Welcome (back) to Wheels of Fortune | September 7-13, 2022
What is Wheel of Fortune (WoF)? For those who don’t know, this is the world’s first and longest running skateboarding competition for female and transgender competitors, and it takes place in Seattle. This is thanks to the fact that Skate Like a Girl, a pioneering organization for gender equality in skateboarding, has its headquarters here.
Kristin Ebeling – a professional skateboarder and executive director of Skate Like a Girl – started WoF after attending too many competitions where the women’s event was basically an insult. Whether it’s lower prices, extremely early tee times, or the lack of dedicated practice sessions, skate competitions really sucked for women. Ebeling designed WoF as an antidote to all of that, and people flocked to it. WoF has attracted competitors from all over the world, from South Korea to Sweden.
After a hiatus of more than three years, WoF is back for its 11th episode. The pandemic broke just before the 2020 event, which means WoF hasn’t happened since May 2019. A lot has changed since then.
For starters, skateboarding made its Olympic debut, putting the world’s best female skaters on the world stage. Although there are Olympians who attend WoF, they don’t do it for the prestige or the prize money. WoF remains what it always was: a very fun and very silly cultural event that features a contest.
It also remains skateboarding’s most trans-inclusive event, which is more important than ever as the culture wars have come for skate culture. Taylor Silverman – a mediocre skateboarder at best – recently took to social media to complain after losing to a trans woman, tagging in a rogue gallery of alt-right media figures to her cause. It’s no surprise that his previous claim to fame called the cops for drinking beer at his local skatepark. Leo Baker, easily the most famous transgender skater, chose to quit the Women’s Olympic Skateboarding Team in order to become transmale. Both examples highlight how rigidly the gender binary is prescribed in competitions and how difficult it is to skate as a trans person.
Real Change caught up with Ebeling to get his thoughts on what it’s like to be back, what’s changed and what to expect this year.
RC: For the uninitiated, what is Wheels of Fortune?
KE: Wheels of Fortune is a global gathering of non-traditional skateboarders that I started when I was 19, when I was a student, because I skated local competitions as a kid in Seattle, and then I went to bigger competitions. and saw how the women’s division was at, like, 8 in the morning, you know? And we had no warm-up time, and there was no prize money.
Was that an afterthought?
One hundred percent afterwards. So I was like, “That’s stupid.” And also, so sterile and boring. For example, we’re going to take what we do with the guys, which is this very serious competition, and make it a girls’ version. My idea was to make it funny and fun and very “for us by us”. Silly jokes. Learn more about the community.
That’s always been one of the most interesting things about the female skate community: they have more fun.
It’s more like it was skateboarding when it was punk as shit. Very DIY, no support, no sponsors. You started WoF with virtually no sponsorship, right?
Oh my god, we were lucky to have a box of shoes. I remember one year, Vans sent us – remember when they did the Iron Maiden collabs? — they sent us a size 9. And we were thrilled. Like, “Yes, we have a pair of shoes!” One time this energy drink gave us $200, and that was our purse. It was quite funny.
It’s been 11 years since you started it. A lot has happened, but just in terms of finances, what are you working with these days? You now have some pretty notable sponsors.
Absolutely. Nike SB is one of our biggest sponsors of Skate Like a Girl as an organization, in general, but WoF is one of the biggest things we work on with them. Soundboks, which is a loudspeaker company from Europe, sponsored events. Tech Deck actually sponsored WoF this year, supporting our fingerboarding event.
Alright, alright, we need to pause here for you to explain what Tech Decks are to our readers.
[Laughing] Okay, uh, well, fingerboarding is basically skateboarding, but on a miniature skateboard using your first finger and middle finger. Basically, doing the same tricks on a skateboard but in a miniature version. A friend of mine makes an exact replica of [All Together Skatepark] where the Wheels of Fortune skateboarding competition takes place. It’s gonna be a hoot and a half, that’s for sure.
The first year was just the contest itself, right? You’ve added stuff around that to the point where it’s four full days of programming. Can you explain part of it to me?
It definitely started as a simple competition. Just one day. We had everything from bands playing to live painting, like an artist painting a mural during the event. DJ. All sorts of things. But it kind of evolved into a whole weekend probably [at] WoF 7, because it was a qualifier for the X Games. The X Games is a skateboarding competition hosted by ESPN, and they didn’t have a women’s qualifying series or a food program. So we had to qualify for a year, which was really cool.
And you were the only game in town?
