Why you should care
Because she executes a trick that no other female skaters do.
Mariah Duran didn’t plan her big moment in advance. But as soon as she took off at the top of two sets of stairs, before nimbly flipping the skateboard under her feet as she glided through the air into a smooth landing, she knew her last and greatest trick of the day was in the bag. Credit for the successful hardflip down the double set at last month’s Dew Tour women’s skateboard pro street finals — a trick her peers shy away from — goes to Duran’s newly clear head.
Skateboarding, like most action sports, is fickle. The best skater in the world can finish dead last in a contest if she lands even one trick in her line poorly. And even at a fresh-faced 21 years old, Duran is a veteran of the pro skateboard world whose career has seen the highs and lows of an ollie. After earning a silver medal in the women’s skateboard street discipline at X Games Austin 2016, Duran placed 10th the following year when nerves got the best of her.
I surround myself with good people and try not to put so much pressure and stress on myself, and just enjoy it.
Now finally earning enough money on tour to support herself, and fresh off her fifth-place Dew Tour finish — including the prestigious Zumiez Destroyer Award for best trick — Duran has her first Summer X Games gold in her sights, with the competition in Minneapolis rolling this week. And the world just might witness another hardflip. “I’m stoked on it,” Duran says. “I’m confident with that trick, and I always know that I can land it. I didn’t really practice it. I just knew I had it and I improvised it on my line.”
The difference now? A new preparation routine, including meditation, to get into the right headspace. “I surround myself with good people and try not to put so much pressure and stress on myself, and just enjoy it as well,” Duran says. With each competition stocked with elite athletes, it’s “the mental game” that makes the difference, she says. “You just have to be confident.”
The Albuquerque, New Mexico, native already has the skill. “She’s definitely a contender [for the medal podium],” says X Games women’s skateboarding sports organizer Mimi Knoop, herself a former skater. “She’s got some original tricks like the hardflip — she’s the only one doing that. If she can stay on her board, she’s definitely a contender.” But Duran is still an underdog to challenge for the podium against 2017 gold medalist Aori Nishimura and silver medalist Samarria Brevard, as well as six-time consecutive medalist Leticia Bufoni.
For action sports athletes who don’t enjoy multimillion-dollar contracts the way that other pros do, winning contests is the name of the game. It’s not so much for the prize money — X Games winners get a small fraction of, say, the $900,000 check for the women’s U.S. Open golf champion — but for the endorsements. And it’s even harder for female skateboarders, who see far fewer and less lucrative sponsorship deals compared to their male counterparts.
Eight years into her career, Duran can finally say she supports herself skating. She worked the counter at Dion’s, a pizza joint in New Mexico, for the first four years of her skateboarding career, including two years as a pro. “People think when you’re a pro skater you’ve made it, but as far as the industry goes, I wasn’t getting paid enough to make a living so I could quit my job,” Duran says. “Still to this day, I feel like if you’re not signed with a big company, you have to hold down a job, because if you’re relying on contests, that’s hit-or-miss.” Early on, after she picked up skateboarding from her brother, Elijah, Duran also had to convince her parents that she was going to focus full time on skating instead of softball and basketball, as her mom urged. “She kind of gave in after I kept asking,” Duran laughs. Persistence.
Duran, who still lives in Albuquerque, is now part of the Meow Skateboards pro team, along with other top female skaters Vanessa Torres and Lacey Baker. She’s also sponsored by Adidas, Cloud 9 Griptape and CHPO Brand, which supports her travel for contests and filming. “There’s still more work that needs to be done, but it’s definitely better than ever,” says Jordyn Barratt, who will compete in the skateboard park discipline at the X Games. For female skaters, “contests are a lot better these days, and the sponsorship opportunities are too.”
Urban Outfitters Television recently produced a series called Skate Girls, which follows 13 female skateboarders in Los Angeles. In her episode, Duran narrates a voice-over about how she doesn’t see herself as a female skateboarder, but a skateboarder, as the video shows her attempting (and failing to land) a hardflip over a set of stairs again … and again … and again. It’s close to the same trick that she made look effortless at Dew Tour. But on this day, it’s not landing.
It’s persistence that all female skateboarders must possess to carve out a name for themselves in this sport. And when Duran finally lands the elusive trick — bruises be damned — the other women erupt in cheers.
Videos by Nate Ryan for OZY