To be honest, the name Kate Shengeliya wasn’t too familiar to us a year ago.
After being sent her street part on Youtube, we quickly realised we’d been missing out on a natural ripper.
Filmed over the course of four weeks in her hometown of Moscow entirely on her iPhone, the video was far from being a Ty Evans super-production (quite a good thing indeed), but Kate’s level was out there with the best in the world. Here was this relatively un known woman skating full pelt, all smiles, launching impossibles on eight-stair sets and frontside lip-sliding street rails like it was no big deal.
Undoubtedly one of the best female skaters we’ve ever seen, we couldn’t comprehend why we couldn’t find a single article or interview about her online. Following the mandatory IG-stalk—the quest for current information in the modern age—we managed to find more mind-boggling skate clips, but not much about Kate herself. Naturally, we started asking questions and after hitting up our friends at Nike SB, the idea to head to Russia was born.
One thing however; it was January, and whilst checking flights we couldn’t help but feel a little apprehensive. Yes, the Kremlin under the snow looks wonderful and the idea of living in a city that looks like a big Christmas market for a few days would be a trip…but weren’t we trying to shoot skateboarding? A quick look at the current weather report in Moscow showed -5°C to -22°C and heavy snow for as long as the app could display… ‘Should we push this back to June?’
Too late. Nike had booked our flights—looked like we were doing this.
A few weeks later and here we were, getting lost in a suburb of East Moscow, being quite concerned about our personal safety and having to take a two hour taxi to get back on track.
‘Is this really a good idea…?’
We instantly forget about this unfortunate episode when we finally meet Kate and see how hyped she is to welcome us on her home-turf. We collectively decide to cut the street greetings short and head to the comfort of a nearby coffee shop to get rid of our respective 10kg of clothing. Whilst passing by a snow and skate store, Kate tells us: “Did you know I was snowboarding before I was skating?”. With snow covering most of the country for six months of the year, this doesn’t come as a surprise. After being asked what her plans for the summer were by her friends, Kate got herself a skateboard and things went from there.
Despite skateboarding still being rather undeveloped in Russia in the early 2000s, Kate’s story feels very relatable. The good old tale of starting up on a rugged board with a few of your classmates, rolling down rough sidewalks for hours, learning how to ollie…Kate was instantly hooked and after a few months of skating several times a week, it became the only thing she could think about:
“As soon as I got acquainted with skateboarding, I wanted to live skateboarding, to breathe it. At this point, skateboarding was not popular in Russia and sponsorship for skateboarders was not really a thing. The most talented guys had some help from shops, with shoes mostly…but things were on a completely different level here compared with in America and Europe—no international competitions were held in Russia. In other words, people from other countries could hardly find out the name of Russian skaters if they tried”.
Whilst the early start of skateboarding in Russia might date from the late 70s, ‘pavement surfing’ only really took off in the 90s—a potential reason that the discipline is far from being integrated in mainstream culture like it is in the USA/Western Europe. Whilst it’s undeniable that the scene has developed at a fast pace nationwide since the fall of the USSR, Russian skateboarders are still considered outcasts. You just have to take a cruise around Moscow and observe people’s faces to sense that skateboarding is still far from being a common way to move around. Add to this the foot of snow covering Moscow’s sidewalks for more than half of the year, and you’ll find it understandable that the Russian skate scene is a few years behind.
“Growing up, we used to skate underground parking lots, underpasses…we were always searching for covered spaces. It was hard to get better. You would manage to improve over the summer when you could skate outside, but when winter came, all your skills were lost and by the next season you would have to catch up on everything again. Now we have a couple of indoor parks and things are easier”.
As if by some sort of divine intervention, our timing couldn’t have been any better. Upon landing in Moscow on February 19th, we were gifted with blue skies, sunshine and unusually ‘warm’ temperatures ranging from -3°C to 3°C. According to Kate, this hasn’t happened in years and instead of spending the day skating in an indoor park as planned, we decide to head out onto the streets. Prior to our trip, we had been informed that Kate was still recovering from a heavy ongoing foot injury: she was almost done with rehab and despite skating indoor skateparks for several weeks, she hadn’t touched the streets in over six months. Naturally, the sight of blue skies and the opportunity to film outdoors broke this cycle. Kate takes us to a gap she used to skate with her friends as a kid:
“You see these stairs here? The building behind it is the Department of Education. We used to skate this spot often when we were kids. It quickly became forbidden to do what we loved and they hired a guard to keep us away. Once he tried to chase us away and we locked him inside by putting a skate tool between the door handles”.
