Toronto·Our Toronto

How this group is helping more women and girls jump into skateboarding

Through lessons, contests and meetups, Babes Brigade aims to create a safe space for women to learn how to skateboard and become more visible in the industry.

Since Babes Brigade launched 4 years ago, it's seen a huge increase in the number of girls at skateparks

A few members of Babes Brigade practise at Beach Skatepark at Coxwell Avenue and Lake Shore Boulevard East. The group offers lessons to girls aged four and up. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

When Stephanie Battieste first started skateboarding at the age of 13, she had to get used to standing out in a crowd. She was often the only girl at the local skate parks.

Much has changed since then — partly because of women like her who are trying to reinvent in the industry. Four years ago,  Battieste, 32,  launched Babes Brigade, a women's skateboarding brand and group. She says she's pleased to see a growing interest in the sport from young girls and women.

"I feel like now more than ever it's blown up," she told CBC's Our Toronto during an interview in Beach Skatepark at Coxwell Avenue and Lake Shore Boulevard East..

"I think a lot of it has to do with visibility. You're seeing it in commercials, you're seeing it in cartoons, in movies. So you're getting visuals and you're seeing photos and videos of these girls and I think that makes a big difference in whether or not a girl is comfortable to come out."

Helping women and girls feel comfortable is a big part of what Battieste's company stands for, creating a safe space for women to learn and connect with like-minded people.

Stephanie Battieste, founder and owner of Babes Brigade, says the skateboarding industry has become much more inclusive since she was a kid, but there are still changes she'd like to see. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

The skateboarder commends the non-profits getting girls together in the skateboarding world but also hopes to see more women owning businesses in the industry.

"Along with the companies it's also the photographers, we need more women submitting to these magazines, more editors," she said.

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"I think there's this huge confusion about women's place in the industry."

She adds that in many of the competitions she's attended, there will be a monetary prize for the men but not the women.

"I think we have a far way to go to actually be involved in the industry to the extent I'd like to see."

Stephanie Battieste shows off her tattoo illustrating the company name. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

Passionate participants

Battieste says she often gets compliments from the younger participants' parents about how much they enjoy the lessons and look up to the teacher, which means a lot to her.

Quinn Polifroni is only seven years old but is pretty sure she will be skateboarding for the rest of her life.

"It's just really my passion now," she said. 

"There's a lot of boys around, but girls can also join in with the boys to skateboard at a skate park."

Quinn Polifroni, seven, says she looks up to her skateboarding teacher. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

Quinn says she thinks having a group like Babes Brigade in the city is important, and it's also a place where she's made many friends.

"Girls can learn how to skate and have a teacher who is also a girl who they're comfortable around."

Isla Piche, also seven, says she got the idea to skateboard from her sister, whom she admires.

Isla Piche, seven, says her favourite trick is an ollie, which is a jump performed without the aid of a takeoff ramp. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

"I just love that you get some fresh air get out to do some energetic stuff and skate around and have fun," she said, adding that having a group like theirs makes things "more fair" for girls who want to get involved.

Melaney Stanberry says she's loved skateboarding since she was a kid, but was too shy to tell her parents or dive into it right away.

"Reading the [skateboarding] magazines I didn't see anyone who looked like me," she said. "There weren't many girls around, and when I heard about this girls skate crew I was like, 'Yeah, I wanna join it.'"

Melaney Stanberry says Babes Brigade is a supportive group that promotes empowering women. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

For Battieste, what started as a group focused on skateboarding has since grown to be much more than that.

"It's way more about being social, having a support group, making friends," she said.

"I just want to inspire more women to take chances. To do what's never been done before.  It's definitely beyond skateboarding."

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