Skateboarder, women's activist and community builder Lyndsay McLaren talks to us about the joys of going fast, carving her own path in a male dominated world, and how CBD has helped her with pain relief, recovery and anxiety.
How did you get into the world of skateboarding and board sports?
I learned to snowboard when I was teenager on the dry-slope in Aberdeen. Growing up in Scotland, somewhere in between the North Sea and the Cairngorms, I had a really outdoorsy upbringing.
When I was 20, I moved to Miami for university and it was there that I saw other girls riding skateboards for the first time, so I decided to get involved and teach myself. Right away, skating gave me a new sense of self in a world that felt a little bit overwhelming at the time. I would push everywhere and was rarely spotted without a board from that point on. A year or so in, I got into playing fast skateboards in the spiral Miami parking garages. We would go at night-time once they had closed and bomb down from the top floor, powersliding - essentially drifting - round corners.
And you had that snowboarding background, so you could handle the speed?
Yes, I didn’t care about the scrapes or falls because I just couldn’t believe that I was actually doing it. In Scotland, because I didn’t see other girls doing it, skateboarding never felt like it was accessible to me, but when I moved to Miami and saw so many other girls who looked like me doing it, I felt inspired to get involved. After Miami I moved to New York and that’s when I really became immersed in skate culture and the community.
It’s almost like the perfect journey because you had the introduction and then the hardcore skate scene in New York… the perfect way to get in.
In Miami, I had a really cruisy and fun experience. It was super accessible because of the weather and the smooth paths of the beachfront. Then when I moved to New York it felt gritty and real. It was really exciting. I never thought in a million years that I could be a part of that, but yet, there I was. I suffered from imposter syndrome a lot because my skating was never centred around tricks, but I was also just having the best time, so I would talk myself round.
Did you have people to look to for advice and guidance in skateboarding?
I was surrounded by people that I really looked up to and felt inspired by. It was the most diverse bunch of people too. It really opened my eyes to the wider world and how society perceives and treats certain groups and genders differently.
Snowboarding seems to be a bit more accessible for girls than skateboarding.. Why do you think this is?
For lots of reasons, but I think snowboarding is further along when it comes to grassroots efforts. Also in snowboarding, you roll up to the mountain and you’re basically in disguise - goggles, face mask, the lot. But when you roll up to a skate spot or a skate park, woman can feel the eyes on them. Even when people don’t intend to make you feel a certain way, you can still feel it - the pressure, the imposter syndrome. This exists in snowboarding too, but I personally felt more vulnerable as a beginner skater, than a beginner snowboarder.
Where did your first break come from in the industry?
I went to a trade show in Denver with one of my skate sponsors - back when trade shows were the most fun ever. I met the guys at Bern Helmets and ended up doing a little internship stint with them out in Cape Cod. When I eventually moved back to the UK a few months later, the Bern team introduced me to their UK distro who also represented Nitro Snowboards, Arbor, Smith, Eivy, Neff, Liquid Force and more. They hired me and I’ve worked in this industry ever since.
What advice would you give to a girl that feels a bit intimidated, loves skateboarding, surfing, snowboarding, that world but doesn’t feel that there is a place for them in it ?
When you don’t see somebody that looks like you, doing what you want to do, it can be really hard to imagine yourself in that world. You have to separate feelings from facts and understand that you’re capable of learning new things and you’ve got just as much right to be there as anybody else.
Can you tell us a bit what you’re doing with Neighbourhood Skate Club?
Neighbourhood Skate Club is about creating space and opportunities for women who skateboard or want to learn. So often women have to fight for space and equality, so Neighbourhood aims to create a supportive and collaborative environment, encouraging the community to get on boards, use their voice and take up space. I teach 1-2-1 lessons and host community events in my neighbourhood and beyond, hence the name.
It’s a good name.
I wanted something that represents the community and the locality of it all. It needed to feel accessible and welcoming. Holding space for other women is a really special experience, which has been one of the most rewarding parts of the journey so far.
How difficult has it been to navigate through a male dominated industry like skateboarding?
It’s been very difficult at times. I’ve experienced everything from misogynistic remarks and commentary to severe sexual harassment in various roles, throughout my career.
Recently I have been more open about my experiences and have been overwhelmed by the response from other female industry colleagues who have experienced similar harassment, often from the same individuals. Some of these predators are still in jobs. We will no longer be silenced.
We do not need to prove ourselves because we are women. We deserve a seat at the table and we deserve the same opportunities that our male counterparts are handed.
You seem to see the world in quite a positive light. Where do you think that positivity comes from?
Definitely my parents. Both of my parents were international athletes in their heyday. They have been exceptionally supportive of every decision I’ve made and always encouraged me to keep on going and explore new opportunities and experiences, no matter the obstacles.
What was your experience of going to America as a young person - did you notice a lot of differences?
My experience of Americans is they tend to really build each other up in a positive way, whereas in the UK we often lean more towards bringing people down a notch or two. There isn’t the same positive psyche here.
As someone who has experienced trauma and anxiety, I’ve felt that hard sometimes since coming back to the UK, especially in the workplace when I was younger and still finding my feet.
Anxiety seems to have become an even bigger issue the past few years. How have you dealt with it in your life?
Anxiety wasn’t a word I knew growing up. I didn’t hear it in school or at university, but I recognise now that I’ve experienced anxiety for years. Most of my anxiety is rooted in the trauma I experienced in my late teenage years and early twenties. It was before Me Too and there wasn't a lot of dialogue about sexual assault and harassment, espeically in our industry. This has haunted me throughout my career, but part of the reason I started Neighbourhood Skate Club was to promote speaking up and standing up for yourself and others, addressing issues such as consent, street harassment, domestic violence, sexual harassment, catcalling and male violence against women.
I also started therapy two years ago and use CBD to help me sleep.
Why do you think there's this explosion in anxiety?
Lockdown, social media, social pressures, the government, the state of the world - the list goes on. From a personal perspective, I think it's easy, especially for women and young girls to feel anxiety over the way they look or the way that they think they should look. The media has a lot to answer for.
You mentioned using CBD, why did you try it and what has your experience been?
Last year I tore my meniscus skating and it was recommended to help me deal with the pain throughout the recovery process, but turns out it has helped me massively with my anxiety as well as the injury. I take a few drops of CBD oil as part of my bedtime routine, but sometimes also throughout the day if I’m feeling upset or stressed in any way. I also stopped drinking alcohol at the start of the pandemic and have realised that so much of my anxiety stemmed from drinking - even though I was never a big drinker.
I think the biggest thing for me actually with the alcohol thing is sleep.
Yeah, same. I wouldn’t sleep well and that would often lead into anxiety spirals. Being able to step away from that, and again, with the help of therapy, I stopped having nightmares, stopped worrying so much and was able to just focus on the positives and finding a sense of calm.
What are your thoughts on the stigma around CBD and cannabis? Is it disappearing as fast as we think?
CBD is being normalised for sure. I don't think people turn their noses up to it anymore. When I hurt my knee and was talking about my injury on social media, loads of my friends were sending CBD suggestions. One of my friends even sent me some homemade CBD oil in the post. It stunk up the whole flat because it smelt like a bowl of weed, but it absolutely helped do the trick.
Are you optimistic about the future?
Yes, of course, well to a certain extent at least. I’m worried about the planet and the state of humanity of course. From a personal perspective, the way I deal with these worries is to slow things down in my head, go for a skate, play with my dog, have a cup of tea. Recognising where I can find a sense of calm helps me escape the chaos of these worries and then flip them into action to do good, and in turn feel good.
Sound advice… thanks Lyndsay!