“Google it.” This was Leo Baker’s answer to our question about how people can support non-binary individuals.
For some, pronouns like “he” and “she” are simply words, but for individuals, like Baker, who identify as non-gender binary, they’re deeply triggering. And if you’ve been slow to pick up on the importance of using gender-neutral pronouns like “they”, it’s time to get on board. According to Baker, “We're all going to f*ck up and make mistakes when it comes to this stuff, and it's okay, because that's better than not trying at all.”
The Ladder Athlete and Nike sponsored pro-skateboarder is unapologetic in their tone, especially when it comes to the topic of gender. However, Baker’s tone hasn’t always been this bold and unapologetic.
Originally known as “Lacey,” Baker spent a majority of their life being pushed to fit the generic female mold. Sponsors strongly encouraged them to wear tight clothing and to grow their blonde hair long because it was a more “marketable” look.
It wasn’t long before Baker began dominating the women’s division. However, as the pressure to appear more feminine heightened, Baker’s mental health declined. Baker said, “I was living a fragmented life, and little by little, everything sort of fell apart. I was like, ‘Well, I did everything you f*cking wanted and I'm still not good enough.’”
Baker is most passionate about “inclusivity” in all aspects of life, not just gender. They said, “So many industries, not just skating, but in the world, it feels like such a big feat to find a community where you feel comfortable in your own skin, talking about gender identity, being queer, fitting in or not fitting in, depression and anxiety, things like that.”
Baker has been blazing the trail for women and non-gender binary people both in and outside of skating. Baker is the fifth-ranked skateboarder in the world, a seven time X Games medalist and the youngest skater to ever medal in the history of the X Games. But when asked what they hope to be known for most, Baker said, “I want to be known for helping carve the path for future queers who skate. So there’s always a space for people like me, and no one ever ever has to know what it feels like to be pushed off to the sidelines.”
And Baker’s been doing just that. Read on to learn about Baker’s queer-centric skate organization, the inspiration behind their apparel collection for NIKE, all the ways they work at maintaining good mental health, and the iconic Nintendo game they’re now featured in.
You’re extremely passionate about inclusion, not just in your sport but in society, what are some of the ways you practice and promote that?
When I was living in LA, I felt super isolated and didn't feel like I had much of a community, but when I got to New York, I noticed how diverse and vast the skate community was—queer skaters, women, you name it, they're around.
I felt like all of us deserve to have our own community, so that's what the New York City Skate Project is and I’ve had really awesome support. My friend who is a director of a similar organization, Skate Like A Girl, helps guide me and organize events. The main purpose is having an intentional space for queer skateboarding in marginalized and underrepresented communities.
What does a typical week of training look like?
At least two days a week, if not three, I do a mix of physical therapy exercises with strength training and stability with my trainer, Jessika Alexander.
In the morning, I start out with foam rolling and mobility to just get my body moving. Then I'll either do some PT then go skate, or a full workout.
Running has been a good release for sure. As long as I'm moving, I think that helps me feel healthy and gives me a level of mental clarity that I don't always have.
How does it feel to be featured in Tony Hawk Pro Skater video game?
Oh my God. It was surreal. I played that as a kid and was inspired by that game to become a pro skater so it's crazy. It's like everything came full circle in a bunch of ways.
What was the inspiration behind your Orange Label collection for NIKE?
Designing clothes has been a huge dream of mine and it really comes from my experience wearing clothes that don't work for me when I'm trying to skate.
I just want clothes that are durable and work for as many bodies as possible—regardless of gender. So the inspiration behind my Orange Label collection for NIKE was work-wear clothes, like Carhartt.
That’s what people skate in, because it works the best. So I just wanted to bring something with the whole package, style with functionality. It’s clothing anyone can wear.
Song on your workout playlist you can’t get enough of right now?
Oh my God. Oh my God. Actually, “WAP”, that new Cardi B song is just, oh my God it’s amazing.
I've also been listening to a lot of Sia’s album, 1000 Forms of Fear. I’ve become obsessed with people who have amazing vocals because I'm taking vocal coaching lessons. So I'm super fascinated by that right now.
What are fun things you do outside of skating?
I'm loving music production and songwriting lately. I've played guitar since I was 14, so I've been recording a lot. I’ve also been doing a lot of cooking, meditation, all those things sort of keep me afloat. So I just try to do that consistently.
What’s been your go-to quarantine breakfast?
I’ve been obsessed with pancakes. I’m really into the boxed paleo pancake mixes you just add water to. They’re super simple and I love adding the Ladder Vanilla Plant Protein to it. It’s amazing.
I also have a Spinach Omelette that I love. And if you make it with just one egg, it's super thin and just really satisfying to eat.
How do you keep your mental game in check while competing in a sport like skateboarding that doesn’t have the typical teammate environment?
I've dealt with depression a lot and I've seen the ways that it sort of robbed me of my time, because I'm literally unable to go skate or workout. And a lot of things can trigger my depression, like injury is a huge trigger for me.
If I can't skate or do anything, then obviously it's going to be really taxing on my mental health. I was dealing with ankle injuries a lot and I just felt like I was never at 100%. It was a bummer. So it’s been a big motivation for me to do my PT every day. And since I started doing it consistently, for almost two years now, I've actually been able to avoid serious ankle injuries—which is amazing. I also love to read.
What are some resources you use for maintaining good mental health?
I've been in therapy for a long time and I have a psychiatrist helping me. But a big part of maintaining good mental health was fully coming out as trans. Things were so splintered for a really long time and it was very taxing on my mental health. I’ve read some great books that have been helpful.
Right now I’m reading “Bouncing Back”. It’s all about harnessing your neuroplasticity and being more resilient. I've been reading it and working on the concepts with my therapist. It has tons of great information on mental health in it.
And reading “The Mindful Athlete: Secrets to Pure Performance” was seriously a game-changer. It changed the way I experienced skating and I wish I read it so much sooner. I highly recommend it for anyone, not just athletes, but anyone looking for actual daily exercises they can do to improve their mental and physical game.