They are eight, nine, ten years and older. One by one they drop into the concrete half pipe, their hair fanning out from underneath pink, white and black helmets, their feet planted on skateboards, girl after girl after girl, fearless and stoked.
Scenes like the one in this video, shot by Kickstart Arts, are becoming commonplace at She Shreds Australia, a community-level girl’s skateboarding collective in Tasmania.
The group’s creator, Jared Andrews wanted to teach his two daughters and their two friends to skateboard and within two year and half years, 66 other girls showed up.
The boom in skateboarders is part of a mega trend generally, according to the CSIRO. Although it’s unclear just how serious girls are about it, in 2013 Mahfia TV, a U.S. women’s action sports channel, analysed facebook market data and claimed that skateboarding was the fastest growing female demographic of all the action sports, world-wide.
Part surfing, part kneeboarding, part snowboarding, part dance, skateboarding began to fascinate girls back in the 1960s. The scene, though, says Dr Holly Thorpe a New Zealand sports researcher, was strongly male-dominated. “If you picked up a skateboarding mag, you’d see the journos, the stories, are all male. The sponsors would go for males.”
It still is heavily male dominated, she says, but, for hundreds of young women getting into skateboarding now, the industry could not be more different.
Australian skateboarding champion, judge and teacher, Renton Millar, says he sees more and more women skateboarding every day.
“The fact there are now so many really good skateparks, has a lot to do with it. In the past they were that much harder to find,” he adds.
Although many didn't seem to mind that much, skateboarders used to have to contend with shredding dimly-lit car parks, maybe the CBD, usually after hours. Those in outer areas perhaps had the occasional wad of steel curling up from a dusty playground to run around in.
Now, five skateparks open each week in Australia. Some have decent slide rails, half pipes, snake runs, pool bowls and concrete hips for starting, finishing, truck sliding — or plain kneecapping the unlucky skateboarder. With even the more serious skateparks designed to be family-friendly, girls are likely to feel safer being there.
Skateboarding has always been about pushing boundaries, Millar says. “But now, it has evolved and those boundaries have stretched to the point where it’s normal to see girls fall hard and get up again.”
Blame it on the street style, the art, the novelty of beating a bunch of guys, but, IT specialist and Australian advisory board member for the Action Sport Alliance, Esther Godoy, has another take on why women’s skateboarding is growing.
Godoy started skateboarding when she was 12 years old and used to tear up Melbourne’s Fitzroy Bowl. She reached sponsorship and professional level, but became disillusioned by the lack of opportunities she had to progress, so she quit. But that brought more frustration.
“Once you reached a certain age, and if you’re not doing it professionally or as a beginner, there’s no reason to slide down 300 stairs, so there really wasn’t anything out there that motivated me to keep skating,” she says.
“With men’s skateboarding, there’s so many events and contests throughout the year, yet there was really a lack of [those] for women. That’s why there really needs to be some kind of community that motivates women to keep doing it, whether that’s skateboarding events or meet-ups or workshops that kind of thing.”
Six years ago Godoy set up Girls Skate Australia to do just that. Based online, it aims to create visibility for women in the same way as international grassroots organisations and events like Skate Like A Girl, Action Sport Alliance and Exposure in the USA, Skirt Boarders in Canada, No Limits in Sweden, and Serious Sisu in Hong Kong and Singapore.
Dr Holly Thorpe, who advised the International Olympic Committee on the marketing potential of action sports, says some of the groups have become powerful.
“There have been amazing female skaters all through history and some of them, such as ex pro-skater, Mimi Knoop, with the Women Skateboard Alliance, have been pushing hard to make sure women are represented at events, to make sure there are women and men’s events, to make sure the young and emerging are getting the support from the industry and positive representations from the media.”
Last year, the Action Sports Alliance launched the Women’s Skateboarding Alliance (WSA) to promote a path to professionalism for skater girls. The organisation partnered with other crucial sports bodies to create the women’s first ever street league competition in the USA.
This year, WSA teamed up with Skate Like A Girl on its “Wheels of Fortune” competition to make it the first women’s qualifier for the ‘Olympics’ of action sports, the X Games.
Thorpe points out that men in the industry as well as women have had to drive these changes.
“To get into the Olympics women have had to be included, so the industry has had to show that they are equally represented. So in a way action sports like skateboarding being lined up for the Olympics is pushing them towards greater gender equity,” she says.
Girls Skate Australia runs workshops, clinics, tours and showcases the highs and lows of female skateboarders through interviews, blog posts and the work of women skateboard photographers.
The pictures of photographer Sarah Huston, for example, captures and documents both the sport and the art of young, emerging and veteran female skateboarders. Her work highlights that although for many Australians, Poppy Starr Olsen was not a household name until a few weeks ago, she and a number of other Australian women athletes are commonplace in competitions here and overseas.
The group’s annual competition, Daughters of Doom, is not quite on par with the USA’s Exposure, the largest “DIY” female-only competition in the world, but it is the biggest women’s event of its kind in Australia, and attracts girls from across the country.
Skateboarding may well be a sport whose time has come, but at least 7000 skateboarders around the world think it might lose its soul to the Olympic Games and have petitioned against it.
Godoy thinks that although opinions would vary from person to person, “A good many women skateboarders would probably welcome the Olympics.”
Millar and Thorpe believe that women will benefit the most.
“Girls around the world will see women skateboarders getting visibility, getting gold medals around their neck,” says Thorpe. This means that they and their parents will feel more encouraged to go to skateparks and give it a serious go, she adds. ”So, that will [lead to] the biggest growth in skateboarding, is my prediction.”
Even though he personally sits on the fence about the Olympics, She Shreds Australia’s Jared Andrews thinks anything that helps the girls focus on sharpening their skills is a good thing.
That could be watching their idols, Lizzie Armanto or Poppy Olsen on social media, flying over to the mainland to try big skateparks such as Melbourne’s Riverslide, or “heading to Daughters of Doom. Come September,” Andrews says, “that’s where 10 of our girls plan to be.”