Right now is an amazing time for skateboarding — especially for women in skateboarding.
You’ve probably seen big companies and fashion brands using images of skateboarding in their marketing strategies. That has been happening a lot recently. It’s also very present in street culture.
In general, skateboarders dislike it when companies or media that don’t have a natural tie to the sport, use skateboarding to look cool, refresh their brand, or penetrate new markets. Personally, I don’t mind. I like seeing skateboards everywhere, especially when the majority of mainstream skateboarding ads depict women. You might have seen Vans’ new campaign featuring a women’s skateboard group from India. It's radical!
I’ve been skateboarding for 17 years now. For all of them, people have asked me how it feels to be a women in a traditionally male-dominated sport. I have had three very different answers to that. When I started, I felt too young, then for a while I was not hopeful about women in our sport. Lately, I have been optimistic about women’s place in skateboarding.
At 10 or 11, when I started skateboarding, it took me a while to realize that there were no other girls skating around me. I remember when I entered my first local competition in 2002, someone told me that I could compete, but warned me there was a no girls category. In my head I was like, “Why would that matter? All my skate friends are guys anyways.”
Around 2006, I met a group of girls from Montreal who called themselves “Skirtboarders.” Their mission was to represent and showcase women in skateboarding at events and in the media (social or otherwise) because at the time, there were not many opportunities for women in skateboarding. Most of them were older than me. Some of them had even been bullied for being girl skaters. They brought me to my first skateboarding World Cup events in Toronto and Boston. I even finished ninth once.
Unfortunately at the time, the winner of the women’s division of a world championship only earned a couple of hundred dollars. As a 16 year old, trying to make adult decisions for my future, I thought it was probably not my best option. In 2010, I quit competition, and did what most people tell you to do at 16; I stayed in school. I have always been a nerd, so it was an easy path for me.
I ended up with a bachelor’s in marketing, and I recently finished a master’s degree in business strategy. I wrote my thesis on the skateboarding industry. It’s entitled "We’re not in it for the money:" discursive analysis of strategists within the skateboard industry in North America. Basically, it was about the managers, money and marketing of North American skateboarding.
In 2015, when I started working on my master’s thesis, I noticed something new about skateboarding and life. I saw girls like Leticia Bufoni, a professional skateboarder from Brazil, signing big contracts with Nike. People started talking about skateboarding becoming an Olympic sport.
That’s when I made another important realization. Even though it looked like there were no opportunities for skater women when I was 16, there were women around who would make those nonexistant opportunities happen, by pushing the boundaries of what we expect women to do. It might sound cliché, but you can always shape the world you live in, and you don’t have to wait until someone tells you it’s okay to follow your passion and do something that no one has ever done before.
More importantly, it’s never too late to do so. At the age of 25, which is pretty old for a skateboarder, I started pushing my own limits again and helping other girls do the same thing. I went out on a limb, but I have never had so much support, or seen so many opportunities in my whole life.
Some people, mostly girls, think that because skateboarding is a male-dominated sport, it’s not for girls at all. But from my experience in skateboarding, when I am actually out there doing it, almost no one says, "you shouldn't be skateboarding" or "it’s too dangerous for girls" or "get out of the skatepark."
In fact, it’s the opposite. Guys come up to me and say, "it’s cool to see a girl in the skatepark, keep it up!" I admit, very occasionally, I will get negative comments, but those are so rare that it’s not worth giving them any attention.
My favorite comments are from girls. You would be surprised at how many times in a week they will come up to me and say something like, "Wow, you’re so cool. I wish I could skate too." But when I ask if they want to try, they say, "Oh no, I’m too shy," or "I tried skateboarding once and I fell. It’s definitely not for me."
Eventually, after hearing that one too many times, I started organizing monthly "girls-only" skateboarding events and novice classes in Montreal, to help girls get over the idea that they can’t skateboard or that it’s too scary. My goal is to show them that they can physically skateboard, and also that they can break their own mental barriers about what they can and can’t do.
Despite its rebellious image, people need to know that skateboarding is a very inclusive and giving subculture. You don’t have to be self-conscious about what others think. If you try and you want to learn, skaters — boys and girls — will always respect that. It’s not easy, but nothing worth doing ever is.
In Tokyo 2020, skateboarding will be a new sport in the Olympic program. Not everyone agrees that this will be good for skateboarding. For a lot of skaters, it is not a sport, it’s an art form and a lifestyle. They feel it should not be reduced to a performance that is judged on an objective criteria.
For my part, I don’t think the Olympic inclusion is a threat to the activity or the subculture of skateboarding at all. On the contrary, I see it more as an opportunity to grow skateboarding worldwide, to empower women and spread our passion to the world.
I can’t wait until five billion people — including women and girls in all parts of the world — are exposed to the beauty of skateboarding. My dream is that they are inspired to try it, and that even when they fall, they’d find the courage to get back up and try again.
(Large photos submitted by Dan Mathieu)
The Annie Guglia edition
Q: The best book you've ever read?
A: The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho.
Q: Must-listen Podcast?
A: I don’t really listen to podcasts.
Q: Best advice you ever received?
A: "You can’t fail by being yourself."
Q: If your life was a movie, what would it be called?
A: I’m on a plane (and hopefully it’s going to L.A.).
Q: What word or phrase do you over use?
Q: What is a skill you wish you had?
A: Dog training.
Q: What's something no one would guess about you?
A: I’m afraid of cats.
Q: If you could have the ultimate influential dinner party, who are the six people you'd invite?
A: Nora Vasconcellos, Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Michael Porter, Wayne Dyer and my dad.
Q: What makes you cry, every time?
A: When Mufasa dies in The Lion King.
Q: What's the next goal you want to accomplish?
A: Tokyo 2020!