Neena Schueller is in the middle of an intense, five-year relationship with her skateboard.
Whether it’s beneath her feet while she shreds her hometown streets of Gainesville, in her suitcase as she travels to contests or under her desk as she sits in engineering classes, it’s always within arm’s reach.
A sophomore at the University of Florida, Schueller masters the ultimate balancing act. While learning physics equations and Spanish definitions, she also spends time pounding the concrete to master new tricks on her longboard and satisfy her unquenchable love for the sport.
Those four wheels have opened more doors than she could’ve imagined when she first began skating in the winter of 2009. Her progress over the years has garnered her hard-earned respect and prominence within the longboarding community. And it all started with a YouTube video.
The Power Of YouTube
Bored and browsing the depths of YouTube, Schueller stumbled upon a video in the website’s sidebar titled “Go Longboard 2009.” A compilation posted by Original Skateboards, it featured more than seven minutes of pure shredding.
Schueller was hooked.
“In my mind, I thought all you did was just stand on a board and cruise, but they were doing tricks, they were going super fast, and they were doing slides,” she said. “Slides were what really caught my attention. After seeing that one video, I decided I was gonna do it.”
She hit the streets of Gainesville, determined to teach herself how to mimic the longboarders in the video.
Using a simple analogy, she described the difference between longboarding and skateboarding.
“All squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares. All longboards are a type of skateboard, but not all skateboards are a longboard,” she explained.
Starting from square one, Schueller practiced longboarding like it was her job.
She zipped through the slight hills of Gainesville and cruised through the University of Florida campus wearing her usual uniform: jean shorts, skate shoes, a skateboarding company T-shirt and a helmet.
Along the way, she endured more cuts and bruises than the average teenage girl will get in a lifetime. But for Schueller, scars aren’t a bother at all.
“I don’t really care. After my 500th scar, I was like ‘I’m just gonna stop caring even in the slightest because who cares?’” she said. “My entire body is scars because I just skate so much, but whatever.”
The worst scar of all? The one on her chin.
She recalls riding the concrete course at Kona Skate Park in Jacksonville.
Her face collided with the ground, causing an injury that she admitted probably deserved stitches. Tears were shed, but even that didn’t stop her from continuing.
Other scars line her shoulders, shins and knees, a visible testament to the infinite hours she has spent learning the art of longboarding from freestyle to downhill racing.
But sliding is her latest obsession. She cruises downhill. Gains speed. Twists her body and board 90 degrees. And relishes the delicate balance between fear and delight when her wheels lose traction with the ground.
“It’s like a controlled loss of control,” she said.
And those few moments spent mid-slide are pure, adrenaline-filled bliss. It’s her happy place.
“Nothing else crosses your mind when you’re skating, so there’s no room to even be unhappy,” she said. “It just helps you not to dwell on things and live in the moment.”
Spotted, Young Talent
In a matter of two years, Schueller went from watching YouTube videos to producing her own to showcase her abilities. She soon worked up the courage to send her footage to the guys at Original Skateboards — the same company whose YouTube video sparked her initial interest in the sport.
This move landed her the first of many sponsorships.
After that, the sponsors rolled in as smoothly as her wheels. She nonchalantly recites an impressive list of companies who provide her with equipment: Skateboard trucks from Bear, slide pucks from Holesom Boards, wheels from Fresh Wheel Co., wheel bearings from Rush.
“It’s nice because it could get costly,” she said. “I definitely ride the shit out of everything I have until it breaks.”
Whatever she doesn’t get from these companies, she gets from Gainesville’s FreeRide Surf & Skate Shop, her local sponsor.
After coming across Schueller’s videos on YouTube, Peter Harter, FreeRide’s manager, said he knew he wanted her on the team. What caught his eye was she filmed her videos by herself, a feat that would only take a few hours with the help of someone else.
After noting her determination and “steez” — the blend of style and ease with which she skates — Harter met her in person in the shop. He started sponsoring her when she was only 17.
“If you can produce the videos and you’ve got a good style, I don’t care how old you are,” Harter said.
When it comes to skating, age and gender don’t have a huge effect on skills or toughness. In terms of the latter, Schueller’s tough as nails.
“If she gets scratched, if she is bleeding, she gets back up and walks right back up the hill again,” Harter said. “It’s more of like, ‘Where’s the camera? Look at my scar. Now I’m goin’ back up.’”
I Dub Thee Queen
After only three years of skateboarding, Schueller managed to become one of the top women in the longboarding community.
As the only girl sponsored by FreeRide, Schueller holds her own in the male-dominated world of skateboarding and she’s got the name recognition to back it up.
She has won the female division of Kona Skate Park’s King of Kona contest for the past two years, securing her the nickname “Queen of Kona.” But that hasn’t been the most defining point of her skateboarding career.
A year and a half ago, Schueller was invited to Israel to film a documentary about women who longboard. She was one of 14 women from around the world who were chosen by the Longboard Girls Crew, an international community of female longboarders.
Schueller’s parents didn’t let her participate in the documentary filming because the timing conflicted with her first week of college. The honor she felt after the invite, however, still hasn’t faded.
At a majority of the contests she competes in on the weekends, she’s the only girl. That doesn’t bother her.
Harter, her FreeRide manager, said she has gained adequate respect from male competitors, but most of them underestimate her because she’s a girl. That only lasts until she straps on her pads and barrels down the hills alongside the guys, Harter said.
Schueller’s fellow FreeRide team member, Ehrin Flintroy, agreed that male riders who haven’t seen her tear up the concrete before may not expect her to shred as hard as she does.
He knows she’s a threat, though.
“When we go to competitions, I don’t look at her like ‘oh, she’s a girl. No worries.’” Flintroy said. “No, I look at her like ‘Oh, that’s competition.’”
The two skate the streets of Gainesville together when they aren’t competing against each other.
What started as a bond over skateboarding nearly three years ago has morphed into true friendship. Flintroy said Schueller once came to the rescue at 2 a.m. when his car got towed.
A Balancing Act
In the midst of helping friends in the wee hours of the night, shredding in weekend skate contests and practicing her slides and tricks any chance she can get, Schueller somehow manages to squeeze in time for school.
A sophomore studying engineering — a program that typically takes five years to complete — Schueller is on track to get her degree in four years.
Balancing her passionate love for skateboarding with her time-consuming coursework is quite the feat, she said. She always prioritizes school, only rarely missing class for a contest.
While studying physics equations in the library, she daydreams of her escapades from last summer studying abroad and skating the hills of Spain, but she understands the importance of school, and she said she never regrets picking such a difficult major because engineering is the only thing she can see herself working in after graduation.
She’s not too sure what lies ahead, except for longboarding, obviously.
With the ultimate goal is having a stable life, she wants a job that allows her to travel and skate on the side. Maybe doing something that has to do with manufacturing skateboards for a small company.
For now, she’ll concentrate on passing her physics class and shredding the competition at her next contest. She motions to her nearby skateboard with a subtle nod.
“Now I do this thing where you just show up somewhere with a skateboard and a backpack, and you just do what you gotta do and meet people and have a great time,” she said.
She retains a calm, self-assured composure. While she hasn’t mapped out a set plan for her future, it’s the same composure she somehow keeps while nailing 30-foot slides or trying new tricks.
“I’ll go wherever life leads me,” she said.