Exactly. I was like, “How else are you going to know who’s going?” It’s interesting because Mariah Duran won that year. Jenn Soto was there. Aori Nishimura. All those girls who won medals in the Street League and the X Games and all sorts of bullshit. It was really cool that they came out as little skater babies and got noticed at Wheels of Fortune. Anyway, that year we knew we were going to bring in all these girls because it was qualifying, so my friends and I were like, ‘Damn, what are we gonna TO DO? Everyone will arrive on Saturday.
And that’s how the witch hunt was born?
We originally called it “Queen of the Road”, modeled after Thrasher [Magazine’s] “King of the road.” But we ended up changing it the following year to “Witch Hunt” so we had our own name, because we didn’t want to completely bite into what Thrasher was completely doing. The goal is for everyone to walk around and explore Seattle and complete random challenges. Some of them are super silly like “crush a watermelon between your thighs” or “drag your knee down the aisle of a grocery store and make your friend jump on you”. Others involve lots of strangers, so one of them is like “ask a man in flip flops to skate” or “ask a vaper to say the name of your Witch Hunt team while he vapes” . But others are skateboard challenges like “do a sweeper while holding a broom” or “do a kickflip while holding hands with your teammates.” It’s just about exploring the city, having fun and skating.
And the other programs were born from that?
Over the years we started adding stuff because our friends were like, “Hey, I got this skate video, can I make it?” or, “Hey, I’m a photography student, can this be my final project to show photos at the 35th [North skateshop]Last year, my friend Kerry was doing karaoke and he said to me, “Hey, I’d love to throw a karaoke party. I was like, ‘Damn yeah!’ We just added stuff and this year we have four days.
It’s a lot!
Yeah. We host a 3-on-3 basketball tournament, skate session, video premieres, educational workshops, panel series, ally training, networking, then host a welcome party with ramps. skate and live bands – a No Doubt cover band, in fact, called Hella Doubt. So it’s gonna be fun. This includes all volunteers and staff in our Bay Area section of Skate Like a Girl. Friday night’s first video has a super special announcement – you don’t want to miss it. Saturday is the witch hunt, then queer and trans skate jam in the evening and karaoke [at 35th North]. Sunday is the competition.
Looks like it’s going to be fun.
We have a full program. This year’s theme is actually “high school reunion”, so you’ll see that it’s all woven together.
It’s a kind of reunion, isn’t it? This is the first since the pandemic.
Three years and four months. It’s a bit scary to bring something back [after the pandemic].
Well, a lot of it takes place outdoors and everyone has to provide proof of vaccination or a negative test for indoor events.
Totally. It’s so hard now, pretty much everyone gets it. I just hope everyone is safe. I hope everyone won’t come if they’re sick.
Who’s coming this year?
Shanae Collins is from Australia. Candy Jacobs, who is an Olympian. It’s really special that she’s coming. Tons of skaters from Canada are coming. This year, we were indeed able to make scholarships. Basically, every sponsor who sponsored the event, we asked them for more scholarship money. I’m really happy with the people who come out on scholarships. One person is this native woman who carves and makes sick art on skateboards. Her name is Di’Orr Greenwood, and she loves to skate. This other woman applied for a scholarship and said, “I’ve never skated with another black woman before. We were like, “You have to come to WoF!”
You will skate to the fullest!
Exactly. There’s this other person from North Dakota who’s starting to run sessions for women, trans people, and gay skaters where she lives, but she hasn’t been to a big event like this. It’s not just people from all over the world who come, the superstars, the big skaters. There are all these rising stars that are in Street League and everything that comes along, like Poe Pinson and all that. Victoria Ruesga and Maite [Steenhoudt] and all those big names in skating. nora [Vasconcellos]Nicole [Hause] … Fabi [Delfino]Airy [Breana Geering], all those. For me, what excites me the most are people who come because they’re losing their minds. They have never skated with another black woman before or met another queer skater before. They build a community and make friends, and I see them coming back next year or I see the cool shit they do throughout the year because of those connections. It’s been hard not having that for the past three years. I’m glad to have it again.
Isn’t looking at your friends on Instagram the same?
This is really not the case. We need that human connection because a lot of what we do in skateboarding is thankless. Like, you’re not gonna make any money, you know what I mean? You will end up with broken bones. It’s fucking hard. Getting together and just having fun and it’s not a serious environment and just a community is what the world needs right now. The world is screwed and this is what we have. All we have is us.
WoF runs from September 8-11. All events are free, but registration is required. For an event schedule and registration information, visit skatelikeagirl.com/wof.