Meet the Navajo Nation Skateboarder Going Viral on TikTok

When I was younger, I liked trying new things. I tried skateboarding and thought, ‘this is it!’

Naiomi Glasses, a Diné skateboarder in Navajo nation, happened upon a red sandstone slope to skate on — in her now-viral TikTok — by accident. “I live in the middle of nowhere and when I found that first sandstone, I was out looking for sheep. My grandma owns sheep and sometimes they get lost, and I thought the sandstone looked skate-able.” With the nearest skatepark hours away, Naiomi resorted to turning the desert landscape into her own skatepark.

With her skateboard in hand and encouragement from her brother, she skated down the earth-colored sandstone with finesse. “My brother is like my hype man,” she quips.

Glasses took to skateboarding early when at 5 years old she saw her older brother’s friend skateboarding and was mesmerized. An adventurous and precocious spirit, Naiomi practiced skateboarding in her kitchen under her mom’s supervision. “When I was younger, I liked trying new things. I tried skateboarding and thought, ‘this is it!’,” she tells Teen Vogue.

In her childhood, Glasses struggled with bullying and skateboarding was a refuge from school where she could build confidence. “When I was 6, I was bullied a lot. I have a bilateral cleft pallet and lip, so kids would bully me and I got really down. So, whenever I would skate, it was my one time to decompress as a little kid.”

Despite often being the only girl, she became infatuated with skateboarding in her teenage years, spending afternoons at nearby skateparks. “I wanted to skate every second of my life. So anytime I could skate, I would. It definitely helped me develop a relationship with my environment.”

Now, at age 24, Glasses skates in long vibrant skirts and traditional Diné garb — a choice she’s made as she’s grown more assured in her femininity. “When I was younger, I felt like I had to dress like a little boy to skate. As I’m getting older, I’m like: “I’ll skate in my skirt.”

Despite her life-long obsession with skateboarding, Glasses notes that there are many obstacles to accessing skateboarding on Native reservations. Many reservations lack the infrastructure for skateboarding, and have no skate shops. “You would have to travel 2-3 hours off the reservation to a border town to pick up a skateboard over there,” she explains. “It’s quite the journey to be a skateboarder on the reservation.”

Naiomi is working with a group called Wonders Around the World to bring a skatepark to Two Grey Hills Tribe, a community within Navajo Nation. Although Glasses is not in that tribe, she stresses the importance of making skateboarding accessible to Indigenous areas. “The Navajo reservation is the size of West Virginia and I only know of five skate parks here. Skateparks can really help kids grow. There are kids that I see at the skatepark who transform to completely different people when they’re in their element. I think the joy of skateboarding should be brought to more kids here.”

Wonders Around the World is an organization committed to bringing skateparks to rural areas around the world where skateboarding is underrepresented. Past projects have included installing skateparks in places such as Iraq, Syria, Mexico, and now: Two Grey Hills. When completed, the skatepark will be the community’s first outdoor sports recreational facility. Josh Fabrin, founder of Wonders Around the World explains, “Our goal is to support an Indigenous community, by providing a safe and inclusive public skatepark and recreational area to empower strength and resilience.”

With this new project, Glasses hopes that skateboarding can be a form of self-care and self-expression to younger generations, as it has been to her throughout her life. “When I skate, I get to breath and relax and recharge. I know it’s a physical activity but it’s so freeing to me. It’s the one time I get to block out what’s going on and it’s just myself and my skateboard.”

Dr. Neftalie Williams, a sociologist at USC, believes that skateparks can be an important tool for inclusion and community-building. He argues that skateparks are a place where people develop friendships, creativity, and mutual compassion. “The legacy of skateboarding is both individual and collectivist. Skateboarding can be a tool for cultural diplomacy,” he tells Teen Vogue.

Williams claims that skateboarding culture can also promote further learning in education, art, filmmaking, and encourage mutual-aid in a community. Skateparks are a rare example of a public space where generations can communicate. “There is a lot of intergenerational communication happening. That means there’s a shared knowledge.”

Through his research at USC, Williams is working to uncover the long history of diversity in skateboarding. People of color have always been an integral part of the mythology of skateboarding, but their contributions have only recently been recognized. “People don’t realize how diverse skateboarding is, but people in skateboarding have been seeing people of color for decades.” Williams hopes that by introducing skateboarding to more communities, they’ll think of themselves as an interconnected network of skaters, promoting inclusivity.

Glasses is inspired by the rising number of young women who have taken up skateboarding, especially in the pandemic. “I see a huge movement of girls skating and it’s so awesome. I’ll be on Instagram and see other girls skating: so many new faces, doing amazing things, and I’m like ‘You’re so awesome! Go!”

She’s looking forward to a near future, where more and more Diné youth discover the thrills of skateboarding. “You see so many different walks of life in skateboarding. I see that now. When I was younger, I thought skateboarders were one way. Now I see a lot of girls dressing however they want and skating however they want. It’s super empowering to see.”

Original article: Teen Vogue

Active Loop logo