Skating is one of the many outdoor activities that were put on hold. With the pandemic’s end on the horizon, staff writer Eunice Kim spotlights a female skater and her passion for skating.
Ren Sy doesn’t always wear her heart on her sleeve, but if you asked her, she might concede to telling you what’s on her mind. Or her clothing sleeve.
Some of her personality is in her apparel, after all: she owns a multitude of collared, cropped shirts and earth-toned tops. They seem to patiently wait in a neat fashion for her in her closet — as if she curated the layout herself.
And perhaps she did. While she majors in Neuroscience at UC San Diego, her second focus of study is Design, in a Cognitive Science context. She wants to know how her work can help individuals in a technical sense. To her, topics intertwine with her next pursuit — from clothes to Design or vice versa. Her knowledge is like a transfer paper. And this is not distinct to her.
But Sy exudes a kind of self-assurance because of this aura of quiet deliberation she wears. Even when her white cardigan falls from one shoulder while she talks, it seems purposeful with her fitted tops and her simple baseball cap with the yin-yang pattern.
The almost small piece of her, also, gives people a glimpse as to who she is. But perhaps that’s also because she enters dialogue with an amiable smile, an expression that doesn’t always feel like one might get to know her more. This isn’t mutually exclusive to how one would want to, though. She doesn’t talk to people like she hasn’t met them before.
On campus, one might be able to find Sy skidding down the hilly area to her classes on her skateboard. Her passion for skating isn’t necessarily because it’s her sole means of getting rapidly from class to class.
Sy grew up in a small, suburban area of New Jersey. But in high school, she became familiar with the “Californian lifestyle,” something she associated with beloved genres from indie rock to surf rock.
Here in Californiashe has expressed that many simply believed she was native to the West Coast area. This might also be attributed to her skateboarding, though — a sport that first originated in the sunny state. Initially, skating didn’t serve as transportation. Some say it was also for surfers to pass time when tides were low.
Though Sy doesn’t surf yet (her stress on “yet” adds to her belief not in absolutes but her hopeful curiosities), she does think skating and surfing connect. And perhaps, to her, skating as a substantial activity as it is a practical one isn’t too dissimilar from the many who wanted more before her, too.
“I started skating because I felt so stir crazy. I got my first longboard in my junior year of high school; I used it to transport to my classes. When I go [skating] by myself, I’m not worried. I put my airpods in, shuffle my playlists,” the Sixth College sophomore said. “[I] skate around campus or the neighborhood of La Jolla. It’s like going for a drive but you’re on your feet. Driving feels too automated. [Skating] helps me be in touch with my own movements.”
She takes pride in her three boards: a street skateboard, a longboard, and a surf skate cruiser board — the latter which she prefers because of how she can flow and undulate with her loose trucks. Tighter trunks offer more stability to the rider — especially when it comes to tricks — but they’re harder than loose trucks to turn on.
Further, while skateboards’ hard wheels and popsicle design make for optimal tricks on concrete surfaces, longboard wheels are softer and more resilient to cracks and uneven grounds.
Thus, when thinking about skating as more than a means of transportation, one can see how craft is more involved. One can choose their medium. Riding also means an attunement to one’s body in connection to the plank of wood below, especially when one is bending their knees in preparation of a trick.
Because of the pandemic and also Sy’s personal liking to being in the abode, she hasn’t gone out too much. But when she has, she goes to the Pacific Highlands Ranch Pump Track in Carmel Valley — about a ten-minute-drive from UCSD. The track is composed mostly of an expanse of humps on a track that curls like a racetrack. There’s a rhythm one must follow and also proper norms one would similarly see at a skatepark. The track also resembles a perhaps lower-stakes bowl in a skate park — where the rider dives in, pumps their knees to gain speed, and rises as they reach the slopes of the bowl.
“I think for me, it is therapeutic if it is a solo endeavor. But I do have more fun when it is a group endeavour. Skating has the versatility to be both. It’s not just one thing. It kind of falls into my other hobby. I enjoy things on my own. Also with other people,” Sy said.
Skating, today, is a male-dominated sport with many women joining the scene. But, while the specific term of “girl skater” can be empowering and does take into account the gendered disparity between who skates, for some it is just stifling.
“If [girl skater is what they’re] saying to you, that’s a reflection of the way they see you and women in general. There’s different types of skating so I see why they say that. [But] now there’s more representation in terms of pro skaters that are being featured on skate magazines such as Dime and Thrasher. Two of them are Nora Vasconcellos and Lizzy Armanto. But there’s always going to be people within the sport gatekeeping in general,” she said.
Nora Vasconcellos is an individual Sy looks up to especially, perhaps because the skater was one of the first female skaters she found out about. Not only did Vasconcellos take an ambitious dive into professional skating following years of practice since she was five years old, she turned pro for Welcome Skateboards, then became the first female on the Adidas pro team, according to a Rolling Stone article on her successes.
While Vasconcellos was not the impetus behind Sy skating, her way of escape and relief, like her, is from being on her board.
