At 10, Barbara Odanaka started a love affair with skateboarding on a Hobie Super Surfer, a now vintage wooden model with clay wheels made in the ‘60s. At age 13, her track coach told her she couldn’t compete on the team if she continued skateboarding.
She took up the sport a second time after the birth of her son, who is now 19. To find and communicate with other women who enjoyed the sport, the longtime Laguna Beach resident created an on-line forum and founded the non-profit Skateboard Moms and The Sisters of Shred in 2004. A dozen years later, she leads a tribe 300 strong.
An article in the February /March edition of AARP Magazine exposes Odanaka to a whole new fan base. A companion video to the article about the Sisters of Shred drew 3.5 million viewers on Facebook and a half million on Youtube.
“Barbara is amazing. She encourages skaters of all levels,” said Hilja Welsh, of Seattle, who started skating at age 45 and is the mother of four. She found Odanaka in 2010 through other skaters using the online forum. Now the moms use a Facebook page to keep up with each other.
Welsh accepted an invitation from Odanaka to visit Laguna Beach and received a personal tour of local skate parks. She plans to return and participate in Mighty Mama Skate-O-Rama, the annual Mother’s Day event Odanaka puts on each year to raise funds for children’s charities.
The inspiration for the Skate O Rama, now in its 13th year, was a book Odanaka wrote for kids called “Skateboard Mom” in 2004. She has since written two more children’s books and is working on another about the power of skateboarding in middle age. She previously worked as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times.
While the May 8 skate fest is three months off, Odanaka is already making plans for the event, which will draw attendees from as far away as Switzerland, Australia and Canada. Over the course of the week, visitors can take part in a skateboard clinic, win raffle prizes, which she solicits from local vendors, and visit nearby skate parks.
“I would love to be having it in Laguna,” said Odanaka, pointing out that “so many out-of-towners would love to come here and spend money on gear.”
Various interests have pushed to build a skate park in Laguna Beach since at least 1992. Over two decades, sites considered and rejected have included Laguna Canyon, the village entrance at Broadway Street, Lang Park in South Laguna, Moulton Meadows and most recently the inland parking lot of Aliso Beach. Last month, a recreation subcommittee that took up the latest search for an acceptable site in town concluded it didn’t exist. Instead, the City Council endorsed the subcommittee’s recommendation to shuttle kids to nearby parks in other cities and to create temporary pop-up parks. “When I hear news like that I cringe,” said Odanaka, who has publicly advocated for a local park.
Taking Risks That Are Fun
Odanaka, 53, who grew up in Newport Beach, took up residence in Laguna in 1998. The absence of a park in Laguna Beach forces Odanaka to pursue her passion out of town. Now, she rides a thin-deck model with a curved nose and tail and polyurethane wheels. Although there are 14 skate parks in Orange County, her favorites include Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa, Laguna Hills and Laguna Niguel plus a few farther afield such as the Iguana Bowl in Encinitas, The Cove in Santa Monica and one at Venice Beach. The skateboard moms also take skateboard road trips, most recently to parks in San Luis Obispo and Sacramento.
Odanaka points out that building a park may not make a difference to Laguna’s downhill skateboarders, now subject to a ban enacted in 2011 that bars riding on some of the town’s steepest hillside streets. She says she understands objections by businesses and neighbors about noise and nuisance from a skatepark, but adds that a park would be “a gift to active children” in town.
For now, while Laguna continues to explore skatepark options, including a mobile “pop-up” skate park or “skate dot” or use of a school parking lot in summer, Odanaka’s Mighty Mama Skate-O-Rama crew will convene at Etnies skatepark in Lake Forest this Mother’s Day. Proceeds will benefit the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force.
In the Feb. 26 article Moms Stoked to Skate, a photo of Barbara Odanaka was improperly credited. The photo was taken by Dan Hughes. The group shot of the skaters was taken by Chuck Hults.
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