Filmmaker Crystal Moselle first stumbled across skaters Nina Moran and Rachelle Vinberg on New York’s G train in 2016. The tie-dye loving, backward-snapback-wearing Moran was loudly recounting her first snog with a girl, who she had affectionately nicknamed “glitter tits”.
Captivated by Moran’s, shall we say, colourful storytelling – as well as the two skateboards resting against their knees – the director of acclaimed 2015 documentary The Wolfpack, approached the duo to ask the fateful question: “… Are there more of you?”
Moselle offered Vinberg and Moran the opportunity to appear in a short Miu Miu-branded film, solidifying the pair’s loose network of female skaters into the close-knit collective seen on screen. When in 2018, the gang – completed by Ajani Russell, Dede Lovelace and Moonbear – were immortalised in the critically acclaimed feature length, Skate Kitchen, it sent them shredding through Sundance, kickflipping into hearts, and amassing a sizable Instagram empire in the process.
“When people saw Skate Kitchen, they would tell me how they just want to live in their universe forever,” says Moselle.
Approached by HBO about the possibility of a follow-up, the director roped in Brooklyn Nine-Nine writer Lesley Arfin to co-create a TV show. The resulting six-episode series, Betty, is an extension of the posse’s debut: a hot sweaty summer, in which Camille (Vinberg), Kurt (Moran), Honeybear (Adams), Janay (Lovelave) and Indigo (Russell) return to pull apart the skate patriarchy.
NINA MORAN (AKA KURT)
Hey Nina! What have you been up to today?
I’ve been playing with my pets – I have four rats, once chinchilla and three betta fish. I’ve also been freestyling.
Yeah, I keep it kind of low. Sometimes I record freestyles and post them on Instagram for, like, a second.
Should we expect a mixtape anytime soon?
I don’t know. I just use it as a thing to cope with anxiety right now. When I feel anxious I start rapping because it distracts me. It’s fun because it’s like a rhyming game and I love games.
One line that really stuck with us from Betty was when your character says: “When a girl falls over, everyone says it’s because a girl can’t skate. But if a guy falls over, it’s just because he’s learning.” Where do you think this mentality has come from?
In a lot of male-dominated things, it’s like: “This is my territory. Oh, you wanna go into my territory? Well, you could try, but you’re not going to make it.” It’s the feeling of we’re not gonna make it, so we just suck. But if a man starts skateboarding, they’re like, “Of course he sucks, he’s learning, but he’s gonna get good.” They think girls are not going to become good but when they do they get very intimidated. It’s not like that as much anymore though because so many girls are skateboarding, which is cool.
Why do you think that is?
The domino effect. The more dominos there are knocking over other dominoes, the more that are going to fall. When I first started, it was me in Brooklyn and then there was this other chick in Queens. But it’s like when moss or ivy grows on the side of a house. The house is the world and the ivy is like different sections of groups of girls.
What advice would you have for a girl who wants to skate but still feels scared or intimidated?
If you don’t try it because you’re scared, you’re never going to find out the beauty that comes with this. It’s an art form, and you’re going to miss out on that. That’s a really big thing to miss out on because it’s such a beautiful way to express yourself. The most B.S. you have to do is when you first start. But then once you start getting the hang of it, you end up not caring as much. And people also stop bothering you because they’re like, “Oh, wow, she can actually do stuff.” The give back is much bigger than what you’re gonna have to deal with in the beginning. I promise – I’ve experienced it.
How did you first get into skateboarding?
I started when I was 12. The first skateboard I ever got was like a foot long – it was tiny. I found it in a yard sale in my neighbourhood with my mom. I was like, “Yo, I have to get it, it’s a dollar.”
So I was messing around on that. I got a bunch of different fake skateboards, like from gift shops and stuff.
And then I was going to middle school in sixth grade and a skate park opened up behind it. It was tiny but it was the coolest thing in the world to me because I’d never been to a skatepark before. So I said to my dad, “Yo, can I please get a real skateboard?” I think it was around my birthday, so he brought me to this board store in Manhattan.
