Rolling With The Girls – Re-Inventing Skate Culture.
By Mia Eden
Skateboarding hasn’t always proven it’s for everybody. When you think of skateboarding, perhaps you expect teenage boys hanging around skateparks and invading your local town’s nearest flat surface, and more often than not, the expectation lives up to the reality.
Skateboarding is quintessentially a boy’s sport, the faces of skateboarding are men (when you search “famous skateboarders” on Google, it takes scrolling past 42 men to finally reach a woman in the sport), and the highest-earning YouTubers and influencers are men, and even the most influential skate photographers are men.
Women often find it hard to find their place in a niche sport with little exposure in schools, clubs, and even mainstream sports channels. Naturally, the funding and exposure for the sport is very minuscule, and representation for marginalised genders in the past has been near to non-existent. Skateparks for women are somewhat intimidating, and easily off-putting if confidence is lacking in the first place – hence why many women ditch the sport before they’ve even begun.
However, with the likes of 13-year-old female British-Japanese skateboarder Sky Brown winning bronze for the UK in the Tokyo 2021 Olympics, and Brazilian-American 6x X-Games gold medalist Leticia Bufoni gaining over 211,000 followers on social media, the future of skateboarding for marginalised genders is looking better than ever before.
Leeds based minority gender skateboard group “Rolling With The Girls” is aiming to tackle the stigma around women and non-binary genders in skateboarding. The community of female and non-binary skaters was set up in 2018 and regularly hosts scheduled meetups and events for skaters of marginalised genders to attend. Since 2018, the community has grown rapidly, with over 4,500 followers on Instagram, and exclusive merchandise sold at local Leeds skateboard shop “Welcome Skate Store”.
The community is actively involved in giving a platform to those in skateboarding who haven’t previously seen it before, monthly events are usually 2 hours long, held on the last Monday of every month, and cost £5 a ticket. The events are described as open to all “who aren’t cis-gendered men. RWTG welcomes non-binary people, non-gender conforming people, genderqueer people, trans people, women and girls.”
Tegan Paige, who is a frequent attendee of Rolling With The Girls events, shares how she fell out of love with skateboarding before she found Rolling With The Girls. “I got into skateboarding when I was younger, but stopped skating. I then started up again a year or so ago after finding out there’s a whole skate scene based in Leeds that made me feel so comfortable!”
“RWTG really have done a great job at starting to tackle gender discrimination already. By women and marginalised genders forming an alliance so to speak, it has helped more women and marginalised genders come forward and start skating by attending the skate meetups! I’ve made some wonderful friends and I am very lucky to be a part of it.”
Not only do Rolling With The Girls aim to tackle sexism within skateboarding, but they also attempt to make a safe and friendly space for queer people to express their individuality without fear of discrimination.
Queer skate culture is already increasing in popularity, and with support groups like Rolling With The Girls being openly LGBTQ+ friendly, as well as other more popular organisations such as the Queer Skate Alliance (that have bases in LA, New York City and London), more queer people are tightening those trucks and taking to the decks.
The more skateboarders that identify as queer gaining representation and popularity in the community have inevitably enhanced more support for LGBTQ+ rights in traditional skate places. Skateparks and graffiti have historically always intertwined with one another, and political outlooks frequently play a part in skate culture and “aesthetics’ ‘.
Nowadays, more skateparks and street skate spots around larger cities such as Leeds and Manchester are showing support to the LGBTQ+ community with graffiti on the ramps that read statements such as “gay is not a sin”, and “love will always win.”
The increasing representation of women and marginalised genders within skateboarding has paved the way for marginalised sexualities and races to also find their place in the skate community through groups namely Rolling With The Girls, that previously have not found a place in a cis-gendered male-dominated sport. Tegan went on to state “I do think marginalised people in society still face discrimination today, but definitely not as much as they used to. I think it’s a smaller number of people that may feel uncomfortable with marginalised people skating, however, I think this is changing every day and I think everyone is a lot more inclusive now.”
Skateboarding has always, in some ways, faced its own discrimination and backlash from the public in itself, and the stereotypical outlook of skateboarders often relates back to mere defiance of social norms and behavioural expectancies. Chances are, your grandma won’t be the audience demographic to understand or acknowledge the art of skateboarding. The sport (particularly in street skateboarding circumstances) is often seen as destructive and childish, and the poster face is routinely boys being defiant.
Backlash towards skateboarding making its debut at the Olympics in Tokyo 2021 was considerable, it is frequently disregarded in terms of what it means to participate in a “real” sport and be a “real” athlete. Rolling With The Girls also wanted to change the perception of what it means to be a skateboarder, and how it isn’t all defiance and destruction.
Founder of Rolling With The Girls, Jessica Birley, wants to change the perception that you have to be world-class at everything you do, “everyone that does skate does it for the passion, it’s not about whether you are good or bad. If you are coming to RWTG, you won’t be judged. It gives people the confidence to start something they may have not previously tried before. It is full of confidence-building and positivity that helps uplift people in the community that may have been previously torn down.”
