Everyone’s journey of self-discovery has unique challenges. Ideally, you would find your path away from the public eye. However, when you’re a celebrity that’s usually not possible.
Netflix’s Stay on Board: The Leo Baker Story reveals how a skateboard icon became a transgender icon. Last month, it won the audience award for best documentary feature at the Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ+ Film Festival. It’s easy to see why. Stay on Board is an intimate, well-told tale about living your truth. Baker had the guts to quit the 2020 Olympic team and walk away from a competitive skateboarding world that only recognized Leo Baker as Lacey Baker.
No one wants to be put in a category where they don’t belong. Especially not skateboarders. The sport values authenticity, and you won’t find a more authentic documentary subject than Baker. The journey has been deemed so inspirational that Baker was one of the athletes featured in the Nike Colin Kaepernick ad.
Stay on Board starts by first introducing us to Lacey Baker. We learn how Baker overcame a difficult childhood by focusing on skateboarding after learning tricks from foster siblings. The escape became a passion and a profession.
With blonde hair, an appealing style, and raw talent, Baker became a recognizable force in skateboarding as a teenager in the late 2000s. Later, Baker won a gold medal at the 2014 Summer X Games and in 2017, Baker became the lone skateboarder to be nominated at the ESPYs for Best Female Action Sports Athlete.
With the fame, came endorsements. In extreme sports, sponsorships are necessary to help pay the bills. And advertisers and marketers are quick to have the athletes look and dress a certain way. The problem was, that was not Baker. The documentary spends ample time on Baker discussing the fight to break free from this mold. First, as a queer individual and later as a transgender man.
There was so much emphasis on Baker as a “female skateboarder” instead of simply a “skateboarder.” In the documentary, Baker recalled in annoyance at being in a meeting and someone saying: “The name Lacey Baker. It’s so marketable.”
There was a lot of pressure to conform. Skateboarding, once viewed as a rogue activity, was scheduled to make its debut as an Olympic sport in 2020. It’s difficult enough obviously to reach those heights under ideal conditions. Imagine doing so while fighting to be your true self. This all reached a boiling point when Baker stunned everyone by quitting the Olympic team to focus on transitioning.
The struggle is real. The struggle can be heartbreaking. One of the most poignant moments of Stay on Board occurs at a high school Hall of Fame ceremony when an older man comes up to Baker and says “We’re lucky. We don’t have a lot of standout females.” The gentleman may have thought he was delivering a compliment. But after he leaves, an exasperated Baker sighs and says “It’s just super awkward to be referred to as female.”
Directed by Nicola Marsh and Giovanni Reda and produced by GLAAD, Stay on Board reveals Baker discussing the professional and personal challenges of transitioning. Baker speaks candidly about the decision to have top surgery to remove breasts. It’s enlightening to hear this and is reminiscent of another excellent Netflix trans documentary ‘Disclosure.’
America has become less welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community in recent years, from book bans to Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law to states restricting transgender participation in school sports. In this environment, Baker has persevered. He’s never been more popular.
Baker became the first trans athlete to be featured in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater video game. He co-founded a company, Glue Skateboards. Those are obviously great accomplishments. But the biggest takeaway from Stay on Board?
Leo Baker has found his peace of mind.
“I stayed Lacey Baker for way too fucking long,” he said.