“It’s like my way to get outside. It really does set up time for myself. If I’m skating, there’s no pressure to do anything else. By walking, I feel still stuck in my body, but skating does something else. I’m attached to something else,” Sy said.
Sy also has participated in the Venice-born organization, GRLSWIRL. Their website mission is to “empower women, womxn, LGBTQ and non-binary people through skateboarding.” Nine co-founders started the group, which grew to having more than 150,000 followers on Instagram today. Sy went to an event in New York, a result of their branching out.
“I think that a lot of people that do skate [are] able to relax themselves in the same way. It was so cool to see everyone’s faces that weren’t involved in the meetup [there]. Girls helping each other.
That’s when I first learned to cross step. You weren’t people being judged by the people around you. At GRLSWIRL San Diego, I had all the leaders hold my hand. I dropped in on the first time. This older man high-fived me. It’s really empowering. It’s one way to challenge my fear. It’s nice to have a community to cheer you on when you overcome your fear. Even if it’s just like social anxiety about skating,” she said.
Because it can be so performative and a skate park, for example, is open and filled with individuals of all skill levels, one may feel anxious about how they would be perceived. But the rewards one can reap are immense. According to a study done by Instinct Laboratory and Flo Skatepark, it has shown that skating can reduce stress, increase confidence, and provide escapism.
On apps such as TikTok, skateboarding has been aestheticized and especially popular throughout the quarantine period through reels of skating videos with friends against a sunset or near a defunct building.
While some have been quick to deem these individuals as “posers,” there is something to appreciate about the vitality of the sport and how it sincerely can be anything one wants it to be. For Sy, she skates for herself. She skates alongside the people who make her feel comfortable. She doesn’t stay confined.
While she is focused on the functionality of an item, she knows it is never the only thing. She appreciates what she calls her pursuits that she can do “mindlessly.”
In Ren Sy’s world, gritty meets soft, too. Against the perception that skating is grunge and hard, she does crocheting as well — something that’s seen as soft and perhaps even homely. She does crocheting more, which she states invokes the least amount of pressure from her. She joked that falling off a skateboard in front of people would hold different stakes than someone watching her crochet.
While Sy found skating a few years ago, she was about eight years old when she saw her cousin crocheting.
“I was so mesmerized. She made something out of nothing,” she said. “I was always into DIY things when I was younger. I made fake food and outfits for my dolls.”
Around the beginning of high school, she started crocheting consistently, particularly with items she wanted to wear like the trending crochet tops of the time.
“I would look at the stitches and try to replicate it. Doing so created different cognitive mapping. With creating something out of nothing, you have this neuroplasticity where your brain turns into a different creative machine,” Sy said.
As with skating, she branched off like a store would to building a close-knit community with her friends who she accordingly taught how to crochet — just like her cousin did.
“With crocheting, I’m always thinking of [it]. What can I possibly crochet? This morning, I thought about [a] crochet mushroom ottoman. It’s just nice to be happy when you think about what you could create,” she said.
Sy showed me her crocheted bag, a loose pink and green hobo-style tote, which took about two days at most despite its neat, checkered pattern and consistent design. She uses it often for casual outings.
In regards to her process, she takes her inspiration from Instagram along with other social media or she’ll compose something from her head. Sometimes, she goes to the physical store such as Michaels. She draws some background and takes time with undoing and unraveling if she doesn’t like what she sees.
“I wasn’t feeling too good mentally. One day, I crocheted three things. A hat. I made a top. And a cute mushroom — it has no function but it makes me happy,” Sy said. “In the middle of the project, you kind of get lost in it,”she said. It starts to get redundant. So I start different projects at a time. I can do a little bit of this, a little bit of that. That’s my method [for] keeping things exciting.”
For now, her ambitions are to crochet everything from her apartment — perhaps even a crocheted skateboard. This space to not think while she crochets offers her tranquility as she weaves her way around sitting with discomfort, too.
She writes songs especially when she feels sad and assesses her progress — which includes frustration finding the right words — as an extension from being too comfortable. When she was about seven, she engaged in competitive piano, something she recognized as strenuous due, not to the piano itself, but to external pressure. Getting into other instruments like the ukulele, then the guitar, made her realize that she had different vessels that would allow her to love music in the ways she desired. She hasn’t stuck, only, to what she knew.
In a soft way, Ren Sy said that all of these activities are her way of making something internal so they’re not stuck inside of her.
“I think what each of these things let me do is revel in the process. A lot of them require me to do so. Not to do it and it’s gone. They all help me think about things further but not to the point where I’m only thinking. A vessel and a supplement. A modulator, if that makes sense,” Sy said.
In Sy’s spare time, she dives deeply into music — one of her greatest loves. As students prepare to return to campus, she awaits another chapter in being a DJ for the KSDT student radio on campus. One might see her skate to where it’s located, a warm and inviting atmosphere in the old Student Center.
“I think what each of these things let me do is revel in the process. a lot of them require me to sit down with myself and think about things, not to just let it bubble up and leave. They all help me think about things further but not to the point where I’m only thinking?”
Image courtesy of Ren Sy.