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The renaissance of women in skateboarding

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Skaters are defying the laws of gravity with aerials, kickflips, ollies, nollies, 50-50s. They smash against the concrete, get back up and drop back in a building-like half pipe. Boards are flying in the air as the riders fall again, again and again. And again. Torn jeans, bruises, scraped hands are barely noticed. With every fall, trick perfectly executed, the girls of Baysixty6 are turning preconceived stereotypes about skateboarding girls on their ponytailed heads.

Amy is the living proof that girls can shred. Veteran skater of 15 years, she got her first board aged 11 and never looked back. Today, she organizes the skate girls jam session at Baysixty6, a girl only session that takes place every first Friday of each month.

Skateboard in hand and dying to get back in the bowl, she states that she wants girls to skate “in a relaxed, chilled and non-intimidating environment to make them feel comfortable.” Girls from all over the country come to Amy’s skate jams either to learn, improve or just spend some time with other girls that can skate.

Melissa, who has now been skating for three years shares the same feeling that dominates the female skateboarder community: “Skateboarding can be a little bit awkward for girls because it's a male dominated sport, so sometimes we feel like we are less.” This sad truth has been festering in skateparks for a long time now. But Amy assures me that the increasing media coverage of skateboarding girls is slowly changing the mindset of their male peers and, as a result, the whole industry.

When sidewalk surfing hit the masses in the 1960s, both men and women skateboarded. Pattie McGee doing a handstand on a skateboard is one of the most iconic pictures in the industry. Today however, saying that the skate industry is a boys club is an understatement. Dani Abullawah, a skater as well as an academic who wrote a study about the place girls occupy in the subculture, states that girls do not feel particularly welcome in the competitive environment of skateparks. For Dani Abullawah, this is partly due to the “long history” of objectification of women in skateboarding advertisments.

Enjoi is the perfect example of this. Naked women are printed on their skateboards as a shameful attempt at artwork, the same company printed tags in 2010 that bore the statement “dirty laundry keeps women busy” and they were forced, in 2013, to pull a line of pro-domestic violence T-shirts. And let’s not discuss the appalling adverts where women are fashion accessories wearing less clothing than Miley Cyrus in the “Wrecking Ball” video.

“I think decks with a photo of a stripper or whatever on them are pretty crass” says Ed Syder, the author and writer behind My Skateboard Life. He has been actively involved in improving female skateboarders image. Including a T-shirt spoof of a sexist Thrasher design with a skater girl saying “Oh god ! Forget boyfriends I just wanna skate.” When asked why skater girls need that kind of support he says that “there’s a macho element [to the skate industry] especially with mainstream street league type skaters. I think it messes with guys heads a bit, like a skatepark is ‘their domain’ or something.”

Dani shares the opinion that the place women occupy within the subculture is problematic. It seems that even though male skateboarders do not always explicitly discriminate against their female peers, there is an underlying vibe that forces women into thinking they have no place in  skateparks. Dani Abullawah says that this is mainly due to the lack of coverage of female skateboarders in the media and that, when there is any coverage, it is usually in special editions that reduce women to “some flowers and petals.” Another proof of the underlying sexism within the industry is the fact that female pro-skateboarders are never seen actually skateboarding, contrary to their male peers. According to some male skateboarders, like Nyjah Huston, women “should not skate” at all as skateboarding is too “gnarly and girls might hurt themselves.”

On this, Dani states that “this suggests a very narrow view of what femininity is” and that female skateboarders “do not comply to that idea.” Could the way our society views gender and the way we bring up children with gendered toys be the reason why girls are so few in the skateboarding industry?

The example of Skateistan, an organization that brought skateboarding to schools in countries such as Afghanistan, shows us that the issue within the subculture is in fact a societal one. More than 40% of the skaters at Skateistan are females. Dani assures that “because Skateistan set the sport up in a democratic way, and brought it to boys and girls, it meant that boys and girls skated.”

While it is our society that might need to change so that women can be as respected as their male peers in any chosen field, Amy and the girls from Baysixty6 will keep on showing that women can skate as well, if not better than, guys. However, the future of girls in skateboarding looks very promising. Since the first skate jam back in February, there has been an increasing number of girls of all ages and backgrounds. Overlooking the skate park and the girls that are executing some tricks, Amy smiles as she states that she hopes to see more evenings like her girls only jam in the future and adds that “if you have these nights in every skatepark, then we'll see more girls skateboarders pop-up everywhere and that's a guarantee.”

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