Carleigh • Ollie • Kingston, RI  © Karim Ghonem

‘So, it’s fair to say skating in RI takes a little more love and dedication.’

Gnarly Carleigh

March 2024

Can you tell us something about Rhode Island no one knows? The fact that is not an actual Island does not count.
I work with someone who always refers to Rhode Island, particularly South County where I live, as New England’s best kept secret because of how beautiful it is… but during the summer it doesn’t feel like it’s a secret. Anyways, there’s a lot of random Rhode Island trivia to pick from. Even though the state is not an island, there are 35 islands that are part of Rhode Island. And it’s the only place I know where you can get clam cakes, which are kinda like a big fried clam donut. There’s also a Rhode Island clam chowder that has clear broth. Most people are only familiar with the creamy New England clam chowder. Anyways, I could probably keep going on and on, especially about the food… RI has lots of its own unique food.

How would you describe the Rhode Island skateboard scene and its community?
I have to admit, I feel like I’m still discovering the skate scene and community here in Rhode Island. And skating in RI felt really different after moving back from Colorado. There’s just so much to skate in CO, so many people skate there, they build insane parks all the time, so many street spots, the weather is almost always good. So, it’s fair to say skating in RI takes a little more love and dedication. When I first moved back, I got caught up in other things, reconnecting with friends that don’t skate, surfing, etc. I didn’t really know anyone that skated except my friend Jus who brought me to a few different parks and a backyard ramp and I started to meet some people through him. Then I moved super close to this park OMF and started going there more. OMF has a cool scene with a lot of DIY. There’s a good community with people that are down to build new stuff all the time and keep making it better. Last summer (2022) I got the opportunity to skate at some local events, the ramp at Dave-a-palooza at Proclamation Brewery and the Roll for Rob event in Providence (both events in honor of local greats that clearly made an impact on the scene), and it was really cool to see how great of a skate scene there is here in Rhode Island. RI isn’t an easy place for skating… the weather is rough for a lot of the year, street spots are gritty and crusty and can be few and far between (at least in Southern RI), there’s not a lot for skate parks, and skating just isn’t as mainstream as it is in other places. But that only makes the skate scene that much more core and real and I love that.

‘In terms of skating… I think I get the most excited about girls that rip.’

Who are some of the talented skaters in RI that are making a name for themselves?
I’m still getting to know a lot of skaters in RI, but it’s been awesome skating with new people that rip, young and old. Nolan McCaffrey and Evan Mansolillo are both super talented, always skating hard and filming. There’s also a lot of girls skating in RI, which is awesome. There’s a younger girl named Olive who’s probably around 12 years old (I think?) and she skates OMF regularly. It’s been really cool to see her progress and constantly learning and to see how much she rips already. It will be awesome to see where she goes from here with skating.

What are some of your underground heroes?
Ummm honestly I don’t usually think in terms of heroes, but there are definitely so many people that inspire me daily. In terms of skating… I think I get the most excited about girls that rip. It just hits different seeing another girl that’s super inspiring. The girls I met and skated with while living in CO, Chelsea, Margaret, Ashlyn, Jenni, Brittney, Bridgette, Andrea, Lauren, Veronica, etc., etc. (sorry for everyone I’m missing), and since I’ve been back in RI, Des, are all amazing, I’ve always been really hyped on Alexis Sablone and Elissa Steamer, always stoked to see clips of Lizzie Armanto, Nora Vasconcellos, Nicole Hause, Mariah Duran (but they don’t count as ‘underground’) and so many more, plus there are so many younger girls on the come up. I just recently saw clips of a girl Lola Tambling on Instagram and was pretty blown away. Also, some real ‘underground heroes’ at this point in my life are the older heads that still skate like they’re kids. A friend of mine from CO, Dave Fuller, is probably mid 50s now and seriously is one of the best skaters I know. That’s definitely inspiring.

How did you get involved in skateboarding?
I grew up in RI but didn’t really start skating until I was living in Montreal for university. I had kinda tried to learn to skate back when I was younger, like probably 13 or 14, and my brothers and their friends tried skating and some of my guy friends were into skating. I had learned to ollie and could push around and ride down small hills and stuff. Around the same age I was also learning how to surf and snowboard, but I guess I probably didn’t know of any girls that skated at that time and didn’t get my own skateboard. But years later when I was living in Montreal, my friend Shayda came back from California after summer break with her skateboard and wanted to skate around. Montreal was the first city I had lived in, and I was so excited about the idea of skating around the streets with a friend. It was my birthday that week so I went out and bought a complete as my birthday present to myself from a local shop called Spin. At first Shayda and I used to go to a parking lot and skate around. I relearned how to ollie and started skating around the streets whenever I could, to class, to meet up with friends, wherever. Shayda stopped skating but I met some guys that skated and started skating spots with them, sometimes taking trips to indoor parks, and even filming a bit. They made a video and even gave me a little part and premiered it at a local bar we used to go to all the time. I was hooked. Everywhere I’ve visited or moved since then, (besides maybe RI, ironically) it’s always been all about skating and easy to meet people through skating. It definitely changed my life for better or worse.

