Judi Oyama with Steve Caballero in the background • FS grind • Winchester, CA • 1979   © Michael Smiley Goldman

‘They said that can’t be you, girls don’t skate like that.’

Judi Oyama

Skateboarding Hall of Fame
USA Slalom Skateboarding Team

July 2024

People called you Peggy Oki as everybody assumed there was just one Asian-American skateboarder in the 70ies. I am sure this was annoying but were there situations you have taken advantage of it?
There was never a reason to take advantage of it, it was more annoying than anything and still is. I had people think I was Shugo Kubo as well. At the Santa Cruz Surf Shop, they put a photo of me doing a front side grind with Steve Caballero on pool area at Winchester skate park. Young and old men and women would not believe it was me doing a frontside grind in a 10’ pool. They said that can’t be you, girls don’t skate like that.

You have been skating for more than 50 years which is remarkable. If you had to pick the best era of skateboarding, when was this for your personally and why?
The early years were fun because everything was new and the limits of how far you could push a move or how high someone could go on a wall was all experimental. Sneaking into backyard pools and ramps was half the challenge, though now there are so many parks’ skaters are super spoiled. We had 6 parks in the Bay Area, and we would hit 3 parks a night Campbell, Winchester then Milpitas. Within 6 months because insurance companies dumped them they were gone. I never take any skate park or spot for granted. This past 20 years that I’ve gotten back into slalom racing has been the most amount of traveling and reuniting with friends from the past and making new friends. I had never skateboarded internationally until last year in Argentina at the World Skate Games.

Santa Cruz sponsored you at the age of 16 and you are still riding for them. You must be the longest running Santa Cruz rider in history.
I could be but that’s a big claim. Richard Novak takes care of a lot of people he is a loyal and generous friend. Salba, Olson and several others have been getting product almost as long, though I have them by a few years. I’ve never burned a bridge and have always been respectful and gave props to Santa Cruz for being one of my first sponsors.

‘He was pleasantly surprised that I could hold my own against half of the men.’

‘Capitola. My first slalom race with Lisa Harner in 1975 Photo by my dad Richard Oyama’

I can only imagine being girl in a male dominated activity but also with Asian background how difficult this must have been for you. Do you think because it was such a challenge you pushed through it anyway?
Being Asian wasn’t so bad just being a girl with all the boys was a bit tough. I have been left behind going to contests and at the parks most skaters didn’t talk to me. It’s nice to see the next generation getting more respect and encouragement.

You are ranked 2nd in the current 2023 Slalom Skateboard World Rankings, tied for 3rd Overall, 2nd in the Women’s Masters Division as you compete potentially against your grand-children. Was there an inspiring moment or encounter (of funny) with any of the younger riders that you can share?
Most of the fun is in the reaction when people don’t think you’re a skater and the look on their face when you walk up the hill. I had a man come to a race after it was set up and said he wanted to see me skate. He was pleasantly surprised that I could hold my own against half of the men. I like to inspire and help the younger up and coming skaters.

What would be different if you had the opportunities the female skaters have today compared to when you started in the 70ies?
Skaters have more opportunities for sponsors and bigger prize purses. They have parents paying for coaches, travel and some even have sports agents which never happened back in my era. Photographers shoot photos and video and post on social media which helps promote brands and skaters. I remember some of the top photographers would only shoot the women/girls that were from Southern California and when I skated, they would walk away from the pool deck, that’s why I started bringing my own camera and asked my friends to shoot, thus the Winchester Skatepark session I have from 1979 shot by Mike Smiley Goldman.

