While promoting her first children's book in 2004, Barbara Odanaka wanted to do something a little different to publicize the release. Instead of settling for a standard launch party, she decided to host an event at the local skatepark and invite other skateboarding moms to come join her.
The book was called "Skateboard Mom," after all, so it seemed appropriate.
Calling it "Mighty Mama Skate-O-Rama," 19 women of all ages came out, including one 80-year-old. From that, the International Society of Skateboarding Moms was born. Now also known as the more-inclusive "Sisters of Shred," there are around 300 active members and the organization is a registered non-profit. And the Mighty Mama Skate-O-Rama lives on as well, and is held every Mother's Day with proceeds benefiting local children's charities.
Odanaka, 52, returned to skateboarding after decades away from the sport, after the birth of her now-19-year-old son. She was struggling with transitioning to motherhood, and, at the advice of a therapist, turned to one of her favorite childhood activities.
"It's a great natural high," she said by phone from her home in Laguna Beach, California.
"We joke about it being Prozac on wheels. No matter how depressed you might be feeling when you get on your board, when you're skateboarding, you have to be totally focused. It's zen on wheels. You have to be focused on the moment and not the bills you have to pay, or the kids' homework or whatever is going on in your life."
Several women in the group have little to no prior experience, and others are like Odanaka, returning after many years away. And while it would be easy to assume most of the moms in the group have kids who ride, according to Odanaka, that is not true. Most of the women found the sport on their own and their interest is of their own accord -- with one notable exception. Longtime member Eva Armanto is the mother of pro skater Lizzie Armanto.
Although currently sidelined with her first skateboarding injury, Odanaka typically likes to get on her board multiple times a week. Over the summer the group even organized two trips up the California coast. While they usually are recognized in their regular parks, they tend to get a little more attention in places they haven't frequented before.
"Our home parks are used to us, and they're almost always nice and respectful," Odanaka said. "But when we go to a new place, they seem to get a kick out of us because we're a bunch of old, wrinkled ladies walking in. You just see the teenagers' eyes going up. We've had youngsters who have come up and said 'I wish my mom did this!' or 'Will you tie my shoe?' or sometimes they just ask for snackbar money."
The incredible story of Odanaka and three other members of the group, including Armanto, is the subject of the first short film from the AARP's "Fearless at 50" campaign. Called "Skateboard Mom and The Sisters of Shred," you can check it out below before its official release later this week.
As the AARP's series was created to recognize "real people age 50 and over who are living boldly in unexpected ways," Odanaka hopes to combat the stereotype that people are supposed to slow down when they get older.
"There's no shame for me in being an adult and being playful," she said. "I realize we have all these ideas that as we get you older, you should slow down and be responsible and do things that are appropriate for your age. And I've always found it so funny that skateboarding has this reputation that it's just for kids. But it's fun, you get fit. The older I get it, I've gotten more open to playfulness. Why should I be sitting in a gym on an exercise bike? Blah!"
"Embrace your inner child and run with it! As long as you're keeping up with your responsibilities, why not?"