Valeria Kechichian: Longboard Girls Crew and female movements

Valeria Kechichian talks with Thane’s Sofia Grillo and Lucyann Mortimore about the new Longboard Girls Crew film Open as well as female movements, changing the ‘system’ and falling onto her ass.

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Hey Valeria! How are you doing? How’s London treating you?
Good thank you! London is treating me very well, I love London! It’s one of my favorite cities in the world, I was super excited to come back. It’s been two and half years since I last visited….every corner I turn, I feel like I’m in Harry Potter! [All laughs]

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Valeria in Crystal Palace Park, London

So have you been for a skate around London yet?
Yeah for sure, not skateboarding but longboarding . I always travel with my boards, that’s the main reason why I’m traveling all the time.

Where in London have you skated then?
I skated in Richmond Park a little bit, and Crystal Palace.

What about Hyde Park?
No, I’ve never been to Hyde Park, I never actually got there. You know, distances are so ridiculous in London. So maybe if I want to go to Hyde Park I’d…

…have to spend two hours on a bus?
Yes, it’s crazy! Maybe for Londoners it’s normal, but for someone who comes from Madrid (which is seriously like one eighth of London), it’s just insane.

You get used to it!
I guess so yeah. [laughs]

So are you excited to be here at the House of Vans?
Yes, very much because I’ve never been to the House of Vans and I’ve always wanted to. I’ve seen pictures of that sick bowl before and I really wanted to try it out, but now that I’m here I’m kind of scared, I’ll give it a shot though. I’m excited for the girl’s night, and I’m also very excited to be premiering this film in London, because half of my closest friends from all around the world live here. This is actually the second most exciting premiere I’ve been to. The first one being Madrid.

We know the film has already been premiered in at least 30 different countries, what has the general response been like?
They love it! I mean it’s wrong for me to say otherwise [laughing], but it’s true they really, really love it! It’s such a strong, empowering film for women. Usually projects like this one are run and produced by men, but the nice thing about Open is that it’s produced by women, featuring women. The general response has been really mind-blowing.

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So have you actually watched this film 30 times?
I’ve watched it more than that! It’s not just the premieres I’ve watched, it’s the times at home when a friend comes over and says “hey let’s watch the film” or when I’m traveling and people say: “hey do you have the film on your computer?” I’ve seriously seen this film maybe 60 times.

That is pretty crazy
Yeah now I hate it, I really hate it! [Laughs]

We’re going to be keeping an eye out to make sure you’re watching it for the 61st time tonight!
Yeah I’m going to be on Instagram. [Laughs] No no not really!

This is the second film for LGC. How do you feel this differs from Endless Roads?
I think Open is more ambitious. It was a bigger project, 14 riders from 11 different countries gathered in Israel, which is a place we were not familiar with. Shooting a film in Israel is not like shooting a film in any other place!

So why Israel?
Because we met a group of guys from a local skate brand based in Israel, we all fell in love with each other and decided that we totally needed to go to Israel to visit them. We started talking about making a little video with the GoPro over there, within half an hour the idea developed into what it is today. So yeah, imagination takes you to great places!

The 14 riders in Tel-Aviv. Photo by Matt K.

The 14 riders in Tel-Aviv. Photo by Matt K.

What’s the meaning behind the film’s title, Open?
It was definitely an eye opening experience for us all, so we thought the name ‘Open’ suited the film really well. But the title of the film is not only based on our experience in Israel, it’s the female movement in general, that’s the real eye opener.

Did you face any major difficulties during your time in Israel?
Yeah, we had one major problem and you will see it in the movie. One of the girls had a really bad accident because of the mentality some people appeared to have over there. I don’t want to spoil the movie, but that was a really big shock for everyone.

Do you think some girls are put off by sports like longboarding because they are afraid of getting hurt?
I guess it depends, some girls are super fearless and they just go for it. I’m not like that, I’m so careful, I’m like: “ah I’m an old lady.” [All laughs] I know a lot of girls though – especially downhill skaters – who just go for it and see what happens. But you know, accidents can happen. I think this idea of not wanting to get hurt is very much linked to this deeper root in our society. When we are kids, the girls are told to not get dirty and not to do anything too dangerous, whereas the boys are actually challenged to do these kinds of things, and that’s bullshit. I don’t think you should be limited by your gender.

Descending Ramon Crater

Descending Ramon Crater

What do you think puts women off from participating in extreme sports such as longboarding?
I think the main thing isn’t actually fear, it’s the lack of exposure women athletes have in action sports, and the lack of role models. For example, if a five year old girl picks up a skating magazine she’ll find that most of the people featured in it are men. I think because of things like this a lot of girls don’t even think they can take up such sports. I think that’s something we need to change, and that’s something I’m trying to achieve.

So why do you think the extreme sports scene is still mainly male orientated?
Even though women have been in the skateboarding scene since the beginning, we have always been the minority. I think women were a bit put off and intimidated by this, but, if we show more female role models and girls in general who are participating in this sport, this will hopefully change. I think the problem is also how women are represented for extreme sports brands. Instead of choosing to portray a woman in action, they tend to choose a model with a board in her hand. That doesn’t inspire girls at all; that inspires nothing. We really need to work on and change how women are portrayed for these kinds of things.

Have you ever thought LGC could become what it is today?
Never, never, ever! It’s been a really fun and wild journey these past five or six years, for sure. I remember when we first started and we just decided to shoot some videos, we never imagined millions of views. We were like, “what the f*** is going on?” It was very crazy. It’s been a really wild journey; I never thought LGC could become so big.

