Afro tastic! Photo via INSTA
Gabby Maiden has lived many lives in her 30 years on earth. She grew up in the Los Angeles music scene, moved to Bear Mountain to pursue snowboarding, went pro, and ended up all the way in Iceland as a model in the process. She put out video parts, did contests and traveled the world over with sponsors including Nikita, Von Zipper, Celtek and more, before disappearing off the board-world radar to pursue other passions. Our paths diverged a while ago, but after seeing her face in the opening scene of the second season of Stranger Things, I knew it was time to hit her up again. Even though she’s nearly 10 years older, wiser, and way more famous now, she’s still the same Gabby. Excited, happy and appreciative of everything there is to appreciate. Hell, she even appreciated the tiny cassette logo graphic on my voice recorded app, which I used to capture the audio version of this interview. “It’s so 90’s, retro, but like, not,” she exclaimed when I held it up to show her… “The 90s are so in right now,” I joked. And that is where we begin…
Gabby: Everyone’s wanting to go back to the 90s these days. It was the best time! I’m not gonna lie, my childhood was pretty fun. And 90s movies. I was obsessed with the Mighty Ducks. OBSESSED. I told my parents, “I’m gonna be a hockey player,” because it was so awesome. They were in Minnesota skating around, rollerblading in the mall, with massive team work – it looked so fun. My parents said, “Hell no, you’re gonna knock your teeth out.” So we compromised and they let me be a figure skater instead. (laughs)
Brooke: Tell us more about your parents – what to they do?
Well, my dad is the lead guitarist and singer in this great band called Rufus and Chaka Khan. Back in the 70s they had some awesome hits! And my mom, she’s been his manager since they’ve been together. She managed a couple other artists back in the day but now she mostly focuses on family.
Gabby’s Hollywood fam.
So I, and hopefully everyone reading this, saw you in the new season of Stranger Things… I was hyped, like, “Holy shit! I know her!”
I know, it’s so weird, but so cool. The snow world is kind of what got me inspired and made me comfortable enough to start acting again in the first place. I was very shy when I was a kid – but since I was 5 years old, I’ve wanted to be an actress. I tried to pursue it back then, but it wasn’t really working. So I was like, ok, I’m gonna give myself some more time and work on some other activities to build confidence. I did almost every sport, but in high school, snowboarding was my newfound passion. That finally started to help me break out of my shell and is what inspired me to move to Bear a little after I graduated high school. If it wasn’t for snowboarding and riding for such amazing companies, getting to travel around the world, be open and meet people, who knows. I’m thankful, it helped me come back into acting. I’m in my element now, thanks to throwing myself down stairs and rails. (laughs) It definitely put some tough skin on me.
I feel like most people watching Netfllix probably don’t realize you were once an official “girl who rides” for Nikita. You’re still a girl who rides right? Are you still snowboarding?
I am, just not as much as I used to. My time has been more concentrated on wanting to be in LA, being with my family, acting, auditions and I just haven’t had the time. Lately, it’s made me a bit bummed, but this year I’m already planning a trip to snowboard! I’m going to go to Utah at the end of December and I’m making more of an effort to head up to Bear this season. Looking forward to it!
On board and on the streets. Photo: Nathaniel Harrington
How did you decide to make the call to end your professional snowboarding career? Is there a story there?
Yeah, I went fully off the radar. It was after I made my video part for Peep Show’s Winter Wars. June had asked me if I could make a fun song for the end credits. I said of course! I made it with my Ukulele, singing, whistling and even had my dad play on it using very fun random instruments (my grandmother’s old washboard, the bass, and a toy harmonica). I titled the song “A long way to go,” and it’s one of my favorites I’ve created.
I went to the premiere at Mt. Hood and when my part came on June was like, “look up,” and she used my song, for my video part! They just surprised me with it. I almost cried, it was on another level. I was extremely proud of that part, and of the song I created talking about taking long journey’s with people you care about.
So after that I was like, where do I go from here?
I based myself in Iceland with the Nikita fam on and off for 2 years and everyone was like where the hell did Gabby go? I just had that feeling where I was content and happy with what I created and was ready to expand. Not quit snowboarding, but it was something I wanted to put a pause on and end on a nice note… Adventure out into the world in another way. I’m so glad I did that, it was the perfect timing.
And now to the other side!
Speaking of Iceland, I have a special question from former Nikita Marketing genius Asgeir Hoskuldsson. He wanted to know if the song “Gabba Gabba Hey” speaks to you on a spiritual level?
Geiri! That’s the best question I’ve ever heard. That was my nickname when I was snowboarding. It definitely makes me feel very pumped up – I would put that song on when I was snowboarding and just start singing ::sings Gabba Gabba we accept you, we accept you! One of us!:: It definitely makes me feel like a boss of the day! Thanks for calling in Geiri.
He’s actually got another one, you ready? He was hoping you could describe your Nikita years in four words or less.
Wow. (counts on fingers) What about five, can I have five?
Alright, but only ‘cause of the Icelandic exchange rate.
Best. Time. Of. My. Life.
