A fixture on the Santa Cruz County skating scene since the 1970s, Judi Oyama hasn’t slowed down, and next up is the 2024 World Skate Games in Rome. Between that milestone and a new documentary about the lasting influence of Northern California’s pioneering skateboarders, Oyama is finally in the spotlight that has shined elsewhere for years.
She’s been on a skateboard for a huge chunk of the past half-century, but only now, it seems, the world wants to know more about Judi Oyama.
The lifelong Santa Cruzan is a legend in the skateboarding world, particularly inspirational for women skaters and skaters old enough to hold an AARP card. But recently, she announced that she has qualified to compete as a slalom skater in the 2024 World Skate Games to be held in Rome — at the improbable age of 64.
Since then, she’s been at the center of so much media attention, she’s even had to turn away a few requests for interviews. That spotlight has also included sitting for interviews with two young filmmakers hoping to do a documentary on her remarkable longevity and her lifelong love of skateboarding.
On top of all that, Oyama is also part of a brand-new film titled “N-Men: The Untold Story,” a documentary about the lasting influence of Northern California’s pioneering skateboarders of the 1970s — think of it as the flip side to the famous “Z-Boys” scene in Southern California during the same time. In the old photo on the film’s poster of nine young skateboarders on the edge of an empty swimming pool, Oyama is the only girl.
“I’m going down with a few other skaters,” said Oyama, “and they’re going to show the movie at the Skateboarding Hall of Fame [in Ventura County].” On her heels on that trip at the end of November to the Skateboarding Hall of Fame (where Oyama herself is a 2018 inductee) will be the duo shooting her for their own documentary.
“It’s kind of different,” she said of the sudden media attention. “I’ve been doing this a long time and never getting much attention.”
Many times, she said, she would go to competitions and photographers from the skating magazines would ignore her, so she recruited friends to take pictures. No more. A video featuring Oyama created by Santa Cruz Skateboards and posted in 2022 has gotten more than 650,000 views on YouTube. When it was announced that Oyama, at 64, qualified for the World Skate Games in Italy, the TV stations and news outlets came calling.
And that makes sense. The popular stereotype is that skateboarding is a young person’s (often a young man’s) thing, but Oyama says she’s never seen any reason to stop doing something she loved just because of age. Next year’s trip to Rome will be her second trip to the World Skate Games. She finished third among women of all ages in 2022 in the Hybrid Slalom event, and fourth among women overall — at 63: “[I was part of] that generation of skateboarders who are continuing to skate beyond the point where normal people think you shouldn’t be skateboarding.”
Growing up in Santa Cruz in skateboarding’s golden age, Oyama was skating at many of the area’s most thrilling sites, including the paved parking lot at the then-new Capitola Mall and the occasional empty swimming pool. She was not only one of the only girls skating locally at the time, but also one of the few non-white people as well. Many times the boys would ignore her and she would feel isolated, but eventually she was one of the few girls to make the Santa Cruz Skateboard team. That golden age came and went, but Oyama continued to skate, even after having two children. There was, she said, about a 20-year period where she didn’t compete, but after turning 40, she got back into competitions, and now she’s an inspiration for older women.
“I’ve had women from all over the world texting me and or DMing me,” Oyama said, “saying that they are in their 40s and 50s and that they are just starting to skateboard, or telling me that ‘Oh, you made me feel like I could try something that I always wanted to do all my life.’”
The secret to continuing to skateboard at a high level? Oyama credits CrossFit, a practice she has been loyal to for years, for keeping her supple and agile. She’s suffered a few injuries over the years, a dislocated foot and a broken ankle, lots of scrapes and bruises. But she said her body now is stronger than it was when she was 40, and she cites her CrossFit training for that.
“You know what’s funny?” she said. “I’m skating faster than I ever have, at least for slalom. With [skatepark] riding, and I have a half-pipe in my backyard, I’m a little more careful. But for slalom racing, it’s different. We’ve been doing bigger and bigger start ramps.”
How much longer can she go?
“My goal is Italy in 2024,” she said of the games, which will take place in September, the month before she turns 65. “And I think that’ll be the last race. But I said that last year, too. But I’ll continue skateboarding, and I want to coach and help the next generation of younger women.”
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