Each morning before waking her daughters for school, Katherine Folsom gazes out her bedroom window into her family's backyard, as she dresses in her leotard and tights for another day of teaching her ballet students.
Under construction in her yard is a large skateboard halfpipe. It's for her three daughters, Christina, Michelle and Samantha, who love to skateboard, and for her husband, Roger, an avid skater as well. But it'll also be Folsom's training ground. At 34, Folsom may be the best skateboarder in her thirties in the world.
She's an unlikely pro skateboarder, but it all started just so she could spend more time with her family. Early into her marriage, Folsom realized that her family was disappearing for hours on end to ride at the local skatepark. "I decided the best way to stop wondering when they were coming home was to join them" laughs Folsom. "So I asked my husband to [put together] a skateboard [for me]."
The next day she sat with her new board at a skatepark near their hometown of Folsom, California. She studied the skaters with the critical eye that had been developed from 20 years as a ballet, tap and jazz teacher at a studio in nearby El Dorado Hills. She assessed each and every move -- from how their weight shifted on different tricks to the angle of the riders' heads.
And then she went for it.
"I like working through fear and I have this philosophy of 'Go big or go home' so I thought to myself, if I study what the skateboarders are doing, it shouldn't be too hard," remembers Folsom. "I made the drop the first time, but when I dropped in a second time, I paid the price and slammed pretty hard."
She'd "dropped in" to the biggest bowl at the park -- to the astonishment of everyone watching, including Roger.
Now she's up early each day preparing dance lessons, making sure her family gets out the door on time for school and work and scheduling hot yoga classes to keep her limber and injury-free. In the evenings, at least three to five days a week, she's outside on a ramp or at a skatepark training.
"I used to be known in town as 'Miss Katherine who teaches ballet.' Now I'm also known as the mom who skateboards, takes gnarly falls, gets back up, and does it again and again." Folsom says proudly.
Her own training in ballet started at age 3, and it helps her skateboarding skills by adding flexibility, body awareness, and a unique style.
"I think that outwardly the two sports seem very different, but they are really so similar in their artistry. They are both artistic forms of expression and very interpretive," she says. "I can be learning a skate trick like a 'frontside rock and roll' and realize that it's very similar in movement to a 'fouetté turn' I do in ballet."
After mastering her local skatepark, and entering small competitions near her home -- often as the only female competing -- Folsom was invited to compete at the 2012 Vans Girls Combi Contest in Orange Country, California. The contest is sometimes referred to as the "Super Bowl of Skateboarding" because of its invite-only roster and high level of competition.
She gamely entered the 28-and-over division with little experience competing, and no expectations. Each time she did her run and pulled another trick, the flashbulbs from the photographers surrounding the pool made her nerves fray, and her stomach was in knots competing in such a large venue with so many people watching.
When it was all over, her husband asked her how she thought she did. Folsom answered, "Not very well unfortunately."
But she had come in second.
Two years later Folsom decided to turn pro at the same event, electing to compete in the highest-ranking category for female skaters, where there are no age divisions. Most of the girls skating were still teenagers or in their early twenties. At age 33 she was the oldest skater in the competition, and she took fifth against the best pro skaters in the world.
This Saturday, Folsom will join 85 other women and girls from all over the world to compete at Exposure Skate, in Encinitas, California. Girls as young as six will compete in vert (halfpipe), bowl and street events. It'll be the biggest women's field that Folsom has competed in, and she will once again be the oldest competitor.
But Folsom will approach this competition like she does any other -- by doing her best to enjoy the ride and seeing where skating takes her next. While she never expected to be a pro skateboarder at 34, she's proud of the example it sets for her daughters. She often tells them, "Never give up, and don't ever think anything is impossible if you really want it."
And every day -- as sheds the leotard, tights and ballet shoes, and replaces them with a helmet and knee and elbow pads -- she's doing exactly that.