DOWNTOWN ‚Äî¬† Santa Monica locked in its skateboarding street cred in the 1970s when it became known as Dogtown and home of the Z-Boys skateboarding team.
Now, it will have to add Lizzie Armanto‚Äôs name to its pedigree.
Armanto, 20, snagged the gold medal in the first women‚Äôs Skateboard Park contest at the X Games in Barcelona this May, adding a bit of shine to her already lustrous career in which she‚Äôs claimed first in the World Cup of Skateboarding points race three years running.
Renowned sponsor Vans took her under its wing, and Armanto spent the last several months traveling across the world of contests, exhibitions, clinics and workshops to promote her sport in developing countries.
What‚Äôs more, she‚Äôs only been skateboarding since 2007.
The Santa Monica resident and Santa Monica College student got her start less than six years ago in a friendly competition with her little brother, who had expressed some interest in getting into skateboarding.
The pair took on The Cove skatepark at Olympic Boulevard and 14th Street, fighting to see who could master the art of making it down the side first.
Although her brother still does skate, it‚Äôs safe to say that Armanto won that contest.
Now, Armanto travels the world competing in bowls; parks designed with curved sides so that skaters do not have to stop; and verts, where skaters ride an incline. She tries to blend the technical aspects of her sport with a certain Dogtown artistry, embracing the flowing aesthetic that she grew up with in local parks.
She loves the flexibility of bowl parks, and how they force the skater to adapt tricks to their format, which can differ hugely from park to park.
“You can do the same trick in a bowl in five different places and end up with five different tricks,” Armanto said.
Armanto does all her work without the benefit of a coach, instead working her way through long days at the parks in which she may complete one full run. Otherwise she‚Äôs pushing herself forward working on new tricks, taking falls and bailing.
“You have a certain knowledge that you already know how to do some of these tricks, so why do something you already know how to do?” Armanto said.
Armanto has a certain nonchalance about her drive and accomplishments that belie what a rare thing it is for a woman to have risen so far and so fast in the world of professional skateboarding, a culture largely dominated by men.
Women-specific events like those in Spain this year are relatively infrequent, forcing Armanto to compete against guys in events in Brazil and Australia that she attended this year.
The young woman, who sports her Vans paraphernalia with a daisy headband when she‚Äôs not wearing soft pastels, does not believe that skateboarding equates to a lack of femininity, and her style, along with her success, has earned her acclaim amongst fans that populate her Facebook page.
Others who have watched the role of women in skateboarding grow over the years call her the future of their sport.
Armanto shrinks from those kinds of labels, saying she‚Äôs only doing what she enjoys and what comes naturally to her.
“It‚Äôs just weird to phrase it that way,” she said. “It‚Äôs like someone saying that putting jam on toast is strange when you eat that every day.”
She recognizes the reality that relatively few women get into skateboarding.
Of the 8 million skateboarders in the country, only 12.6 percent are women, according to 2010 industry numbers from Board-Trac, a marketing and research company that keeps an eye on action sports.
Although the company will be releasing new numbers by the end of this year, the chances that they‚Äôve changed too severely are slim, said Marie Case, spokeswoman for the company.
The birth rate declined sharply in the middle of the 2000s, meaning fewer youth were available to beef up the skating numbers, she said.
“There was a major decline. It went from upwards of about 10 million skateboard participants to below 8 (million),” Case said.
While skateboarding has never been considered a girl‚Äôs sport, those trying to push their way in are seeing a confluence of events that could pump up the number of women getting into it.
One aspect is access, said Lisa Whitaker, founder of Girls Skate Network, a website dedicated to women in skateboarding.
“I think one of the things that has helped girls skateboarding grow is the addition of new skateparks,” Whitaker said. “Before there were skateparks, it was a little intimidating.”
When skateboarding came out of the underground and into the mainstream, it opened the sport up to many who had never considered getting involved in the past. The emergence of people like Armanto, who has been dominating the scene for the past three or four years, has also helped other girls who see them in action and think, “I could do that, too,” Whitaker said.
Slowly women are being drawn to skateparks, looking for ways to get involved.
Sean McNulty, skate buyer and manager at ZJ Boarding House, isn‚Äôt noticing a huge increase in his female customer base, but sees them showing up at skateparks and for lessons.
“From four years ago, it‚Äôs a change,” McNulty said. “Contests have changed ‚Äî they‚Äôre paying more attention to the females there.”