Carleigh • Wallie over a jersey barrier • Boulder, CO   © Jack Spanbauer

Most memorable experience during your skate career so far?
I feel like I’ve been so lucky in so many ways with skating and had a lot of cool experience. I think the most memorable experience was skating for a shop in Colorado called Crisis and filming a video part for the shop video Subdivision. I remember watching random skate videos before that point and especially in the credits section when there’s lots of random clips of just being out and filming and goofing around, I always thought it would be so fun to be a part of something like that, a project like that. My friend Jeremy Frankovis, we call him Fuzz, he opened Crisis and asked me to skate for the shop. Not to be too cheesy but it was such an honor. Fuzz is such a ripper, a CO legend, and he really took care of us and put so much of his heart and soul into that shop and into his skate team. When we got serious about making a video, we skated every Sunday all day. Everyone met at the shop in the morning, piled in to as few vehicles as possible (RIP to Fuzz’s Chevy Blazer), and we just missioned all day long. I also shot photos all the time back then. It was so fun but also so fucking hard for me. At the time I was in grad school, working on a PhD while also working as a PRA (that just stands for professional research assistant because the position was funded through grants) through the university, and skating on a team with mostly high school aged kids that lived at home with their parents and could just skate all day long with not a lot of responsibilities. And honestly I’ve never been good with time management or focusing on only one thing so I just always felt so strapped for time. It was a lot. I was the only girl and definitely always felt self-conscience of whether I even deserved to be on the team. I felt like I had to be super strategic with finding spots that I could skate and tricks that I could actually do that would look good enough for filming. I remember working literally as hard as I possibly could for some clips and it was always like, damn, is that even good enough to use? In the end I’m so proud of the video we put together, proud of my part and everyone that was a part of it. And I’m so thankful that I had that experience. Just honestly so thankful to Fuzz, the whole Crisis crew, Rob, and especially the filmers, Blaine and Colt.

Most embarrassing or funny?
(Laughing) This is kinda random. This guy Rich from Wyoming ran an event that was just like Thrasher’s King of the Road, but he called it King of the Chode. It was so fucking fun. It would be one week/long weekend in the summer and start at like midnight on a Wednesday or Thursday night and went til probably about 5pm Sunday and then there would be a meet up party at the end. We put together a team for it a few times and each time it was probably the most fun couple days I’ve ever had in my life. The first year I was on a team, all the challenges were in Northern CO (Loveland, Greely, Fort Collins) and Cheyenne, WY. There were some random challenges outside of the skate challenges, kinda just like King of the Road, and there were some make out challenges, like kiss a cop, kiss a red-headed girl, and kiss a red headed guy, which was actually worth a ton of points because I’m sure the assumption was that all the teams were made up of straight guys. We had been skating some drop in off a fence into a ditch spot that was along the edge of a grocery store parking lot and were about to leave when some kid that worked for the grocery store came out to collect the carts and he had super red hair. My friends were like, okay Carleigh, here’s your chance (laughing). They went over and basically asked him if they could take a photo of me kissing me. He was SO freaked out. So they had to negotiate with him and literally convince him to go through with it. It was hilarious and embarrassing and awkward but the photo was gold and besides skating my ass off all weekend it was probably the only points I scored for my team. (laughing)

‘It’s so random but in all the years I’ve been skating, I had never shopped for skate shoes by women’s sizes, only men.’

How did you end up with your nickname Gnarly Carleigh?
I think my friend Dan was the first to start calling me Gnarly Carleigh one summer and it stuck. It was mostly because I was always tying so hard at things, even before I started to skate, and would also be slamming/falling/ eating shit. There were a few summers when I think I fell off my bike and skinned open my knees and elbows every single day until I broke my arm and stopped riding my bike. Before that I had broken fingers playing soccer and skiing. I think the nickname started when I was trying to skim board with some of the guys. I was so bad at skim boarding and would eat shit so hard. I did eventually break my collar bone trying to skim board and I think I basically stopped trying after that. But I was seriously terrible at it. Anyways, at first I kinda hated that nickname, but more of my friends from the beach started calling me ‘Gnarly’ and it grew on me and I guess I just I started to embrace it.

