Nova Scotia

This club opens 'a whole new world' for female skateboarders

A year ago four Cape Breton women founded the Shred Sirens - an all girls/women skateboarding group to get more women to fall in love with the sport.

Glace Bay's Shred Sirens meets weekly to encourage girls and women to get on board

Members of Glace Bay's Shred Sirens. The all-female skateboarding group meets once a week at Undercurrent Youth Centre. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC)

On Sunday evenings, the halls of Glace Bay's Undercurrent Youth Centre echo with the sounds of pop music, enthusiastic cheers, and skateboards rolling up ramps.

It all began a year ago when four Cape Breton, N.S., women set out to change the way girls and women look at skateboarding.

Jill Ellsworth, Bailee Kennedy, Tessa Poirier, and Bree Steele founded the Shred Sirens, an all-female skateboarding group.

"Each of us in our own way were always interested in skateboarding but, especially here in Cape Breton, it's definitely a male-dominated activity," said Ellsworth.

Although many male skateboarders were welcoming to the women, Ellsworth said being a new skater and the only woman at a skatepark can make you feel self-conscious. 

'A whole new world opened up'

That clearly struck a chord with other local women.

"The first night it was the four of us who showed up," said Ellsworth. "All of a sudden we were getting 13 or 14 girls a night."

The women spend their time trying new tricks on the centre's wooden ramps. Just making it across the gym the first time can elicit cheers, while a tumble brings shouts of encouragement to get back up again.

Founding member Bree Steele has been skateboarding for several years and said the club expanded her love of skating.

"I don't think I'd heard of any female skaters until we started this. It was almost like a whole new world opened up to me," said Steele.

Bree Steele, a founding member of the Shred Sirens, skates a ramp at Undercurrent Youth Centre. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC)

Carolyn Nearing, the mother of a seven-year-old girl who recently took to the sport, said she was surprised by her daughter's enthusiasm.

"I think it's really positive for her to see the older girls," she said. "They get better every week. They're very supportive of each other and it's a great positive environment for them to learn together without fear of being made fun of."

The skaters range in age from six to 40. Many said they've wanted to try skateboarding for years.

Intimidating the boys

For Heather Malcolm, watching her nine-year-old daughter join the club gave her courage to take to the board as well.

"Knowing she can push herself to do something she's afraid of made me feel a lot better going into something that's really male-dominated," said Malcolm. "I was terrified, but after the first day I felt really comfortable."

Malcolm wanted to try as a teenager but found the local boys unwelcoming. She said her experience with the Shred Sirens has been the complete opposite.

"I've never felt more accepted and comfortable around anyone in my life," said Malcolm.

They've visited other skate parks, too. 

"Now we're pulling up in little groups and the guys are starting to get intimidated. They're not used to so many girls at the park," said Ellsworth with a laugh. "They're welcoming, but they are surprised, so it's nice to kind of break those stereotypes."

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