For Alexis Sablone, skateboarding was never supposed to be the thing, which is not something you expect to say of a person who does their thing at the Olympic level. But Sablone is a multi-hyphenate who walks the walk, an artist and designer and architect with degrees from Barnard and MIT. “Going to the Olympics for skateboarding never crossed my mind,” Sablone told us recently. “It was never on the agenda.” But competing was the only way to turn a passion into a livelihood: “As a female, it was the only way to make skateboarding into a living; sponsors were only paying men.”
In the East Coast suburb where the seven-time X Games medalist grew up in the ’90s, there were no other skaters, let alone skate parks. Fast-forward to last month when, on March 25, she found herself back in the suburbs. But this time, there was a park — with skateable elements of her own design. Sablone was in Montclair, New Jersey, with the nonprofit organizations the Skatepark Project and Skate Essex for the ribbon cutting on Candy Courts, a local skate park featuring seven unique, skateable sculptures from Sablone. Though a street skater herself, Sablone asserts that dedicated, free, safe spaces to skate are critical, especially for young kids. Wherever you skate, Sablone says, “It’s about the community you find.” At the Candy Courts, ease, accessibility, and fun are priorities. “I was inspired by the playgrounds of my youth and wanted to reimagine skateable structures that would hopefully inspire and excite play in people of all ages.”
Following the event, we caught up with Sablone over the phone, where she spoke to us about melding art with skateboarding and her stubborn fear of stray hairs.
Do you have any standout memories of park skating from way back when?
Growing up, the closest skate park was 45 minutes to an hour drive. It was called Eastern Pulse and was also a skate shop. It’s where I met my best friend, Trevor, who is also a pro skateboarder. We recently opened our own skate shop in New Haven, not far from where Eastern Pulse was. We were looking back and thinking about how much time we spent there. We’d spend entire weekends, especially in the cold winter. That park was almost an informal day care. They let us hang out all day. Without it, I don’t know if we’d have the same friendship or if I’d have the same mentors.
What does your studio look like at the moment?
It looks like a mess, as it often does. I’m making a few things right now. I have an upcoming large-scale sculpture and we’re hopefully about to start construction on that; I already have it modeled but need to fine-tune. Outside of the studio, I’ve designed my first Converse signature shoe and that comes out in a few weeks, so there’s some paper models of shoes around my studio as well. Other than that, I’m working on some smaller-scale projects.
You broke out onto the scene after appearing in PJ Ladd’s Wonderful, Horrible Life video, skating to the soundtrack of Rosemary Clooney’s “Mambo Italiano.” Did you choose the song?
Funny enough, I didn’t. Watching my part premiere was the first time I ever heard [Clooney’s “Mambo Italiano”]. I did — and still do — listen to lots of ’90s hip-hop. I remember requesting some Wu-Tang song for that video and they were like, “We’ve got something and we think you’re going to like it.” For years afterwards, if I was skating through the streets of Boston, people would yell out, “Hey, Mambo.” I came to love that song. And I’m Italian on my dad’s side, so it felt fitting.
You told the New York Times in 2021 that you’d never been drunk before. Is that still the case?
That’s still true. I don’t know if it’s a control thing, but lots of the skaters I’ve come across fall into two categories: They either drink and smoke a lot or not at all. Maybe it’s something to do with some deep part of you being extreme, for lack of a better word.
To skateboard, you have to be extreme. Practically fearless.
I get afraid on my skateboard. It’s natural. There’s not no fear, but you can overcome it momentarily if you have enough physical confidence to follow through. I wouldn’t say it’s a pleasant feeling, but it’s one you’re kind of addicted to. When you land the trick, it’s such a relief. And maybe a bit masochistic. There’ve been so many injuries: broken feet, ribs, fingers. Skaters sprain their ankles. That’s common. I had one a couple of years ago that was especially bad, and my leg turned purple up to my knee. That was while the Olympic qualifying was going on, so I had to skate on it a lot sooner than I otherwise would have. That was pretty intense.
So what are you afraid of?
Dying. Also, I’m scared of stray hairs and rats. I’ve been hit in the leg by so many rats in New York trash piles.
Bindu Bansinath is a staff writer for the Cut covering news and culture. She was previously an assistant editor at Harper’s.
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