Objectively speaking, I am a terrible skateboarder. There’s no point shying away from that. Even as I worked up the courage to skate to campus this year, I still had to pick up and carry my board awkwardly when I met an area of uneven concrete. Fear is an essential part of the experience for me, and arguably the thing that makes me return and try that ollie again – for the thousandth time. Walking away from a fall when you’re pretty sure you have grazed your face and broken your glasses makes you grateful for life.
Skateboarding is a sport that demands youth, and a certain nihilism, as it casts its hapless participant again and again on to the concrete. It’s also important to note that it’s a sport that has historically been reserved for boys and men. If you’ve ever watched skate films, comprised of ‘parts’ showcasing each member of a skateboard company’s best tricks, you’d notice that they’re all men. And Thrasher magazine, if you’ve ever picked that up, will rarely have a single woman on its pages. If it does, it’s a sexualised spread, perhaps a cartoon on the bottom of a board or a sordid story from a skate trip. That depressed me in the months after I had drunkenly bought my first board, as I was reading up on what I needed to know to start learning.
Well, it wasn’t exactly my first board … You see, it has been a bit of a journey. I grew up in Longford, Tasmania where the areas upon which wheels were able to roll were few and far between. A grassy outlook made learning to skate an impossibility. I still bought a board from the Evandale Markets though, handing over a $2 coin from my grubby hand. My dad set me up a ramp, made from a barn door propped up on cinder blocks. Gnarly ramp, really. I must’ve rolled down that door a hundred times. But I couldn’t do much more than that, and so I lost interest.
This year, I founded a women’s skate club, dubbed ‘ANU Skate Gals’. We’re a bunch of women and non-binary people rolling around on wheels. Whether it’s a penny board, longboard or roller skates … we’ve got it all. It amazed me how many women needed something like this group, and how many had wanted to try boarding even before it came along. The group grew from the shame of my first forays into learning how to board around O’Connor. I was starting from scratch, wobbling around on the bike path, and a dude on a bike (not a dude, an asshole) whizzed past me on his bike and said: “You’ll get it one day love!” I’m sad to say I gave up and went home. Then I wondered whether anyone else was giving this a go, so I asked on the Women’s Department page. The response was overwhelming! It was so overwhelming that the group chat I created was too big … So, I made a Facebook group – a group which now has over 70 members. That’s a lot of repressed teen skating aspirations.
At the Bush Week market day, I spoke to some active members about their reasons for participating and their relationship with skateboarding. Lauren, who has still never been to a skate park, put her anxieties into words for me: “When you’re an adult woman, the idea of going to a park, trying a trick, and falling over, perhaps surrounded by 14-year-old bros is just horrifying,” she said. “I had nearly resorted to 2am park visits, in an attempt to avoid feeling self-conscious … I had always wanted to learn as a kid but I never had the opportunity.” Jess, another new skater in our group expressed their feelings rather simply. “I just had too much anxiety to try until Skate Gals,” they said, “I love this supportive group of people!” That is something else that surprised me, and something that makes this group special: the friendship. You do something terrifying together, knowing that you’re emboldening each other to do something out of the ordinary, and there’s a great shared power. Gillian, a longboarder in our group simply said, “Being with the group is freedom, power and being at one with the board.” Actually, I think she was mostly joking. I love the sentiment anyway.
The ‘Girls Make Your Move’ campaign run by the Commonwealth Government has this to say about promoting young women’s involvement in sport on their website, “Young women are twice as likely as boys to be inactive … Research has identified the fear of being judged or ridiculed as a key barrier for young women wishing to be physically active.” This is at the heart of what I’m trying to do with Skate Gals. It is a sad truth that picking up new skills is harder as you get older, not just because of brain inflexibility but because of our own entrenched ego. Simply: it sucks to be a beginner at something. Women are also faced with an overlay of ‘standards’ to abide by. Those seem to be: to be attractive to men, to be feminine, to be palatable. Skateboarding sticks a real spanner in the works by being rough, difficult and ‘boyish’.
A girl on a skateboard is somehow revolutionary. It shouldn’t be. We should be able to focus on learning the sport and enjoying its difficultly rather than feeling brave for venturing outside as a beginner. So whether you’ve always wanted to learn the violin, dance, draw or skateboard. Please do it. Go against everything you feel you should be doing, be free to suck at something and join our crew!