Judi Oyama and Terry Brown • Capitola Classic • 1980   © Richard Oyama

Any female skaters that grab your attention?
The women in Europe are super-fast slalom skateboarders and many are coming to the Slalom World Championships in Oregon in September. The level of park riding watching the women get super high aerials and 540’s and Arisa Trew 720’s is amazing. It’s reached a level if you don’t do a flipper trick, you’ll probably not even qualify for next year’s XGames or US Skateboard Team. I enjoy watching, Fabiana Delfino, Rayssa Leal, Nishiya Momiji, Kokona Hiraki, Okamoto Misugu and of course Sky Brown skate. There are so many young up and comers and new names popping up like Anna Shea from NorCal and Mazel Paris Alegado, Klara Kermoade. My BFF Cindy Whitehead is great at finding the next generation of girls that she supports with her non-profit Girl Is NOT A 4 Letter Word. She has supported my slalom racing and is helping the by connecting her skaters with sponsors getting exposure to help their future skate so they can reach their true potential without road blocks like we had.

What was your reaction like when you were told you will be inducted to the Skateboarding Hall of Fame in 2018? Were you ‘what took you so long’ or more like ‘I do not deserve this’?
I was more it’s about time for sure. I never stopped skateboarding and supporting the next generation of skaters. I was the former vice president of Board Rescue, which provides skateboards and safety equipment to organizations that work with underprivileged and/or at-risk kids. Gary Holl founded the non-profit and asked Andrew Huberman, Chris Adams and myself to help. We donated over $500,000 dollars to kids in Northern California and started the skate art show with skate legends trend that grew the organization from grassroots to having Santa Cruz Skateboards, Independent Trucks, Skate One donate gear and companies like build VF Corporation, Levi’s, and Google let their employees build the boards on volunteer days at their headquarters and then we were able to go out to after school skate programs and give boards the kids.

You made it in the 2024 USA National Slalom Team – to represent at World Skate Games Italia in September! This means you are in the Top 20 ISSA World Ranking. This is unbelievable for anybody to make it that far. Especially for you being on the skateboard for more than 50 years. What is your secret?
My secret is strength training. Staying in good fitness and having good eating habits are key, especially at my age 64. I CrossFit 4-5 days a week and skate as often as I can. I lifted weights in high school and in Junior College for my skateboarding. I always kept in shape but as I got into my 50’s I was not in such good shape and when I started slalom skating I would get tired. I found CrossFit at 53. Lately I have been going to Aaron Quinn a sports trainer PT (Physical Therapist) who works with pro football, baseball and other athletes that have had injuries. I was the first skateboarder to ask for help and didn’t have an injury.

‘Has no one noticed that most people will throw themselves off a rail to get a potential shot in the mag?’

Judi Oyama • WSG Tight Slalom Race • 2022   © Monique Soderhall

Santa Cruz celebrated their 50th anniversary but you were deeply missed in the group shot. In your IG post, you mentioned that you will never get into Thrasher because you wear a helmet. How serious were you with this statement?
I was serious. Has no one noticed that most people will throw themselves off a rail to get a potential shot in the mag? I believe in helmets and safety gear. I worked for Giro Helmets for almost 10 years as art director and saw lots of injuries and thank you notes with photos thanking Giro and Bell for saving their lives. I wouldn’t still be skating at the level I am if I had not worn safety gear. I did break my ankle doing a frontside air BITD and had horse wrecks but always saved my head. Skate for yourself not for anyone else and have fun!!!

Last question. If you could interview one person, who would it be and why? What would you ask? Who would I interview?
If he were still alive, I would want to interview Steve Jobs. He made incredible products that I use every day. If he were still around, I would ask what we would be using right now if he were still leading the design process? He had an amazing vision about future tech, and I don’t think company would be selling $700.00 wheels for a computer if he were still alive. If I had to ask someone still alive. I would ask Tinker Hatfield what he enjoyed most about being a designer at Nike? I really like what he was able to do with Air Jordan’s. He kept a lifestyle of surfing and got to design some cool shit. I’ve worn Nike’s since I was 19 and told salespeople at the Magic Show in the early 80’s that they should make skate shoes. They tried 3 times before they finally got it right. Now that women are 40% of the hard good skateboard buyers and are a huge area of growth, I hope that the mostly male dominated brands will start listening to the needs and wants of the next generation of females.

‘I was more it’s about time for sure.’