Kick, push: What the rise of mainstream skate culture means for women in skating
Words by Isabella Oliviera
“I liked it before it was cool!” cries the woeful hipster. Keyboard in hand, he makes his personal injustices known to the world before routinely disappearing off into the depths of obscurity. Ah yes, the long-standing tradition of liking something before it was taken over by the masses—and making sure everyone knew about it—has grown to become one of youth culture’s most nurtured generational pastimes.
While we might not hear people use this expression with the same zest and intensity as they once did a few years back, the need for exclusivity and enigma remains the same. And with skateboarding’s popularity steadily on the rise, so is the underlying sense of entitlement that comes with expanding one of society’s most beloved ‘indie’ subcultures.
Understandably, skaters who are rooted in this scene may view the sport’s expansion as a short-lived fixation influenced by the media. A mentality that isn’t surprising when we consider how social media practically bursts at the seams with models and celebrities decked out in skate brands like Thrasher and Vans. The tipping point? Justin Bieber and Rihanna’s evidently ill-informed decision to rock one of Thrasher’s hoodies. In a passionate display of artistic integrity, the brand’s editor-in-chief, Jake Phelps, made it clear that wearing one of skate culture’s most prolific clothing brands does not come without its consequences. Calling the two artists “f-ing clowns” who aren’t “real” enough sent quite an explicit message to people who reside outside of skate culture: ‘don’t wear Thrasher if you don’t skate’.
Some would rejoice at the thought of their creative outlets being recognised, while others view it as a personal violation of their culture and livelihood.
20 years into his skating career, nine of which have been dedicated to coaching, Victorian Skateboard Association coach Richard Flude understands the undertones of entitlement and intimidation and their prominence within the world of skateboarding.
“There’s always been a bit of an underground culture which has been long-stated [and] as the mainstream come towards it… that can also have negative consequences because skateboarding is very much like a brotherhood or a sisterhood, and [skaters] might want to keep those ideals,” he explained.
“Just like anything…people want to make sure their culture is preserved and people in skateboarding need to make sure that it’s being represented in a way that stays true to its roots, even as it expands.”
Richard recently completed a three week pop-up event with co-trainer, Rachel Delphin, an English and Drama teacher who represented Australia in an international skateboarding competition. Their skate-aid program, Ownlife, has been progressing strongly for the past three years and has since become one of Victoria’s largest skate training communities.
Ownlife is dedicated to creating spaces that foster acceptance and confidence within people new to the sport. “The events Rachel and I do are very much about enjoying it and bringing community and seeing families together. It’s been great to share more widely,” Richard said.
While Ownlife promotes equal representation for all groups, not all skaters find it easy to integrate themselves into the often ‘cut-throat’ nature of skateboarding. With a growing opposition to ‘posers’ and the need to retain skate culture’s roots, what might this mean for women skaters entering a sport often replete with roughed-up masculinity?
Women in skating are outnumbered and Rachel observes that some girls are “self-conscious in nature” and “sit on the sidelines” while guys take the helm at the skatepark. Sometimes she’ll notice a “girl crew on the side” that won’t skate out of intimidation and a fear that they might be intruding on what they feel is naturally a guy’s sport. Rachel declared that female skaters are “just as relevant in this space as others” and “the discourse and linguistics surrounding women in skateboarding needs to be changed”. Ultimately, we need support for the “Lacey Bakers in skateboarding”.
Echoing this sentiment, Richard acknowledged how society is often led by its misguided social expectations and described his own feelings of intimidation when entering foreign skate territory. “When it’s your first time out there, there is a bit of hexing and sort of hazing the new person,” he says, but at the heart of it, skateboarding has always been accepting the moment people show their sincerity for the sport.
It seems that everyone, in one form or another, must undergo the initial rites of passage before fully being embraced into the culture with open arms. Though equality is a fine thing to advocate in the sport, there’s no denying that women are received a little differently than men upon their arrival at the skatepark. For some adolescent boys, skateboarding is a significant part of who they are, what they know and how they choose to spend a lot of their free time. Seeing a girl added into the mix can not only shake up the status quo but it can create quite the spectacle in what some would refer to as a “lounge room” for boys—but it really shouldn’t be so shocking.
Estelle Landy, co-founder of the all-girl Melbourne skate gang, dnl crew, shed light on this mentality and shared her experiences that give credence to women often being under the heel of prejudice at the skatepark. Recalling her days as a 16 year old skater, Estelle remembers how the skatepark was often rife with teenage hormones and immaturity to the point where she and her friends were sometimes targets of sexualisation by adolescent peers.
“We were like fish out of water,” said Estelle, “you had teenage boys who were more interested in trying to date us than they were in trying to support us.”
More often than not, Estelle would receive suspicious looks from local guy skaters that screamed, “What are they doing here? They can’t possibly be here to skate, they must be here to hang out with us.”
While it’s no secret that skaters should expect some form of intimidation upon their first encounter with one another, not all skaters are subjected to the advances of others.
Combine this with the added pressure of having to prove her sincerity as a skater, Estelle divulged the ways in which she and her friends were often immediately written off as having an ulterior motive other than skating.
“I feel like we as women, when we’re skating for the first time, they’re already making their second judgements on us. The first judgement being that we already have to prove ourselves without even having a chance.”
Yet, in spite of the occasional dose of scepticism that Estelle’s younger self was usually accustomed to, there has been an undoubtable wave of support for women in skating in recent years.
“The skating community we’re in right now is fantastic and the men that we have is so supportive and we wouldn’t be where we’re at without them,” she said.
The 28 year old observes that now, more than ever, society is evolving in their values and the different qualities they attribute to gender. With inclusivity at the core of skate culture’s ethos, this sentiment needs to extend to all.
Like anything with growth, there will be individuals who invest themselves in the downsides of their cultural pastimes reaching the mainstream, while others welcome the idea wholeheartedly. As Richard aptly summarised: “Not everything about it is good, and not everything about it is bad and I think it’s up to the skateboarders—who have been there before it was popular—to make sure the heart of it is still beating and pumping the blood to the rest of it.”
“As long as the heart beats true to the fact that we skate because we want to build a community and that we skate because we love it.”