Streets of Albuquerque paved the way for Mariah Duran’s Olympic aspirations

Mariah Duran
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“We put in miles on our boards”

Olympic hopeful Mariah Duran’s style as a skateboarder was shaped – quite literally – by the streets of her hometown, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“I don’t want to say it, but it’s like, you can tell who was dropped off at the skate park, and who skated to the skate park,” the two-time X Games champion says. “For me, I had to skate to the skate park… So, I had to get really comfortable with my skateboarding. I guess it kind of just helped develop my style.”

Duran and her two brothers grew up skating at – and skating to – Los Altos skate park in eastern Albuquerque. When asked how long it took to get there from their home, Duran considers for a minute before saying, “Probably when we first started skating there, it was a good 30 [minutes] because we weren’t that good… But now, I could probably crank it there in 10 minutes.”

But Duran, who competes in skateboarding’s street event, didn’t rely solely on the rails and ramps at the skate park. “If I’m sitting in the passenger seat of a car, my head is constantly turning and looking at spots to skate,” the 23-year-old explains, noting that the essence of street skating is being in “an environment where you’re really not supposed to skate.”

When the siblings ventured out to new spots, Duran recalls that her mom Deana – a special education teacher – would give them $6 ($1 for bus fees and $5 for food). Duran and her brothers would carefully craft a plan, picking a spot to skate that was close to a restaurant with a dollar menu.

The bus system wasn’t perfect, though. “Sometimes the buses won’t drop you off where you need to be or there won’t be a connecting [bus] to get you there or you don’t have enough money for the connecting [bus] so you’re like, ‘I’m just gonna skate there’… Now that I have a car and I drive I’m like, ‘Yo, we put in miles on our boards.’ It was insane.”

An oasis made of concrete

These days, Duran can skate much closer to home. Last year she used some of her contest money to hire a contractor and she “concreted” her parents’ backyard. This summer, the backyard skate park expanded to include a new halfpipe Duran built with the help of her family.

Duran says her dad, Anthony, got “hyped” on the project, watching videos about halfpipe construction on YouTube. It’s not the first time that her dad – who works as a manager at Walmart – has gotten really into one of her skate projects. Duran recently re-watched her first ever “skate video,” which her dad recorded when she was in fifth grade. While filming, her dad decided the video needed music. “So he would film us skating with a ringtone playing off of his phone. I swear at one point, he answers a call.” Duran recalls, laughing. “And I’m like, dude!”

Siblings who skate

Duran was introduced to skateboarding by her older brother Elijah. Growing up, her parents had a rule that their daughter had to bring her brothers along whenever she went to the skate park. “I couldn’t go to the skate park unless they were with me. That’s how my parents felt safe,” she recalls.

While the bring-your-brothers-along mandate technically expired years ago, Duran has carried the tradition over to her pro career, and it is her brothers who usually travel with her to competitions. Elijah, the oldest, was the first to join her on the r­­oad. Zeke, who is four years younger and was in high school when Mariah and Elijah first started traveling together, watched enviously from afar. So, Mariah made him a promise: she would buy his passport once he graduated from high school. “That was just more motivation for him to finish the school year off, pass every class, and then just graduate,” she says.

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Refreshed for Tokyo

Skateboarding will make its Olympic debut at next summer’s Tokyo Games. Two disciplines will be on the program: park and street. Duran is currently in qualifying position as the top American woman in street, though qualification is on hold right now due to COVID-19. “This whole pandemic thing, it just changed my whole mindset. You can have a plan, but that doesn’t mean that plan is gonna happen,” she says.

Ultimately, though, Duran is grateful for the one-year Olympic delay. “At the rate everything was going, with all of the contests, it was just a lot. It could’ve been possible to burn out before Tokyo,” she says. “[The pause] really got me back to the reason why I started skating in the first place… It brought me back to when I was 10 years old and I just wanted to skate in the front yard and skate with my brothers.”

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