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Valeria Kechichian: We Ride The Shift Interview

My boss has a quote pinned to her office wall that says:

“I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, I’m saying it’s going to be worth it”

Every time I see it, I think of Valeria Kechichian and all that she has done to build Longboard Girls Crew. Her story has been filled with countless ups and downs, and is still being written, all with the goal of continuing to inspire and empower women around the world through longboarding. Last month, Valeria had the opportunity to use the Tedx platform in Madrid, Spain to further spread her message of love, camaraderie, and community growth. Please watch the video and read on to learn how the opportunity came about and how she sees gender roles in longboarding shifting in the coming years.

Valeria buddy! So good to sit down and chat with you. How did this Tedx opportunity come about?
It was insane. I was in a hotel room in Irún (northern Spain), about to lecture a class in Mondragón University in an Action Sports PhD, when I get a message through Linkedin from a girl saying that IE Business School was organizing a TEDx event and wanted me as a speaker. I thought it was a Linkedin prank or spam -if something like that exists- and asked her to write me to my direct email address. I thought that was the last time I would hear from her but 5 mins later I got the email with a longer, more formal invitation. I started crying while reading the email and then some serious jumping and crazy screaming happened. I couldn’t believe it. Ten minutes later I pulled my shit together and politely replied, “I would be honored.”

Later when I asked how they knew about me, Mercedes Gonzalez, the girl that contacted me said she was a contributor of our OPEN Indiegogo campaign. Life, right?

Where did the inspiration for the topic ‘We Ride The Shift’ come from?
My good friend Coco Tache from 7skylife and I came up with the name while roadtripping in Switzerland in May. It sums perfectly what we do, how we do it and where we’re going. Plus, Coco is a HUGE inspiration for me.

I’m used to giving speeches and conferences but it was the first time I actually wrote a whole talk and learned it by heart. There were so many things that I wanted to say in a certain way that the energy and impact of the words were such that I had to first write and re-write it and then learn it by heart. Usually my talks are me saying what I say many times and my always evolving ideas but this one was special.

While I was writing, the idea started developing by itself. I knew I wanted to talk about society and mainstream education, which is something I don’t believe in. Then I thought it made sense to apply it to men, apply it to women, apply it to women in action sports. That’s how it all developed. After that was said I started talking about Longboard Girls Crew and how and why I do what I do.

Valeria has been growing and stoking the longboard scene for years now! Screen grab from Endless Roads in 2011.

Valeria has been growing and stoking the longboard scene for years now! Screen grab from Endless Roads in 2011.

She's also been shredding all across the world. Photo: Juan Rayos

She’s also been shredding all across the world. Photo: Juan Rayos

There was a big theme of love and camaraderie between women in your Ted Talk. Tell me more about why that topic and how do you see things like freestyle competitions or downhill racing fitting into that theme?
Love and camaraderie are fundamental in this and all movements that aspire to change things in a positive way. When it comes to women, as I’ve said in the talk they make us believe that there are so few spots for women in most fields that we have to fight against each other to get them, when it’s actually the opposite. We will only make it through love, support and camaraderie between each other. Promoting each other and not stepping over.

Plus, I don’t think the concept of camaraderie and racing are necessarily opposing things. I think it’s more about how someone races. You can compete in a really dirty way or you could be an awesome competitor and always try to help your fellow riders while giving it your best because you want to win.

It's always been about the love and camaraderie. Photo: Juan Rayos

It’s always been about the love and camaraderie. Photo: Juan Rayos

In your Tedx, you also mention that society puts us ‘in a box’ to conform to certain gender roles. As the leader of LGC, where do you see women’s longboarding growing and why do you think it appeals to so many different cultures?

I think it’s growing worldwide. Just to mention, LGC has official crews and ambassadors in almost 80 countries, it’s insane. In Asia there’s definitely a boom. We all see it. Everyday there are new videos of girls with this crazy flow, and lately not only dancing. They’re also starting to go fast.

I think anything that gives you that feeling of freedom appeals to humans, that feeling is part of our true nature, no matter where you’re coming from. For us it’s longboarding and skateboarding that provides it to us, but it could be something else. I think part of being ‘out of the box’ is feeling freedom, the real one. It reinforces yourself as a person. No matter how much society teaches us to be ‘inside the box’, they can’t control the feeling of freedom we get when we skate. It grows more and more every time we step on a board. So it makes sense that regardless of where you’re from, people fall in love with longboarding.

That feeling of freedom and flight.

That feeling of freedom and flight.

As we both know, skating is viewed by society as a very masculine activity. With females getting into the sport, how do you see women imposing their ‘femininity’ in the sport?

I don’t like to define femininity in the terms that society has defined them as. A girl that dresses like a tomboy is still a female. She’s feminine. Whether you feel like skating in a dress or dressing like a homeless person, go for it. I don’t like putting people in boxes. We’re all females and we’re all doing it for the same reason.

Still, there are many girls out there who use their sexual appeal to get something and there’s a thin line to that too.

It’s definitely a thin line. Do you think it’s empowering or deprecating to leverage your ‘womanhood’ in this industry?

I’m opposed to women using their bodies to get their way for many reasons. Mainly because what they do not only affects them but the way society perceives females. It’s a cycle. In the end they are also victims of society, of what they see and learn so they think that is the best they have to achieve something. It’s a fact women are objectified in almost everything. They see it, they buy it, they do it.

