Much like their contemporary counterparts in the predominantly male, high-consequence world of big-wave surfing, women in the competitive street skate scene have to fight for every ounce of respect they get. It's not that there's no room for women in skateboarding, it's just that skateboarding is unlike other sports, in which a combination of average talent and mainstream appeal can net a girl a lucrative pro contract. Companies haven't quite figured out how to market female street skaters to a Target audience, so they remain a niche group, rising in the shadows of other bigger, brighter stars.
The word "pro," as it applies to female skateboarders, is a tricky moniker. Most women competing at the pro level are actually "sponsored ams" in the eyes of the companies to which they pay allegiance. (Which is not an easy title to get, by the way.) What this means is, with a couple notable exceptions, most female skateboarders skating at the top level don't earn a lot through their trade. What makes the X Games Skateboard Street competition different than most other women's skateboarding contests is the prize purse, which nets $40,000 for the top spot. It's also, incidentally, the same amount offered for first place for men.
Compare this to the, say, two grand that Lacey Baker took home for her win in a contest in Europe last month, and it's easy to see why the X Games roster is so consistently stacked with talent, and why all the women skating in it put on such a great show. Forty thousand dollars is a lot of money. They come here to win.
But maybe you don't know a lot about women's skateboarding. That's cool, man. You're here now. Let's get you educated with a little who's who.
Elissa Steamer: Every kid needs a hero, and for most girls getting into skateboarding in the past 15-plus years, Steamer's been it. She was the first female to get a video part in a legit movie (Toy Machine's 1996 video, "Welcome to Hell"), which was followed by a pro model deck in 1998. She's also first female to get an avatar in a skateboarding video game (Tony Hawk's "Pro Skater"). Says Steamer of the X, "I don't like big handrails because I don't enjoy hitting the concrete. Can't teach an old dog new tricks, you know?" But this is all just talk. Steamer should just walk around in alligator shoes carrying a diamond-encrusted cane, because she owns this block, son.
Marisa Dal Santo: Next in line to take Steamer's throne is Marisa Dal Santo. Not only has she won two of the past three X Games (2008, she placed second behind Steamer), she also recently came correct with her own part in Zero's "StrangeWorld." She's coming off an injury which had her out of commission for most of last year. We hear she's back in the game, though, and is favored to win. When you write about it later, can you try to spell her name right?
Lacey Baker: Former grom phenom turned recent high school grad, Baker first made waves in the skateboard world in 2008 when she became the first girl to make it to the Sunday semifinal round of the Tampa Am (coming in 33rd out of a field of almost 200 skateboarders). Baker seems to have a thing for fourth place here at the X Games, but this year she's got a new trick up her sleeve -- the nollie inward heelflip (which you can check in our gallery) -- which makes her a serious contender for the podium this time around.
Leticia Bufoni: Bufoni came out of nowhere a few years ago, showing up to contests in all her 12-year-old pint-sized glory and throwing down with such a fury that everyone around just had to stop and watch. No one knew what to make of her, especially because at the time she spoke only Portuguese. The Brazilian has since relocated to California, grown into a body that can support the kind of powerful skateboarding she wants to do with it, and has started winning contests right and left. Keep your eye on this one.
Alexis Sablone: Hey, remember when you had that video part in P.J. Ladd's "Wonderful, Horrible Life" back in 2002, and then you disappeared completely from the skateboarding scene? What, uh ... what happened? Oh, you just went to Columbia University and got an architecture degree? That's cool. Way to just show back up after all that time and start immediately killing it. That second place in the X Games last year after not having competed in a while was all right, I guess. Maybe it'd be OK if you, like, decided to stick around.
Amy Caron, Vanessa Torres, Evie Bouilliart: Tough as nails, Bouilliart has a tendency to show up to the X Games with a rolled ankle, broken wrist or some other injury that keeps her from really skating at the top of her ability. She appears to be injury free at the moment, so we should get a good demo this year of what this woman can do. Though Caron has ended up on the podium before (she's the 2007 and 2008 bronze-medal winner), and Torres is certainly a good enough skater to win if she wanted to, the deciding factor in whether either of these two BFFs will end up in the top three usually comes down to attitude. If she feels like killing it, she will. If she doesn't, well then ... All three of these ladies are X Games contest wild cards.
And now you know.
The contest goes down on Sunday, Aug. 1, at 3:30 p.m. ET. You can watch it live on ESPN3.com, and then catch highlights of it on television later at some as-yet undisclosed time between 7-10 p.m. on ESPN2.