Skateboarding legend, Cindy Whitehead, is the founder of Girl is NOT a 4 Letter Word, a not-for-profit changing the world for girls who love their action sports. A pro-skater back in the ‘70s, Whitehead was recently inducted into the Skateboarding Hall of Fame and is a self-confessed badass.
“Live life balls to the wall. Do epic shit. Take every dare that comes your way. You can sleep when you’re dead.” Whitehead’s personal motto is bold, to the point and epitomises how this legend of the skateboarding world lives her life.
“I was nine years old when my mum took my 13-year-old brother and I to travel for a year through Mexico and Guatemala in a VW van – just the three of us – which is a pretty gutsy thing for a single mum who was a school teacher to do.”
What Whitehead’s mum couldn’t have realised at the time was that her daughter was destined to shatter gender stereotyping barriers by conquering the male dominated profession of vert skateboarding in the 1970s. “I still feel that every day is a chance to jump out of bed… I never want to look back on my life and feel I wasted even one day. I skated down the closed 405 freeway here in Los Angeles for the same reason.”
Yes, you read that right. In fact, Whitehead’s memorable trip down the empty 405 freeway during Carmageddon II back in 2012, made this inspiring sporting legend a star on social media instantly.
“You never regret the adventures you had, only the ones you said no to.”
While we could continue to reel off Whitehead’s many sporting achievements made throughout her much celebrated sporting career, it’s the path she’s currently embarking on that may etch her into the hearts and minds of ambitious females for many years to come.
The icon’s incredible TEDxYouth talk in Santa Monica, CA provides us with a real insight as to what really makes Whitehead tick.
As you can imagine, this skateboarding legend is no stranger to facing adversity, however, her spin as to what the experiences over time taught her should stop every women out there dead in their tracks.
“Back when I was skating professionally, the core guys were great. It was the people outside of our circle who were looking in that tended to judge me for being a girl in a male dominated sport. The boys I rode with taught me that you can kick each other’s ass on the ‘field’ and then when the comp is done, you can leave it all behind and still be best buddies at the end of the day. That’s something girls don’t learn as much and I wish they did.”
So what was it that made skateboarding ‘that something special’ for Whitehead?
She admits to being involved in a heap of team sports as a youngster, including swimming and baseball while even enjoying horse riding.
“Skateboarding was freeing, it was just me and the board flying down a hill, learning a new trick in the half-pipe and doing whatever I wanted.”
What becomes incredibly obvious the more we speak to Whitehead, is how the women around her supported her and were pivotal in her development as both a woman and in terms of her sporting career. They encouraged her but never shielded her from going through the experiences she needed to in order to be successful. Back at the height of her success, Whitehead became the first ever female skateboarder to be sponsored by Puma, an experience she says handed her one of her first big business lessons. Unsurprisingly, skateboarders churn through an absurd amount of shoes and everyone knows how expensive good quality runners can be.
“My grandma encouraged me to write a letter and make a call to see if Puma would sponsor me. Vans had plenty of riders and I thought I’d like to be a bit different… I got my portfolio with photos and stats together, figured out what I was able to do for them in return for the shoes and my grandma drove me down.”
Whitehead recalls how her gran waited in the car while she pitched herself.
“I firmly believe girls in sports should ask for what they want. Waiting for it to come to you doesn’t always work.”
All those years ago, Whitehead’s gran taught her an invaluable lesson: “I was very young – just a teenager, and my grandma could have gone in with me but she felt if I was serious, I had to negotiate this one myself.”
As they say, the rest is history.
Fast-forward years down the track and these days, Whitehead continues her work to change the way women in action sports are celebrated, how much they earn and continues to campaign for more female competitions and prize money in general. There is no doubt Girl is NOT a 4 Letter Word is playing an important role in helping to showcase female sporting talent.
“I realised a few years ago that girl’s skateboarding hadn’t changed too much from back in my day and that felt wrong.”
What Whitehead has succeeded in cooking up and continues to build has today led to major ground being made in spreading the word about women in not only skateboarding, but sport in general.
“When you see a girl doing something, you know it’s possible for you to pick up a skateboard and do it too… We cover it ALL… At this point in time, every penny we bring in goes back into girl’s skateboarding in some way, shape or form.”
After our time with Whitehead, there is no escaping this fact: there is no stopping this game-changing action sports star. In addition to supporting up and coming skateboarders such as current world champion and Aussie Poppy Star Olsen, Whitehead has sparked and is constantly adding to the important conversation about women in sport. And above all else, Whitehead is simply a top notch person… we’ve saved some of her best words for last.
“If you just go out there and do the very best you can, that’s what’s most important.”
*Feature image credit: Ian Logan