Skateboarding, for the most part, is a male-dominated sport, with everything from deck companies to clothing companies catering toward the stereotypical boy. Head to any skate park, and you’ll instantly notice the girl-to-guy ratio is extremely disproportionate, which makes for a difficult atmosphere for any beginner. What does it take to break into this culture as a femme/queer person? There are a few local girls who have braved and broken the barrier.
iLee Jo is a 19-year-old skater from Eugene who is currently living in Portland. Raised in a family of skaters, she’s been doing the sport for as long as she can remember.
“Growing up in Eugene, I was literally the only girl at the skate park,” Jo said. “Everyone would stare at me, and the older boys nicknamed me ‘jail bait’ and I unfortunately got into some bad situations, which honestly it really sucked. It made me scared to go to the skatepark, which was keeping me from improving.”
To combat this, Jo started an all-ages, all-skill levels, disabled/femme/queer skate team called “Meat Puppies,” in hopes of giving a wider range of people a chance to learn and love skating in a safe group environment.
“Bringing girls, femmes, queer, and disabled folks into the skateboarding culture is so important. Destroy the stereotype that we are weak, scared, and helpless,” Jo said. “We deserve to feel safe and supported at the skatepark just like everyone else.”
Maki Gilchrist is another 19-year-old who has been skating for about five years. Gilchrist has struggled with coming out as trans and having that respected at the skatepark in the past year.
“Of course, you face discrimination, especially when you’re first learning, and you’re a 13-year-old, mongo pushing good with a camo vest like I was,” Gilchrist said. “But only recently have I felt real discrimination because I’ve come out as trans in the past year or so. Now going to the skatepark and being dead named or called a man is a constant struggle for me.”
Gilchrist believes more substantial representation from skate brands or social media is the most crucial part of getting girls into the art of skateboarding. The more normalized it becomes, the more doors open for more kinds of people to give it a try. Representation matters, especially in the skating culture.
Another local female skater, Frankie Stidhem, originally got into skating because of the clothing styles that come from the sport, but eventually started learning more about it and fell in love.
“I was super nervous and uncomfortable at the skatepark when I started, as it is predominantly male-identifying people there,” Stidhem said. “I think at the beginning, when I was going, the guys thought I was there to try to pick them up or something. But after a few weeks of constantly going back and just trying to do my thing, they realized that and began to finally approach me to try to give me tips with tricks I was trying to do.”
“I think it’s really important to encourage girls to skate more. It’s so fun and an amazing way to get out frustrations in a healthy way, along with getting equal representation for girl skaters, especially in such a small town with mostly male dominated parks,” Stidhem said. “I think, for one, the guys at the parks need to change their ideas around girls skating. Not making them insecure when they’re learning by watching them, or trying to treat them carefully because of the idea that girls aren’t tough. Also, if you’re worried about how you look, it’s OK! Everybody has been there. Everybody looks stupid on a skateboard, but eventually you get the hang of it.”
The more that female skaters get recognized, the more representation will break through the culture, and hopefully make skate parks more welcoming for anyone who is hesitant about learning. This is not to say no one has been trying. Skate Like A Girl is an organization in Portland that offers skating camps for girls ages 7-14, and Windells, a year-round action sport camp near Mt. Hood, offers camps for girls wanting to learn, as well. More locally, the River House Outdoor Center in Eugene has a camp opportunity for young female skaters.
The moral of the story is that if you want to try something, even if there seems to be some sort of barrier, do it! Don’t worry about what other people think, and be open to trying everything.