Alexis Sablone first made her mark on the skate world when she was just a kid, in 2002, as the breakout star of a classic skate video from a now defunct shop in Boston called Coliseum. In the grainy footage, Sablone wears a beanie and looks barely five feet tall, but she skates like a miniature version of a seasoned pro, snapping the board confidently and howling like a banshee when she slams into the pavement. Even though she was one of the first women to be prominently featured in a skate video, Sablone didn’t consider herself a “girl skater,” she says. “I was just a skater. I never thought, ‘I am a female doing this.’ That wasn’t what it was about.”
Sablone grew up to become what you might call a skater’s skater. She hails from Old Saybrook, Connecticut, and her relaxed demeanor when she’s not on her board can obscure how radically accomplished she is: She’s an architect with an academic pedigree that includes diplomas from Barnard and MIT; a designer and artist who makes everything from shoes to experimental furniture; and a queer woman in a sport that has been publicly dominated by straight men since forever. And next summer, when the United States fields its inaugural skateboard team in Tokyo, if all goes according to plan, Sablone will be able to add “Olympic athlete” to her already stacked résumé.
That Coliseum video went on to become a cult sensation in the skate world, and Sablone exposed a generation of skate rats to the embarrassing dearth of women in the sport. What made her part so influential, though, was her innate sense of style—everything from how she moved her arms when she pulled off a trick to how her clothes fit. “Skateboarders are some of the craziest, most particular people,” Sablone tells me, “because someone could do something amazing on their skateboard, and someone else will be like, ‘But look at his pants.…’ ” No amount of virtuosity or technical whizbang can compensate for harsh personal style. In skateboarding, as in life, nothing is deadlier than bad pants.
When we met in March outside a café in Brooklyn, Sablone was dressed like she was about to give a tutorial on East Coast skate style: black beanie, black North Face bubble coat, maroon hoodie, and loose-fitting light blue jeans. It was about a week before New York City went into lockdown, and she was monitoring real-time updates about the international contests in which she was supposed to skate. China, Australia, Japan—all Olympics qualifiers, all canceled. Sablone’s spot on the U.S. skateboarding team is essentially guaranteed, but back then, with the Summer Games in Tokyo about to be put on hold, the future felt uncertain: “Although it doesn’t really fit why I started or what skateboarding’s about, it’s a huge honor. It’s a crazy life opportunity. And it’s just something that I want to do, if I can.”