Skateboarders come in all shapes, sizes and abilities. Some are young, performing air defying stunts that make us shake our head in wonder. Some are older, like Ben Jaeger-Thomas, taking to the sport in an effort to learn new tricks. And some are in between, like Kilian Martin, using skateboarding less for utility or for thrill seeking and more as a form of artistic expression.
In many respects Laguna Beach’s Barbara Odanaka is a combination of all of these. Yes, she’s 53, returning to the sport a little less than two decades ago as a way to recapture her youth. Today, she continues to skate – at least once or twice a week – most often at skateparks (Etnies in Lake Forest; Vans in Huntington Beach; and Alex Road in Oceanside) near her hometown.
Her interests range from cruising to slalom to going on skate adventures in ditches and pipes found in popular places like Mt. Baldy. Her exploits have been featured in the Los Angeles Times, by espnW and on NPR. AARP produced this short video featuring Odanaka and friends as part of their “Fearless at 50” campaign.
Yes, Odanaka is not alone in her pursuit of breaking down barriers when it comes to skateboarding, bringing mothers and women like her along for the ride through her nonprofit Skateboard Moms & Sisters of Shred. She epitomizes everything that X-Wear stands for, so we decided to track her down to learn more about her passion for skating.
X-Wear: You returned to skateboarding later in life. What is it that drew you back in?
Barbara Odanaka: Motherhood! After I had my son, who was quite colicky, I was feeling overwhelmed and sought advice from a counselor. She told me my “homework” was to think of one thing I used to love to do before I became a mom, then do that every day for 10 minutes. I had my answer in an instant: skateboarding. A week later, my husband bought me a new board for my 35th birthday. Once I stepped on that board, I was suddenly 10 years old again. It was the perfect therapy! And it just grew from there. Some might call it an obsession, but really it was an awakening. I realized if you really love something, there is no reason not to pursue it. Who cares what others think?
XW: There’s a real sense that you’re shattering stereotypes related to both gender and age when it comes to skateboarding. Can you talk about what that means to you and why it’s important to show that older females can, and should, get on a board and embrace the sport.
Odanaka: When I first started our nonprofit (Skateboard Moms & Sisters of Shred), it was really because I wanted to find other females to skate with. Well, that and I wanted to promote my first children’s book, “Skateboard Mom.” But as time went on and more and more women joined us, I realized it was bigger than that. Women who had skated as kids were really excited to get on a board again. And some women who had never been athletic in their entire lives suddenly wanted to learn to skate. Suddenly, we had this growing sisterhood of women who wanted to talk about wheels and trucks and skateparks and how to drop in, and of course meet up to skate together which is a whole lot easier when you’re not the only woman at the skatepark.
Initially, I guess I was amused by it, but then more and more women starting telling me how skateboarding had literally changed their lives. Skateboarding empowered them like nothing else. It gave some an identity of their own for the first time. And in some cases, skateboarding helped them develop enough self-confidence to leave abusive relationships. At this point, I was the one being inspired, not the other way around. Skateboarding at a middle age can be really challenging—and painful, as all skaters know. But no matter what your age or stage, learning a new trick - or just surviving a long session without a broken bone - gives you a buzz that lasts all day or longer. And once you feel that, it’s pretty tough to give up!
XW: You often wear sunglasses when skateboarding. Why?
Odanaka: I’ve always been sensitive to glare, and most skateparks are like solar ovens with all that white concrete. I have a tough time skating without sunglasses, though I am careful to wear the kinds that are designed not to break on impact — knock on wood! My favorites are the wraparound styles to better block the glare.
XW: What advice would you have for someone – regardless of age, gender or ability – thinking about taking up the sport?
Odanaka: I think getting some basic coaching always helps. Beginners tend to have some pretty bad falls, and starting out with someone who knows what they’re doing can go a long way in preventing that.
I also think the first “trick” skaters should learn is how to fall as safely as possible. Learning knee slides and other falls can go a long way in keeping you skating for years to come. After that, it’s really up to the individual on how fast or far to push themselves. Some people are naturally adept and learn quickly; others progress at a much slower pace. It really doesn’t matter. The way I look at it, it’s all about having fun.
XW: When it comes to skateboarding, what’s next for Barbara Odanaka?
Odanaka: Our nonprofit just started a program called Skate Pals, where we mentor children rescued from human trafficking here in Orange County. We give the kids skate lessons and outfit them with all new boards and gear. We also put on the annual Mighty Mama Skate-O-Rama; 2017 will be our 14th year.
Other than that, I’m hoping to go on my annual skatepark road trip with some of my friends in the Sisters of Shred and I hope to do a weekend with the girls at Woodward West, the Disneyland of skateparks. On a professional note, I will be donning my inflatable cow costume once again this fall. I am a children’s book author and one of my characters is Skateboard Cow. I go to schools and do assemblies where I skate in a cow costume. Life is never boring!
To learn more about Barbara Odanaka visit her website, www.barbaraodanaka.com. And make sure to check out our skate gear – we have everything from actual boards to trucks to wheels to bearings – that will help you get started on skate adventures of your own. And if you’re looking for sunglasses, these ones are ideal for protecting your eyes during a long day at the skatepark.