Empowering women through skateboarding

Whilst we are all too familiar with the toilet paper shortage of early lockdown last year, most of us are unaware of a more interesting one – a worldwide shortage of skateboards.

One of the few sectors to avoid the economic slump which has hit many industries, shops have seen an unprecedented surge in demand for skateboards as the sport undergoes a revival during the lockdown period. Indeed, our university campus, having emptied over the past year like most public spaces, is becoming increasingly populated by groups of skaters. 

I spoke with Alice Smith and Stella Kiselyova, final year students and founders of Brum Girl Skate, a collective which aims to encourage and inspire women to take up or continue skating. Formed only recently, in July 2020, Brum Girl Skate has gone from strength to strength. What began as a small WhatsApp group chat has grown to almost 200 participants, whilst its Instagram page has a following of over 2000. Covid-allowing, the collective runs fortnightly events at Creation and Just Ramps skate parks, and, having just received four skateboards from Girl Skate UK, are hoping to hold taster workshops in the future.  

Its members, the majority of whom are beginners themselves, are representative of the newest generation of skateboarders – female.  

The principle aim of Brum Girl Skate is to create a supportive environment for female skaters. Accessing the traditionally male-dominated sport can be daunting. Alice describes, “as a female skater, much of my younger years were characterised by experiencing sexist comments and a lot of anxiety regarding going to new skate parks”. In a recent Redbrick article, she discusses in more detail the barriers faced by newcomers to the skate scene, manifesting for example in the label ‘poser’: “The term is implemented to undermine the learning experience of girls as a way to intimidate.”  

Stella adds, “I wish more girls felt comfortable rocking up to a park by themselves. It’s daunting for everyone, especially if you’re a beginner. But it’s a mental block that you have to push past and meet others to skate with”. Brum Girl Skate offers the opportunity for just that. Alice says, “I still receive the odd ‘you’re good for a girl’ comment but connecting with other female skaters has helped me establish more comfortability on a board and enjoy the experience of skateboarding a lot more.” With concern over female safety at the forefront of current conversation, the role of Brum Girl Skate in empowering its members seems an important one.  

Skateboarding is a sport uniquely characterised by its attitude of resilience.  

The culture has continued to thrive despite opposition – legislation, bans, anti-skate architecture. There’s a certain creativity in the reimagining of urban space and innovative use of obstacles. It is this attitude which first inspired Alice to pick it up at the age of thirteen.  Watching a video, ‘Quaked’, where a group skates around Christchurch following the earthquake in 2011, she “enjoyed how this group of skaters made the best out of a bad situation and used their surroundings in a different way.” 

With all of the challenges we face at the moment, skateboarding may not be the first activity that springs to mind, but may in fact be the perfect way to navigate them.  

Mara Schwarz

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