Cindy Whitehead Wants You to Know That Girl is NOT a Four Letter Word

We talked to the skateboarding legend about her new project, the importance of sisterhood and pissing off the cops.

Photography by Ian Logan

Most people I know started skating in the late 80s or early 90s. Cindy Whitehead went pro in the 70s at the age of sixteen. This was a very different time for skateboarding compared to what we know today, so we wanted to get the lowdown on a scene and industry in its early form as well as Cindy’s role as one of the few women skaters at the time. She has since gone on to be inducted into The Skateboard Hall of Fame (2016) and now runs her own project based on empowering young girls within skateboarding called Girl is NOT a 4 letter word.

We caught up with Cindy about Girl is NOT a 4 letter word, unleashing fury at insane Los Angeles traffic and the importance of sisterhood.

GIRLS ARE AWESOME: Hey, Cindy. You founded Girl is NOT a 4 Letter Word. What does that even mean?

Cindy Whitehead: It urges people to stop using the word ‘girl’ as a putdown or slur. Most words that are considered “foul language” are four letter words, and when you hear someone say “You skate pretty good… for a GIRL” it’s using someone’s gender as a putdown or slur. Not cool.

You were a pro skater in the 70s. What did it take to be a pro back then? 

As a female skateboarder you had to accept being different. You needed to rise up the amateur ranks and then decide along with your sponsors if you were going to start entering contests as a pro. Once you went pro, you couldn’t go back to amateur status. This meant skating every single day and practicing hard to keep up with the progression of the sport. As a pro skater, your sponsors expect a lot more so it was a big commitment not to be taken lightly.

Were there many women on the scene? (On and off board.)

The girls who skated in the 1970s were pretty spread through California across Los Angeles, the South Bay, San Diego, Santa Cruz, and Upland. We didn’t have social media to keep us updated on who was doing what, so we heard things by word of mouth since the skateboard magazines didn’t put a lot of emphasis on the girls’ scene.

There were also girls from my school who would come to the park to support me while I skated. Other girls came to check out the boys who were riding. In some states it was not as prevalent to see girls skateboarding vert.

A pro male skater recently told me that when I traveled on a skate tour to Apple Skatepark in Ohio in the late 70s to do a demo, I was the very first female skater he had seen in person. Girls skateboarding pools and half-pipes were a rarity back then.

What has your journey been like from those golden days until now?

I decided early on that the entrepreneurial route was more my style rather than a steady 9-5. I focused on becoming a stylist and worked with young celebrities and major advertisers for many years, picking and choosing the shoots I wanted. That meant hustling to get work and keep clients, which I thrive on.

Next, I decided to focus on styling pro and Olympic athletes for print ads, commercials and magazines. I coined and trademarked the name Sports Stylist and that is what I have been doing ever since. It’s my main career and I love every single minute of it.

About four years ago I created Girl is NOT a 4 Letter Word. With the support of Dwindle Distribution (the largest company in male dominated skateboarding) we did a collaboration with their Dusters California brand. Every board that is sold gives back to non-profit organizations that help girls in skateboarding. Dwindle matches me dollar for dollar in this endeavour and we are on our 8th board now.

We also have an apparel line that we do “in house” and we just launched the new “It’s Not About Pretty” book about female skateboarders. All of our projects give back in some way to girls in skateboarding.

Tell us that story about the famous photo of you on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles is notorious for bad traffic, especially on the 405 freeway. A few years back they closed the freeway for 48 hours to start demolishing a bridge and I saw a great picture of four people who snuck on and did a photo of a “dinner party” on the empty freeway. They had to close the freeway again a year later to finish the project; I decided to sneak onto the freeway and skate down it while there were no cars on it like a big F.U. to that damn LA traffic I sit in every single day.

This time, they posted police at every entrance and exit and had helicopters flying over it to make sure no one tried to “play on the freeway” again. The mayor and chief of police were all over the news saying, “anyone caught accessing the closed section of the freeway will be arrested.”

That actually made me want to do it even more. We left the house at about 5 AM and it took us about two and half hours to find a spot to get onto the freeway without the police seeing us. I skated, Ian Logan took the photos and it went viral as soon as I put it on Instagram. Luckily the police cannot arrest you for something they did not personally witness, so no arrests.

How important is sisterhood?

Extremely important! When girls support each other, so much can be accomplished. We need to stop raising young girls to view other girls as the enemy. We need to have more of the boy mentality of “compete hard, shake hands no matter the outcome, and have a pizza and beer afterwards.” I firmly believe that there is enough “pie” to go around, so we need to stop acting like we are scrambling for crumbs and start backing each other up instead of tearing one another down. I see so many great groups of girls on Instagram doing just that; it’s all about being inclusive rather than exclusive.

Do you see an increasing number of women behind the scenes in the industry, or just more female skateboarders?

I see both. So many more women are going the DIY route and creating media, brands, events and contests. They are no longer waiting for the boys’ club to take notice and do it for them. And yes, more girls skateboard now. When you see another girl do something, you realize that you can do it, too. We are seeing an entire young generation of kickass little skater girls. Love that.

Tell us about the “It’s Not About Pretty” book.

“It’s Not About Pretty: A Book About Radical Skater Girls” came about because I spent many years wishing for a book on women’s skateboarding; I couldn’t believe that no one had made one. After a while I stopped “wishing” and started DOING. My husband, Ian Logan, is a professional photographer and had been shooting girls’ contests, events and freeride sessions for many years for Girl is NOT a 4 Letter Word.

In 2016, he felt ready to go through all 40,000 images and start working on a book. We joined forces with Elise Crigar, a soul skater and designer based in Florida, and hunkered down for over eight months to put this book together.

A book lives on your bedside table, coffee table, bookshelf or even in your backpack. A book can last forever; it can be passed between friends or live in a library for years to come. It feels like a permanent record in time of what these girls have accomplished. It features 65 skater girls doing everything from pools, parks, streets, bowls, downhill and soul skating.

“It’s Not About Pretty” is the first comprehensive book on female skateboarding.

What are some of the most positive or negative things you see within women’s skateboarding as we tune into the idea of the Olympics and more streamlined contest formats?

I see a huge positive aspect to women’s skateboarding inclusion in the 2020 Olympics. Sponsors are more interested in pro female riders and contests for Pro and AM female skaters are ramping up. Girls’ progression in skating has been amazing. We are also finding out more and more about girls in other countries who are out there shredding equally as hard as the USA girls.

The Olympics are the great equaliser for girls in skateboarding. When the Olympics add a new sport it must include equal amounts of male and female participants so that has benefited girls in skateboarding immensely. I expect we will see a lot more changes and positive aspects as we get closer to 2020.

Thanks, Cindy.