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The last time I spoke with Nora Vasconcellos was in 2018, almost exactly three years to the date of our latest conversation for Parade World. In a very candid feature for Huck Magazine, Nora got in the weeds not only about her personal journey from being a kid who found skating in New Bedford, Massachusetts to moving to Southern California to pursue it but also, the dynamics of the skateboarding industry and most importantly, what it lacks.
Since that conversation, Nora’s been on a prolific tear, not only in skateboarding, but in her personal life, exploring art, entrepreneurship, and using her platform with adidas Skateboarding to push non-gendered apparel as well as sustainability initiatives.
With a new colorway of the Gazelle ADV to celebrate International Women’s Day, released in tandem with Maité Steenhoudt’s first colorway, Parade World caught up with both Nora and Maité to reflect on her creative progress, how she’s dealt with the pandemic and the story behind her latest shoe.
How’s the last year been for you Nora?
You know how your phone will show you memories? Last year I was in Brooklyn and I was like, ‘Oh my god, this photo feels like it was taken three years ago’ but we’re just hitting the one year mark. I’ve been good though, spending most of my time in Maui, Hawaii. Just thriving is the best term. My boyfriend grew up here and we got here in March right after the NBA shut down. That was the one that made us think, ‘Yeah, this is real.’ We thought we’d be here for a month or so. [laughs]. But having a break from traveling has been good. My body’s pretty stoked on having a routine. I’ve gotten to spend a lot of time doing things I don't get to do all the time whether that’s hiking, just being outdoors, camping with friends - we’re doing a lot of surfing too, which is cool, and I filmed a little video part for OJ Wheels. I can see how it is different [lockdown] for people depending on your personality and situation, but I’ve gotten to do a lot of cool stuff and it’s good to show that you can adapt and figure out ways to be productive.
That’s something we’re all trying to figure out. When the pandemic first hit, many of us had surplus time but what do you do with it? Just figuring that out alone was difficult.
I decided to stop doing contests last year so this was perfect timing for me. I made the right choice. I think there are a lot of people who are at crazy milestones and thresholds in their lives right now and this gave them the push they needed. I know people who left bad relationships, moved where they wanted to live or got that kitten they always wanted. I’ve seen a lot of cool personal developments in friends and family, but I also know we haven’t felt the full economic stress yet.
The last time we spoke you ended our interview saying “Have you ever heard the phrase, ‘If you ever get in trouble, ask a woman’? For some reason, women are more welcoming and maternal. Skateboarding could really use that personality.” How do you feel about that three years later?
Look on Instagram. If you’re a skateboarder who follows skateboarding, the biggest upwards trend has been inclusivity in skateboarding, whether that’s the introduction of brands like Glue or There, or just the amount of girls that like Thrasher posts and the actual progression level of that demographic is insane. The amount of girls I see under 10-years-old that are doing things that are above and beyond… it’s pretty sick and I feel like they don’t fit a specific mold. Everyone has their little own thing. It's super refreshing that you aren't just seeing a little girl who has to have super long hair and be feminine wearing a tutu. It’s really nice to have that change.
It feels like whenever you’re making things or collaborating, there’s a lot of purpose behind what you create. Can you tell me a little about that process?
I haven't catered too much to what I think people will like. I've definitely done what I personally like and what I want to wear. It just so happened that I'm fortunate enough to have enough people who like my skateboarding and who like the same things to keep it going. Five years ago, right before I got on adidas it was so difficult to have a conversation with a guy at a company to get a budget to travel or work on a project or even just getting paid. The transition has been so quick and so awesome - I love it. I also love how people are being held accountable for who they are and what they represent.
When you think about what a skate shop looked like when you were growing up versus now, there’s a definite change. There’s less of the antiquated ‘pink’ clothing and more diverse brands. I think the change in apparel is really interesting particularly.
