Some Sick Conversation Amongst Skaters

Graphic by Eliza Williams

In August of last year, Bossy published ‘Gals? More Like ANU Skate PALS Am I Right?’ The article followed the early days of Canberra’s coolest skating collective; the ANU Skate Pals. A year later, I sat down with two skate pals, Sam and Lauren, to discuss the group’s evolution and all things skating.

So, tell me a bit about yourself and how you got into skateboarding.

Sam: I’m Sam and I’m a trans man. When I was 7 or 8 I took $2, went to a second-hand market, and bought a skateboard. I lived in the country and there was nowhere to ride it, so my dad set me up a ramp made from an old door. When I came to uni and the city, I bought another board. Then I wanted people to skate with, so I asked in the Women’s Department, and so the Skate Pals were born!

Lauren: I’m Lauren, I am a cis girl, but I was never super femme growing up. I always admired Bart Simpson. I admired Bart’s energy and Lisa’s feminism. So, I always thought I’d really love to learn how to skate, but I grew up in a place where there were no skate parks or pavements to learn on. There was nowhere to buy a skateboard either, so I always just thought ‘Oh yeah, that’s something I’d like to learn at some point.’ When I came to uni, I thought ‘Fuck it, I want to get my own skateboard.’ So yeah, now I skate on the reg, and when I saw Sam’s post about starting Skate Pals I approached him about it.

What are your positions in the group?

S: Creator. Brave and fearless leader.

L: I like ‘Sam Supreme’ personally.

S: [laughs] And you’re the deputy. Genuinely the VP.

L: I just really loved the group, and Sam included me in the organising so I felt like a big part of it.

S: The people who came every time, or even a little bit, were part of deciding the direction of the group. We cared that it was a space for the people who were enjoying it and coming along.

So, what is it that you think brings people along?

L: A really common sentiment that was shared amongst a lot of the people coming to the Skate Pals meet ups was that ‘skating was something I was always interested in, but I could never bring myself to be the only girl at the skate park.’ Since the original name of the group was Skate Gals, there were a lot of conversations we had about the recent name change from ‘Gals’ to ‘Pals’. It’s not just ‘women’ feeling out of place in the skate park. What about people who are not gender conforming? What about people who are trans? What about people who are ‘too femme’ or ‘too masc’?

S: Skate Pals should be about anyone who isn’t comfortable in the skate park. Because skateboarding is so hard and actually really punishing and painful at times, you need a group to do it with. If you’re not absorbed into skateboarding in middle school, and you come to it later in life when that wider interest is just not there, it can be a really lonely activity. So, the whole purpose of the group is mateship.

L: Yeah 100%. It’s not only about support but also solidarity and encouragement, which is really important for anyone, even if we were a group of masc cis men. When you have a whole group of people who usually ‘stick out’, it’s not them sticking out anymore, it’s the 12 year old boys.

Essentially this group is made around sport. How can sport facilitate a wider conversation about inequality in society?

L: Skateboarding has a whole culture around it. It started off very SoCal, white, pothead men – an ‘I hate my parents, I hate this town’ kind of thing. That same culture of being laidback, rebellious and having old people shake their fists at you is actually more applicable in a real way to people of minority identities. You see more and more people who are PoC, female-identifying and gender diverse in skate boarding.

S: Lacey Baker, for example, is very gender non-conforming and so highly regarded, even in the mainstream American skateboarding community, because she’s just so fucking good at the really hard tricks. She’d be one of those people that other sports would completely shit on or not give a spotlight to, but seriously, in skateboarding there’s just mad respect for anyone who’s willing to skin their knees or break an arm for the sport.

L: I think it has a lot to do with the audience as well. In the sports that old white men typically like to watch, it’s harder for women to succeed. Women’s leagues are smaller, if they exist at all.

S: Also because of social media, recording the act of skateboarding has become a whole other genre, which you don’t need permission for because it’s an art form as opposed to an organised sport. People post short videos that are all about what tricks are done in what order, or even what environment. It’s like short film. Women can take control of their own doing of it, publish it and receive support for it themselves without sponsorships.

On that note, do you think that skateboarding is an equaliser? Is it a level playing field or not?

S: In terms of actually getting sponsorships and achieving success in mainstream skateboarding, it’s definitely harder for women. But skateboarding as a sport and an art form is an equaliser in the sense that each person has to work the same amount to get it right and there’s no particular body type that suits it best. Thrasher’s Skater of the Year is a really chubby man, Jamie Foy. They body shamed him in an episode of King of the Road and then he ended up winning Skater of the Year.

L: I feel that in terms of accessibility, class, and wealth, skateboarding is a sport where it doesn’t matter how poor you are. If you can get your hands on a skateboard, you can be the best.

How can this model of community and local networking be adapted to different spheres of life on campus and in the wider community?

S: I think the same model could be applied to other communities and activities, with the same premise of doing an activity as a community without competition. In the modern world, we’ve had a movement away from community groups and instead a preference for family groups. I think there is really something to be said for doing things as a ‘village’, whatever that village is.

L: I think it was important to have a group of people who shared a common struggle coming together and doing something fun and supporting each other. There are lots of different identities that could benefit from having the same thing.

Having convinced me to bring my own board down from Sydney, Lauren and Sam skate off into the distance, leaving me to ponder the big questions like; why millennials are labelled ‘lazy’ when people like Sam have the initiative to start groups like this, or; how the internet can be so cruel whilst also bringing together friends like Lauren and Sam, or; how Avril Lavigne found the artistic confidence to put an ‘8’ in ‘Sk8er Boi’. More on those l8er, but for now, I’m more certain than ever of the power of an inclusive community that utilises online mates to coordinate offline skates, all whilst smashing the patriarchy, shredding the streets and being some real sick pals. Love your work ANU Skate Pals.