Maité Steenhoudt Interview

Drop-in, Biarritz. Photography: Clément Le Gall unless stated.

It wasn’t until approximately 36 hours before conducting this interview that I finally got to meet Maité. I’d been fanning out on her skating for a while, but other than a few DMs (where at times she thought I was Stefan from Solo), for the past year I’d mainly been in contact with her TM and the photographers shooting for this piece. Usually when we’re in situations like this I have two options: either get one of their mates to do the interview or invite myself into their lives for a few days, get to know them and do it myself. Last time I opted for option number two I ended up in Morocco being fed massive tagines by Nassim Lachhab’s parents, so I’m a pretty strong advocate of that one these days. The problem is that it heavily relies on skateboarding… A session to break the ice followed by some pints when spirits are high: you can’t really beat that formula. It’s like a cheat code to making someone comfortable around you.
When I showed up in Paris to meet Maité it rained. And when it didn’t, either she couldn’t figure out anything to film or the one time she was guaranteed a clip, some Fashion Week catwalk (with a cute bubble machine) got installed directly on the spot. She was basically having the worst week of her life skateboarding-wise and you could tell she was getting a taste of that inevitable feeling of impending doom that comes with the deadline of any video part… Let alone your first proper one. So not really ideal conditions for someone to want to open up to some draining guy they barely know, especially if they’ve never done anything like this before… Well you know what? She didn’t give a shit. If anything I was the one struggling to get a word in. As soon as I hit record she just went for it, unpredictably bouncing from one thing to another, with absolutely no holding back and almost disconcerting assurance. It sort of left me wondering if that’s how she approaches everything (if you’ve seen her skate, you know what I mean), and if so, how does that fit in with spending hours in a lab or bird watching?

– Arthur Derrien

Can you start off by telling me a little bit about picking up skating and the formation of your OG crew in Antwerp?
I got my first skateboard when I was five or six, so super young… I learnt to push around etc. but after a few years I kind of slowed down. When you’re a little girl you somehow end up doing silly sports like horseback riding or hockey you know? Well I played a lot of hockey, but it was only really to please my mum… She’d made friends with the other parents and would have so much fun at the hockey club that I’d go because I wanted her to be happy… She’s the best. I hated it though ha ha. I had no friends there; all the girls that played there were from a richer neighbourhood and the complete opposite of me. I couldn’t really relate to them… Luckily hockey was quite expensive though and my brother really wanted to play basketball so at one point it had to be one or the other and I was like ‘yep, he should play basketball’ ha ha. That’s when I really got into skating… I’d go every single day during the school holidays and when I was about 13/14, that’s when I found my proper crew with Donald (Huycke), his little brother and a few others.

What was it called?
The ‘pool boys (girl)’. The ‘(girl)’: that was me ha ha. We’d always be at the Spoor Noord skatepark with the big concrete bowl and we made some crazy YouTube videos ha ha…

Your crew definitely had its own look too right? Describe your kit.
Oof it’s pretty embarrassing really… We’d all wear super colourful pads, stripy knee-high socks… I’d have duct tape all over the front of my shoes (that were usually way too big for me)… Maybe some bright green Volcom shorts? Ha ha… Oh and there were these Pool Boys shirts we’d sometimes wear when we were all together.

Frontside nosepick, Tenerife.

Didn’t you organise your own contests there at that park?
Yeah! Basically some of us would win a lot of 16 & under contests and we’d keep all the prizes from the whole year so that we could give them out again when we’d organise our ones. And then Lockwood Skate Shop would sponsor it too… And lots of people would come! We had this crazy race and the top prize would be this superhero cape I’d made with a big PB on it ha ha.

You mentioned skating with pads earlier, at what point did you stop wearing them?
I’m not too sure actually, Donald lost them first and I guess I just followed… Now I’ve learnt how to fall like a stick and bounce on my butt ha ha. It really works!

Yesterday when we were chatting about the Women’s Olympic qualifier bowl contests you have been going to, you mentioned being the only girl at them that doesn’t skate in pads. And also training sessions for them being hell and how last time someone who was wearing the full body armour flew into you… Do you enjoy watching people skate in pads?
Nope! I’m soooo happy I lost the pads ha ha. I mean if it’s Andy Anderson then okay ‘cause he’s doing all this crazy stuff nobody else is doing, but if you’re just skating a bowl I think it’s way cooler without. Especially in America! They all have the most perfect parks; they can just slide down anyway! Like if we fall in our parks we’re actually going to eat shit because the concrete is rough as fuck. Obviously everyone is free to make his or her own choices though and if you’re more comfortable like that go for it! Plus pads saved my life skating vert once. I was skating one like four years ago with shoes that were way too big…

Yeah it was often like that before being sponsored. Anyway, I tried a 50-50 but went to feeble so tried to jump off but I accidentally clipped the very tip of my shoe on the top of the coping and flew all the way to flat headfirst. Like I dived! I was in full pads so I was just about okay but the big elbow pad I was wearing snapped in two! It could have been really bad…

And yet you went back to skating without them.
Yeah but I’ve got more control now… And shoes my size! Plus I’d probably maybe wear kneepads if I were to skate vert again… I want to relearn inverts!