We also have been the target of criticism, especially with Endless Roads. One day we were skating in shorts and the bikini top in the boardwalk next to the beach. They almost accused us of pornography and promoting being cute instead of skating… so much bullshit. I won’t apologize for skating in shorts in the summer. It’s hot, deal with it.

It doesn't get much hotter than the Israeli desert. Shorts while dancing were a must.

It doesn’t get much hotter than the Israeli desert. Shorts while dancing were a must.

On the flip side, freeriding in the forest in sweater weather is sometimes the better option.

On the flip side, freeriding in the forest in sweater weather is sometimes the better option.

I think the main difference is the intent behind it. It’s like the ‘Free The Nipple’ Movement. Many people do it because they honestly believe that women’s bodies shouldn’t be shamed. It’s just a nipple! But some girls will do it because they want to get more likes or attention. Some girls will do it just because they feel like it and that’s who they are. I think that’s the main difference. It’s not what’s shown, but the intention behind it.

Where did your passion for gender equality originate from?
Education. Learning about things, seeing things. It made me more aware.

I come from a complicated background. I come from an Armenian family where sexism is very, very strong. Growing up, I never wanted to fit into what my culture defined as a “women’s role”. I saw many women in my family conform to society’s expectations but I also saw my mom fighting against them all and it really affected me. Then through personal experience, I also felt the inequalities of being a woman. Why was I considered a ‘slut’ while males were considered ‘winners’? In the work force, why am I treated differently and not given the same opportunities as men? Why do I have to prove double my worth? I’ve always been very passionate about gender equality because it’s affected my life from a very young age.

When you’re older and get to travel you start seeing that there are many women like you, worse off, or much more privileged. I try to learn from all of them.

With LGC, it’s been a very personal journey. The experiences I’ve had have changed and shaped my life and changed my perceptions on gender norms and what I can do to make a change. Not even just myself, but the change that everyone can make in the world. I don’t believe that greatness is reserved for a few. At some point I realized I have a voice, so let’s use it. I also surrounded myself with great humans that challenges me and teaches me constantly. Evolution happens every day.

Valeria and the ladies at the LGC OPEN premiere in Madrid sharing their voices - a beautiful thing. Photo: Noelia Otegui

Valeria and the ladies at the LGC OPEN premiere in Madrid sharing their voices – a beautiful thing. Photo: Noelia Otegui

Surround yourself with amazing people. Photo: Noelia Otegui

Surround yourself with amazing people. Photo: Noelia Otegui

You mentioned LGC has evolved over the years. How would you say it has changed or stayed the same?

In the beginning, I guess we didn’t know much what we were doing. It was a group of girls who wanted to get more girls into the sport. Jacky [Madenfrost] was really great at it. We skated how we knew – which was cruise around and some slides – and we filmed it. Then it became a worldwide phenomenon and we were like ‘What is going on!?’. No one was ready for it.

Also, in the beginning, the level of skating portrayed was much lower than it is now. The main reason behind that is that there were simply not that many great female longboarders in the world, at all. Many things have changed in the past 5 years, right? Back then we were stoked on seeing more girls trying it out and I think that is one of our biggest accomplishments and at the same time the secret on how we became so big. We didn’t get so many women and men into the sport by portraying anything crazy, but by showing girls who were learning and having fun together. That’s what made so many women think ‘Hey, that looks fun. That doesn’t look too scary. I can do that!’

Today, it’s hard for me to find the balance. I want to showcase the highest performing female skaters on LGC but also want to keep longboarding accessible. Humans are not only inspired by amazing stunts, many times just by things that are within reach.

In 2011, LGC was also being run by 4 people. Over the past two years, it’s just been me. When it was all of us, we wanted to promote and support women. Now it’s shifted a bit to a worldwide movement that seeks gender equality and provides real, healthy models to society. Supporting and promoting women, giving talks at conferences, educating and keep doing larger projects like OPEN.

LGC also their very own board available now! Photo: Noelia Otegui

LGC also their very own board available now! Photo: Noelia Otegui

I wouldn’t say the values have changed but I would say it has become a more active platform for gender equality.

Moving forward, what do you need from the industry to keep LGC going?

It’s been really hard because LGC doesn’t always get the financial support that it needs to be sustainable. We have gotten thousands of women and men into the sport which has been highly beneficial for the industry. I would love more support from them to keep doing what we do. If you don’t support the scene shakers and supporters, you’re lame.

Thanks Valeria! Any last words and key takeaways you’d like to leave the readers with?

Big shout-out to all the ladies out there who are doing their thing. Who are falling and getting up and doing it while everyone around them makes fun or think they are crazy. Worldwide movements are awesome cause they inspire individuals to act, but the real change always starts by one. That girl that despite her family or friends opinion is going for it, with a skateboard or with anything that keeps her fire alive, breaking one stereotype at a time. You are the one changing the world.

Also, big shout out to Concrete Wave Skateshop Cologne, Icone Longboards and Noelia Otegui for their faith and help towards Longboard Girls Crew. To all the LGC Ambassadors, thank you!

And thank you Cindy for everything you’re doing, love you buddy.

To find out more about Longboard Girls Crew, head to their website: http://longboardgirlscrew.com

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