We’re going into the era of non-gendered clothing. I think it's so freaking cool. I have friends who are having babies and they're choosing non-gendered clothing because they might have more kids and you can reuse the clothes. That pink and blue diversion is just so old and so primitive and I think we're just going beyond it. I see groups of kids skating together and what they wear is all so different. These are kids who if I saw them in middle school, I wouldn't even think they hung out with each other. There’s this really cool acceptance, they’re so inclusive and so woke, I think fashion needs to represent that and I think it does. Look at someone like Billie Eilish. She's like her, her look is so different and distant from anything we’ve ever seen. She does a really good job covering so many bases. She wears such heavy jewelry and she's so beautiful and feminine-looking and has these insane acrylic nails but then she always wearing really bright baggy loose-fitting stuff that most people would think is androgynous. I just think we're in this really, really cool time, and I think skateboarding fits into that mold perfectly.
I feel like the past year made a lot more people aware of not just who they are but how their actions impact others. What simple things can men do in skating to make things more welcoming and less toxic?
There’s this weird thing in our society, especially in America, that the default human, your default Alpha is going to be a CIS white male. Growing up in the skatepark that's all that I ever really saw. To me, it’s a tale as old as time: treat others the way you would want to be treated. And just like the ability to put yourself in the shoes of somebody else. Whenever I'm at a park, I love to look around and observe the variety because that didn't exist so much when I was growing up - just seeing where people are at. ‘That kid’s clearly really good and he's probably already getting flowed product. That kid over there, it might be their first time at the skatepark because they're wearing training shoes.’
You’re sharing this space with somebody and you are bringing energy and an attitude that is respectful of the shared space or you bring an energy and an attitude that might harm somebody or make them uncomfortable? Are you acting bigger than you are? You really need to be aware that parks and spots are shared spaces, so just be thoughtful. When it comes to guys, specifically in how they might interact with anyone who isn't, like, a CIS guy at the park, just think, ‘Would you talk to your grandmother that way? Would you talk to your mother that way? Would your parents be proud to see the way that you're acting?’ And guess what? Most people are not at the skatepark to flirt or hook up or get advice from people.
The advice situation comes up so much and it still blows my mind.
Mansplaining is the gnarliest thing. I’ve had people try to tell me how to do a backside air because I’ll be struggling to do one on a wall. That’s something I've done more than anything in skateboarding and motherfuckers will come up to me and say, ‘You know, you should just act like you want to land it.’ I don’t even understand how we both eat and digest the same food based on the way that you're talking to me right now, it’s so crazy. Whatever happened to minding your own business? Is that like a thing we just don't do anymore?
Let’s talk about the new colorway, introduced for International Women’s Day. How’d you choose that silhouette?
I like to say that the shoe chose me, [laughs] we were going through some shoes in a meeting at adidas about 18 months ago, they showed me how they were reintroducing the Gazelle and changing it for skating, and they asked me if I wanted to do something with it and it was just a no brainer. I wanted to mess with a white shoe - something that my Mom would wear in the late 80s or 90s.
I like white shoes that have hints of beige or a darker eggshell color to them, because I think they wear very nicely and look so classic, even when they’re all worn down and dirty. We initially wanted to do the stripes like how you’d see on a letterman jacket, where there’s some texture to it and really collegiate looking but we found that the material didn’t wear well for skating, so we went with something more durable.
I know family is something really important to you and that comes through in the aesthetics of the shoe, especially on the insole. What’s the story behind it?
If you follow me, especially on social media, you know I'm really close with my parents. My Mom moved to California with me initially in 2012. We were always really close but there’s nothing like living in close quarters with your parents when you’re 20. You’re either going to bond or never talk again. She's actually here on Maui right now. She got here two days ago and we're in vacation mode. I wanted to tell her story because I think it's extremely important to where I am and who I am as a person. I never felt like I couldn't do something because I was a girl and because I had my mother as this incredible role model. She played in the same Little League baseball team as my Dad. That’s actually where they met when they were 8 or 9-years-old. She played two games, mostly as a catcher and the parents were complaining that their sons weren’t on the team, but a girl was, so they kicked her off. That was 1970. Imagine being that young and being told you can’t play because you’re taking time away from a boy, even if he’s not as good as you. I think it's such a good juxtaposition to the argument of how many times somebody comments on a feed and or sees a video of me and they're like, ‘Oh, you know, I've seen eleven-year-old boys at my park skate better than her.’ You have no fucking idea what it's like to be a woman and try to exist on some sort of an even plane. The amount of disservices that we've done to girls and females over the years is appalling.
