Given that skateboarding is male-dominated, the females who participate in its culture can sometimes feel like outsiders. As if fitting in isn't hard enough, women usually receive the short end of the stick when it comes to respect, success, and opportunity in the workplace. Nevertheless, willingly working against all these odds can really show a person’s passion and commitment to their culture. Although many may be too discouraged to get seriously involved in skateboarding, women like Erica Yary see it as an opportunity. She has built one of the most prominent positions in skateboarding, through her successful marketing and entertainment career with some of the most well-established skate companies, and continues to push the boundaries of the industry. The story of how she came to where she is today is an inspiring one, and well worth the read. I am so stoked I got the chance to talk to her about the last 15 years of her career, her marketing, TV personality, and why it’s important for females to be strong when trying to make it in a traditionally exclusive professional environment.
N.B. This interview was transcribed from a phone interview.
What was your first break in the industry? What has your journey been like?
It's been such a progression of so many different things, so I guess we can start from the beginning. Growing up, I skateboarded, and by the time I was 16, I got offered a job at the skate shop called Active. When I first started, they only had 4 stores in Southern California, which is relatively small. I worked in the store itself for 3 years, and while I was just helping in the store doing whatever, I had been friends with so many skateboarders that were just like the local kids at the time. I have known Bryan Herman and Leo Romero since I was like 18. I knew all the old Foundation kids like Tony Silva and Matt Allen and was their skater chauffeur. Taking them to spots and stuff like that, you know, helping them with their respective careers.
Then when I turned 19, I began working in the office for Active where I started a blog for their website and covered industry events. I did a bunch of photojournalism and just stepped into something that wasn’t widely covered in skateboarding at the time. I was going to a bunch of events and shooting photos and networking and making connections and stuff. That all started when I was 19, and I ended up staying at Active for 9 years. I was doing marketing, PR, managing events, team management, and everything like that within the 9 year span. They grew from 4 stores to 31 all within the time I was there. It was an exponential growth, even for me personally because I was doing the blog thing before anyone, I mean The Berrics didn’t exist. Even Transworld didn’t do anything with events online at the time. I was doing blogging before blogging was even a thing really. Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, etc. all did not exist.
By the time I was 25, I left Active and went to work for DVS and Matix at Podium Distribution. I was with Podium right before they went into their issues, which made them disband as a distribution. It was kind of like DVS and Matix were hanging by a thread and they ended up getting bought by two different people by the time I was out of there. But in the midst of that time, when I was about 20, I started networking with the Fuel TV people. They were covering all my Active events, you know? I mean, I was personally planning the most events in Southern California with every single skateboarding team you can possibly imagine. I was doing events literally every week. When I saw the Fuel TV people, I kinda told them, “Hey, I think I would be pretty good on camera; I think I can pull it off and I’m personable and I’m not the most hideous person on earth.” So, they gave me a chance and I started doing regular work for them. I was on The Weekly Update once or twice a week, and that show aired all week long something like six times a day, so it was a ton of exposure. I was also on the Daily Habit. I was on Fuel TV for 4 years and then from there I networked my way into doing X Games, Maloof Cup, Dew Tour and Street League and all that sort of stuff. So, there’s my actual professional career as a marketer and then there's kind of a side career as a television, on camera personality type of thing, you know?
It seems like the path you were making for yourself was really all coming together, that’s awesome.
Yeah it was awesome getting to know everyone and it was just really comfortable for me to talk to all these guys because I know what I’m talking about, I’ve been around skateboarding my whole life and I was a skateboarder, and still skateboard. I don’t try to get crazy on a skateboard anymore, I just end up getting hurt. You can see me cruising Long Beach any given day but I’m not trying to like skate some spots and shit; I’m gonna leave that to the people who can actually do it well. So after I was at DVS and all that, I decided I was going to go full on into TV and any sort of TV work and that’s really when there was like a 2year period where Rob and I started Weekend Buzz and I was doing all the Street Leagues and all the Dew Tours, etc. It was everything coming together at the same time.
Then I was lucky enough to get another Marketing job at Stance. It was kind of like, I don't want to give up on a marketing career, because that's actually what I feel that I'm really good at and it's something that I really love. I've been at Stance for 3 years now and it's been so crazy, and a whirlwind of awesomeness. I couldn't be happier. I’m at the absolute best company I could possibly be at. The way they run the company and all the people who are a part of it are just incredible.
