What is Wheels of Fortune (WoF)? For those who don’t know, it’s the world’s first and longest-running skateboard contest for women and transgender competitors, and it’s held in Seattle. That’s thanks to the fact that Skate Like a Girl, a pioneering organization for gender equity in skateboarding, is headquartered here.
Kristin Ebeling — a professional skateboarder and Skate Like a Girl’s executive director — launched WoF after attending one too many competitions where the women’s event was basically an insult. Whether it was lower prize purses, wildly early start times or no dedicated practice sessions, skate competitions really sucked for women. Ebeling engineered WoF as an antidote to all that, and people flocked to it. WoF has attracted competitors from across the globe, from South Korea to Sweden.
After a more than three-year hiatus, WoF is back for its 11th installment. The pandemic erupted right before the 2020 event, meaning WoF hasn’t been held since May 2019. A lot has changed since then.
For starters, skateboarding had its Olympic debut, putting the world’s top women skaters on the global stage. While there are Olympians attending WoF, they’re not doing it for prestige or the prize money. WoF remains what it’s always been: a very fun, very silly cultural event that happens to feature a contest.
It also remains the most trans-inclusive event in skateboarding, which is more important than ever as the culture wars have come for skate culture. Taylor Silverman — a middling-at-best skateboarder — recently took to social media to complain after losing to a trans woman, tagging in a rogues gallery of alt-right media figures to her cause. It should come as no surprise that her previous claim to fame was calling the cops on someone for drinking beer at her local skatepark. Leo Baker, easily the most famous transgender skater, chose to quit the women’s Olympic skateboarding team in order to come out as transmasculine. Both instances bring to light how rigidly prescribed the gender binary is at contests, and how difficult it is to skate in them as a trans person.
Real Change caught up with Ebeling to get her thoughts on what it feels like to be back, what’s changed and what to look forward to this year.
RC: For the uninitiated, what is Wheels of Fortune?
KE: Wheels of Fortune is a global gathering of nontraditional skaters that I started when I was 19, when I was a college student, because I had been skating local contests as a kid in Seattle, and then I’d gone out to bigger contests and seen how the women’s division was at, like, 8 a.m. in the morning, you know? And we didn’t have any warm up time, and there was no prize money.
It was an afterthought?
One hundred percent an afterthought. So I was like, “This is dumb.” And also, so sterile and boring. Like, we’ll take what we’re doing with the guys, which is this dead serious competition, and make a girls’ version of it. My whole idea was to make it funny and fun and very “for us by us.” Silly jokes. More about the community.
That has always been one of the most interesting things about the women’s skate community: They have more fun.
It’s more like skateboarding was when it was punk as fuck. Very DIY, no support, no sponsors. You started WoF with pretty much no sponsorship, right?
Oh my god, we were lucky to get a box of shoes. I remember one year, Vans sent us — remember when they did the Iron Maiden collabs? — they sent us a size 9. And we were stoked. Like, “Yes, we got a pair of shoes!” One time, this energy drink thing gave us $200, and that was our prize purse. It was pretty funny.
It’s been 11 years since you started it. A lot has happened, but just in terms of the finances, what are you working with these days? You have a few pretty notable sponsors now.
Definitely. Nike SB is one of our biggest sponsors of Skate Like a Girl as an organization, in general, but WoF is one of the biggest things we work with them on. Soundboks, which is a speaker company from Europe, has been sponsoring events. Tech Deck actually sponsored WoF this year, supporting our fingerboarding event.
Okay, okay, we need to take a pause here for you to explain what Tech Decks are to our readership.
[Laughing] Okay, um, well fingerboarding is basically skateboarding but on a miniature skateboard utilizing your first finger and your middle finger. Basically doing all the same tricks on a skateboard but on a miniature version. A friend of mine is making an exact replica of [All Together Skatepark] where the skateboard competition of Wheels of Fortune is. It’s gonna be a hoot and a half, for sure.
The first year it was just the contest itself, right? You’ve added stuff around that to the point where it’s four full days of programming. Can you walk me through some of that?
It definitely started as just a competition. Just one day. We’ve had everything from bands playing to live painting, like an artist painting a mural during the event. DJs. All kinds of stuff. But it kind of evolved into a whole weekend probably [at] WoF 7, because that was an X Games qualifier. The X Games is a skateboard competition that ESPN hosts, and they didn’t have a women’s qualifying series or a feeder program. So we got to be the qualifier one year, which was really cool.
And you were the only game in town?