I checked out your video part on the Girls Skate Network dated 2013 which is really good. How much have things changed the past 10 years for girls/women skater from your perspective?
Thanks! Crazy that was 10 years ago, but it really does feel like a LONG time ago. I kinda forget about that part too because it wasn’t really like I was trying to make a video part at the time. And since then I filmed a part for the Crisis Subdivision video and my friends’ video The Stubborns, and for both of those, I was actually trying to film a video part. I think they used to post a video each month so I got Blaine, who filmed for Crisis, to edit a part of the clips I had at the time, and I sent it to them. It was cool that they posted it. Anyways, I would say there’s been a LOT of change in the last 10 years. I think it was Lisa Whittaker that ran the Girls Skate Network, and I think she filmed the Villa Villa Cola video. Most of the girls I knew of that skated at that time and I had seen footage of skating were probably in that video or filmed with Lisa. There were limited contests for girls and the ones that existed probably included a lot of those same girls. And there definitely weren’t girls riding for big companies or with pro model boards or shoes, at least that I can remember or knew of. I don’t remember when or who was first but now there are girls with pro model boards and Lizzie, Nora, and Alexis (and others that I’m forgetting) have pro model shoes. Instagram really changed the game too because it makes you realize there are so many girls all over across the world that are so incredibly good at skating. And when I moved back to RI, back to my hometown where I didn’t know any other girls that skated when I was a kid (although, I’m sure there were), now there’s lots of girls that skate OMF. It’s super minor, but one thing that recently blew my mind the most was looking for skate shoes at Civil, a skate shop in RI, and the guys that work there asked for my shoe size in women’s sizes. It’s so random but in all the years I’ve been skating, I had never shopped for skate shoes by women’s sizes, only men.

‘You get what you give.’

Carleigh • Pole jam rock fakie • Random backyard in CO   © Chelsea McCabe

Is there anything else that can or maybe should be done for women’s skateboarding?
I don’t know exactly. At its core, skateboarding is pretty simple and doesn’t require much to do. So, at least in theory, it’s really accessible to everyone. From my own experiences, it can really inspiring to see other girls/women skate. Skate mags, Instagram, youtube, etc., are opportunities to see photos and clips of women, and I think there’s a lot more photos and footage of women now than there used to be. It’s cool that I got the opportunity to do this interview, and I think skate mags in particular have the ability to provide that exposure and/or showcase women that skate and rip. There’s also a lot of organizations that have run skate clinics or skate sessions to encourage girls, women, and really anyone regardless of gender to come out and skate. And I’m sure that’s really helped a lot of girls/women to feel a part of a community/ scene. Skateboarding culture always seems to continue to change and evolve and I think as there are more and more girls/women that skate, it will continue to change to be more inclusive in different ways. In terms of products, clothing, shoes, etc., I guess the more girls/women that skate or are into skate culture/ fashion, the bigger that market will be and the more products geared to women will exist. If you’re looking at skateboarding strictly as a ‘sport’, I’d imagine skateboarding is probably behind other ‘sports’ in terms of gender equity. I don’t actually know any stats on this but I imagine there’s a small percent of professional skaters that are women and I don’t know anything about how they’re paid or opportunities available. I have no idea. I think looking at skating as something for fun or a way to be expressive, creative, like an artform, on its own or through photography and/or video, there’s endless opportunities and I don’t know. I can only speak for myself, but I feel as though I’ve been afforded many opportunities in skateboarding sometimes because I’m a woman or my gender didn’t make any difference. I never felt like it was an obstacle. I’ve heard contrary opinions or experiences, but I think if you put your heart into it, you’ll find what you’re looking for in skateboarding. I think there’s some Jake Phelps quote like “skateboarding doesn’t owe you shit” or something like that and it’s kinda of like that. You get what you give.

Last question. If you could interview a person, who would it be and why?
The first thought that comes to mind is my great great great grandmother who happens to be buried in a cemetery up the street from the house I live in, along with some of my other ancestors. My great great great grandmother was actually born in Ireland and immigrated to the US and lived right here in Peace Dale, RI. I’m the 6th generation in my family to live in RI and regularly drive by a house that some of my relatives lived in back in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It’s not that far back, but it would be interesting to learn about her life back then, in this neighborhood where I’m living today, and my own family heritage. After living away from RI for most of my life, it’s really cool to move back and discover my own roots back here in my hometown.

Carleigh • Back blunt • Louiseville, CO  © Jack Spanbauer