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Thursday, July 28, 2011
Updated: July 29, 11:12 AM ET
In her element

By Mary Buckheit
Special to espnW

It says it right there, on her forearm: Vanessa Torres is an "Outlaw."

She took home gold in the first women's Skateboard Street contest in X Games history, in 2003 at the tender age of 17. After that, her intractable swazey on a stick trick and brash attitude led to a swift ascent in the skate world -- and to this description in The Orange County Register, Torres' hometown newspaper, in November 2007:

"Just 21, [Torres] is known as the bad girl of skateboarding. The table-flipping, golf-cart-stealing, cigarette-smoking, trash-talking, school-quitting, home-leaving, contest-winning kind of outlaw who can board-slide a knob-welded rail."

Knowing her M.O., I wasn't fazed as calls went out to Torres for this interview, but got no response. I almost didn't even expect one. I figured that the 25-year-old was out making the most of summer in Modesto with seditious proceedings on cement by day and electric insurrectionism at the stroke of sundown each night.

So imagine my surprise when I received the following dutiful text message in response to my last-ditch effort imploring her participation:

Oh my gosh! I'm so sorry. I'll give you a ring first thing tomorrow. I sincerely apologize for the delay. -- Vanessa

One might even say that today the old stager seems to have settled into a more mature sensibility with sure feet.

On the brink of X Games 17, which will mark her ninth summer X appearance, Skate Street's legendary first lady gives us a taste of the times and a nostalgic look back at the wave that has carried her here.

espnW: In 2003, you won X Games gold at the inaugural women's Skate Street event. How did success at the historic first installment of the contest impact your life?

Vanessa Torres: I had already been doing pretty well for myself in and out of the contest scene, but I knew that being invited to the first women's Skate Street event at X Games was a huge deal. Winning gold definitely opened up a lot of new doors for me. My sponsors couldn't have been more proud, and I was ecstatic.

espnW: You went to high school through your sophomore year, then split to skateboard full-time. What made you decide to skip out?

VT: I was really struggling with trying to juggle both skateboarding and school. I had a once-in-a-lifetime chance to really get somewhere in skating, and I just couldn't pass up that opportunity. So I dropped out and made my way down to Southern California.

espnW: You came into some fast cash and heavy sponsorship for a 17-year-old. What did that feel like? What did you do with those first fat checks?

VT: Honestly, I had no clue what to do with all that cash! I had everything I could want at that age. I felt like that was such a milestone in the progression of my career. I did make a huge purchase -- buying my first car when I turned 18. Brand-new '05 Jetta fresh off the lot! I was super proud of that.

espnW: What's your favorite video that you've been a part of?

VT: Definitely Element's "Elementality" video and Villa Villa Cola's video, "Getting Nowhere Faster."

espnW: What does a quick ascent to sponsorship and attention do to your personal life when so many folks want a piece of you?

VT: I've never had any problems maintaining normal relationships with anyone because of my career. Sure, it can be overwhelming at times when people recognize you and want an autograph or photo, but that's part of why I do what I do. Gotta give back.

espnW: For a while there in the early 2000s, you were everywhere. Then it seemed you faded out for a shake before a resurgence in 2009. Would you agree? Was that by design?

VT: When I disappeared for that while, I was just taking a break; spending time with my family. I think I became overwhelmed with a lot of the obligations of being a professional skateboarder. Everything happened so quickly and I was so young, I really just wanted to ground myself and not get in way over my head.

espnW: Is your family your primary source of stability?

VT: My family has always been super supportive when it comes to my skating. They're my backbone and my strongest support system. Elissa [Steamer] has always been a huge inspiration while I was growing up skating and she still inspires me -- and so many others -- today.

espnW: What's the highlight of your career, to date?

VT: Winning gold at X Games, my first pro model board with Element Skateboards and having the privilege of being a character in "Tony Hawk's Proving Ground" video game.

espnW: What are your expectations this year, at your ninth X?

VT: I just want to come out, have a good time skating with all the girls and give it my best!

espnW: Any regrets?

VT: Never.

Torres will compete in the Skateboard Street women's final at X Games 17 on Friday at 5:30 p.m. ET. Watch it live on and catch all the contest results and event recaps at

Mary Buckheit is a freelance journalist in San Diego. She can be reached at