Exactly. I was like, “How else are you going to figure out who’s going?” It’s interesting because Mariah Duran won that year. Jenn Soto was there. Aori Nishimura. All these girls that have won medals in Street League and X Games and all kinds of shit. It was really cool that they came out when they were little skate babies and got noticed at Wheels of Fortune. Anyway, that year we knew we were having all these girls come because it was the qualifier, so me and my friends were like, “Shit, what are we going to do? Everyone’s going to get here on Saturday.”
And that’s how the Witch Hunt was born?
We originally called it “Queen of the Road,” modeled after Thrasher [Magazine’s] “King of the Road.” But we ended up changing it the following year to “Witch Hunt” so that we had our own name, because we didn’t want to just bite what Thrasher did completely. The goal is that everyone is going around and exploring Seattle and completing random challenges. Some of them are super silly like “crush a watermelon between your thighs” or “knee slide down the aisle of a grocery store and have your friend leapfrog over you.” Others involve a lot of strangers, so one is like, “get a man in flip-flops to skate” or “get a vaper to say your Witch Hunt team name while vaping.” But then other ones are skateboard trick challenges like “do a sweeper holding a broom” or “do a kickflip holding hands with your teammates.” It’s just about exploring the city, having fun and skating.
And the other programs grew from that?
Over the years, we started just adding stuff on because friends of ours would say, “Hey I have this skate video, can I premiere it?” or, “Hey I’m a photo major, can it be my final project to show photos at 35th [North skateshop]?” Last year, my friend Kerry does karaoke, and he was like, “Hey I would love to host a karaoke night.” I was like, “Hell yeah!” We’ve kind of just been tacking stuff on, and, this year, we have four days.
It’s a lot!
Yeah. We’re doing a 3-on-3 basketball tournament, skate session, video premieres, educational workshops, a panel series, allyship training, networking and then we’re doing a welcome party with skate ramps and live bands — a No Doubt cover band, actually, called Hella Doubt. So, that’s going to be fun. That’s comprised of all volunteers and staff from our Bay Area chapter of Skate Like a Girl. The video premiere on Friday night has a super special announcement — you don’t want to miss it. Saturday is Witch Hunt and then the queer and trans skate jam at night and karaoke [at 35th North]. Sunday is the contest.
It sounds like it’s going to be fun.
We’ve got a full curriculum. This year’s theme is actually “high school reunion,” so you’ll kind of see that woven through everything.
It is kind of a reunion, right? It’s the first one since the pandemic.
Three years and four months. It’s a little bit nerve wracking bringing something back [after the pandemic].
Well a lot of it is outdoors and everybody is required to provide proof of vaccination or a negative test for indoor events.
Totally. It’s so hard now, pretty much everyone is getting it. I just hope everyone is safe. I hope everybody doesn’t come if they’re sick.
Who all’s coming this year?
Shanae Collins is coming from Australia. Candy Jacobs, who is an Olympian. That’s really special that she’s coming. Tons of skaters from Canada are coming. This year, we were actually able to do scholarships. Basically, every single sponsor that sponsored the event, we asked them for more money to go towards scholarships. I’m really stoked on the people who are coming out because of scholarships. One person is this Indigenous woman who carves and does sick art on skateboards. Her name’s Di’Orr Greenwood, and she’s been killing it and skating a ton. This other woman applied for a scholarship and said, “I’ve never skated with another Black woman before.” We were like, “You have to come to WoF!”
You’ll skate with plenty!
Exactly. There’s this other person from North Dakota that’s starting to host sessions for women and trans people and queer skaters out where she lives, but she hasn’t been a part of a big event like this. It’s not only the global people coming, the superstars, the big skaters. There are all these up-and-coming stars that are in Street League and all that who are coming, like Poe Pinson and all that. Victoria Ruesga and Maite [Steenhoudt] and all these big names in skating. Nora [Vasconcellos], Nicole [Hause] ... Fabi [Delfino], Breezy [Breana Geering], all those. To me, what I get most stoked on is people coming because they lose their minds. They’ve never skated with another Black woman before or never met another queer skater before. They build community and make friends, and I see them come back the next year or I see the cool shit that they do throughout the year because of those connections. It’s been hard not having that the last three years. I’m stoked to have that again.
It’s not the same watching your friends on Instagram?
It’s really not. We need that human connection, because a lot of the shit we do in skateboarding is thankless. Like, you’re not going to make any money, you know what I mean? You’re going to end up with broken bones. It’s fucking hard. Coming together and just having fun and it not being a serious environment and just being about community, that’s what the world needs right now. The world is fucked and that’s what we have. All we have is us.
WoF runs Sep. 8–11. All events are free, but registration is required. For a calendar of events and registration info, visit skatelikeagirl.com/wof.
Tobias Coughlin-Bogue is the associate editor at Real Change.
Read more of the Sept. 7-13, 2022 issue.