Meet Mimi Knoop, Coach for the USA Olympic Skateboarding Team

Mars: When did you start skateboarding?

Mimi: I started skateboarding when I was really, really small. I was probably six or seven years old. A kid in my neighborhood that I played with brought a skateboard over one day, and we just played around on it and I got hooked really quickly. 

Mars: Did your parents skate at all, or siblings? Like growing up did you have any role models in it that you looked up to?

Mimi: No, no. It was quite a long time ago, definitely not the era where your parents skateboarded. I don’t think they really even understood what it was. They probably just thought it was like a toy from Toys R Us or something. None of my siblings skated. I had a younger brother who didn’t get into skateboarding until well after I left the house, so it was just me. 

I didn’t even see another girl skateboard or woman or girl skateboard until probably my early twenties. I only saw boys, and luckily I had a positive experience, you know, I stayed with a bunch of boys. They were all super supportive and no one ever really made me feel weird or anything like that. But yeah, I was much older by the time I met other female skateboarders. 

Mars: And what was the inspiration for you? What was your dynamic with your friends and stuff like that?

Mimi: The best way I could explain it to you guys is like, asking what inspires you to climb trees as a kid? It’s like you don’t really think of it like a long term vision, it’s just something I did for fun. So it was always based on the feeling it gave me rather than what I was going to do with it. When I was a kid, I didn’t know you could do anything with skateboarding, especially as a girl. So for me it was literally just chasing the feeling, the joy. 

Alex: Did you ever look back at anything, to be like, ‘Hey is there actually other women out there doing it?’

Mimi: Nope. Back in those days it was like if you didn’t open up a magazine and look… You basically saw things like Thrasher and TransWorld, and then ,you know, skate videos started to become a thing in the late 80s, early 90s. You had that, but that’s all you had access to. There was no skateboarding on TV, there was no internet, so it’s very different. 

Alex: I totally agree. Because I mean, when I made it in skateboarding I grew up with Jaime Reyes and Elissa Steamer skating, so it was like those two powerhouse women were like hands down amazing, you know? And I get what you’re saying because it was like, that’s so rare, especially what they’re even doing to have girls skateboarding. They’re just part of the crew, you know?

Mimi: Yeah. Exactly. And even those two, I didn’t know who they were until I was much older. So I was in my own little isolated universe. I grew up, you know, in my own little world on the east coast, and in places where skateboarding really wasn’t super popular in general.

Alex: Right.

Mimi: So yeah, it was a different era for sure. 

Alex: Yeah. When did you start?

Mimi: The first time I stepped on a board was probably late 80s, like ‘86 or ‘87. So I was a little kid. 

Alex: Amazing. I think I started in ‘85.

Mimi: Yeah, haha you remember.

Alex: Yeah. Especially being a New Yorker, it’s crazy. I just remember like when I first made it, I went out to San Diego. And I was like ‘Wait– holy shit. They know about me? How do they know about me? That’s cool. And then it’s just so weird because again, like you said, we had magazines and that’s all we had to go with. 

Mimi: That’s awesome.

Mars: What advice would you give yourself if you could go back?

Mimi: I would say, don’t ever take it too seriously because there really is no direct path to create a career and skateboard. Even now I feel like it’s still pretty elusive. So don’t take it too seriously. Enjoy the moment, because time flies and I’ve ended up having all these memories and it’s so important to be present with those when they happen. 

Alex: That’s the best attitude to have. Because I always tell people that same thing, you can never dictate where you’re gonna go and how long you’re gonna do it for, because it’ll be a snap of the ankle and it’s completely over. If you’re not having fun, then what’s the point?

Mimi: Yeah.

Sorin: What do you feel is like, the one thing that makes someone successful? Is it a state of mind? Or is it that they’re fearless, or just that they try harder?

Mimi: I don’t think there’s one trait that people have to become really successful. I think it’s more of a combination. For kids these days, you gotta know how to market yourself. It’s so social media based, and you gotta be able to put yourself out there, you know? It’s not just about how good you are on a skateboard anymore, it’s what else you can do. Who do you hang out with? Who’s your crew? And you just got to be super proactive.

Mars: What does it mean to you for skateboarding to now be in the Olympics? And to also be coaching the team?

Mimi: First of all, it’s an insane experience to be involved, especially for the very first time this is happening. It can only happen first once, and my goal in terms of being involved in any way is just to be able to represent skateboarding the right way and support the skaters who are involved and make sure they have a good experience. So yeah, for me those are the things that I focus on. But yeah, it’s amazing to even be involved at all with this new movement. 

Mars: I was actually curious about that because I was watching some videos last week– what do you do to stop everyone from getting injured? Like when everyone’s at home around the country, is there like a hard line to what they can do on their own?

Mimi: Yeah, that’s like trying to control the uncontrollable haha. It’s like herding cats. And if you ride skateboards, you’ll get hurt on a skateboard, it’s just a part of it. The main thing is how you deal with injuries once they happen, and how do you be smart so you can recover as fast as possible and not do anything to make it worse? It’s just part of the activity. 

Sorin: One thing that’s interesting is even just the act of overriding safety switches in your brain when you’re practicing new tricks. Like every time you get up to just be like, ‘Oh well, I’m gonna do it again,’ even though your brain is telling you not to. 