We continue walking and end up in front of a stair set with a rail on its side and a terrace leading perpendicularly up to it. Kate tells us this spot is newly built and she seems interested in skating it, despite the set-up being far from perfect. After a quick warm up and no more than ten tries, Kate commits to it and clears the gap, ollieing over the rail with ease and landing in front of an astounded passerby on his way to the shopping center nearby. We were warned that Kate was a productive young lady, although her power and commitment on such a tricky spot left us speechless, especially knowing how long she’d been off the board for.
We take off and head toward New Arbat Street—one of the cradles of the Moscow scene—and quickly realise the long boulevard is a gold mine for spots: after stumbling across an 11-stair that Kate casually airwalks, we stop at a small plaza: surrounded by classic coloured Russian buildings, it’s got a few well-waxed ledges leading to a four-stair. Kate has a line in mind and her first tries are promising. Although this slowly turns into one of those marathon battles that every skater and filmer equally fears: one of those that you feel you both have in the bag when you press that start button, but a tiny something is off every time…yet you’re that close that you can’t just let it go and call it a day. After relentlessly trying for an hour and a half, it’s obvious that Kate is physically exhausted. She wants to keep going but the sunlight has gone, and the influx of workers on their way home turns our mission into a shutdown. Kate steps away from the group for a moment: the look on her face says it all about her disappointment. She’ll later confess whilst we stop for dinner.
“I’m not afraid of pain as much as I am of unfinished business. I think my personality was built in the days I spent with my older brother. He’s the one who raised me, so I was always looking for that male support in him. I was not interested in dolls and wearing dresses, I wanted to run around with my brother and his friends and to have that male respect amongst them. I wanted to prove to them I could do the same things as them. At some point my brother started wrestling. I followed him and ended up winning prizes…haha. I don’t know. Growing up this way made me strong I guess. I don’t like giving up. I’d rather make it to the end, and even if I get bruises and scratches I will be happy when I finally land the trick. It brings me an immense pleasure and a sense of pride”.
After spending the day out filming witnessing Kate’s abilities and determination, we can’t help but think that she must exceed in contests.
“Contests used to be a bit difficult for me at the beginning. There were no appropriate skateparks here where I could improve from small to large spots. We had small rails, and then giant ones…I’m quite small and most rails started from the level of my face (*she laughs*). In contests, you need to practice to feel more and more comfortable with your skating but there’s also a psychological component: the more often you participate in competitions the easier it becomes. For a whole year I managed to leave the country only for one contest. The rest of the time I participated in competitions with guys in Russia…at the time here, there were simply no women riders. Since then, the amount of girls and the number of competitions for girls has increased significantly: there are both joint competitions for men and women, and there are competitions that are aimed just for girls. Women’s skateboarding is developing and the level is better and better, which is amazing. An important moment in my skateboarding career was receiving an invitation to the X-Games. For me that was something completely inaccessible. I used to watch the comp on my computer, since Russian television doesn’t broadcast these kind of events, and here I was receiving an email with an invitation to one of the most famous competitions in the world. I couldn’t believe it. Another important step was being invited to the first Street League competition for women, as before that, SLS was only a male thing. I loved being part of both. The vibes were insane”.
At this point in her skating, Kate had never been to America. The furthest she had been for a contest was Prague for the Mystic Cup. There she was catapulted to the main stage, witnessing skateboarders in real life that she grew up watching back home. The experience had a huge impact on her. As Kate returned to Russia and was getting ready for the upcoming competition season, her momentum got cut short by a devastating injury that shook her plans for the months ahead.
“Last year in May I was skating with my friends. I was trying nollie 360s and I landed in a weird way…my heel remained on the skateboard and my toe touched the floor. At that moment I felt a click in my leg. I spoke to the team doctor who acted as if it was a minor injury. I told him something didn’t feel right but no one really listened to me and they sent me to the Street League competition in California. Pre-qualifying took place in Encinitas skate park and I couldn’t ride without painkillers. After the competition my whole leg just swelled up. When I arrived back in Moscow, I was told that the ligament had been torn twice. After that, I tried to recover by my own means. A little later, the Russian federation saw the first Instagram video of me starting to skate again. They thought I was fully recovered and wanted to send me to the next competition. I said that I was forbidden to ride. And they went: ‘By whom? Who forbade you?’ I said I found a doctor myself. I was sent to China regardless. In the semifinals of the competition, my ligament tore for a third time and the talus bone came off. After this my leg just got blocked. Since then I have been working on my recovery. I found a wonderful doctor who keeps me in proper condition, gives me tips on warm-ups, on working out. They still need to pump some gel into the joint and remove another piece of broken bone. Things are definitely better but I still try and pay attention to my foot. Before you arrived, the last time I skated a rail and stairs was actually last July”.
