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In Conversation with Elissa Steamer

We’ve all heard the age-old saying, “Sometimes skateboarding involves not skateboarding.” In a way, Elissa Steamer’s brand, Gnarhunters, was born from the act of not skateboarding. Shortly after discovering surfing, Nike SB skater Elissa became obsessed with the pastime that is so common along the California coastline. With time and other life events, skateboarding became less of a priority as she spent more time in the ocean.

Skateboarders and surfers view their respective passions in completely different ways. Skateboarding thrives on inclusion and its ease of accessibility. Alternatively, surfing is more competitive because there are only a certain number of quality waves at a particular coastal break. To better understand surfing as a skateboarder, in addition to seeking an avenue for her creative energy, Elissa started Gnarhunters in 2011.

Eleven years later, she has earned the opportunity to collaborate with her current shoe sponsor to create the Gnarhunters x Nike SB Dunk Low. We were beyond thrilled to get on a Zoom call with Elissa and Nike SB Marketing Manager Colin Kennedy to discuss not only the shoe, but also the roles of skateboarding and surfing in Elissa’s life.

Text: Elliott Wright

Nike SB x Gnarhunters Dunk Low: In Conversation with Elissa Steamer | Flatspot

Flatspot: Hey Elissa! Thanks for taking the time to have a chat. How is 2022 treating you so far?

Elissa: No complaints. I just got back from Puerto Rico; it was sick.

Flatspot: Nice! What was the purpose of that trip?

Elissa: We went to do marketing for the Gnarhunters x Nike SB Dunk Low, so it was a surf trip disguised as a skate trip. We went to San Juan, which is actually on the beach. Then we went to the proper surf beach, which is called Isabela. We stayed there for four days, surfing and skating the whole time.

Flatspot: How was winter in San Francisco, surf wise?

Elissa: It was a really good winter. It was actually too good for me because it was hulking and 12 feet every day, which is scary. I don’t really like to do that too much. Maybe once or twice a season I will try to go out and see what happens. I got a bomb this winter, so that was cool!

Flatspot: Do you typically surf at Ocean Beach?

Elissa: Yeah. I live at this spot called Kelly’s Cove which is the south end of the beach. I rarely drive to go surfing. If there aren’t waves in front of my house, I don’t really surf [laughs]. It takes too much of the day to drive to go surfing. Some people have to; I’m fortunate enough to live super close to the beach.

Nike SB x Gnarhunters Dunk Low: In Conversation with Elissa Steamer | Flatspot

Nike SB x Gnarhunters Dunk Low: In Conversation with Elissa Steamer | Flatspot

Flatspot: In what ways has the skate scene in San Francisco changed in recent years? It seems like the resurgence of Embarcadero, and more recently Pier 7, would have really helped the scene.

Elissa: When the Supreme guys like Bill [Strobeck] and them came and unknobbed the blocks at Embarcadero, everyone started meeting there again. It just wasn’t the spot for a long time.

I was on a long hiatus, not only from professional skateboarding but skateboarding in general. So around the time that I got back into skateboarding and started skating with my friends again, that's when those guys unknobbed Embarcadero and it became the meetup spot again.

In terms of Pier 7, I never go there. It's great that it's unknobbed, but I never liked it, even in the late ‘90s. It’s a great spot though. I love that Rob Welsh, who is the greatest human ever, loved it like he did back in the day.

But I go to Embarcadero a lot; I will probably go there after this and meet up with Frank [Gerwer].

 Nike SB x Gnarhunters Dunk Low: In Conversation with Elissa Steamer | Flatspot

Flatspot: Who are some of the younger skaters that you are stoked on?

Elissa: Everybody, really. I was actually just watching Kader on instagram and I’m like, “God, Kader is really it”. He’s so poppy, floaty, and powerful. T-Funk [Tristan Funkhouser] is the same. I love all the young Baker guys. Rowan [Zorilla]. Jacopo [Carozzi]!

Flatspot: Yes! All those guys are super fun to watch. I’m going to switch gears a little here.

What does skateboarding need to do to promote more inclusion? Not only for women but also the LGBTQ communities. And what would you say to those that still feel like skating is an “old boys club”?

Elissa: The whole world is an old boys club. Skateboarding is on the forefront of inclusivity. I think there is definitely a lot of headway and space to cover. Actually, I feel like the world is becoming less inclusive right now, with the laws in Texas and that kind of bullshit.

Flatspot: I agree. I don't know if you want to go into it, but the potential reversal of Roe v. Wade [which protects a pregnant woman's liberty to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction] is pretty terrifying.

