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Alice – I’m not here for you, I’m here for me

We first became aware of Alice Smith not too long ago in a Lovenskate video from a trip to Switzerland that we presented. She only had a short appearance in it, but you could feel her energy and that she won’t take no for an answer, when she’s trying a trick. In general, she doesn’t simply accept the circumstances, doesn’t walk down familiar paths just because it’s easier, and doesn’t like to be put into boxes (although she might accept emo). The box in which you could put her would probably still have to be invented anyway. For example, she’s also the first person we’ve ever talked to whose interview ended with her getting a nosebleed. Could have been simply coincidence or maybe she has something similar going on like Eleven in Stranger Things. She definitely has some kind of superpower.

Let’s start with Bournbrook DIY. What does it mean to you?

Before Bournbrook, I had a skate break. When I was 18, I came to Birmingham to study history and English and it was hard to find people to skate with. When Bournbrook came about, it kick-started my skating again.

How did you get into skateboarding in the first place?

I’m from a town around Birmingham and when I was about 13, I first wanted to get into skating. When I was younger, my homelife was a little bit shitty and I saw that community in skateboarding, the smiling and having fun. It looked like a chosen family. Then I stumbled across this skate video Quaked where they skated Christchurch after the earthquake, just a few days after I got this cheap board from Sports Direct. There were a couple of other girls from school that I tried to get into skating as well and we just messed around, skated downhill. We didn’t get involved in the scene, we didn’t do tricks.

"When I was younger, my homelife was a little bit shitty and I saw that community in skateboarding, the smiling and having fun"

Was skateboarding welcoming for you?

[laughing] When I found my people, it was, but I still would get a lot of comments. And my mum always hated the idea of me skating and it definitely made me want to skate more. When I was younger, there was a lot of controversy. The first time I went to the park, a guy came specifically to me asking for a Game of Skate. He clearly did that to show off or invalidate me cause a lot of guys thought I’m just there for them, for the male gaze, but obviously I didn’t care about boys. I’m not here for you, I’m here for me. I went through uncomfortable situations as a 14-year-old girl. The majority of the guys at the skatepark are at the age of 18-20 and you know how they are: loud, drinking, and smoking.

What got you hooked on skating?

Mainly the community, having an excuse to make friends. Skateboarders generally have quite anti-corporate, anti-capitalist mindsets and ways of approaching life. It was appealing how punk it is. Skating epitomized everything I wanted out of my life: going on trips, meeting people. Sometimes skating doesn’t even involve skating, it involves socializing with your friends. That’s one of my favorite parts about skateboarding.

Alice Fakie Fs Feeble

Fakie frontside feeble

What does a perfect day of skateboarding look like for you?

Bournbrook for sure. Always warm up there. Learning new tricks is always good, but I never want to go out with the intention to learn something new cause it puts pressure on me. Doing stupid shit on a board, not taking it seriously – that’s the best thing. At the end of the day, it’s a piece of wood.

Let’s talk about the anti-capitalist aspect a bit. How can you be anti-capitalist in a capitalist system?

I think Stu [Smith] does it really well with Lovenskate. He doesn’t make videos to get a raise in sales, he’s doing it cause it’s fun and gives us an excuse to hang out. That’s being authentic. He’ll probably get more sales from it, but that’s not the purpose. That’s the balance between keeping up the counterculture and needing to conform to capitalism. So there’s a big line between brands that are skater-owned and brands that are not skater-owned. For example, our indoor in Birmingham isn’t skater-owned. I tried to start a girls sessions years ago and their main query was, “Will this make us money?” First, I wanted to respond that it’s not about the money, it’s about encouraging a scene that you’re part of and get your profit from. But they weren’t having it, so I spoke to them about profit and they tried it for one night and 75 people showed up and they saw it’s profitable and did it every two weeks. But during summer, when people obviously go to outdoor parks, they emailed me and dropped the events to every three months. I didn’t even reply and will never go there again. They only care about the money. That’s the difference between skater-owned and non-skater-owned.

"I think skateboarding still is a counterculture. So why do we get into the standards of athleticism or the Olympics?"

Sometimes it gets difficult when a shitty brand from outside of skateboarding is giving money to do something good.

That’s when capitalism comes into play the most cause I need this money. Two years ago, H&M wanted to do a campaign with me. I don’t support H&M, I don’t support fast fashion, but they offered me £1,000 and I’m on a minimum-wage job. That’s over a month of pay for one campaign, so I was not in the position to turn it down. If I take the money, I can turn down shifts and have more time for my partner, my cats, and skateboarding.

Or crochet. You do cat hats, right?

When I started it, I really enjoyed making them, but then a lot of people messaged me and wanted to buy them and I ended up making quite a lot cause it was a way to make money with something I love. I kinda told myself this lie that if I make profit from something I love, I’m not really working. It got to a point where I was up till 5 a.m. to finish products and burned myself out. If you start relying on a hobby too much, it stops becoming fun. I don’t want to see my hobbies like that. Even with skateboarding, I don’t ever want to have it as my full-time job. If I have to rely on it for my rent, then it stops being something enjoyable.

Alice Fs Flip

Frontside flip

You gained some sponsors during lockdown. How did that happen?

Before lockdown, I wasn’t skating a huge amount, but then I skated pretty much every day at our local skatepark, and shortly after that, Bournbrook came. As I started posting clips, I got a bit of attention. I never skated with the expectation to make anything with it. But all of a sudden, I had all these sponsors and put expectations on myself. Before, nobody really knew who I was and then people in skateparks came up to me, which felt intimidating. And sometimes it’s like, “Oh this person knows me from Instagram, so I have to skate well to live up to their expectations.”