What were the people’s reactions to you trying to get involved at first in the industry? Were the skateboarders down for the interviews when you were just starting out as Active Erica?
I’ve known all these guys forever at this point. I’ve known people like Antwuan Dixon since he was 14 or something. I’ve been working in skateboarding for 15 years so I’ve known all these people for so long at this point. I’ve never done stupid stuff and put myself out there in any way but platonically to these guys. I mean, all of my boyfriends have been guys who skateboard, but I’ve never been the girl to be like “I’m looking to hook up with a hot skater boy.” Haha, its just been all these really great platonic friendships with people who work at these companies and who are in the industry, you know? There's just a tight knit group of people who have been in the industry for so long that they become the greatest friends and mentors. I have had female mentors that are incredible women that I've looked up to when I was younger and when I saw what they were doing I would take elements of what I liked about their jobs and try to achieve that and emulate it onto my own life. One of them was Lindsey Byrnes, who was the Marketing Director for Thrasher back in the day, and I was just like “That’s rad, that's what I kinda wanna go towards” and I worked towards that. Another one of my friends Robin Fleming, she ran Baker back in the day when Baker had just started, she is working with Dickies Women's initiatives now. I would consider them mentors for me. I used to call those gals up for professional advice when I was growing as a young female professional within skateboarding. It’s funny because in skateboarding you have to know how to handle yourself around men so much more than many other industries, you know? You have to be able to have humor about things and be able to take a joke and not be sensitive. As a female getting involved you have to be secure with yourself. It’s all a security thing.
Were there any major moments feeling discriminated or discouraged because of your gender?
I think your work speaks for itself. I think that negative stuff usually stems from people who are on the outside of the actual industry. Like people who don't actually know me and know what I have accomplished and what I do for and with my career, and what I have done to help so many people. I don’t need to give people my resume. If you don’t like me based on some shit you read on the internet, I really don’t care, I’m way too old for that at this point. When I was a teenager or in my early twenties, I would get sad that people would make up rumors, just blatant lies and just stuff that you get only if you’re a female. For me it’s gotten to a point where now it just does not affect me whatsoever. I mean I’m 30. I'm not a kid anymore, I’ve been working around boys and skateboarding more than half of my life.
Being a female in skateboarding, there's always going be speculation of what boys think of you based on your looks, or them thinking you’re always trying to sleep with dudes and what not, and at the end of the day as long as you’re NOT doing those things, that will show through, no matter what.
As long as you love skateboarding and have a real love and passion, there is no reason that girls can’t be a part of skateboarding. There’s a place for girls in skateboarding, but girls who want to be in skateboarding, and ultimately strive to be respected by the very judgmental men in skateboarding, should steer away from portraying themselves as an object, rather than a woman of humor, intellect and class. Being cool and a fun and funny chick who can hang out with the dudes is more important than some make-out or hookup. It’s all about decision-making. Of course some of these dudes are thirsty and see women solely as objects, especially the younger guys. But, with work, perseverance and making the right connections without compromising yourself, you will be fine. Unless you’re just a kook. Because if that’s the case, I don’t have advice or a cure for that.
Is that advice that you would give females who are trying to become successful in skateboarding?
Of course, and I think that goes for any industry. If you sexualize yourself and demoralize yourself then men are going to see you like that. If they see you with a rad brain and a rad personality and you’re a girl that they want to be around, you know they're not going to see you as an object. So either you objectify yourself or you have more self esteem and say “I'm worth more than to be just this”. But, if you’re a chick and you meet a skateboarder, and he’s rad and you guys are dating, that’s great too! My exboyfriend is a skateboarder, and I wasn’t not going to date him because he skateboarded and pursued that as a career, you know? But I’m not seeking to hook up with a random guy who has an ad on the back cover of Thrasher or some shit you know what I mean? I can't even imagine the train of thought that would go into something like that.
Who is someone who has always inspired you?
There are so many people I have met through skateboarding that inspire me. Mike Carroll, Rick Howard, Brad Staba, that whole crew. I have nothing but love and respect for those guys. Jim Thiebaud and the DLXSF guys… Louie Barletta, haha, Louie's on the top of my brain right now because I was talking to him earlier and he’s just the best and makes skateboarding so fun and he’s also such a hard worker who is just an awesome and creative person. Even Steve Berra and Jamie Thomas, who are talented men who built their empires in skateboarding, and love them or hate them, they are incredibly hard workers. Shit, there are so many inspirational people everywhere, you know? Robin Fleming, the woman I mentioned earlier, is someone I really look up to in skateboarding and she's just such a great woman, who has always been so well respected. I've always admired her for that. Now with all these new board companies and skater owned brands I am inspired by all these skateboarder entrepreneurs that are all over the place and especially all the new and creative skateboarding happening in New York.