Mimi: A lot of it is learning how to manage fear and doubt. It is a mental game. It’s a lot like golf actually, it’s very mental and super technical. It’s how can you get your mind to overcome fear? It’s gonna be there. I’m scared of heights. I used to skate these big ramps, and everyday I’d have to overcome that. It’s the same if you’re trying to land a trick, trying to push yourself and knowing how far you can push yourself without it being too much. 

Sorin: That’s tricky.

Mimi: Yeah, these kids at the top level, they’re the ones that know how to do that, but it’s a super super mental game. 

“Once it got to the point where they were starting to bring on staff and fill these roles, they just asked the skaters and the skaters were just like, ‘You should hit up Mimi.'”

Sorin: So how did you become the coach? Were you just minding your own business one day and they were like ‘We need you?’

Mimi: Haha, that is actually what happened. Like I just got approached. I’ve worn many hats over the years and without planning I’ve become like an advocate on the women’s side. And I think, you know, once it got to the point where they were starting to bring on staff and fill these roles, they just asked the skaters and the skaters were just like, ‘You should hit up Mimi.’ That’s kind of how it went from what I understand anyway. And I was like, ‘Well, yeah! I’m not gonna say no to this.’ 

Alex: What was that feeling though? 

Mimi: It was exciting! I mean, it just feels like an extension of everything else that came before this for me, so it’s like alright, let’s go for it. Let’s make this the most positive it could be for skateboarding, you know? That’s kind of what I went into it with.

Alex: That’s awesome. I’m super stoked for you. That’s such a giant and positive role, especially to the women out there, that’s amazing. 

Mimi: It’s an honor for sure. It’s definitely an honor to be in this position. We try to do our best over here haha.

Alex: You’ve got to.

Sorin: So what do you think is gonna happen now? Like, because it’s in the Olympics, do you feel a change in the way– like with parents, do you think they’re more likely to let their kids skateboard now than before?

Mimi: To be honest yeah, I did start noticing change. I started noticing a change about three or four years ago as soon as they announced that it was happening. Like even just in the media, a lot of the big footwear brands popped up. Nora got on Adidas, Leo got on Nike– like these big brand deals started happening that did not exist prior, and I know it was because of the Olympics. And then in terms of participation, it’s enabled parents to feel like they can understand. They’re like ‘We know what the Olympics are, we may not understand what the skateboarding thing is, but it legitimizes it.’ They’re embracing it more. 

And I think our era, Alex, they’re having kids now, and they grow up skating. So it’s more normal for them to encourage their own kids to skate. 

Sorin: And what would you say to someone if they just want to get better? Obviously you can’t tell them how to go pro or anything, but what would you say to someone that just wants to do something?

Mimi: I think the number one thing I would say is just that you can’t stop trying. Some of the best skateboarders were really not that great at skateboarding, they just never stopped trying. They’re the last person at the park when it gets dark for days and months in a row. And that’s what it takes to get to that level. Raw talent is one thing, but drive is really the most important. I also think you just have to love it too. If you really have a deep passion for it and you just happen to go with it, that’s gonna get you where you need to be.

Sorin: Do you help them figure out what they’re gonna do on their runs, or is it more like they come to you with ideas?

Mimi: For us, the concept of coaching is so new and skateboarding is really on an individual basis. Some of the kids are like ‘We want your help, what should I do? What trick should I do?’ And the others just got their own thing going. And it’s more or less like what can I do to help you? Like maybe I’ll just grab you a water– it could be something as simple as that. So yeah, it’s really a spectrum of needs just depending on the skater. 

Sorin: That’s great. I feel like some coaches could be micromanagers, so I like the fact that you give them that freedom for whatever they may want to do. Like no matter what, I’m gonna be there for you. That’s a great state of mind.

Mimi: I also think at the end of the day, they’re the ones that have to be skating. So it’s like, you need to be a creative thinker, you can’t be spoon fed and have someone else do it for you. It’s up to them at the end of the day. So yeah, I think it’s the best approach for everybody. 

Also, a lot of people skate because they don’t want to be told what to do. So just let them go do their thing, and they’ll do great haha. Just give them the space they need, they’ll be fine.

“It ultimately has been the most rewarding part of my career, like the past 15 years of seeing the kids come up. It’s been really cool.”

Sorin: So did you ever have a moment when you were like, ‘Damn, I made it,’ like what was that point in your life?

Mimi: For me, it was after my first skate contest in California, I think I won like a hundred dollars. I was like ‘Holy crap. They gave me a check for skateboarding?’ It wasn’t a lot of money, but I was just like ‘I got $100 just for skateboarding. This is insane.’ That was probably it.

Sorin: And I’m sure you’re around a bunch of amazing moments with all the women you’re working with. Does that give you a sense of accomplishment when you see one of them do something?

Mimi: I feel honored to have been a part of creating a way for them to be on that platform. It’s awesome, and it’s not something I expected when I was younger, to feel a sense of reward from it. But yeah, it ultimately has been the most rewarding part of my career, like the past 15 years of seeing the kids come up. It’s been really cool. 

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