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A Talk with Patti McGee
"The First Betty" of skateboarding on going pro
By Sky Siljeg

Patti McGee and Sky Siljeg
Patti McGee and Sky Siljeg, at Patty's home in Arizona.
(Photo: Courtesy Sky Siljeg)
A 2006 Concrete Wave cover shot of Steve Caballero, legendary Powell and Vans skater, is framed on the wall of Patti McGee's office. "Thank you for paving the way for the rest of us!" Steve wrote to Patti, the lady known as "The First Betty" of skateboarding.

Patti McGee was 19 when she became the first professional female skateboarder in history. I recently got to talk with this sports legend about her career and her groundbreaking decision to go pro.

"I had about two weeks to decide to go pro or not after winning the Woman's Title at the US Nationals in 1965," said Patti.

At that time, to "go pro" meant giving up competing. Patti knew she had to make a living, so she turned pro and said goodbye to competing. Her decision also affected her surfing career. She started surfing in 1958 and worked her way up in the sport.

"I had started out as a surfer, so when there was no surf my friends and I would find a hill to ride. That's how I started skating," Patti said. "That was also about the time they invented parking garages, too. The exits were a challenge not to mention having to watch out for the security guards. Yep, not much has changed for skaters there!"

Patti's surfing would, for a time, take back seat to skating. Her impact as a surfer was not forgotten though. In 2004, Patti was inducted into the Malibu Surf Legends.

"I was the only girl pro at the time . . . the guys that I skated with were great," Patti recalled, as she shared pictures and showed me her board collection. "Skating at the time was all flat ground. We did figure eights, hand stands and 360's."

Patti holds the issue of LIFE magazine
Patti holds the issue of LIFE magazine that features her picture on the cover, May 14, 1965.
(Photo: Courtesy Patti McGee)
Hobie Skateboards—Vita Pak sent Patti her all over the country on tour. She even appeared on TV shows like What's my Line? and The Johnny Carson Show. One of the highlights of that time, according to Patti, was seeing an unforgettable picture of herself in a magazine.

"I appeared upside down on my board doing a hand stand on the cover of LIFE magazine on May 14th, 1965," she said. "I also got the cover of Skateboarder Magazine. That will always be my pride and joy. It's also another first for girl skaters."

Patty toured for about a year, and then skateboarding's popularity died down for a while. "So my decision to go pro was a good one," she said.

The next phase of her life saw Patti in all kinds of different environments. She spent a few years snow skiing at Lake Tahoe. Then she went into Turquoise mining in Nevada and later worked as a leather smith. For 15 years, Patti ran a southwestern Trading Post in a place called Cave Creek in Arizona. During these years, she raised her son and daughter.

Today, at 61, Patti is currently involved with in a screen-printing business with her daughter, Hailey. The business, First Betty, prints girls skate wear. I also hear that Patti still likes to take her board, a gift from "Deathbox" Dave Hackett, out to the local park and ride.

"A 53-year span in skating, and so many think it is new for the girls," Patty smiled. "Who would have thought it would grow to what it is today?"