It's an old school-new school battle at XG17
Marisa Dal Santo has nabbed five medals in six appearances at the X Games -- a street skater who is as regular at the Games as black on asphalt. Still, when I call her for an interview the week before X Games 17, the 23-year-old gets chatting, then pauses before asking in her trademark Chicago accent, "Hey wait, is that next Friday?"
Even with solid odds to take home the $50,000 purse, and despite her recent layoff from Black Box Warehouse, where she has worked for years shuffling skateboard orders, Dal Santo still maintains a kind of detached relationship between herself and formal competition. And while her nonchalant attitude toward a possible payday of $50K may surprise the rest of us, godmother of street skating Elissa Steamer understands completely.
"That's the way it should be," said Steamer after hearing the story. "Our lives shouldn't have to revolve around the contests. That's exactly why I like Marisa."
What's not apparent from Steamer's comment is her frequent and longtime domination of women's skate street contests. And with an X Games record of four gold medals, one silver and one bronze to her name, Steamer said she could never forget the contest's date. Then again, it is near her birthday. "Every year, it's always on my birthday -- so it's great, I pretty much can't forget it."
Steamer turns 36 on July 31, leaving herself (the salty vet from Florida transplanted to Northern California) and Dal Santo (the electric youth from Chicago who now resides in SoCal) separated by more than a decade and almost 500 miles. Still, their similar style leaves skate scenesters unable to stop comparing the two. And when they skate against each other this weekend, fans will get to compare them side-by-side to see who's best: In the past seven years, from 2004-10, the skate street podium has featured one of these two women at every single at X Games.
Dal Santo is undeniably Steamer's protégé. And before Steamer's abrupt departure from board sponsor Zero two weeks ago, the two rippers rode for the same beefy Zero team -- a nod to their respective moxie.
"I remember the first time I talked to Elissa," Dal Santo said. "I was really little, like maybe 11 years old, and she talked to me. I met her for real at my first X Games six years ago. I had just turned 18. She introduced herself and she was really nice to me. A few years later, she gave me my first Zero board and a T-shirt and a sticker pack, or something, and she said, 'Welcome to the team.' I have always thought that was pretty awesome."
Steamer began skateboarding in 1989 and turned pro in 1998. After stints with Toy Machine and Bootleg, Steamer joined Zero in June 2006. At the time, Zero founder Jamie Thomas said, "Elissa's raw approach to life and skateboarding is a perfect fit for Zero. I think she's the raddest girl to ever ride a skateboard."
Said Dal Santo of her virtual apprenticeship, "Elissa is the best. I've definitely looked up to her since I was little. 'Jump Off a Building' [Toy Machine] was one of the first videos that I ever saw. She had a part in it to that Janis Joplin song and I was so psyched on it. She does this ride in the beginning, a no comply, switch no comply, and she's just screaming through the whole thing while she tries to land it. I just thought it was hilarious. She is awesome. Definitely one of street's best ever."
Steamer was the first female to get a video part in a reputable movie (Toy Machine's 1996 video, "Welcome to Hell"). She was also the first female pro to appear in the Tony Hawk video game series.
Strikingly similar is Dal Santo's growing rap sheet of street. The only female rider to put down a full video part in the last few years (in Zero's "Strange World"), Dal Santo's skill set was crafted in Chicago and exported to San Diego County, where she has lived for the last four years.
"Elissa has been a huge influence on me," Dal Santo said. "And not even because she's a girl, because that's the thing about her, she doesn't try to separate herself from the guys. When I first started skating, I never really put too much thought into being a girl skater -- and I still don't -- but I can definitely relate to her and everything she has gone through. She's helped me understand a lot. She's told me stories of her experience when she was my age. I'm pretty much going through the same deal as she was."
Steamer said of her heir apparent, "Marisa reminds me a lot of me when I was her age. Before I quit Zero we were on the same team, so we got to tour together and share hotel rooms and hang out. I loved being around her. We're friends because we're both just skaters, you know? That's where we connect with each other most. She's a skate rat like me. She's out filming video parts on the streets and she worked at the warehouse, and a contest for her is just another thing. It doesn't make or break her. She skates hard no matter if she has a chance to win a bunch of money or not. Or whether she was sponsored or not. She is one of the real ones."
"I'll miss being on her team," said Dal Santo, whose sponsorship with Zero continues. "I'll miss our ladies' bench. I don't think there's another team out there with two girls on it. We had a lot of fun. Elissa is a great person. She is friends with everybody. I don't know what her new board sponsor will be or who will pick her, but she is so awesome and deserves all that she is worth. I'm really psyched to see Elissa skate this week."
Dal Santo and Steamer will face off with the rest of the Women's Skate Street field on Friday. Watch it live on ESPN3 and get the results on ESPN.com/action.
Mary Buckheit is a freelance journalist in San Diego. She can be reached at MaryBuckheit@hotmail.com.