I think having the date there is really important because it really provides context. We’re in such a hyper-fast time that we often forget that the problems that are so prevalent today are systemic and people have been fighting for these causes for decades.
I think that we're at such a pivotal time, whether it’s gender, race… I do think it is very dangerous though to forget where we come from and our history. When was Women’s Suffrage, right? I trip on it so hard. Maybe someday I’ll have a daughter or somebody that gets to find inspiration from something that I did. I just think that's so valuable. When you feel that way about someone, you should shout it from the rooftop.
What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned over the past year?
I learned that if we’re united we’re going to accomplish what we need to do. If we all band together and all want this to work out for all of us, we can achieve that. Politically, environmentally or just wearing a mask, we can do this together. Personally, it was learning more about things I value and that are important to me when it comes to what it takes for me to be my best self - knowing I need to live somewhere near the ocean and be around nature. I need to challenge my body in different ways than just skating so I can skate longer and better. I also think checking in with people when you can’t be with them is super huge. That’s been a huge takeaway.
Having just released a long-form edit titled “From Broski 2 Proski” and a Samba ADV colorway with adidas tied to Nora’s shoe and also around International Women’s Day, Maité Steenhoudt is unabashedly sharing energy and creativity in skateboarding that it often lacks. More than tricks or spots, it’s the verve and playfulness she infuses into her skateboarding.
We spoke to Maité the day after the “From Broski 2 Proski” video premier, where showings were safely spaced out every 15 minutes and she admittedly had a beer at each showing which eventually… added up.
Congratulations on your first colorway. Since the shoe is celebrating International Women’s Day, is there a woman that you’d say was your first role model?
It’s a cliché but I would say my Mom. She always had my back. I used to play field hockey and I hated it but my Mom loved to go there because she’d see her friends -it’s a whole thing - so when I quit to focus on skating she wasn’t happy, but she still encouraged me. I was always tripping and falling when I played hockey and it’s really hard on your shins. This one time a girl who was at least double my size and I were going for the ball and she just smashed her stick straight to my shin. I flew in the air and had a massive ball on my shin, I couldn’t walk for two days. I suck at running, i’d always trip over when I ran because my shoes were passed on from my brother, so they were always a size or two too big.
I know you were originally going to skate in the Olympics which were postponed due to Coronavirus. How have you handled the past year?
I actually quit the Olympics before they were postponed. I wanted to do something else - it wasn’t for me. I just like doing things without rules. I wanted to focus on a video and just skating with my friends instead. I skate way better that way. Last August, to focus on the video, I bought a one-way ticket to London and stayed for almost a month. That was the beginning of filming with Jackson and then Guillaume. There are some weird sketches in the movie too. The sketches are the glue that stitches all the trips together. You see me flying from Biarritz to Bordeaux. There are some little clues in there but I’m not going to give away the hidden treasures. If you like the Japanese movie Love Exposure some things will make sense- the fast cars, the scenes by the ocean. I’ve nothing against HD, it’s sick, but I prefer the colors of VX. Those bright colors… the sky is so blue.
Tell me about the handwritten messages on your adidas shoe and the meaning.
Written on the insole it says, ‘These shoes are made for dancing en veige.’ I hope when things reopen we can all wear them to parties or make your own party. Normally, without Coronavirus, I wear my shoes when I go out so you dance to break them in and the next day they’re perfect to skate in. The veige part is something we say. If you translate it literally it’s ‘wipe the floor with the broom,’ it’s Antwerp dialect. If you skate or fall, you slide… you slide across the floor. It’s the same thing. [laughs]
What’s the biggest takeaway you’ve had from the last year?
No one had to go to school and everyone was just at home so we discovered the city a bit more- we went out like every day. If you just meditate a little bit when things go wrong, it can always go right, that's what I learned from last year.
What’s the biggest change in skateboarding you’ve seen since you first started?
This is just a golden age for skateboarding in general. It doesn’t matter if you're a boy or girl, or everything in-between. Skateboarding is for everyone. You are seeing people in magazines you never would have seen 20 years ago. The world is changing every second and I feel like skating has a head start.
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