What keeps you motivated in the workplace?
I think generally speaking, a woman has to work harder than a man to have as much respect as a man. The difference between a man and a woman in the workplace can be unsettling. Working at Stance is so great because I believe at this point we have more women than men in the company, which is a testament to hard working girls out there. I think the amount of work and perseverance you need to have as a women makes all the difference on how you are respected and how you grow in your position. The salary debate about women making less than men who have the same jobs, I mean, that’s also unsettling. I know how much work I do and I feel if a dude was doing the same amount as me and the exact job as me, and he made more based on gender, that’s just unfair. It’s always going to be a struggle being a female in the workplace, period. From skateboarding to the tech industry it’s always going to be difficult. So many days I find myself believing it is a man’s world and as much as I want to fight it, at the end of the day all you can do is be the best version of yourself and work as hard as you possibly can and show that you’re worth what you believe you are with actions. I think that’s a driven person’s obstacle every day - to prove your worth on this earth. Everyone has to work towards something they want to achieve to become successful.
How did you get involved with working for The Ride Channel? What was it like working on The Weekend Buzz and with Rob Brink?
So the way it worked is that Rob had called me, telling me that his friend who worked for Ride Channel at the time wanted to start a weekly news update show in skateboarding. Rob pitched the idea of me being co host of the show with him. Rob had already filmed a couple of pilots for the show, but they wanted to add something else to it and thought I would be a good addition. So I said agreed and I had Billy Marks and some of my other buddies come in for the first episodes I did. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the geography of California but where The Ride Channel is located... is far. It’s all the way down South, basically in San Diego. Every single skateboarder that I had come on the show was essentially from Los Angeles, Orange County and Long Beach, aside from a handful of dudes. So what ended up happening was that I was booking every single episode I was also hosting and I was booking them with all of my contacts, you know? My network that I had built over the last 13-14 years at that point. I was using my personal connections with people to get them down there and be like, “Be a friend! Come down!” Haha and that was every single week. I can’t even believe what I pulled off, it’s funny to hear the scrutiny of people's comments about me on the videos being like, “This bitch doesn't even know what she’s talking about,” and it’s like, “Oh no I don’t? I fuckin’ booked the show, dude stranger writing comments on YouTube.” These skateboarders wouldn’t have been sitting there without my relentless favor asking. But it’s not like I’m going to comment back to these people and be like, “Excuse me, do you know how hard I worked to pull this together?” You know? I don’t care, I don’t need to tell them what I do. I know that I booked 95% of the shows I was on and got all my friends to drive hours out of their way for this. That’s an accomplishment.
However, it got to a point with my job at Stance that I wasn't able to do both things at once. You know, making all the phone calls, getting in touch with contacts, making it the best show we could, being happy and energetic on camera, and then take half a day off of work, and on top of that do all the footwork and research around it. It got to a point where it was just too much extra work for me, on top of helping Stance, that was a very small business at the time, grow into largely successful company. And I liked working with Rob and I'm still buddies with Rob, but I'm actually upset because I told them like, “Hey I wanna come in and do some episodes, I would love to do it,” and they haven't invited me back, even when I follow up on it and get upset that I dedicated so much to helping that show become what it was/is today. I told them I was too busy to do it consistently because of my growing responsibilities with my career at Stance, but that didn't mean that I never wanted to come back and be done with it completely.
Anything else you have planned for the future? Or just taking it day by day?
Stance is growing so fast! We are launching Stance Underwear soon! Everyone is working super hard and it's really cool to help grow a company that I have so much passion for. I love my position and I love our team.
Hopefully I’ll get to do more on-camera stuff, but it was never the most important thing to me; it was really just a fun thing I would do because it’s something I'm good at and I enjoyed. I’m not going to base my worth on that sort of stuff, at all. I base it on my actual work and what I can do to help build a brand, and on how I grow professionally, that's what I base my work happiness on. I’m totally open to new things and hopefully more fun on-camera opportunities come up. We will see what happens, there are always new opportunities if you’re open to them. I try to cultivate positivity so that those opportunities do arise for me and it’s worked out pretty well for me so far.