Natalie Krishna Das: Pro Skateboarder, Founder of iLList Light Productions

Natalie Krishna Das, pro skateboarder, photographed in downtown Phoenix with her dog, Valkor, by Nicki Escudero

Natalie Krishna Das, pro skateboarder, photographed in Downtown Phoenix with her dog, Valkor, by Nicki Escudero

Natalie Krishna Das
facebook.com/NatalieKrishnaDas

Natalie Krishna Das is one of the most badass gals in the Valley. The 32-year-old Phoenix resident is a pro skateboarder, and she spends her off time surfing waves and snowboarding mountains. What makes the Los Angeles-born beauty even cooler: she’s the founder of the Arizona division of Falling Whistles, a nonprofit that brings exposure to war and the use of child soldiers in the Congo.

When Krishna Das isn’t busy holding up her title of 15th in the world for Women’s Pro Bowl Riding, she’s working on iLList Light Productions, the creative strategy, marketing and social media company she founded.

See some of her cool skateboarding moves here on her YouTube channel, and read on to find out how she became a beast in the bowls. You can also watch a video of her talking about her favorite reasons for repping the Valley, below.

What brought you to Arizona?

I moved here when I was 16 for school and to live with my mom. I went to Ironwood High School and graduated from ASU with a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology.

How did you get into skateboarding, and when did you turn pro?

I started skating right when I moved to Arizona and have been skating for 16 years. I started when my little brother left his skateboard at my house. I picked it up and never put it down. I started skating around the block, rolling off of curbs, and going to skateparks.

Once I progressed, I started getting sponsors, then began to travel and compete. I received my first sponsorship from OSA when I was 19. Kronik Energy Drink turned me pro when I was 27.

What did you like so much about skateboarding?

It is a fun way to stay in shape and be social and active at the same time. Everybody I skate with are all of my best friends, so it is something we can all do together.

There are so many good skate parks in Arizona, which are all free, outdoor concrete parks. They don’t require helmets, which isn’t great for parents to hear, but is great for me because it’s so hot here all the time, it’s easier not to wear all the pads.

What was it like turning pro?

Right before I turned pro, my biggest sponsor was Kronik Energy Drink. They flew me to Oregon for Trifecta, a three-day contest all over Oregon. They turned me pro on that trip. I ended up placing fourth, sixth and fourth in my first pro contests.

After that, I skated Warped Tour in San Francisco, about six years ago, and I placed first. Now, my sponsor list is always evolving. I try to stay loyal to each brand I’m riding for, but there are always brands that fall off and new brands that fall in.

I just picked up a new sponsor, called The Original Betty Skateboard Company. It’s run by the daughter of Patti McGee, the first female professional skateboarder. I’m stoked to be on their team.

I have about six solid sponsors right now, and then I have a few smaller sponsors. I’m on the Starr Skates team from Tucson, where I’m the only girl.

I also ride for ZOX, UnRuleE, State Bicycle Co., Falling Whistles, NIXON, sPACYcLOUd and Saba Anna.

How has your competition schedule evolved?

I usually do contests with girls, but every once in awhile, I’ll skate one against the guys. As I’m getting older, I’m getting into more specific contests. There’s a contest series called the World Cup Skateboarding, and that’s what I’ve mainly been involved with. I just had a competition in Brazil, the first of this year’s series, called the RTMF HI Adventure Bowl.

I didn’t do so hot, because I was in a motorcycle accident the day before the contest. I had road rash, and even though I was injured, I still skated it because I felt it was my duty. That sort of messed up my ranking, which is now 15th in the world for Women’s Pro Bowl Riding.

Since I was still injured, I didn’t get to skate the second contest in the series, which was in Huntington Beach, California, so that was really depressing. But, I still have two more contests this year, and I’m going to skate both of those.

The next one is Exposure in San Diego, an all-girls contest. The girl who throws it is Amelia Brodka, who just made a documentary on women and skateboarding called Underexposed. It’s all about the difficulties coming up as a female skateboarder in a male-dominated sport. There are a lot of politics involved in women’s skating, so it was cool to see that documentary and this contest that has come from it. Now it’s part of the World Cup Skateboarding, so I’m really excited to go out there and skate and support all female skateboarders.