Which sponsors did you get and how did it happen?

There was Artemis, a non-male brand that my friend Gabby [Darriet-Jones] did but unfortunately couldn’t keep it going, Concrete Girls from Charlotte Thomas, and Lovenskate. Then just after lockdown, New Balance, Vans, and Nike hit me up within a few days and I didn’t know what to do. I had the biggest impostor syndrome ever.

How did you decide?

I didn’t know how to navigate this since I already had taken product from New Balance and I didn’t know the industry at all. I didn’t want to piss anyone off. I messaged my friend Rianne [Evans], who had experienced that kind of stuff, and she was insanely helpful.

"It’s just flesh and bones and it shouldn’t matter that someone’s got different genitalia"

How did three big brands become aware of you kind of simultaneously?

They definitely saw me on Instagram and I was a girl in the UK and they might have been like, “We got to get her quick before someone else does!”

The last time I looked, you had 65k followers on Instagram and 127k on TikTok. How did that happen?

[laughing] I actually hate social media. It was lockdown and TikTok hasn’t seen many girl skaters. Some of my videos went a little bit viral. Some people were really nice, but some were mean – and it’s always guys. I turned my Instagram comments down now.

Is the audience different between Instagram and TikTok?

Yeah, I don’t use TikTok that often anymore and it definitely got worse comments. It got a younger audience and a lot of the boys commenting on my stuff would be like, “I can do that. Why don’t I get this following?” They were just sour.

Alice Varial Flip

Varial flip

How did you get on Lovenskate?

Lucy [Adams] was looking to get some new riders and when Stu sent me my first package, it was the coolest thing ever! We went on a Switzerland trip then with a smaller group, which was really nice. Valencia was a bit scarier because that was the full team, but once I was out there, it was so lovely. We played dice, a gambling game, every night and then started to add Tequila to it. That made us less and less functional, but in the last half of the trip, I got way more done. I find it difficult to skate with people I don’t really know and if I don’t find it fun, I can’t perform. Then in my head I’m like, “I’m breathing funny, my feet are looking weird…”

Does your style differ when you’re not skating?

The trousers I’m wearing right now, I only wear for skating. I started to wear long big skirts recently. I had a weird relationship with wearing anything that was defined as feminine cause my mum tried to put me into those boxes of femininity. So it was my rebellion against gender norms. I think clothes shouldn’t be gendered anyway, it’s a piece of fabric.

Is imperfection something you’re looking for in style?

Imperfection should be celebrated! Even watching someone like Milton Martinez rolling away from tricks he shouldn’t have been able to hold on, that’s cool to me. And when I see people dressed not based on gender norms or not based on skate industry norms, that’s impressive. If you see Olympic skateboarding or any competition, they’re always wearing the same. And I get it, you have to do it because you’re sponsored, but it’s really frustrating seeing something robotic like that. It feels so anti-skateboarding. I think skateboarding still is a counterculture. So why do we get into the standards of athleticism or the Olympics? I don’t want to see skateboarding in the Olympics or as an athletic sport. When I see Olympic skaters looking all the same and doing tricks based on how many points they get, it doesn’t make any sense to me. That’s not skateboarding at all. I recently found this article from 2003 about the authenticity in skateboarding. It talks about how skateboarding is anti-competition and how the skateboarders control what’s happening in skateboarding. That’s not how it is at all now with all the stupid shit that happens on a higher level because of corporate suits that don’t skate, and the Olympics play a big part in that. I have a lot of respect for Olympic skaters who compete on that level, but it’s the corporate intervention itself that does more harm than good. The only good thing is, we can skate car parks more. When security would come to kick us out we were like, “But we’re training for the Olympics,” and they let us stay.

Alicekrook Shuv

Crooked shove it

If you could change one thing in skateboarding, what would it be?

There are too many things wrong with skating to be honest. [laughing] Pretty much every non-male that I’ve ever met that has grown up in skateboarding had to deal with predatory men at some point. When I was 15, my ex was 19, that’s wrong. I met other girls that had predatory older skater boys that utilized their power of being a cool skater or being older and taking advantage. There are so many shitty boys in the industry that push out or exploit anyone that is not male. The scene would be so much easier and inclusive if people just weren’t such idiots. When you’re a young girl and see older skaters, you’re gonna idolize them, especially when they’re good, and they know that and try to exploit that.

Was there a special incident that happened?

In terms of the UK scene, it’s older people exploiting their position. People know that they’re doing shitty things to younger girls, but they get away with it. Also, there are petty things like tokenism, where brands get one girl on the team, but not because they think she’s good, but because she’s a girl and it makes the brand look inclusive. You see a girl just as an object that you can use to your brand’s advantage. But they’re not getting treated the same, not getting paid the same.

What role does gender play for you in general and does it play any role in skateboarding besides getting different reactions?

I just want to exist. Even in school, the way we talked about sex education or the way we do physical education, it’s constantly male/female and I don’t get the point of it. It’s just flesh and bones and it shouldn’t matter that someone’s got different genitalia. In skating, I try to be more fluid and experiment with it. The fluidity is something I look for in other people’s skating as well. Skating with queer or non-binary people is amazing. If you watch queer people skate, it’s just so different. You can just see their queerness in their skating. It’s not like you’re doing it with the intention of being different, but you think about everything differently, it’s not a conscious decision.