Before all these contests and skate trips got in the way, you were going to university to study biology right? Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Yeah! Studying biology is actually super fun but there’s A LOT of theory to memorise… To answer a question in an exam you basically have to remember whole passages of these really thick books, so it’s super hard. We’d also do some cool excursions, like spend a whole day in a forest for an assignment or go bird watching (which was great if it wasn’t too cold), but also spend a lot of time in the lab, do lots of physics, chemistry…

Backside 360 no-comply, Tenerife.

Why did you decide to put the studying on hold? When we first got the ball rolling for this interview (just over a year ago) you were still doing it full time right?
Yeah… It just came to the point where I felt like I wasn’t doing anything as well as I wanted and it was getting frustrating. Every time I’d go on trips I’d have to get notes from the doctors… Also exams go on for a full month and take place twice a year so that’s a long time to not be skating at all, especially if I’m trying to take this a bit further. I looked into doing it spread over more time but I’d still have to be in school every week… And if I didn’t manage to justify some absences I’d have to redo years etc. I’m not trying to be in biology uni for the next 20 years and I can always come back to it…

How did your parents take the decision?
I was always the one that did well in school so convincing my mum and my grandparents wasn’t easy… Plus I was weirdly super good at biology, which nobody expected, as I never seemed to be working very hard. Even my classmates, I knew they thought I was dumb as fuck ha ha. Like even if I didn’t need an explanation they’d always try and explain shit to me ha ha. ‘Dude I’ve got this!’ It’s probably ‘cause I was always absent and most of the people that do biology just study study study and don’t have a life. Or maybe because I didn’t look like a nerd, ha ha…

Have your family always been quite supportive of your skating?
Yeah… But even more with all this Olympic stuff since they don’t know so much about skating. I personally don’t really give a shit, like the Olympics don’t make skateboarding more important in my eyes, but in theirs it did and that helped me.

Nosepick in, Las Palmas

What has it been like going to those Olympic qualifiers? Bet it was pretty weird at first…
The first one I went to was hell. They sent me alone to fricking China…

Yeah apparently they didn’t have the budget to send someone with me. I’d never been before and couldn’t figure how to get from the airport to the hotel; nobody seemed to speak a word of English. I was super confused by the thousands of CN¥ I needed to take out for the taxi… I literally called mum saying ‘I haven’t slept for two days, I don’t want you to worry, I love you… But I think I’m going to die here’ ha ha.

Ha ha… And this was before you’d even dropped in.
Oh yeah! Then I got to spend two days over there without being able to skate because they were super strict with the practice, and when I finally did get a chance to skate all I got was an hour, which obviously isn’t long enough to figure out a bowl properly. Still better than only getting thirty minutes like in some of the other contests though. Or having the girls practice at 7am like it was in São Paulo. Or barely getting a chance to drop in because some of the girls snake so much…

Did you meet any of the girls/women that are being trained in those crazy Chinese Olympic training camps?
Yeah some of them are actually really cool! But then yeah some you can tell don’t really skate… They just train and repeat the same run every time they drop in… They do get better and better at every comp but it seems so forced… They have the tricks but they don’t have the style. And when you see them talk to their coaches it’s pretty sad, like they are so disconnected… I feel a bit sorry for them.

Frontside hurricane transfer, Paris. Ph. Guillaume Périmony

Ok so these contests are one important part of what’s been going on with you in this past year… The other is…
I don’t know about ‘important’! What’s important is what we’re doing here!

Ha ha yeah that’s what I was getting at, the other thing is working on this interview and filming a full part. Have you ever done anything like this before?
I’ve definitely never done anything like this before; the only other times I’d ever filmed was for shitty YouTube videos when I was 12 so it’s very different. Now that it’s all for real, like for big magazines, I’m definitely feeling the pressure a little bit. Especially now that I’m nearing the end and I look back on what I’ve got. The trick we want to use for my video part opener is already a big one for me and thinking that I have to do better than that… I don’t know how or where I’ll be able to! Especially right now… I’ve been on trip after trip after trip and when it’s finally a filming mission like this Paris trip I’m exhausted and can’t do anything. I probably need to chill a bit. Although I think I’m fully booked ‘til the end of the year ha ha. I guess it’s my first year of this… I probably have to go for it.

Does it feel weird how quickly it all happened?
Yeah!!! Two years ago if someone had told me I’d be quitting school to skate, I would have been like ‘naaaa, I’m a good girl, that’s not happening…’ And here I am now. The first adidas trip I went on I was with Gustav, Lucas and Blondey… And we met Stan Smith! ‘Hey Stan, can you sign my Stan Smiths?’ I actually said that sentence! Of course it feels weird ha ha.

Do you care a lot about how stuff is filmed? Did you choose for it to be VX?
Yeah I wanted it to be VX and of course I care about how stuff is filmed… You saw me looking over attempts earlier. It’s hard though because sometimes I want to give my opinion on how something is filmed but I’m shy… But Guillaume Périmony is one of the best filmers right now so I trust him. What he did with that Jarne (Verbruggen) part was incredible; it was serious but at the same time fun to watch… I don’t think anybody else could have done that.