It was like a real brand, everything, and I got to school and the kids just hammered on me, being like, “Yo, your board’s fake.” Even though it really was not. But I didn’t care because I was like, “Yo, this is my skateboard and I love it.” So I just started trying to do tricks and stuff.
I started actually getting good and then they were like, “Oh snap”. So they decide to start skating with me even though they are picking on me at the same time. But I didn’t care because really I wasn’t using them to learn that I was looking at their feet and stuff. And then I just never stopped skating. Here I am now.
How did you meet the other Skate Kitchen girls?
I used to think I was a YouTuber so I would post skate clips and do really corny skate shoe reviews on my channel. I would also search like “girl skater NYC” and only Rachelle would come up, so I subscribed to her. She subscribed to me and then we would start just commenting on each other’s videos. We then became friends on Facebook and then we met in real life.
Even though I found Rachelle, I only skated with her every other week for one day when she’d come over. So I started going to these girl sessions at a skate shop I ended up working at.
I met these girls there and then I started chatting with them. One of those chicks was Kabrina, Honeybear. It was really cool because I was like 17 and they were all like 24, 25, 27… So they’d teach me about life. They were also the ones that helped me feel comfortable in my sexuality because I wasn’t open being gay when I was in high school and stuff. They were all queer and it like made me feel comfortable. So I felt super cool with that.
RACHELLE VINBERG (AKA CAMILLE)
Hey Rachelle! What have you been up to while isolating?
I went for a run yesterday and realised how unfit I am. I could barely do a mile… I’m gonna go again today and work on that.
How would you describe the feeling of skateboarding?
It feels like when you’re in the ocean and you are with your friends and you guys are like diving under big waves. Some you get tumbled and it’s still fun even though it hurts.
There’s a lot of physicality to it, but it’s not really a sport – it’s like some kind of art craft.
What do you think about skateboarding being included in the next Olympics?
A lot of people are upset about it. It seems like people are saying that this is going to ruin skateboarding, but it’s actually not. It’s going to stay exactly the same. If anything, more people will skate. I think people are scared of more people skating because they’re very territorial about their thing. They don’t want to share it.
You know, skateboarding is purely an individual sport. There’s no reason to get mad about it because nothing’s affecting you.
What’s your individual connection to skateboarding, then?
It’s the one thing that hasn’t ever changed in my life in the past 10 years. It’s a thing that grounds me and is always there. It looks the same, it smells the same. When I look down at my feet and see the black grip, it just feels right.
Did you ever think you were going to be an actor?
I was shy but I wanted to be an actor. It’s funny because my dad, when I was younger, was like, “You know, in New York City, you can be scouted by someone to become an actor.” And that’s what happened.
Crystal said the reason she was so taken aback by you and Nina is because when she was growing up she didn’t ever see female skaters.
It’s funny, she said that when she first saw us she thought we were just teenagers with boards. And it was only when she came to a skate session that she realised that we actually do it.
But we talked a lot about how skating has changed a lot since she came here in the late ’90s. She came to New York at 18 and watched it grow and that played a huge part in making Skate Kitchen and Betty.
What part did you guys play in the process? Was it collaborative?
Very collaborative. We were all consultants on the show so we were given the scripts. We’re lucky that HBO, the writers and Crystal gave us a voice. We’d go to the writers’ room and explain how certain things work, like this wouldn’t make sense because, in the skate world, this happens this way.
All of us are really close to Crystal. We go to her with all of our problems and that’s also a way for her to be like, “OK, let’s make that part of the show.” Most of the storylines come from something that was a real thing, so Betty is really authentic.
How long did you guys hang out with Crystal before you started making films together?
At first, we just got coffee with her. Then she came to the Skate Park and we spent hours there and then soon we just started going to her house. We just bombard her house and her landlord was like, “Who are all these kids?” I’m still scared of her landlord. She showed us a lot of movies and she invited us to premieres and just schooled us on life.