I can’t thank that Icelandic company and the people involved enough for being such an inspiration to me. They really took care of me and I still call them my second family. They brought me out of the country for the first time when I was 19 to Portugal; doing one of our famously-fun photoshoots. It was my dream, to explore, and they took me along for the ride. I grew up with them and they collaborated with so many important women who were being themselves. I really loved how the OG Nikita brand really capitalized on that individuality. I was living the dream, dude… Traveling around, snowboarding and being myself!
I remember, I was so stressed out for weeks before I told them I wanted to do something else. I had filmed a little bit with the Helgasons and I was telling the Nikita peeps I would use it to make something that winter or send it to Dangy for her edits. But to be honest, I was really just prolonging telling them I was done being a snowboarder. When I finally did they were like, “Of course Gabby! We get it! You’re a person of many talents… Do your thing!” They left the door open for me to come back. I was super thankful and lucky to have such great sponsors that were like a family. I think that’s gone into acting too. I’m careful about choosing the people I work with and I’m very loyal. If I’m with you, I’m with you, and I feel fortunate to have worked with companies that treated me the same way.
How does the Hollywood biz compare with the snowboard biz? Do you feel the same sort of comradery or has it been more cutthroat?
I’d say It’s actually very similar. When you first start out as a snowboarder you’re trying to get attention in some way — by doing events or contests and being visible — it’s the same with acting. The industry and the casting directors need to see you in order to know who you are, so once you get into that audition room, that’s where they can see you shine. When I started out auditioning, I was lucky that I was going out for shows/films I really wanted to do. And that was the same thing when I was young snowboarding – I did fun contests I really wanted to do, like the Forum Young Bloods and the Nikita Chickita. That’s where people started noticing me – “Who’s that girl with the afro?!” Once you’re noticed, then you can be more particular of what you want to do. Which is why I moved past contest riding and decided to do more film and video parts.
In either world, you want to start off (and continue) with people who are hard working and not dicks – I can’t really put it any simpler than that. You just have to trust your gut.
In acting it’s all about networking and meeting people. In snowboarding you have to do the same. If you’re not feeling good vibes about doing something creatively, it’s ok to say no. When I was snowboarding I would never ride for a company that I didn’t love riding for, and in my opinion, that’s how you should feel about film and television projects. If you’re not excited about it, you shouldn’t do it. You wanna be happy, you don’t want to be in something that’s not for the love.
Getting all urban with a little Think Thank influence in Park City, 2010. Photo: Alex Mertz
This next one comes from Danya Jackson via our facebook. What was your first urban feature and what did you do on it?
Oh man, I remember that day well. It was in Utah with Erik Leines, when I was first riding with Celtek. He let me go on a rail trip with this program they had, teaching groms to ride street spots. He asked me to come ride and we went to this one downrail – which I wish I remember where it was because it was so perfect – and I did a 50-50 front 180 out. I freaked out! I have it on film but I don’t know where that clip is, but I’m looking at it in my brain – that was a such an incredible moment. Celtek was another company that was always down for me. I didn’t have a board sponsor at the time and they asked me to ride one of their collab boards and let me pick the graphic. I picked this green goddess looking character – it was beautiful. I still have that board, it’s up in Big Bear in my storage unit and I rode it until it was totally destroyed. That brought me back, fantastic question, thank you Danya!
Have a pro model or be a pro model? Gabby did both. Photo: Luiz Lima
Have you been paying attention to modern snowboarding – especially on the women’s side?
Well first, shout out to Too Hard. That split screen they posted of me riding and me as my character Mick that said “get you a girl that does both” melted my heart. It was the sweetest!
Their Instagram videos are my favorite! (laughs) The riding, the editing, the craftsmanship, the kitty cats, the dance moves. It’s so Dangy. It’s genius.
I remember when Dangy was just starting to make videos. We were in Tahoe. Peep Show was taking a break and June and Estee were thinking they wanted to do different things. Joanie Robichard and I were filming with Dangy in Tahoe and she was totally in her element – directing people, plus she knew where all the spots were. It was really fun and I think shortly after that, that’s when I started seeing her post her fun edits and then it blew the frick up!
But not gonna lie, I’ve been out of the loop. I just follow my homies from forever ago – It makes me proud to know them and to also see where women’s riding is going. It’s always been progressing, but now girls even more so, are making guys pay attention. Just whipping out heavy bangers with such style! I’m excited this year to watch all the videos and read the articles like I did when I was an obsessive little snow kid. Catch up with my general snowboarding pop culture.
Women have really stepped it up – it’s awesome to see and not just because I am one. Even the guys are paying attention now. Leanne is still killing it too with Full Moon films. It’s her Hana Beaman, Robyn Van Gyn, Jamie Anderson, and lots more…
Oh that’s awesome! I remember Leanne put a clip of me in one of her films, I think it was “Ro-Sham-bo,” and I freaked out! I get excited very easily (laughs) but I had always looked up to Leanne and the women in that video so it was amazing to be part of anything she did. I remember that day too.. They were sessioning a rail at Bear and someone was like, do you wanna session with us? I was like, “No way!” It was literally a dream come true! It was a closed shoot and I did a 50-50 to 360 out on one of the down-rails with a donkey kink. It took me forever to do it. (laughs) I was just learning because I had just seen Johnny Miller do it, and I wanted to try and master it so bad. When I finally landed it, everyone gave me so much props, and then she put it in the movie! It was so cool! When you get included with people you respect and look up to it’s a really nice feeling. Especially when you’re coming up. It’s the same as if I was to meet my acting hero – I would hope that they’d be super cool.