What got you interested in making bowl skating your specialty?

I like it because it’s fluid. I also surf, and it’s like surfing on land. The tricks I can do are similar to the surf style, which is called old-school style. I like to do a lot of tricks where I put my hands down or touch the coping (metal bar on top of the half-pipe or concrete that sticks out on top of a pool) or transition (curved ramp).

What is pool skating like?

Bowl and pool skating are similar, but not the same thing. With pool skating, you’re skating in empty backyard pools, so it’s a lot gnarlier than a skate park.

Street skating is the rails and boxes and ollies and grinding. You can do those things in the bowl, too, but it’s entirely different. It’s like the difference between swimming in an ocean and swimming in a pool.

Have you ever had any injuries from skating?

I’ve had two bad skate injuries. I’ve sprained both ankles multiple times. The worst was when I fractured my upper and lower ankle in one fall, which was pretty painful.

Another time, I fell on the coping and dropped to the bottom of the ramp. When I hit the coping, I hit my head on it and had to get stitches right by my eyebrow. That was pretty bad because there was a giant lump, and I had a black eye.

What are your goals with skateboarding?

My goal for skateboarding is to get a pro model, which would mean I’d have my own board with my name on it. I’ve already been talking to my sponsors about this, and I think it is going to happen eventually. I already have an artist, Sloth, the graffiti artist, who is working on my design. I’m definitely going to have a koala on my board. I love koalas. I guess they’re my alter ego.

I’ve had a magazine cover, for Concrete Wave, and I’m really stoked on that. It’d be cool to get another one eventually, but I don’t want to be greedy because there haven’t been many skateboarding girls on the covers of magazines.

How long do you think you’ll skate until?

The ones who are really big and are considered legends are still pro but might not compete anymore. But, there are people like (49-year-old) Steve Caballero, who’s still a pro for Vans, who still do, and he’s been skating since he was a little kid.

I don’t ever plan on quitting. Patti McGee still skates!

What’s your training schedule like?

I have a group of girls I skate with almost every day in Arizona. We’re called Las ChicAZ. We’ll meet up at skate parks or street spots, and skate and shoot photos and videos. It’s so fun to have a crew of girls like that.

We also take trips together. We’re heading to Mexico, because we’ve been invited to be judges for a competition in Rocky Point with Uncle Skate Charity, so we’re really stoked about that.

There’s no branding behind it. We just skate and have fun, and there are about 10 of us.

Besides skating, how do you stay healthy?

I’m really, really active. I’m active with my dog, and I ride my bike a lot. Every Monday night, there’s LOOPS, put on by State Bicycle Co., which is a 20-mile ride. A bunch of bikers get together in Downtown Phoenix, and I try to do that as much as I can.

Surf season started at Big Surf. I know that sounds crazy, surfing in the desert, but that’s my spot. I surf there every day. Surfing keeps in me in shape, and I’m traveling non-stop. Usually when I travel, it’s at a beach with nice waves, so I surf a lot in the summer. I also own a wetsuit so I can surf in the winter. I started surfing around six years ago in Hawaii with my best friend. Three years ago, I got back into it, and now I’m addicted.

I snowboard a lot, too. I’ve been going once or twice during snowboard season for the past six years but not really progressing. Last year, I got a little bit better and got ballsy and started trying tricks. This season, I went five times, and I learned how to do rails, boxes and big jumps.

I eat healthily, too, and I just got a juicer, so I’m stoked on life!

How do you think surfing and snowboarding have affected your skate career?

They’re all so entirely different, that I don’t think skateboarding helped me at all with them. Snowboarding and surfing have definitely helped my skate style, though. My tricks are very surf-inspired — any type of layback trick skateboarding is so similar to surfing. Snowboarding has made me aware I can try much larger things.

What’s your favorite skatepark in Arizona?

My favorite skatepark is definitely Rio Vista in Peoria. I love it because they have a really fun pool there that’s shaped like a kidney bean with a pocket, and there are stairs in the shallow end. There’s old-school concrete pool coping, and for me, it’s easy to skate it because it’s the perfect size. That whole park has a ton of different obstacles.

How would you characterize the female skate scene?