You can see that Kate is hyped at being back on the board and with the current weather she wants to make the best of the days ahead: snow seems to be back on the programme at the end of our trip, leaving us with one more full day of sun. Kate overflows our WhatsApp group that evening with ideas for spots and within no time we’ve got an itinerary locked. Meeting up with her the day after, Kate is bang on time. After warming up at the infamous Lenin monument (one you have surely seen in any Moscow skate videos), we head towards the Moscow river, passing in front of the Tretiakov Gallery—one we strongly recommend visiting if you’re culture thirsty and happen to have a few hours to kill. This ain’t the time though, as we try to catch up with Kate who’s relentlessly pushing through hordes of Muscovites getting that rare and well-needed dose of Vitamin D.
English is far from being a very popular language in Russia, although Kate makes the effort to give us anecdotes about local history and the buildings we run across—a true local. Making our way through the city, we can’t help but be blown away by the amount of potential skate spots. We end up bagging a fisheye line on our way to XXC (the Christ Saviour Cathedral) and we simply can’t help imagining the amount of possibilities, given the spawn of the city.
“Honestly, I think Moscow is one of the best, perhaps THE best place to skate that I know of. And I don’t say it because I’m from here…most streets are renovated, there’s marble everywhere and spots for every taste in every neighbourhood: railings, plazas—all the things we love. Our city is a huge skate park”.
Upon arriving at Twerskaja Sastawa Plaza, it’s clear we aren’t the only ones to think about this option: it’s more than 0°C, peak golden hour and it happens to be Defender of the Fatherland day—a popular public holiday in Russia. Dozens of kids are forming groups and skating around the statue of Gorky—a legendary Russian writer. The scene unfolding in front of our eyes could be happening at Kulturforum, Republique, or any other plaza on the planet for that matter, and what’s been sold to us as a ‘completely different world’ suddenly seems oddly familiar.
You can see that Kate is used to skating around the plaza, navigating through it and warming up with a couple of frontside tailslides on the ledges. Since the first day we saw Kate skate, her style hasn’t gone without reminding us of some of our favourite skaters from the 90s. The powerful and compact stance. The baggie pants. The tricks done fast. The tweaked-out frontside flips when we skated that quarter on the first day. A mix that reminded us of none other than Mr. Tom Penny.
A thought shared by Andrey Smirnov, former Nike SB team manager in Russia:
“The new generation is very technical tricks-focused. Flips in/flips out on ledges. No comply tricks. Kate is in between: she likes the new-school approach but on the other hand, she’s inspired by old-school skating. People who want to skate like they’re snowboarding. She just loves big stair-sets, long rails, this sort of hammer classic-tricks-on-big-spots approach”.
After she seamlessly lands a frontside ollie up three stairs, followed by a steazy full-cab down, Kate steps out for a second to talk with some friends. I’m being asked a question in Russian by a local skater kid, who quickly senses that I don’t understand a single word he’s throwing at me. He switches to a rather broken English and we exchange a few words. He tells me he’s tripping that some foreigners are here to film a Russian skater.
“Russian skaters are really friendly like in most countries: find a skater and you are already in the family. Every skater understands that we’re all part of the same thing, and no one will ever leave anyone. Tell your readers that if they would like to come skate here…please come and skate”.
Despite the cold appearances and the fact that most Russians don’t smile right away, most of them turn out to be super open once you break the ice, and our meeting with Kate was similar in that regard. It’s easy to be intimidated by Kate’s confidence and determination, but after spending a few days with her, it became crystal clear that behind her energetic persona and incredible talent as a skateboarder, she is just a humble girl with a huge heart. At the time of writing these lines, everybody will agree on the fact we’re living in a very uncertain era, and predicting the future is harder than ever before. But we’re somehow convinced that you’ll hear Kate’s name way more in the years to come.