Who is your acting hero?
Female or male?
Let’s go both, but female first because girl power and stuff.
Well, I haven’t met her yet, but Halle Berry. I look up to her as an actress and I think she’s very versatile. I would love to work with her one day. She’s also a mixed-race female, which when I was young, it was really cool to see on screen. I looked up to her and said, “I wanna be like her.” I find its similar when I get people who come up to me and say how much they like that I wear my hair natural and embrace it. They say it encourages them to do the same, which warms my heart. Its always nice to have someone or something to look up to. Also Thandie Newton is an amazing actress, and Viola Davis is a boss.
Ok, how about male?
I actually met Damon Wayans the other day! In my household, “Major Payne” is quoted and watched very frequently. My friends and I were sitting at a restaurant patio eating and he walked out. I hyped myself up and then approached him in the most dorky Gabby way possible – I probably skipped – and was like, “Hey!” And he was super cool! He asked me my name and introduced himself and we had an awesome conversation – including how much I loved Major Payne and the comedic work he’s done. We took a picture and it was casual. I don’t go crazy fan girl – but if I admire you, I will go up and talk to you and let you know (laughs). Everyone’s just normal – not a unicorn.
I don’t go crazy fan girl – but if I admire you, I will go up and talk to you and let you know
When people come up to me and say nice things, I really appreciate it, and I’ll always talk to you like we’re friends. I cant help it (laughs). Actually there was this one time where two girls who were friends that recognized me from this web series I’m on called Sexless. I was at FYF music fest in LA and they came up to me and we’re like “OH MY GOD, ARE YOU FARRAH!” I was super flattered and I just started talking to them. I was by myself, lost my friends and was just wandering around. We were talking and it got to the point where they were clearly sick of talking to me and we’re like, “Cool, well we’re gonna go…” (laughs) But that’s what I always do – They were sweet about it, but it was funny. I felt like I overstayed my conversation welcome. I wanted to talk to them and they just wanted to say hi. (laughing)
Gabby at the Stranger Things premiere with Finn Wolfhard aka Mike Wheeler
Right… so about those male actors…
Oh yeah, Damon Wayans, Denzel Washington would be a dream to work with and Morgan Freeman. I would love to talk to him. I feel like he knows the meaning of life. He could say anything and I would be like, “you’re right Morgan, you’re such a wise man.” Best voice ever.
He is the voice of God, right? That’s a pretty solid top 3!
It can always change too, with so many new great talents coming up. Not to mention the kids on Stranger Things. They inspire me, I mean, that whole cast and crew does. The Duffer’s created a fantastic world and it’s insanely fun to be part of it.
Since we’re back on Stranger Things, let’s take another question from Facebook. Cody Livingstone asked, “Did you get hit by the spray of bullets when the van was driving away after the wall and 11 disappeared?”
Another great question! All I know is that it freaked me out when the pellets first went off (laughs). I’ve never been part of a project with so much action before, so it was a new and exciting experience. Lonie, our amazing stunt coordinator did that pull out drive for me, even though they were gonna allow me to do it at first. But after one take, it felt better to have the professionals do it. Safety first! I did do a good portion of my stunt driving though, but if it was too wild, they had my amazing stunt double Jwaundace Candece take over for me.. Such as the epic opening car chase scene. She killed it!
At the wheel!
It’s pretty badass that they let you drive at all.
Yeah, my favorite scene I got to drive for was when we were jamming out and driving down the road. I’m blowing smoke in Axel’s [James Landry Hebert] face and dancing. Our director Rebecca Thomas definitely let us have some freedom in that scene, which was really fun.
Sorry for the spoilers!
Hey, it’s out and if people haven’t watched it yet, that’s their fault. But let’s wrap this up. I have one last Facebook question from Andruw Jones that I think is the perfect ender… “What have you learned in her journey thus far and how can that be applied to help progress/enlighten others?”
What I’ve learned and am continuing to practice is the art of trusting yourself. You’re gonna have a million moments — in life, love, in snowboarding doing crazy tricks — where you have to trust the outcome. We tend to stress ourselves out by feeling or thinking that we can’t do certain things sometimes, and it can be very unnecessary. There are also so many aspiring actors that feel pressured to make things happen quickly, but it takes time. There’s no rush. Just trust your gut, and know that everything is gonna work out. Try not to waste your time thinking about how it’s supposed to be. Everyone is different and you’re never gonna have the same thing that someone else has. You have to make sure that you do the work, and always stay focused with the direction of where you’re going. You can listen to people and take in different advice, but don’t follow through with something if it’s not truly in your heart. You know what you need to do, so get out there, do it and have fun!
You know what you need to do, so get out there, do it and have fun!
WANT MOAR – READ HER FIRST HUMP DAY FROM 2009 HERE.