Do you watch a lot of skate videos?
I’ve always been so busy with school and stuff that I’ve never really been someone to watch every single new part that comes out so I kind of just only watch the people I know I like.

Like who?
My favourite skaters are Ronnie Sandoval, Oski… But saying Oski is my favourite skater feels a bit weird now that I know him… It doesn’t feel the same, if that makes sense? Same thing for Jarne or Jaakko.

Wallie, Zarautz, Spain.

With everyone seemingly wanting a piece of Maité at the moment…
…But why?! I don’t get it!

Ha ha let me finish my question… With everyone wanting a piece of Maité at the moment, you must regularly get asked to do stuff you don’t really want to do… Where do you draw the line and do you find it hard to say no?
Yeah in Belgium I sometimes get asked to take photos for magazines and I always say no if it has nothing to do with proper skating. I did do a commercial for a bank once when I was younger though… My mum told me to do it because it was good money and I needed to buy a computer for school so I did, but I hated it so much that I knew straight away that I’d never do anything like that ever again. I don’t want people who look my name up to see that I’m associated with that kind of thing.

At this year’s Pushing Boarders some of the sponsored/pro women on one of the talks were saying they were sick of always being asked questions in interviews about their experiences as women in very male dominated skate scenes. Is this an opinion you share?
Not really… But at the same time it’s never really been a problem for me. When I grew up skating there were never really any girls at my local skatepark. The people who taught me how to drop in and rock to fakie when I was like six happen to be guys just because they were who was at the skatepark, but that didn’t matter, what mattered is that they were supportive. Like if I see a kid at the skatepark I’m obviously going to hype them up no matter if it’s a little boy or a little girl…
One thing I’ve had though is people thinking that I’m a boy, especially when I had a shaved head… Actually even in the footage of that doubles I do with Jarne people commented ‘that guy doing the Smith has a sick style!’ I don’t really waste my energy on that though… I know I’m a girl, I think that’s enough.
But yeah I actually think it’s good to talk about all this stuff… To say that no we don’t skate the same as guys because our muscles aren’t the same; no, we aren’t going to fly as high as Pedro Barros because we don’t have the same body strength or the same build, but I do think we can do some shit way better than guys do! We have a different flexibility, sometimes a different mind-set or even a different approach, and that will influence the tricks we choose… What makes skateboarding beautiful is that nobody does it the same and people’s bodies is one thing, but what goes on in your head is another huge part of this. That’s why if you’re skating to clear your head because you’ve got trouble at home, like I had when my parents were going through a really bad divorce, you’re not necessarily going to skate the same way as you would at a different point in your life. At least that’s how it was for me: I’d be out all day and skating the hardest I possibly could…The problem with that though is that you rely so much on skating then, so if it doesn’t go well it can be really tough.

Backside noseblunt, Las Palmas.

Why do you think it’s so hard for mags like Free to get women in there? Or if you flip it around, why is it so hard for women to get into mags like Free?
Okay I’m going to be completely honest… For me if you’re a guy or a girl and you have a shitty style, I’m not going to like your skating. And it’s the same for you! That doesn’t mean that I’m not going to support you… Like we’re still all in it together…

Yep, skateboarding is subjective…
And I guess too many people think too much about getting the trick instead of thinking about making it look good. Like some guys I know are really nice and this doesn’t mean I don’t like them as a person, but I’m not into their skating because when they land they look like a hook (makes weird arm motion). And of course there are a lot of girls that skate super good and are super stylish, like Nora (Vasconcellos) or even Beatrice (Domond)! I think Beatrice is my favourite girl skater. But then there are also a lot of other girls that only focus on doing hard tricks… And then others that do it with all the fashionable clothes just to look cool… But all this… It’s exactly the same for both boys and girls!
And yes more girls are skating nowadays than ever before but really there’s still not that many of us compared to boys. And we still don’t have that much to compare ourselves to in terms of videos parts, photos, etc. All this is part of problems that are much bigger that skateboarding though, so it’s going to take time… And some positive change is already happening: look at equal prize money!

I agree with everything you’re saying… But I feel like there’s still stuff we can we do to better the situation, especially as now more than ever everyone wants the same thing.
Well we both know it’s about getting more girls talking about their experiences… And giving the ones that deserve it more exposure. I was lucky that people noticed me, that we have lots of pros in Belgium, that Phil (Zwijsen) and Jarne kind of took me under their wing and pushed for me to get on Element. But if you grow up in a place where nobody is making it in skating, where there are no good filmers and no photographers, it’s obviously going to be a lot harder because that’s where it starts. The reason this video part is going to be good is because adidas and Element are supporting it, that I get to film with Guillaume Périmony, that he has a secret Instagram full of spots in Paris and that he knows what I’m going to be able to skate, where I’ll be able to get good clips, that sort of thing… If I were just trying to film a part on my own without all this the result would of course be completely different.
I learnt so much from going on these trips with Element. The way I’m skating today is so different to a year ago… They took me as a bowl skater, put me on street spots and showed me that if you have a bit of imagination… There are spots for bowl skaters everywhere in the streets!