‘Stay on Board: The Leo Baker Story’ Review: Surviving the Grind

PUBLISHED: September 29, 2022

When Leo Baker began skateboarding professionally in the early 2000s, skateboarding was mainly a hobby for punks. There were no Olympic trials for national teams, and advertisers were only beginning to notice the profits that could come from marketing sneakers and T-shirts to kids doing kick flips.

Leo was a prodigy, but as a youth skateboarder, he wasn’t out as transgender and nonbinary. Erroneously, he was perceived as someone who could become the poster child for young women in skateboarding.

The documentary “Stay on Board: The Leo Baker Story,” directed by Nicola Marsh and Giovanni Reda, uses a combination of archival, observational and interview footage to demonstrate how Leo navigated a career as a decorated professional skateboarder while managing the stress of gender dysphoria and public misconception.

When the documentary begins, it’s the year leading up to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Leo has qualified for the United States’ first women’s team, and he is conflicted about that decision. The public misconception of his gender causes him great pain, but he is afraid that coming out will end his career. Supported by family and friends — many of whom are also queer veterans of the skateboarding scene — Leo ultimately chooses to live openly as a transgender person and withdraws from the Olympic team.

The directors have made a compact film, but their footage packs a punch. Leo is a dynamic and generous subject, and he allows the filmmakers access through an intimate struggle, as he is misgendered publicly and seeking support from loved ones privately.

This is a candid look at one person’s experience with coming out, a humane document that shows the bravery and resilience of queer people who seek relief from the categories that are imposed on them.