The big one thing we joke about is that the only thing that’s not in the show, which is a big part of our real lives, is a Crystal. But then again, if there was a Crystal, we wouldn’t have all these dramas.
It’s interesting that the founders of The Skate Kitchen all got into skating because you saw boys doing it. How do you feel like it changes the dynamic when it’s a little girl learning from older girls, like you, instead?
I wanted to get into skating because I saw my boy cousin doing it when I was 11. But actually a year before that I was at the skate park with my little brother. I remember walking in there and I saw this person walk by. They had a beanie on but when they pulled it off all this hair flew out – it was a girl.
I was just like, “Whoa, that’s a girl. That’s a girl.” I didn’t even see her skate, but just the fact that it was a girl with a board, I was so impressed that I’ve never forgotten about that. No one has affected me like that before. I’ve seen guys there all the time. But just seeing her and seeing someone that was older that I could look up to and see myself in was really pivotal.
AJANI RUSSELL (AKA INDIGO)
Hey Ajani! Where are you quarantining right now?
LA. I moved here four years ago to study at CalArts, California Institute of the Arts.
What are you studying there?
I found myself doing everything when I first started college. I was predominantly a ceramicist and a painter. But recently I’ve become more into film art.
And when did you get into skateboarding?
So I was always interested in skateboarding and had a toy board, but I didn’t take it seriously and ended up stopping for a couple of years.
Then I met Nina at school and told her I thought it was cool that she skated. And then she’s like, “Oh, do you want to skate?”
One day she called me and asked me where I was and told me, “Don’t move.” And she came to me with a full set up and was like, “Now you can’t say you can’t skate,” and I haven’t stopped since.
What is it about skateboarding that you find so addictive?
Skateboarding is very freeing. It allows you to connect with people who maybe don’t even speak the same language. I remember when Skate Kitchen went to Japan and we skated with all these Japanese skater girls that we met through Instagram. Even though we couldn’t communicate with words we were able to communicate through skating and that was such a magical experience.
How important has Instagram been to you as a tool?
I think it’s vital for the skate community. I love scrolling through Instagram and seeing skateboarders from every walk of life, from a 16-year-old in Spain to a 45-year-old in Utah. It really keeps the spirit of skaters alive and emphasises how much it’s grown as a sport in culture.
It also helps you to connect with people like you. When I started skating I didn’t have any skateboarder role models that I looked up to that looked like me. I was just getting into skateboarding just purely for the fact that I thought it was cool. I did look up to like, you know, Tony Hawk. I thought, “Yeah, he does cool stuff but that’s not me.” Like, I don’t see myself in him.
As a black girl, I think it’s important that we put ourselves out there to give role models that we didn’t have, and Instagram definitely has played a big role in reaching people globally.
What was the scene like when you first started skating?
When I first started skating, the only girls I would see at the skatepark were Nina, Dede, the other Skate Kitchen girls and like three or four other girls that I also still skate with today. There would be one or two of them at the park on a Saturday afternoon, but at least 90 boys.
I remember one time I had been skating for about a month and a half and I went to LES skatepark for maybe the second time in my life. I went by myself because I was like, “You know what, I’m not going to get better unless I practice.” And there was like a group of boys and one of them was trying to hit on me but failing and making very crude jokes. I wouldn’t give them my attention so he pushed me off my board while I was skating.
Have you noticed a change in attitude since Skate Kitchen was realised?
Well, I’ve definitely noticed an increase in skaters. I get on the train and I see row after row of girl skateboarders. And when I hear a skateboard and I look up at it’s always like two or three girls skating together.
KABRINA ADAMS AKA MOONBEAR (AKA HONEYBEAR)
Hey Moonbear! What similarities do you share with your character Honeybear?
Our sense of style. We both like to use YouTube and make videos. The Honeybear character is pretty much a younger version of me.
When did you first get into skateboarding?
Wow, I got into skateboarding in 2005 so it’s been a while.
And what was it that drew you to it?
I saw Tony Hawk on TV and I was like, this is so cool, I want to do that. And I’ve actually met him a few times and he follows me on Instagram. So it’s like it’s come full circle.