It must feel so rewarding!
Yes, of course! You don’t expect any of this when you start, and now I look at my life and I’m like, “Look what I do!” A few months ago I gave a fricking TED talk! But the most important thing is the female movement; it’s not even about LGC it’s about all these others movements that this has inspired.

What do you think is the best achievement for LGC since it started in 2010?
Getting so many women involved with this sport, for sure! That’s the biggest thing, despite all the fancy stuff. It’s not about events and crap like that, that’s bullshit. The most important thing is having the possibility to reach out to so many girls and women, giving them something that in many cases has changed their lives. Because, as I said in the TED talk, it’s not about the skating. It’s about that feeling it gives you when you do something you didn’t think was possible. You step out of your comfort zone and you skate, and it really empowers you as a person, it gives you a lot of courage and freedom. I get emails from women from these crazy countries where things are really f**ked up. They say how they gained power through the things we are doing, maybe through a photo or a video, and sometimes I think, “how is that even possible?” But it is possible, and it’s happening. So that’s the biggest and most important thing I believe we have achieved to this day.

Now that you are an important figure in the longboarding community, do you feel the pressure from it?
Yes, I do. I haven’t really thought about it but I do feel a lot of pressure sometimes. Even if it’s a small scene you still have some eyes on you. There are many people that criticize you whatever you do because that’s what people tend to do: criticize. People who do stuff criticize and people that don’t do stuff criticize.

You can never win. [laughs]
At one point it was hard for me to accept the responsibility, because I thought, “who am I to say something?” But then I realized that we all have a voice, so why don’t we use it for something good? We all have that option.

And you just decided to do it…
Yeah, that’s the thing! It’s empowering to think that we can all do it, we don’t have to be anybody you just have to use your voice, and when I accepted that, everything changed and now I don’t feel as pressured at all because I know I am doing what I believe in, and I know it’s real, and it’s working.

What challenges have you faced as a female longboarder? Did you find it hard at the beginning to become ‘accepted’? Were people criticizing you?
I guess it has always been hard as a female longboarder to become accepted, especially back then when I started. Now it’s different, but when I started in Madrid the scene was mainly male dominated. You are always a bit intimidated; I guess it’s the fear of failing and falling on your ass in front of everybody. I still feel like this every time I go to a new spot, I feel like people are thinking, “Oh yeah, let’s see what she does!” I’m not a great rider, I’m just a normal rider, you know? People assume that I have to be the best because I run LGC, but I’m really not, I just longboard!

Val Kechichian dancing in the desert. Photo by Daniel-Etura.

Val Kechichian dancing in the desert. Photo by Daniel Etura.

I think that’s really inspiring for people that want to start longboarding and skateboarding, because they can look up to someone like you, someone who is still progressing every day.
For sure! It’s good to be able to relate to somebody; I believe it makes the sport more approachable. Sometimes I find it hard to portray the highest level of longboarding while still keeping it accessible and inspiring for the girls who are starting to learn.

What’s the best road you’ve skated on? Do you have a favorite one?
I don’t really know… I had my local spot but I just moved to France so I don’t have any local spots at the moment – that’s very sad! In Madrid though I had my local bowl, which I really loved because I used to go there with my friends. Worldwide, there was this bowl in Dusseldorf that was the best bowl I ever skated. There are also some other spots like in Lebanon, which I love because of the sense of community. California of course is amazing; I love it over there. I also love Cologne. There are so many places that I like to skate!

Are there any places in the world that you’ve visited or heard of, that surprised you for its female longboarding community? 
None that I have been to, but I’m really surprised in terms of what is happening in Korea and all of the Asian communities. There is a massive boom of women longboarding there, and it’s amazing!

And where have you found there is the biggest female longboarding community?
That’s a tough one. Peru has a big scene, as well as Ecuador and Colombia. Brazil is massive! Maybe Brazil? Skateboarding is actually the second most popular sport over there after football, which is insane!

So a bit of a random question here… Tell us something people would be surprised to hear about you!
I’m not sure… I’m just trying to look for my inner freak. There is actually one thing I do that my boyfriend finds gross. I love pimples and pus, I love looking at those videos on YouTube. Every time I have five minutes or something I watch one, I’m crazy obsessed! Sometimes I even dream of the perfect pimple, the kind you would squeeze and it explodes two times, maybe it even has hair inside, I love that crap!

[If you want videos of this you’re on your own! —Thane]

Who or what inspires you?
I have many women that inspire me. I’ve been asked this question before and I never know what to say, but when I think about it what really inspires me is the women who are trying to make a difference in the longboarding and skateboarding world. In general, I think anyone who’s working towards changing the world in a positive way, and doing something good is inspiring. I’m also inspired by the emails I get from girls all over the world, girls who are daring to do something they never thought they could before. They have so much courage and they are so brave. Those things inspire me and keep me going.

What makes you so passionate about LGC?
I’m so passionate about LGC because I believe in what I do. It’s something that really touches me deeply. Sometimes, I have to admit, it’s not easy but then I feel like the universe sends me signs to reassure me. I don’t know what you believe and I don’t want to sound too mystical, but I do believe that when you are on the right path the universe somehow shows you. There is no way you can do something like this with the amount of work and effort that is involved, unless you truly believe in what you are doing from the bottom of your heart.

Where do you see the future of LGC?
I don’t want to say the future of LGC, I want to say the future and the growth of female movement. Longboarding and skateboarding are just a small reflection of this. We all have to work towards it, but I believe we will achieve real gender equality, not only for women in action sports, but also for women in society, and that’s where we are going. It will take some time, it will take lots of work, but we will definitely get there someday.

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