Photos by Andrew Peters
‘I’m just trying to rest,’ says Nora Vasconcellos when I finally catch her on the phone for an interview.
She explains that she’s pretty run down from a recent surf trip on the East Coast of the US and is staying with her dad in her hometown of Pembroke, Massachusetts, trying to recover. ‘And I say that while I’m like, at a skatepark,’ she laughs, ‘This is my issue, I don’t say no to stuff… But it’s good. It’s good to roll around, cough some shit up.’
Not saying no to stuff seems to be a worthwhile formula for a professional skateboarder. Since 2017, when Welcome surprised Nora by turning her pro, her life has been pretty busy. That year Nora put out a full part in Welcome’s full-length video, Fetish; she won the Vans Park Series in China; she went on King of the Road with the Creature team as a mystery guest, and adidas made a documentary about her called Nora. As far as achievements in skateboarding go, she just about did it all.
‘That was a wild year,’ she says, explaining, ‘You go pro and things do change a lot, in terms of what you’re responsible for… everybody else has an agenda for you, and I think the biggest challenge has been sticking true to what I want to accomplish and create as a skater.’
Nora has a reputation for being super-friendly and a little bit goofy. She’s not afraid to sing along to a cheesy song in an Instagram story, make a funny face while being interviewed or have a laugh at herself for being a dork. But as she admits in Nora (the documentary), she’s also quietly ambitious and goal driven. Moving to California, getting a handful of sponsors and turning pro was always part of the plan.
Some pro skaters will tell you that it’s weird to have to treat skateboarding as a job, but that’s not the case for Nora. She worked at Welcome Skateboards for four years before she got her own board, so she has some insight into how the company works and how the industry functions. It gave her a pretty clear idea of what to expect when skateboarding became her full-time job.
Between her stylish backside airs, her lavender-heavy wardrobe, her quirky sense of humour, her solid work ethic, and her understanding of the industry, it’s likely that Nora is the most marketable female skateboarder of the moment. And this comes with its own unique set of challenges.
‘One thing that is totally new is just being self-conscious,’ says Nora. ‘I think just because of social media and the way people recognise you. It’s just an aspect of it that you don’t anticipate when you first start skating—people know who you are.’
Scrolling through the YouTube comments on some of Nora’s videos, there are more than a few dudes who are openly fawning over her, both for her ability on the board and for the way she looks. I wonder if this gets old. And whether she has to deal with creeps or trolls infiltrating her DMs.
‘I don’t know. I don’t care too much about it,’ she begins. ‘The stuff that gets old is the insulting stuff; when people are nice and say nice things, that’s fine.’
‘But it can get dark at times,’ she continues. ‘People always get weird on Instagram. The DMs and stuff get super weird. I’ve had the craziest shit sent… The way people talk to you online is so fucking different to what’s actually going on [offline].’
Navigating a male-dominated subculture and industry has always been a challenge. Nora has described growing up skateboarding in Pembroke as ‘solitary’ and, in an interview with Huck last year, she raised the question, ‘how many skateshops are going under because they’re alienating women?’ But she also says being a woman in skateboarding is getting easier as time goes on, at least for her.
‘There are people who get so bent out of shape because you have something that they don’t have and they’re like, “Oh, it’s cause she’s a girl.” That sucks. But, other than that I’m pretty fortunate,’ she says.
Between making a career out of skateboarding, travelling constantly and having the opportunity to make art on the side, Nora is definitely sitting pretty. But there have been hardships along the way. The year before she moved to California, her parents broke up and lost the family home due to financial pressure in the same year. Nora also struggled with an anxiety disorder that has made a lot of things difficult, including travelling.
In 2012, when she decided to move to California, her anxiety was so debilitating that she couldn’t face the prospect of getting on a plane. Instead, she took a train across the country, a journey that took about 71 hours.
‘That was before I had gotten past some stuff and I wasn’t flying. Now I am flying, I have to,’ she explains. But her anxiety is something that she describes as ‘a constant in my life.’ These days she manages it with a few different routines, including medication, exercise, a healthy pescatarian diet, not drinking too much while on the road and planning for time away from social media. ‘I go through it all the time. I go in waves of it where I’m really good for a while and then something triggers me or whatever.’
Recently Nora was on her way to the Tampa Pro and feeling stressed about missing the opportunity to film for her upcoming Welcome part. She boarded the plane but then started to feel panicky and needed to get off before take-off.
‘Now I have to relearn how to not have anxiety when I get on a plane,’ she says. ‘That’s how it is for me at least… I have to re-train my mind and body to not have certain reactions. So that’s hard.
‘One part of it is not allowing myself to make up excuses, not saying no. For me, the hardest thing is being like, make this plan and just commit to it and don’t panic.’
At the moment, Nora’s major focus is her full part for the next Welcome video, which is coming out in May. She’s been working on it for two years, so she’s looking forward to seeing it finished and out there. And although she much prefers filming tricks at parks or in the streets with friends, she’s still giving the contest circuit a crack, planning to compete in the Vans Park Series this year and to get on the US Olympic team next year.
But before any of that, she’s trying to rest up, get better and get back to her place in Oceanside, California. ‘When I’m home I’m just trying to, like, skate a bunch and surf, and we’re building a ramp in my backyard, so that’s kind of been fun,’ she says. When she gets back, the backyard ramp should be finished, which sounds like a teenage dream. ‘It’s been like the 20-year itch of having this ramp,’ she says, ‘so I’m really excited.’
In case you missed it, check out Nora’s 10 Things video HERE.