He makes a cameo in the last episode, doesn’t he?
Yeah, he does. It was really cool that he was down to do that.
How else has skateboarding changed for you since then?
Well, back then, I was pretty intimidated. I was 12 and would go to the skate park but there weren’t any girls there for a while.
But when Skate Kitchen became more of a thing, there were more girls out. And I think that’s really cool because that means there are more people that are similar to you.
Still, I had no problem skating with boys. There are some people that are nice and there’s always gonna be people that are mean, like in any situation.
You guys are clear about Skate Kitchen not being only for girls. It’s just more about making sure female skaters have a platform to be visible.
When you see someone that looks like you, you feel more comfortable to do something and less intimidated. That’s something the Skate Kitchen really works on.
What about all the filming your character does, when did you get into that?
I got a taste for filming when I was 10 when my dad gave me an old video recording camera. But I got more into specifically documenting three years ago. I just decided that I wanted to make YouTube videos and I wanted to film more skateboarding, so I was doing that and I realised I could do something else with my camera.
How did you get the nickname “Moonbear”?
I got it while back in high school. It was a play on my background as a Native American. My friends thought to be funny, to come up with a name that represented that.
You’ve incorporated it into your new venture Moneybear Gang, too… what is that?
I had the idea to do Moneybear Gang because I like to watch finance videos on YouTube. The main people making videos in that space were all male and there weren’t really women in that field. I like to talk about these things and I want to see what happens.
DEDE LOVELACE (AKA JANAY)
Hello Dede! You DJ, skateboard, study visual arts… You’re probably enjoying a bit of forced lockdown downtime, aren’t you?
Haha, I guess!
How did you get into each of these?
I started to study visual arts in high school and they granted me a scholarship to go to college. My uncle actually suggested that I try DJing. At first, it was something just for fun but then it kind of just grew into something beyond what I planned or expected.
How did you first get into skateboarding?
I went to this middle school on Wall Street and Fifth Avenue and there was a playground area next door. When school was out after 3pm there were a bunch of skaters from around the neighbourhood that would just come and do these amazing tricks.
I could see the thrill in their eyes and their bodies as they were skating and I just wanted to know what that felt like.
Did you skate with them?
All the boys that I would watch were mean and had anger issues so I skated by myself. At first, I didn’t have enough confidence to try to learn tricks, so it was just more a way to get around. But then I got to high school and that’s when I kind of started bringing my skateboard out more. People were older and a little bit nicer and more creative because I went to school with all these weird art kids.
Is that where you met the Skate Kitchen girls?
Nina, Ajani and I went to high school together. And then the others were friends with Nina so I met them through her.
So how did Betty come about?
So we finished Skate Kitchen and about a year or so later we were still friends but were trying to figure it out. Crystal had projects that she was working on and I still wanted to pursue acting. HBO saw the movie and they liked it and they proposed to do a TV show. And we talked about it and we said, “Let’s embark on this journey and tell our story in a longer version,” because there was still stuff we wanted to shine a light on.
Your character has a really powerful storyline surrounding the #MeToo era.
About 1 in 3 women have experienced sexual assault, which is a really, really high ratio of people. Women have been coming forward and using their voice and their power to explain some of these hardships that they’ve encountered and we wanted to explore that.
In the film, another one of the themes is looking at how women can enter very male-dominated spaces and make themselves visible and prove that they all are meant to be there.
When I was growing up, skateboarding culture was not very accepting of females. It was really hard, especially for someone who is still building their confidence. But it is also character building, really.
There weren’t a lot of girls skateboarding so when it got more popular the guys didn’t know how to react to it. When girls who were actually serious about this adjustment focused on just enjoying themselves in this sport, I don’t think they respected it. It was hard.
And that’s why Skate Kitchen came about, it was a support system. We just gravitated towards each other and that this is OK for us to skateboard – we have the right to be here as much as they do.
Betty airs 1st May on HBO and if you read all the way to here it’s highly likely you’ll enjoy it.