How an Olympic Skateboarder Spends Her Sundays
Alexis Sablone doesn’t really have weekends. “It’s never like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to get back to work tomorrow,’” she said.
That’s because — though she is a trained architect — she makes most of her money as a professional skateboarder.
Ms. Sablone gained notoriety after appearing in an influential skate video as a teenager but found herself at a crossroad when a bunch of her skating friends started moving West in the early 2000s. She eventually dropped her sponsors and enrolled in Barnard College.
She then went on to the graduate architecture program at M.I.T. In 2016, she returned to New York, where she currently builds public art projects and furniture. And skates. A lot.
This summer, Ms. Sablone represented the United States in the Olympics and came inches away from a medal.
Ms. Sablone, 35, lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, with her girlfriend, Josephine Heilpern, a ceramist, and their dog, Harpy.
DIFFERENT KIND OF TRAINING In the lead-up to the Olympics, I was mostly trying to skate at McCarren Park early in the mornings. Now I wake up between 6 and 8 a.m. to walk Harpy. It’s technically Harper, but I think that sounds too preppy for her. I just did the ancestry thing, and she’s mainly Australian shepherd, Chihuahua and rat terrier. She’s 9.
MEET-UP I take her to Brower Park by the Brooklyn Children’s Museum and get coffee at this place called Cafe Cotton Bean, which is where I met my girlfriend. I lived in a big brownstone in Crown Heights for a year and a half before I even looked down that block. I somehow never noticed it in all that time. Now I usually go there early and then Josephine comes to meet me, and we both bike to our respective studios. I’m in Bushwick, and she’s in Red Hook, which is the most inconvenient place to get to in all of New York.
D.I.Y. BIKES I’m actually supposed to be building a bike out of old parts for Josephine, because the Citi Bike situation is terrible in Red Hook. Josephine will ride there from Crown Heights and the docks are full, full, full all the way, so she has to ride, like, a mile away to another neighborhood. Citi Bike must hate her, because she calls every day. I actually feel bad for them. I had two bikes stolen and swore I would never get another bike, but during the pandemic, I did build one.
THE STUDIO I’ve been in this building for a few years. There’s a building cat named Garfield who likes to be in my window. This is where I come to work every day, and it’s pretty much a disaster. But that’s how I work — when I’m carving foam, or something, the entire floor will be pink. I’ll eventually get to the point when I can’t take it anymore, and I’ll clean it, but that will last about a day.
PROJECTS Right now I’m working on a lot of chairs, and everything is in pieces. I’m also working on a large-scale sculpture that’s for a new skatepark outside of Richmond, Va., and another skateable object that I’m going to build in Montclair, N.J.
STREET SKATING I’m always on the lookout for things to skate when I’m biking around, and I pass this terrifying spot every day at a church on the way to my studio. I keep a little notebook; that’s just what skaters do. Training with a contest in mind is about performing under pressure and about being super consistent with just a handful of tricks, whereas street skating is about finding strange things in a city. It was hard to get excited about only doing the same five tricks over and over, but I did that for about two months before the Olympics. When I first got back it was like, “Wait, I can try anything right now?”
TRICKS Contests are still how I make most of my money, and they definitely make skating feel more like a job. But skating for fun definitely feels like its own form of self-imposed torture. You have an idea for something you want to do, and you’re stubborn enough to decide you want to do it, and then you have to make it happen. You may be bleeding because you’ve been falling repeatedly for four hours, but you’re still not stopping. Not because your sponsors will be mad, but because it all feels better when you land the trick and get to be done. Or at least that’s how it feels for me.
BIG BALLS If I’m not skating, I’ll sometimes play basketball at Brower Park. I used to be in a gay basketball league that was intense. Girls had basketball tattoos on their calves, stuff like that. I was loving it, but I think with skating and travel, it got to be too much.
LITTLE BALLS The only other sport I actually like is tennis, because it’s one-against-one and seems super grueling. I got invited to the U.S. Open for the first time this year, but I was also trying to finish up a project that I was stressed about. I figured I’d get home early, but then Hurricane Ida hit, and we kept staying longer and longer. I eventually thought we were going to have to sleep on the floor of the stadium. I called a $200 Uber, but no cars were allowed there because of flooding. We took the 7 train to Long Island City and had to take Citi Bikes from Queens to Chinatown at 3 a.m. When I first got to Arthur Ashe, I was like, “Oh, this is amazing, let’s buy tickets to the finals.” But now I think I’ve had enough tennis for the rest of the year. I’m good.
COFFEE AND BOOK SPOTS I have my coffee shops in every neighborhood. I have a random one in Midtown that’s near a Japanese bookstore near Bryant Park. It has a crazy stationery store at the bottom level with all these pens I can use for drafting. I’ll look at those for like, an hour, and then go to the top level, which is all manga and comic books. I really do go to bookstores a lot. Years ago someone asked me what my dream sponsor was, and I said McNally Jackson. Well, some author who’s also a skater released a book called “The Most Fun Thing” and they’re having a discussion panel I’m on. So I feel like I just freaking made it.
SHUTTING OFF THE BRAIN I’ve never been drunk, but I’ll still go to a bar with my friends to hang out and will try a sip of something if I’m curious about the taste, but I’d rather go to a movie theater. If anyone I know is trying to go see something, I’m there. Or I go alone. It could be BAM or the Regal at Union Square — I don’t discriminate. I’ve been to about 10 movies since the theaters reopened, and the first one was “Nomadland.” I was crying outside of the Angelika, just so happy it was open. Movies are the only time my brain shuts off and I’m not thinking about whatever project or skate thing I’m working on.
AT HOME If it were up to me, I would just make broccoli or a sweet potato for every meal. I don’t eat meat and can’t have gluten, so there’s a lot going on there. Even though I wake up early, I stay up pretty late. In grad school I got used to getting about four hours of sleep per night. People think I’m a freak, but even now, I don’t need more than six.
Sunday Routine readers can follow Alexis Sablone on Instagram @suminaynay.