had always been saying, ‘I love skateboarding and watching skate vids but I don’t skate, so I don’t know what to do with my life. I have this passion and I don’t want to be on the side lines.’”
During her first year, Rezko self-actualized.
“When I moved to Montreal for university that’s when I was like, ‘Okay, I’m becoming an adult and this is either a hobby or I’m going to make this my life and try to pursue it as an actual career.’ I started planning creative outlines and creative concepts as a way to channel all of our passion and energy. I presented it to the girls and they were down, and we just started working on Get Born.”
Seidel and Christerson moved out to Montreal too, where the three met Ayda Omidvar, a Vancouver transplant with a penchant for collages, photographs, and skateboarding.
At first, things were easy — even the magazine title, which was taken from Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, fit in effortlessly. The focus was wide, and the style lay somewhere between the Instagram-worthy editorials of FIND YOUR CALIFORNIA and the print-bound grunge of New York-based 43.
“We just want to showcase and expand a more authentic definition of what skateboarding means to us. That’s what we’re aiming to give to people.”
But then came the footwork: covering brand-sponsored events, covering the local scenes, and interviewing the press-shy. The Get Born crew received mixed reactions. Some interviewees would decline on basis of gender. Some disagreed with Get Born’s pieces. Others said the four were simply wasting their time.
“People in the industry, out in California, have been seeing it as a good business — different, unique, something that’s going to come up in the industry. So we get backed up by those people, but locally it’s been a bit difficult. Just walking into premieres or events, people don’t really take us seriously. I don’t know why they don’t, because we work very hard and we take ourselves seriously. It’s like our crew of girls that are there, and then it’s all these dudes, and then there’ll be another crew of girls and they’re just the girlfriends, you know?”
Sexism is an apparent problem in skateboarding — about as systemic in the industry as any other — despite the list of notable skateboarding women. OGs will tell you about Patti McGee, Ellen O’Neal, Cara-Beth Burnside, Peggy Oki, Kim Cespedes, Cindy Whitehead, and Laura Thornhill among other great skaters in the ‘70s. Because of skateboarding’s tricky definition (it could be considered a sport), people have come up with essentialist arguments as to why there aren’t more skateboarding women, or according to Nyjah Huston’s 2013 statement, why “skateboarding is not for girls at all.”
Incidentally, traveling sports writer Tetsuhiko Endo published an exposé on the gender-biased history of skateboarding to debunk this notion that women are physiologically unfit for certain sports. His observations highlighted an industry preference for younger men from the ‘70s onwards — sex advertising was an effective sales driver, and mascots like Rosa (Shorty’s Inc.) and the Hubba Girls (Hubba Wheels) attracted buyers as much as pro skaters did.
This last decade has been a turning point — the skating boom has launched pro women back into the scene, and their coverage has in turn inspired others to take up skating. It’s been a rough drive and the gender pay gap still applies to pro skaters. Recently, Leticia Bufoni won the first SLS Nike SB Women’s Super Crown World Championship, taking in roughly $40,000 in winnings. Kelvin Hoefler, by comparison, took home $200,000 for winning the men’s division.
While there are more inclusive and critical publications like I Skate Therefore I Am and Jenkem Magazine, it’s still an uphill struggle for gender equality. As one of the forerunners, Rezko feels the brunt of it. But she’s not phased.
“It’s like, no one really knows why we’re there, but yeah. You just have to walk in with confidence and make it your goal; that’s what we’ve been doing. I hope more and more people can see this as it continues.”
The hard-work rhetoric sounds clichéd, but it’s paid dividends for Get Born. Larger publications routinely go for pro skater interviews and competitions. Rezko goes for people behind-the-scenes. They might be more difficult to track, but they’re often some of the coolest people her crew’s ever met — Mandy-Lyn Antoniou, Chris Contesso, Bing Lui, and others showcase the unquantifiable creativity inherent in skate culture.
“We want to focus on the underground aspect of skateboarding, what still remains real to us. And that’s the [videographers], the people working on creative projects, local skatepark builders who are trying to make the city thrive. People who are big in the industry have received so much coverage.”
That doesn’t mean that she or the girls won’t call the scene like it is. Gonzo journalism informs the Get Born aesthetic, and Rezko’s crew is often invited to cover major skate events. It’s very honest.
“We’re getting flown out to big contests like Mountain Dew, Street League (SLS) — like, ESPN events. We attend these industry events but we’re trying to document it and make it into our own and give our own perspective on it. It’s not necessarily that nice of a perspective, but we’re still going to keep that core and that underground feel to the content no matter what.”
This extends to interviewees, too. Rezko was upfront in a recent interview with pro skater Paul Rodriguez as he talked about his skate documentary We Are Blood in a room full of PR and marketing groomers. She was equally frank with Chris Nieratko, former writer for the defunct magazine Big Brother, about the shit he’d seen and done. Both the magazine and Nieratko had been big inspirations to her — Rezko saw this as her personal breakthrough, the sign that Get Born was for real.
“That’s when I was like, ‘Fuck yeah, this is happening.’”
Get Born is rapidly expanding its coverage beyond hometown Chicago and new home Montreal, out to the UK and the streets of Los Angeles. They’ve taken on some new writers and photojournalists. Vans Canada recently sent them some footwear to showcase.
“But other than that we’re just going to work hard and keep doing what we’re doing.”
Marginalized by law enforcement and whitewashed by pop culture, skateboarding is in constant existential conflict. Despite great financial gain, there’s great uncertainty in its future as corporate interests encroach on the skateboarding identity. Will skaters of today remember the struggles of their predecessors? Will society’s fringe reflect on its history of discrimination and rise above it? Will the boundless digital space capture the “last creative genius” that is skateboarding? In totality? In finality? Chanelle thinks so.
Stay true, and keep things core.
You can check out more from Ryan at: monaryst.tumblr.com
Posted on November 30, 2015.
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