The lifestyle of freelance artist and downhill skateboarder Ishtar Bäcklund blends art, adventure, and an abundance of joie de vivre. Originally from Sweden, she has toured around the globe with her skateboard, competing as well as creating murals for skateboard shops on almost every continent. And it all began when she started hanging around a skateshop in Stockholm when she was only 17 years old.
We first encountered Ishtar through her short film collaboration with the Swedish band Tussilago. In Ishtar x Tussilago, dreamy pop/rock sweeps across the dramatic Norwegian countryside as the skaters glide—and occasionally tumble—through the winding mountain highways. The film captures some of the eager spirit that Ishtar conveys through her art and lifestyle.
In this vivid stream-of-consciousness narrative, Ishtar tells us about how she became involved in the downhill skateboarding community, her artistic background, and how travel can be a deep form of letting go.
“So you’re wondering a bit about how I got started with my art and skating? The one came before the other, but they have been growing together ever since in a creative way of expression.
I am the daughter of a Middle Eastern artist who fled the war in Iraq after being threatened to either paint the portrait of Saddam Hussein or end his life. Before I could even walk, I was introduced to painting, and the smell of oil color is since ever printed in my memory.
Expression through art has always been natural to me and with time I’ve developed, and I am still developing, my style through different media. At times it’s been healing, especially during my teenage years when I was mostly locked inside my room drawing or at the pool swimming with my team.
Sports have always played a big role in my life as well, side by side with art. It’s built up so much strength and confidence inside of me and it’s also given me a sense of belonging.
Before skateboarding, which started around the age of 17, I was a forward in the Swedish national underwater rugby team, with whom I played years. Then, one day, I stumbled into the Kahalani skate shop in Stockholm and totally fell in love with the crew. The boys reminded me of the movie “Lords of Dogtown,” which I’d seen a couple years earlier, and always wished I could’ve been a part of.
So I started hanging out at the skate shop and I entered into a new era in my life. Then it all went by so fast… The amount of love I was feeling from the crew gave me enough confidence to go after my long-time dream of travelling the world.
The day after my high school graduation I had a one-way ticket booked, some money saved up and my board packed in my new backpack. That was the beginning of a four-year adventure, living and breathing downhill skateboarding. Alongside, I always had my notebook and some sharpies.
Through my travels I’ve been fortunate enough to get work through my art, and that has kept the dreamer in me alive. The murals I have been fortunate to create have all been amazing and fun experiences; with people supporting me from all around the world, from Tokyo to Vancouver and so on. When you show light, more light will shine.
The first thing that got me hooked with downhill skateboarding was the community. It had an exciting vibe, as if something was about to break through, and we could all feel it. Everyone was stoked and eager to help each other out in any possible way—sharing and having a good time where ever I met fellow skaters. Not to mention the high from skating! It’s such an amazing and addictive feeling that I hope will never stop existing.
I learned how to skate through racing. It was all or nothing. It’s kind of crazy when I think about it, I had only been skating for five months before I entered my first world cup race, and that’s how I kept on developing after.
I have learned a lot during the four years that I’ve been living on the road and breathing my passion. A new way of thinking and looking at the world has formed that is different from everything that I’ve ever learned in the past. Instead of basing my ideals on what society thinks is the right path, I chose to take risks and find my own path, and that has given me a new perspective on how I look at things today.
My spirituality has led the way to much of my understanding and development. Believing in the greater good, while also realizing that we all have a choice, has set the path in which I’m trying to understand life today. I think that anything is possible, I really do. The only thing is that we have to know what we want—if we don’t, then it can get very confusing. I believe that giving oneself time and trying different things is a great way of setting the direction towards the road that we are meant to walk. It’s all written somewhere, with the right to freely choose.
But I need contrasts; from living my dream with no plan for tomorrow—one day in a treehouse in the jungle and the other out with the Bedouins in the desert—to being back in the “real world” working and handling many responsibilities. These two worlds give me strength and they build up the next levels in my life, the depths of my story.
For me, travelling is a way of letting go. I give myself totally and completely to the mystery of now. I take it all as it comes without judgment or expectation. I love not knowing what is about to happen. I love to see what people or situations I attract, as it reflects who I am and what I am going through on the inside. It’s amazing.
But as I’ve said before, you don’t need to travel far to be able to find “magic” moments, they exist everywhere around us, all the time. It’s only our expectations that keeps those moments hidden from us.
Yes, I do think that there is a connection between all these factors, and that is energy. Energy and growth, transformation and expression. It’s all the same natural course of life. And to be able to find your own voice and passion is a really cool thing. I did it at a very young age as I have always felt trapped in a world where I didn’t feel I belonged. So I found my tools, skating and art, and I just started speaking through these expressions.
I found the people who agreed and understood me through these passions, and who allowed me to dream more and more. I wasn’t scared of anything, which I realize today is a crazy and amazing way to grow up. When you’re young, you’ve got fewer ghosts spooking in your brain. And I’ve been fortunate to get support from my mother, who’s always told me I should follow my gut and do what I feel like doing. She always trusted that I’d make the right decisions.
All the places that I’ve visited had their charm, and I’ve learned something valuable from every place. Even the toughest trips have resulted in massive growth and self-understanding, and I believe there was been a purpose for each meeting that I have encountered along the way.
I love the beach though. I love water. I feel at home when I can hear waves rolling up on the beach. I also go crazy when I see big open roads, especially when they are so wide that you can see many levels down when you’re skating… Wow!
And I love a new blank sheet and a fresh sharpie! These are some of my favorite things. Wherever I can find this will become my favorite place on earth!
Culture is a great source of inspiration to me. I just love to be able to blend in with the locals and feel like I’m at one with my environment. I love to learn new things and see how people handle life. It’s so inspiring.
Whatever your dreams are, they all originate in some fundamental part of you. I just hate to hear people tell me about their dreams and aspirations and then finish their sentence with a “but…”. Fear is the greatest weapon our own ego holds against us, and it’s only us who can change the amount of power we give to it.
I hope that if you have a dream, you will seek ways to finding the path to fulfilling it in any possible way you can. You’ll realize that’s only the beginning of the power you have within you for manifesting anything you want in your life. Start with just noticing the small things in your everyday life and getting more conscious of the decisions you’re making. Life is so amazing once we wake up!”
– Ishtar Bäcklund