Lizzie Armanto ascends a metal extension ladder, skateboard in hand, to the platform at the top of an indoor vert ramp. She perches, catlike, on the coping then drops in, sails across into a Backside Method Air—her body hovering some fourteen or so feet above the ground for a moment—and bails without landing the trick. She takes two steps on the vertical section of the ramp’s surface, her body parallel to the ground, and then knee-slides down the transition, her head up, shoulders back, torso erect. She jogs out of it without losing momentum. Even when she falls, Armanto employs a dancer’s poise and control, seeming to defy the laws of both physics and fear. TheNew Yorker’s latest video profiles the professional skater as she prepares to represent Finland in the Summer Olympics, in Tokyo, which will feature skateboarding for the first time.
Skateboarding enters the Games with an equal number of competitors and events for men and women, but there still aren’t a lot of women making a living as skateboarders. “In the beginning, being able to get paid to skateboard and call it a job was a struggle,” Armanto says. The Times reported that, in 2005, the women’s street and vert winners at the X Games earned two thousand dollars apiece; the men’s winner in each category earned fifty thousand. It took the threat of a boycott to narrow that gap. Armanto started skating in 2007, and by the time she took home skateboard-park gold in her first X Games, in 2013, the purse for men and women was equal. She’s been a prominent stylist in the sport ever since.
Skateboarding blurs the lines between artist and athlete, sport and life style. Skate videos are perhaps more integral to a skater’s image than are formal competitions, and these showcase skaters’ artistry and personalities. They also tell stories, about a city, a skate park, or a road trip—and, crucially, about the progression of an individual skater trying, failing, and trying again to land a trick. Armanto has taken her fair share of slams, and she’s also landed some difficult maneuvers. In 2018, she became one of a handful of people, and the first woman, to successfully complete a gravity-bending journey through Tony Hawk’s three-hundred-and-sixty-degree loop, à la Hot Wheels. In one attempt, she hangs upside down at the pinnacle of the fourteen-foot-tall loop as she starts to fall, miraculously riding the momentum into a front tuck and sliding down the side of the loop on her knees, instead of crashing straight down; in another, she makes it around, only to wobble and fall face first at the bottom. When she subsequently succeeds, a small crowd cheers as she rides the loop out into a long arc across a parking lot, arms raised to the very sky she just entered and came down from unscathed.
During the early days of the covid lockdown, my husband and I taught our exotic shorthair cat, Ramona, to skate, first plying her with treats to just stay on the board while we pushed her back and forth. Later, she began to step onto the deck herself, with enough force and intention to make it move forward on her own. (We call that trick a Volition—a far cry from Armanto’s Kickflip Indys, but still pretty impressive for a cat, if you ask me.) We have installed obstacles for her, and eventually managed to roll her down a makeshift ramp a few times. When she bails at the bottom of the ramp, she skitters away, then slowly approaches the board again, meows up at us with big wet eyes, pleading to try again. She has the persistence of one of the sport’s most graceful performers. “There [are] no masters,” Armanto says. “And even the people that we call masters—they haven’t done every trick. No one can do everything on a skateboard at all times without failing. Everyone falls, and everyone will have something that they can work on.” O.K., Ramona. We’ll try again.