An Interview with Norma Ibarra

Norma Ibarra is nothing short of vigorous.

She beams a sense of welcomeness and invites opportunity into her own life, in turn, creating it for the people around her. Originally hailing from Hermosillo, Sonora in Mexico, the part of Norma’s story we get to touch on here is only a glimpse of the life she is living. But, we tried to stick to the message she conveys in her new book Para Ti because, as per the translation, skateboarding is ‘for you.’

How did you find skateboarding?

I first was exposed to skateboarding in the ’90s cause I used to go to a lot of punk shows and I would see skateboarders there. At that time, there weren’t any skate shops in my hometown, I didn’t see women skateboarding, and my family is kind of strict, so it didn’t really feel like something for me. I was enjoying watching people skateboarding, even when I [first] came to Canada I would walk by the skatepark, like, ‘Oh that’s so cool.’ But it was not until I started working in Vancouver and living two blocks from AntiSocial skate shop where I realised a lot of people were skateboarding and my childhood memories came back. I thought, ‘I should try this now.’ It was always in the back of my head that I liked it and that it was captivating. I went into AntiSocial Skateshop and I met Michelle Pezel, which was extremely empowering—to see a woman owning the skate shop. She directed me to a Facebook group called Chickflip for people who wanted to learn how to skate, so I started skateboarding thanks to that. One of my friends, the founder, Kristen Laundry, took me to the SBC ramp and when I got there I was like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t do anything here. This is so overwhelming.’ So I talked to her and asked if there’s any chance there could be a women’s session or a beginners session. She spoke to the owner of the ramp and the ladies night started. That’s how I started skating, at 31 years of age.

Were you already shooting photos?

Yes, I started shooting photos at around 15 years old. My mum gifted me her old film camera and I was always the person documenting all of the events, all the parties with my camera, but I never really had a niche. I moved to Canada and I realised how beautiful it is, so I started taking photography courses and volunteering to take photos for nonprofits. I used to be a nanny, and my Canadian family—my employers who became my adopted Canadian family—suggested that if I wanted to live in Canada I should volunteer so I could get some Canadian experience. So I did. First, it was a nonprofit called Latincouver which connects Latinx in BC. In Vancouver there’s a huge mountain biking scene, so I took a course to start mountain biking then switched my volunteering for trail building advocacy and mountain biking events, and that’s how I got exposed to action sports photography. I really loved it. Once I started skateboarding that took over.

Back in 2016, on the second night of the women’s sessions, I broke my ankle. I couldn’t skate for a while, but I started coming to the events on my crutches, with my cast on, and I would shoot all the time. While I was in recovery my friends would drive me around and I would take photos of them. I broke my ankle not once, but twice, so skateboard photography became my healing tool.

Where was your first skate photo published?

My first photo published was in the Skate Witches zine. Shari White and Kristin Ebeling, who are the founders, were also helping with the women’s skate nights. They would come and do some lessons. They saw me taking photos there and said, ‘You should submit these photos to our zine. We are always taking submissions.’ I did that and it was really exciting to see my first photo published. With mountain biking I only did online work, I’d never gotten one of my photos to print so it was really motivating to keep going and they were a huge part of starting my skateboard photography. They showed me the way and they mentored me on how to shoot a photo with the timing, the angles, and also giving me opportunities. I went on my first skate tour with them. We went to California. That’s basically how I started and here I am.

How did you get involved with Vans?

Through skateboarding events, I met Una Farrar and Breanna Geering. When Breanna moved here I was one of her first friends and she would crash at my house because she didn’t have a home yet. I lived around AntiSocial, so if there was a party, she would just knock on my door in the middle of the night and crash on my couch and we became really close. Same with Fabi [Delfino]. I met her at Exposure, which is an event that gives visibility to women skaters. With time we became a crew. I was just taking photos of them and eventually they started getting support and sponsorships. Whenever they needed something I was the first person to come to mind because I was already shooting with them. We would send photos to their sponsors and hope that it could get used for something. Eventually, we all became a part of Vans because they were the Vans team riders and I was adopted as a family member too. In 2019, Credits was filmed and I was able to join them for the Australia and Barcelona trips. At the end of the project, they helped publish my first zine, Credits + Max Flow.

Did Vans come to you about this book project?

Vans created a campaign called Ads For Creativity where they approached 60 artists around the world and gave them funding to create a passion project. I always wanted to publish a book. My mum is a librarian, and I thought my own book is one of the best gifts I can give her. So I pitched Vans a book about Mexico because I wanted to showcase my community back home. I wanted to give back because skateboarding has given me so much and I wanted to support my Mexican community, which is lovely and vibrant. I wanted to use this opportunity to shine a light on that.

Did you realize there was a big female skateboard community already?

When I started skating I started to do some research on what was going on back home. Nowadays with social media, you’re able to find people from all over the world. I started connecting with Mexican skaters through Facebook and Instagram. When I would go home I would meet up with them and skate with them, and we became friends. Whenever I can I go back and hang out with them and take photos. We take road trips. We do events. I’m part of this crew called UCANSKATE. I try to go home at least once a year, and whenever I go—whether I organize a meetup or I go on a trip or even tag along on already organized trips—I just go and skate and have fun and take photos and do what I do, all the time.

Was it easy to organize everybody to get photos for the book?

The book includes photos from 2019 and 2020. I wanted it to be at least 100 pages. I was in Mexico in 2020 for this book for a month but it was COVID so some people weren’t super comfortable trying crazy stuff or meeting up with a lot of people. It was definitely a challenge, but everyone worked really hard. I even had people who travelled from out of town come to Mexico City and be a part of the book. They would hustle. I had a friend that took a 6-hour bus and she got like 3 photos in one day. Everyone was super excited about this project because in the media in Mexico, there aren’t a lot of women, LGBTQ or Trans skaters represented. This was really exciting for everyone. They did what they could for timing. There’s a lot of people who skate so I wasn’t able to get everybody but we did what we could with what we had.

Did you get to do a launch event?

It’s still pending. I’m hoping to do the launch event in Mexico, hopefully in November or early December because I go home around that time. I really want to deliver this book personally. It’s so special for all of us, so I want to come and give it to them and have a little celebration. We’re working on this little video, so I want to go deliver the book and look through all the videos and have a little skate session with everyone because it will have been a year since I got to see them. I’d rather wait and do it special. Can’t wait to hug and skate with everyone again!

Is the book up for sale already?

Yes, I have some copies for sale on my store.

Do you have any plans to make another book?

I want to make a 10-year book.

But it’s only been 5 years so far!

I’m coming up to 6 years of shooting skating. But we’re living through an era, right? It’s such a crazy time right now. When I started skating, skateboarding was not in the Olympics yet and I used to go to the skatepark and oftentimes I was probably the only woman at the skatepark. But now in the past 5 years, things have exploded so much. It would be cool to see that and document that to keep it in the archives for the future generations to see what skateboarding used to be, back in the 2020s.

I love that, I love the self-publishing side of things… make more books! Make another one before 10 years is up.

It’s definitely in the back of my head because it’s kind of addictive. Once you get published once, you’re like ‘Well, now what?’ We were talking about how busy we are and how we are always trying to look for the next trip or the next project, but during COVID I realised how important it is to slow down and look at what you have done and savour it. This era, everything is so fast, everyone expects us to be so quick at everything, COVID helped me realise I had to slow down and savour my achievements, to learn how to be with myself and my emotions, too. Otherwise, you’re just chasing the next thing and don’t get to enjoy what you’ve done. So, I want to enjoy this achievement and then we’ll work on the next one.

Follow Norma on Instagram and purchase her new book, Para Ti, here.

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