There is often a stigma around newer skateboarders within the skate community. People that don’t follow the standard rules of skateboard culture frequently get labelled as slang terms such as a “poser” in the predominantly male community. Though a “poser” is more so described as someone that does not skate but actively “poses” as somebody that does, the “poser” term has frequently been used by skateboarders in order to intimidate those they feel shouldn’t be a part of their community.
This has a tendency to intimidate the people that do not usually see themselves at the forefront of the community. The “poser” term is used heavily, even potentially describing someone that doesn’t hold their board in the “correct” manner. Therefore, more old-school, intimidating, stereotypical skateboarders roam around the ramps, it’s only natural that marginalised communities may feel unwelcomed during their first time at the park.
However, Rolling With The Girls aims to make its spaces free of judgement and full of encouragement and positivity. “This is why I love RWTG’s so much”, shares Tegan, RWTG have done a great job at starting to tackle gender discrimination already. Jess has created a space where people feel safe, included and not judged.“
Rolling With The Girls has created a community in Leeds that inspires women and other marginalised genders to step out of their comfort zone and learn something discomforting. With the influence of RWTG, more female and marginalised gender-skate friendly organisations are arising, including the Neighbourhood Skate Club, an organisation based in London and Leeds that teaches girls and women to skate with female skateboard instructors.
Lyndsay McLaren, a female instructor at the Neighbourhood Skate Group, shares “teaching women to skate isn’t just about getting them on boards, but also helping to build a culture of support, shared hype and kindness. Pushing away from female rivalry and the concept of “one seat at a table”. If you’ve already ‘made it’, whether that’s in skateboarding, or anything else, don’t intentionally or unintentionally haze other women by putting them through the same challenges you’ve faced. Send the elevator back down!”
Due to the growing interest of women and queer communities being involved in skateboarding, a sub-culture has arisen within skateboarding that shows off what it means to be the quintessential queer female skater. Fashion has emerged from the scene, such as newer approaches to 1990s “street-wear” fashion, including chequered Vans and shirts, cargo trousers, and beanies.
The aesthetic of skateboarding plays an astronomical part of what it means to identify yourself within the culture. Women and marginalised genders, however, are re-writing what it means to be fashionable and cool within the skating community.
Luna Swift, a female skateboarder based around the North West, proposed how women and queer people don’t have to cater their aesthetic to fit the aretypical male skateboard visual.
“I don’t think that “looking like a skateboarder” should be as present in the community as it actually is. Women are reevaluating what it means to “look like a skateboarder”. These days, I see skateboarders wearing Hijabs, traditional clothing, skateboarders wearing dresses, skateboarders wearing skirts, it’s really all about how you want to identify now, and all identities are accepted within female and queer skate culture.”
Skateparks (especially those around metropolitan areas, such as Hyde Park Skate Park), are becoming spaces representative of everyone. Just a walk around Hyde Park Skate Park shows queer, feminist graffiti that shows inclusivity and integration in the community is becoming vastly more accepted. Photos of Malala are pictured around the ramps, with feminist ideologies surrounding the graffiti.
“The men have to skate around these photos and those ideas”, Swift goes on to add, “it’s quite difficult to claim a space as your own when you don’t agree with the fundamental ideas that the parks now stand for. I think that women have essentially reclaimed the space as their own, and if people don’t like it, they no longer stand for what skateboarding is about.”
Skateboarding has adapted to its surroundings and the cultural shift is becoming prevalent in newer skateboard aesthetics. Rolling With The Girls generally uses female-centred, queer pop-culture movement’s and styles, whilst simultaneously incorporating retro styles. What once appeared on promotional flyers for mostly male skate communities in the 1990s (such as The Pharcyde and the Fun Lovin’ Criminals) is now replaced by the likes of the queer female cult-classic “Clueless” protagonist or the iconic Buffy The Vampire Slayer. RWTG’s aims to keep it retro, but with a stereotypical queer and female audience.
Although male skaters were not originally as welcoming to other members of the community, Luke Burgess, a male skater based in Manchester, thinks that everyone, including the men, are adapting to how the community is changing.
“There has definitely been a huge increase and it’s great to see, there has been a lot more companies coming out that are focused on women in skating and groups forming in support too. For instance, Projekts SkatePark in Manchester has started doing female-only sessions on a Monday night.
I feel like for the most part most men are cool with more women picking up skating nowadays, as the community has grown to become very accepting.”
As Rolling With The Girls continues to grow in numbers, and more women and other marginalised genders make their debut into the skateboarding world, the more inclusivity and integration in the sport we will see. The more female skateboarders, such as Samarria Brevard and Aori Nishimura, that make their debut into the mainstream community, the more young girls, women, and other marginalised genders will realise it has never been a better time to pick up the board and start skating.
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