Within 20 minutes of meeting skateboarder Nora Vasconcellos, we’re sharing photos of us at 13 and laughing as if we’ve been best friends for years. "How disgusting were we?" she cackles, after telling me that she used to wear two polo shirts at once. "I remember wearing a baby pink polo and a brown polo with the collars popped," she cringes, still laughing.
Our instant camaraderie is all down to her – she has an infectious energy that puts me both at ease and in hysterics. Now 26, Nora’s fashion victim days are behind her, and she has an upcoming collection with adidas to prove it. She’s their first female pro skater, which is quite a feat for someone who, as she tells me, only started skating professionally in 2016.
Now living in California, Nora grew up in Massachusetts, where she nervously started skating around the age of 12. "I remember being a kid and I stopped skating in my neighbour’s driveway because I was intimidated by someone driving past and seeing me," she says, adding that she stopped going to the skatepark because she found it intimidating, "especially if you’re the only girl".
After high school, Nora moved to California aged just 19 to immerse herself in skating. She worked full-time at Welcome Skateboards, which she says gave her an insight into the industry. "That was more valuable for me than going to school or getting a degree," she remarks. "I had a job here and learned these skills but now I’m skating for them and reaping the rewards of being a full-time skateboarder, it’s insane!"
While Nora knew she wanted to be a pro skater, she never expected it to turn out like this: "As things continued to evolve, it was like, oh, this might actually work out. Then it did, in a way that I didn’t even expect, like to be signed with adidas is just beyond anything I thought could happen."
Nora is humble about her accomplishments, partly because her start came not from contacts or privilege but from genuine graft. "If you work hard enough, I truly believe the right thing will happen. It definitely took a lot of me being uncomfortable," she says, telling me that she and her mum shared a bedroom for three years when they first moved to California. She tells me it was tough to see her friends from home "living their best young life" while she was struggling. "I was like, my mum and I share a car and I just go to work at the mall!" she says, as we sit on a fancy velvet sofa in a suite in an exceptionally fancy hotel. She’s quick to point out how much of a leap this is. "Everybody’s got those crazy low points, and then you’re sitting in the Pearl Suite with adidas and you’re just like, there’s croissants and sparkling water!" she laughs.
Leaving her 2006 surfwear days behind her, Nora is dressed head to toe in her clothing range, set to be released in October. It includes shirts, trousers and shoes, all durable skatewear, in pastel lilacs and yellows. Nora is thrilled to share it. "You wanna see it?" she asks, and when I say yes, she runs off to dig through a wardrobe. "I’m exposing the clothing!" she laughs, before laying them on her lap and talking through each piece in detail. "These are the shoes. Little lavender babies!" she exclaims, waving her feet and telling me that it’s her favourite colour. "I don’t mean for everything to match, it’s just literally most of the stuff in my closet is this shade of lavender," she says. It’s clear that Nora, who’s also an artist, was heavily involved in the design process.
Nora’s success is impressive but it’s worth bearing in mind that she is adidas’ first female pro skater – in 2019. The industry is changing, with more female pros, girls’ nights and women at parks than ever, but it’s still tipped in favour of men. Nora is aware of this. "Skateparks are not the friendliest environment. They’re probably the opposite. It’s just a melting pot of teenage boys and older guys," she says, adding that she mostly had good experiences, though she knows that could have gone the other way. "If I had one or two negative experiences at a skatepark right when I started, I could have easily been like, fuck this!" she laughs.
Contests are a necessary part of being a pro skater but for Nora, they’re often a source of anxiety. "I’m a freaking mess. I don’t like the person I become in a contest setting. I shrink into a little hole. I’m like a caged animal," she confesses. While the skate scene is traditionally competitive, Nora has carved out her own niche, preferring "personal progression and doing more creative projects" alongside a collaborative approach to skating. "The women's scene has been cool," she says, adding: "There’s so much less of us, so we should join together."
While she’s worried about missing out, she’s focusing on her own career. "I’ve only been doing contests so that I can be where I am today, and that’s been a journey and I loved that, but I think I’m getting to that point where for me, skateboarding is just a little bit more about personal goal setting," she says, quickly putting it in perspective: "It’s hard because you don’t want to miss out, but at the end you’re like, I’m not missing out. I’m living my best life. I’m chillin'."
Skateboarding is currently having a renaissance, and with the addition of the sport to the Olympics for 2020, it looks like it’s gaining more recognition – but Nora is split on whether or not that’s a good thing. "It’s hard because I’ve been involved with it and doing contests and stuff, but it’s changed a lot. It’s changed so much from a year ago until now, the qualification and the rules and regulations to it, it’s very odd," she says, clearly undecided on the idea. "It’s like taking something that doesn’t belong and trying to make it belong. It’s like putting a square in a circle hole."
The best skaters make what is an extremely dangerous sport look easy, but it’s risky. I mention breaking my arm skating last year, and Nora claims she’s never had a bad injury before launching into a graphic story in the same breath. "I fractured my orbital bone skating a vert ramp once, that was super scary. I sliced open my eye and got 31 stitches," she says. Fixing the injury required the help of a plastic surgeon, and additionally, she says she’s suffered with a fair few rolled ankles. I remind her that to normal people, those are no small injuries. "Dude, it’s mental. I’ve seen myself fall and I’m like, how am I alright? Like, for real? I shouldn’t be walking," she laughs.