I got my first sponsor 13 years ago, and it was a lot different back then because my best friend and I were the only girls at the skate park ever. To be one of the only girls, and to be pretty decent at skating, it was a lot easier for me to get a sponsor.

Nowadays, it’s entirely different. There are a lot of girls skating, and they’re all really good. Especially the younger ones – there are 13- and 14-year-olds who are continuously pushing the envelope for the up-and-comers.

The skate scene with females is so tight. All the girls are friends. Everyone is so nice to each other, and you feel a sense of camaraderie. When a girl starts skating, other girls will welcome her in. She’ll become a part of their crew, and they’ll learn new tricks together.

Why should people give skateboarding a try?

It’s really fun because you can express yourself in your tricks. Once you learn a new trick, it boosts your self-esteem, and you feel really good about it. You’re just so stoked, you want to go and try your trick at a bunch of different spots, and then take it to the streets. It’s exhilarating.

What stands out about the Arizona skate scene?

It hardly rains, so the skate parks are open almost every day. We have tons of ditches and DIY spots among many empty pools.

What’s also really cool is we have so many free outdoor, concrete parks. If you go to California, they all require a helmet, or you have to pay to get in, or it’s an indoor wooden park, or it’s closed-off to the public. Phoenix has a lot to offer skateboarders.

The one bad thing is it’s so hot here, you’ll go to a skatepark at three in the afternoon in the summertime when kids are on break, and the park will be empty because it’s so hot. It’s 110 (degrees), and there might be one kid out there sitting in the shade. I like that, because I’ll go to the park and try tricks I’m too embarrassed to try in front of anyone else. I’ll work on it and get better on it, almost in private.

What tips do you have for beginner skateboarders?

Go to the closest skate shop to you that’s not in the mall – Cowtown, for example, or Sidewalk Surfer. The guys in those shops actually skate, and they would suggest a really good board.

Also, I would tell beginners, they’re definitely going to fall and hurt themselves, but that’s part of skateboarding. Get back up, keep trying it, and you’ll get it.

Do you decorate your skateboard?

I do. I’m an artist. I get my boards, and before I put the grip tape on it, I grab my paint pens and stickers from my sponsors. I’ll draw waves or cool designs, and then I put clear grip on top.

What advice would you have for someone who wants to become a pro skateboarder?

Make a “sponsor me” tape, and send it to your favorite companies you want to get sponsored by, with some personal information on the video. You’ve got to give some sort of intro that shows off a little bit of your personality.

On top of that, you have to have a good attitude. If you don’t have a good attitude, people aren’t going to sponsor you, and that’s the main part. If you have a bad attitude, it doesn’t matter if you are the best skater in the world. You have to be marketable.

Do you ever want to go pro in surfing?

To be a pro surfer would be my dream job, but I’m not that good. Maybe if I lived in Hawaii, I’d be more adamant about it. Here, you can only progress so far at Big Surf, because it’s the same wave every three minutes.

What Arizona skate events would you recommend?

Every year, we have PHXAM at Desert West Skatepark, which is one of the biggest amateur competitions in the U.S. It’s huge. There are almost 200 riders in the competition.

What made you want to get involved with Falling Whistles?

I was at a skate trade show and saw the Falling Whistles booth, and I had already heard of them because my boyfriend gave me a Falling Whistle necklace. When I talked to them, they told me they wanted to sponsor me.

Once they sponsored me, they invited me to a big convention in Venice Beach, where they invited 50 community leaders from across the world. They educated us about what’s going on in the Congo and how we can help spread the word and get others to be activists in their own communities. When I came back to Phoenix, I started our own society. We meet once a week and talk about world issues and what we can do to spread awareness.

We throw really cool events every season to spread awareness about the war that’s going on in the Congo. We’ll do a big bike ride at The Heavy Pedal in Phoenix in June for the next event. Our last event was “Peace Me” at Gypsy Bar in Phoenix. We had an epic dance party and art show for peace in the Congo.

We sell whistles and books called Free World Reader that tells the story and how people can be activists and do the right thing for peace. We have about 20 members here in Arizona.

Learn more about pro baseball player Cody Ross here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about pro basketball player Wes Johnson here on Phoenix People.

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