Elissa: When you think about that, and the laws against trans children and their parents – all of that bullshit – I feel like I don't see skateboarding following that direction. I see skateboarding going the opposite direction of that and including more people than excluding.

I hope I'm not blind and just hopeful that skateboarding is actually doing that. I know that skateboarding, and the world, does not have equal pay. I know that the world excludes queer, trans, intersex, and gay people, you know what I mean? I hope, and think, that skateboarding goes the opposite direction of that. Do you guys agree? Or do you think that it's just hopeful commentary?

Colin Kennedy: I would agree with you Elissa, I think it is. I think that skateboarding is a very active, small community. Movements happen faster. It’s very connected. We always think that we are perhaps behind the curve on the way that the community should be. It’s interesting to hear your comment, and think that it's way ahead of the rest of the world, in other communities, other sports, other activities.

Flatspot: I think that skateboarders are a different breed of person. I believe that the individuals that get drawn to skateboarding are more open-minded or willing to change the status quo.

To shift this idea to surfing a bit, do you think surfers could learn from skaters about inclusion?

Elissa: I do, absolutely. I surf a lot, but I didn't grow up surfing. I can't really attest to what the surf industry is like, or what it's like to grow up surfing. Surfing is definitely a different animal, despite skateboarding coming from surfing. I can say that I feel like, in the inclusivity department, skateboarding has surpassed surfing. But skateboarding is also more accessible.

A skateboard costs about $150 whereas a brand new surfboard is upwards of $800. Beach-front property is much more expensive than a suburban or inner-city property. I can say that time, equipment, and gas money to get to the beach need more [resources] than picking up a skateboard and walking out your door.

If you have cement, or even hard packed gravel, you can ride a skateboard. I learned to skate in my car port in Florida. If you have 20 feet of ground, you can learn to skateboard. But to learn to surf you need a lot.

Nike SB x Gnarhunters Dunk Low: In Conversation with Elissa Steamer | Flatspot

Flatspot: Let’s talk about Gnarhunters. What does it represent in your own words?

Elissa: Well, we were just talking about how surfing can learn from skateboarding. That is where Gnarhunters spawned from, which was sort of my approach to surfing and the surf community. Where I come from as a skater, nobody really takes themself that seriously, at least from my generation. Everyone is sort of self-deprecating. We all sort of like each other. If you are skating, the general consensus is that you are with us.

And I learned in surfing, that is not the case. Rightfully so. You roll up to a beach and there is a limited number of waves, a limited amount of time when they are good, and there are people who have been there longer than you have. There is a certain attitude that I felt was different than what I was used to [with skateboarding].

So I thought, I’m going to endure surfing by poking fun at it through skateboarding. That is kind of how Gnarhunters came about. Even the name is a joke; it’s so extreme of a name, you can’t even take that seriously.

Flatspot: How did your relationship with Nike SB begin?

Elissa: I rode for Etnies from like 1996 to 2008; so almost 13 years. Something happened at the end of the relationship with them; they wanted to pay me less. At that time, I felt like I was in my prime, you know?

I was hanging out with Brian [Anderson], and he said, “Call Hunter [Muraira]!” I remember we were at Niketown. Brian was on a shopping spree; he got me some golf shoes and a Tiger Woods golf towel that day, I remember that.

I called Hunter, and had this long conversation with him, sitting on the stairs at Niketown in San Francisco. When the contract came through a week later, I had to call Don Brown and tell him the news. He was heartbroken that I was moving on, but it made sense for me.

I was super happy to be on Nike because a lot of my friends were there – Brian, Omar [Salazar], Reese [Forbes]. We went on some great trips and had a great time.

Nike SB x Gnarhunters Dunk Low: In Conversation with Elissa Steamer | Flatspot

Flatspot: How did the collaboration come about?

Elissa: I was approached by another shoe brand to do a Gnarhunters collaboration, so I did the honorable thing by running it by my current sponsor, Nike. They liked the idea because I'm so intertwined with the Gnarhunters brand, which is understandable.

In turn they offered me this option, which is great. It just came about by talking about it, me being a Nike pro, and having a brand. It just makes sense because we already have a working relationship.

Flatspot: Can you go into the significance of the design and colorway?

Elissa: I have the first sample – hold on. [Elissa steps away from her computer and returns with a shoe]. It looks like the beach wall by my house. The Swoosh is neoprene. When I got the sample, I liked it a lot. But it didn’t really tell a worldwide story. Only locals, or people that have been to San Francisco and have seen this seawall, will recognize the design.

The neoprene was my favorite part of the first sample, so I told Nike, “We need more neoprene”. The neoprene will wear out, but there is a canvas / leather layer underneath it. It's not like you do three kickflips, your neoprene is gone, and you have a hole in your shoe?

