Lizzie Armanto hates the dentist. Or, more specifically, she hates going to the dentist. She actually really likes her dentist, who's a nice lady -- it's the prodding, poking and inevitable pain she dislikes. Funny, then, that one of her favorite stories about skateboarding has to do with going to the dentist.
It was 2011 and Armanto, now 20, was skating the Vans Combi Pool in Orange, Calif. No surprise this part of the story ends with a crash, Armanto's face meeting concrete and her front two teeth chipped nearly in half. Sitting in her dentist's chair the next morning, she started to freak out. She knew she needed to have her teeth fixed, but maybe not today. "Then my dentist asked me to think of my happy place and to go there," Armanto says. "She said, 'Concentrate on the place that brings you the most happiness and keep thinking about it until you calm down.'"
Big mistake. Because where do you think Armanto's mind instantly floated? Of course. To the Combi Pool. "It was such a crazy thought," Armanto says. "My happy place did this to me! That thought did not calm me down." But as soon as she left her dentist's office, two front teeth in tact, all she could think about was skating Combi again.
At 14, Armanto got her first skateboard for the same reason many kids do, because her 8-year-old little brother, Max, wanted a skateboard, and he needed someone to go to the skatepark with him. She'd never been into sports, wasn't drawn to team activities and didn't have many friends. She was bit of a loner -- still is -- and a creative type, the kind of kid who'd rather spend her after-school hours doing arts and crafts than hanging at the mall. (Still would.) So Armanto didn't expect to fall for any sport, let alone one her little brother was doing, when she went to the Santa Monica Skatepark for the first time.
The moment she walked in, she was drawn to the bowl skaters, to their creativity, the way they flowed and made every movement look effortless. She was the only girl at the park, and she was toting an 8-year-old kid. But she didn't notice that she stood out, her long, brown braid peeking out from beneath her spotless helmet, and she honestly didn't care. She just knew she wanted to skate exactly like the guys she was watching. "It all looked so simple," she says. "And when you do it right, it is. That first day, I thought I was going to step on my board, roll down the bank and ride away. But just standing on the board on the flat was hard."
But she wasn't discouraged. Quite the opposite, actually. She was challenged, excited. Now she had a reason to come back every afternoon. Even when Max crashed and chipped his front tooth and hung up his skateboard for several years (his fear of pain and the dentist's chair outweighed hers), she went back day after day. It didn't take long before other skaters were taking notice and the contest scene came calling. Within three years of that first day at the skatepark, Armanto was the No.1 ranked women's bowl skater in the world.
"I think that's what I loved about skating -- the sense of accomplishment every time you learn a new trick," she says. "And once you learn something, you want to do it again and do it bigger and better. You're never going to master skateboarding. There is always more: new parks to skate, new tricks, new places. There's so much creativity. In baseball, you can't show up for practice and decide to run around the bases backwards. But in skateboarding, you can do that."
In her five years competing, skating has taken Armanto to many new places -- to South America, Australia and all over the U.S. -- but next week, she will make her first trip to Europe, to compete at X Games Barcelona in the first women's skateboard park contest in the 19-year existence of the X Games and the 20-year existence of Armanto. The event, which blends bowl, park and street elements, is traditionally only contested by the men at X Games.
"Park is more accessible than a vert ramp or a giant bowl, and more girls are skating big transition than are skating street right now," says Mimi Knoop, a five-time X Games vert medalist who is competing in the event and, since 2007, has been the women's sport organizer for X Games. "I've been pushing ESPN to add women's park for years, so even though I'm coming off an injury, I'm more excited about the event being added than my own performance. I find joy in just seeing it happen and knowing it will be on TV."
Armanto is a heavy favorite. She was World Cup Skateboarding's No. 1 ranked women's bowl skater the past three years and is as consistent, well-rounded and technically sound as any women's bowl skater in the world. But quite honestly, there aren't many women's bowl skaters, and there are only a handful of contests where all of the best women show up to compete. X Games will be one of those events, and whether it is won by a street skater like Elissa Steamer or Leticia Bufoni, a bowl skater like Armanto or Nora Vasconcelos, or an all-around rider like Alana Smith, Knoop believes it will be a win for the sport of women's skateboarding.
If Armanto wins, it could also mean sponsorship dollars. Despite her No. 1 ranking, surfer-girl-next-door good looks and a telegenic personality to make Madison Avenue drool, Armanto is only recently starting to sign with sponsors. One of her recent sponsors, MAHFIA.TV, will be traveling with her to Spain to document the trip. And if all goes well, she'll leave Spain with greater visibility, a few new sponsors and a new favorite skate story to tell.