Since her arrival on the modeling scene in 2014, it’s been apparent that Natalie Westling was something else. The combination of her angelic features, flame red hair, and tomboy attitude made her a favorite of Marc Jacobs, Hedi Slimane, Miuccia Prada, Tom Ford, Phoebe Philo, Nicolas Ghesquière, and nearly every other big-name designer out there, though despite her successes, she prefers to keep a relatively low profile. Her Instagram, which boasts more than 46,000 followers, hasn’t been updated in 10 weeks—basically a lifetime in Internet years—though she continues to be a model-of-the-moment, walking in exclusive shows and booking top campaigns. So what’s Westling been up to in her downtime? Skating.
The Arizona native first picked up a skateboard at age 3. Her dedication to the sport is so extreme that her first two tattoos are emblematic of her passion: Her left arm reads “skate” in graffiti lettering, and on her right there’s a Vans logo. Pretty bold for a model to dedicate herself to a label that thoroughly, but Westling’s no joke when it comes to skateboarding. Her latest modeling coup finds her inking a deal with the iconic skate company to be a brand ambassador for its Sk8-Hi shoe silhouette campaign to celebrate the brands 50th anniversary. Vogue.com caught up with Westling on the occasion of her first Vans lookbook to talk skating, modeling, and that tattoo.
When did you first start skating?
When I was 3 years old. I had these neighbors that were older than me and always playing on their skateboards, and I instantly became obsessed after they were cool enough to let me hop around and fall all over theirs.
What was it like being a girl growing up skating? Were there any female skaters you admired?
It was awkward sometimes and embarrassing at others when you ran into the kind of guys who would always consider you a credit-lacking hack just because you were a girl. Eventually, of course, you just don’t care and that divide kind of fades away. I wasn’t really aware of any girl skaters, to be honest. I looked up more to the guys I knew who were really better than anyone “on the outside,” or whatever you call it.
Do you remember your first pair of Vans?
Of course. They were the red-and-white checkerboard slip-ons.
When did you get your Vans tattoo? Why was it something you wanted to have done?
I got it about a year ago. Vans has been such a big part of my life for so long and remained my favorite shoe through the years—it was just one of those things I wanted to have done. Why does anyone tattoo something onto their body, you know?
What would you say is the number one takeaway that you’ve learned from skating?
Do what you love and forget about the rest.
Do you feel like skating has helped you become a stronger model in any way?
Definitely. With modeling, movement is such an important skill. Funny enough, skating kind of trained me, without me knowing, of course, to make those shapes and hit those jumps with more of a second nature than I probably wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Nowadays it seems like lots of models are skaters (or at least wear skate gear). What do you think about skate culture becoming more popular and mainstream?
I’m not sure why that’s become a thing. Subcultures always have their turns in the mainstream, and skate culture is several decades old, never really faded. As a model, you’re so often being done up to look a certain way—maybe some girls are starting to enjoy the undone look because it’s the new novelty. Maybe done-down is just the new done-up.
Who are your favorite skaters today?
Jason Park, Ellis Frost, Jonny Giger, and Sam Tabor.
Where’s the best place to skate on earth?
California. Just because everything there was made to be skated on!
Photo: Olivia Bee