Words | Jon Shadel
Try and visualize female empowerment. The first thing that pops into your mind probably isn't skateboarding, and there's a good reason why.
As a youth subculture, skating seems aggressively dominated by teen dudes. Show up at nearly any skatepark in the United States — this will become immediately apparent. And the skating industry at large both reflects and perpetuates this male-centric image: professional competitions celebrate male skaters; video games idolize them; and flashy fashion ads star young guys donning skinny Levi's, Volcom Ts and Vans shoes.
It’s not to say women aren’t in the picture. But when we do see them represented in marketing materials from skating brands, the images verge on soft-core porn clearly targeting an audience of young males with raging hormones (take Hubba Wheels as one example). These voyeuristic images are not only indicative of a society that believes girls should not skate. They forsake a legacy of female skaters — including women like Ellen Berryman, Desiree Von Essen, Terry Brown, Ellen O’Neal and many more — and demonstrate the decline of women in skating in the last few decades.
“Once the industry decided it was going after one thing, it started checking these boxes: males — check; males under 18 — check. And as it hit each check point it was reducing the population it was going to appeal to,” says Michael Brooke, publisher of Concrete Skateboarding, to Tetsuhiko Endo in the compelling Huck magazine story “Being a Lady (Who Shreds).” The article examines the socially constructed notion of “guy sports” and “girl sports,” arguing that the community has devolved to appeal to a narrowly male demographic.
Brooke isn’t alone in expressing this view. While portraying the industry as unapologetically sexist, Katherine Sierra, in her piece for Wired, argues that “there finally are some bright spots for women in skate culture, including a small but powerful resurgence of women skaters.”
These skaters push forward in an environment where they are exceptions to the rule — creating perhaps the only authentic counterculture in what has become a multi-billion dollar industry.
Still, all progress aside, sexism remains prevalent. Sierra says “you rarely see these women featured in skateboarding magazines, and when you do, the highest praise is typically, ‘She skates like a man!’”
One skating collective seeks to change that. Skate Like a Girl is a grassroots organization — with chapters in San Francisco, Seattle and Portland — that seeks to create a more inclusive skate culture at the community level; they do this by organizing ladies-only skate nights, skate clinics and summer camp programs for young girls.
We hung out with members of the Portland chapter in the city’s industrial Central Eastside; these three friends — Brandy Machado, Kat Sy and Vet Nguyen — met up at the world-famous Burnside Skatepark, located beneath the Burnside Bridge. While showing off their mad skills and vintage-inspired street style, we quickly realized that their story has little to do with tricks or fashion. Instead, it’s all about changing a culture — one skater at a time.
Photographer | Kyle Ledeboer Creative Director | Ashley O'Neil Lead Stylist | Courtney Goe
Assitant Stylists | Brittanee Wright, Sarah Felix, Shawna Widmer Make Up | Monica Ninh
Models | Brandy Machado, Kat Sy, Vet Nguyen
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