So we made the whole shoe neoprene, because you have to have a wetsuit to surf in San Francisco. Gnarhunters makes towels and was started as a beach towel brand, so the toe cap / underlay is all terrycloth to match the beach vibes. So that was the base of it.

Then we asked, “What kind of surf stuff can we put on it?”. The Swoosh is velcroed on, like a leash. And the Swoosh is actually waxed! Someone in the factory waxes this Swoosh. I have been there, and saw that the shoe gets touched by every person in the factory. It’s not like a conveyor belt is making the shoe. Everyone is doing their part, whether it’s trimming the excess of the sole, the stitching, or waxing the swoosh. I find that amazing. Finally, the black and white colorway matches the surf vibe.

When I started designing it, I was looking through all of my Dunks and I saw how sick the Grateful Dead one was, with the furry stuff. I wanted to do a wild, fun, crazy Dunk. The neoprene and terrycloth are kinda fucked, so that’s good!

Nike SB x Gnarhunters Dunk Low: In Conversation with Elissa Steamer | Flatspot

Flatspot: That all sounds amazing, I like how much thought went into the design. As we wind down our conversation, which countries have you visited in the UK for skating and/or surfing?

Elissa: I have been all up and down England. There was one time in 2003, when I rode for Bootleg Skateboards, and we did an English tour. We started from way up top; it was fucking up there [laughs]. We visited a bunch of cities and did a couple demos, but it was mostly to film for the video. I've never surfed there.

Flatspot: What do you think of the skate scene in the UK? Any favorite skaters from across the pond?

Elissa: Last time I was out there I skated with Korahn [Gayle] and I've been on a trip with Kyron [Davis] before. However, I’ve known British people for days! You know what I mean? Mark Baines!

Flatspot: You guys lived together right?

Elissa: Yeah, he lived with me! He’s amazing. Louis Slater. Carl Shipman. I remember when he had a board with Stereo and I thought he was a legend then. He did really good frontside flips.

Flatspot: Mouly?

Elissa: Alex Moul, of course.

You know what's crazy Colin, I just remembered something. I was in Arizona one time and I think you were doing a trick at this big four block…

Colin Kennedy: Yeah, yeah!

Elissa: You had Oliver [Barton] with you. I didn't even know you guys. Me and my friends rolled up and I wanted to backside nollie off this set, and you were maybe warming up. I walked over and I was like, “Hey, do you mind if I use your photographer?" I introduced myself and was like, “Could you take my picture?” [Laughs].

Colin Kennedy: That was the first time you met Oliver?

Elissa: Yeah, yeah, totally!

Flatspot: As you said you skate with him regularly, have you got any good Frank Gerwer stories?

Elissa: We have been attached at the hip for like 20 years, so I have a lot of stories about Frank. One time, I think we were either at [Erik] Ellington's house, or we were at Black Box [Distribution] sleeping in the bunk beds, and Frank was snoring. So I threw a shoe at him, and he’s like, “What the fuck?” So I said, “Turn over.” And he goes, “What am I in the microwave? Am I finished? Am I done?” He’s super clever [laughs].

Flatspot: Thanks again so much for taking the time, Elissa. Any shout outs or thanks?

Elissa: I want to thank skateboarding, all the good people at Nike, Flatspot, my partner Rachel. I want to thank the dogs. Everybody! Even the cat, and I hate this cat. But I’ll thank the cat [laughs].

Nike SB x Gnarhunters Dunk Low: In Conversation with Elissa Steamer | Flatspot

The Nike SB x Gnarhunters Dunk Low releases on Tuesday 24th May 2022. Please read below for the raffle details for this release:

Due to the limited numbers of the Nike SB x Gnarhunters Dunk Low we are making the shoes available via our Releases.flatspot site on a Raffle to purchase basis.

The draw opens on Friday 20th May at 17:00PM (BST) and closes on Monday 23rd May 2022 at 08:00AM (BST). You can enter the draw here.

Limited to one pair per person. Available to UK residents only.

Winners will be chosen on Tuesday 24th May 2022 at 08:00AM (BST) and we will aim to confirm both successful and unsuccessful entries within three hours. Winning pairs will start shipping Wednesday 25th May 2022.

For each release we will invite those interested to enter a draw to purchase prior to the products actual designated time of release. Card payment will be required to register for each draw and your payment will be authorised but the funds not taken by us unless your name is successfully drawn at the designated time and date of the actual release.

If you are unsuccessful in the draw the pre-authorisation will be voided and your funds released, it may take up to five working days before you see your funds available in your account again.

More information is available on the product pages and also here: About Releases.flatspot


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