How female skateboarders are claiming their space in a sport dominated by men

Skateboarding is becoming more inclusive. Women and non-binary people are fighting against the male-dominated skate culture that has often been considered toxic and intimidating.

“It isn’t about whether you’re good at skating, it’s about being a role model,” said Amber Edmondson, who, together with Nanja van Rijsse, co-founded the initiative Women Skate the World, which aims to create spaces for women and girls to skate in a non-toxic environment.

Amber Edmondson during her work in Palestine

The world of skateboarding has often been inaccessible to women and girls, as well as non-binary and queer people. Skating has evolved as a subculture since as early as the 1920s, but was popularized by surfers in California in the 1950s. Since then, skateboarders have formed a tight community that doesn’t just revolve around the sport itself, but also street fashion, and a general group feeling of belonging. The thing is, up until recently, most members of this community were white, straight men.

Amber Edmondson is someone who wants to change that. She started skating when she was 11, but stopped around the age of 14 because she thought she wasn’t good enough. It was only when she turned 28 that she decided to finally get back into it. “Getting on the board felt like going home, it felt like where I should have been all those years.”

“I feel like some men want it to be male-dominated and are making it difficult to join,” said 24-year-old Nienke Kuin, an amateur longboarder from Groningen. Nienke says she would love to go to skate parks and do tricks, but feels she is too old to start now.

When it comes to girls in skateboarding, it is often expected of them to be extremely good in order to be accepted in the larger community, which scares a lot of girls away from trying. At Women Skate the World, they try to overcome these barriers by creating a space for girls to feel comfortable skating, no matter how good they are. Amber says its important for girls to have these role models to show them they can also skate like everyone else. “It’s inspiring to see women who aren’t that good and are just doing it because it’s fun.”

An important step that’s being made, is creating women-only skating spaces, where girls can go skate without feeling intimidated by older guys who dominate skate parks. This way, girls can create their own communities that they feel comfortable in, before venturing out further. This is also important for girls in even more vulnerable situations, like refugees. Amber herself has worked with girls in Palestine, Iraqi Kurdistan and Greece, among others, and mentions the power skating has had there to give young girls something to strive towards.

Nienke also mentions that women-only spaces would be something she would love to attend, to make her feel more comfortable. “I think women will feel more welcome in the skate community in the future, but only because of other women!”

The skating scene is changing, and it is no longer the exclusive subculture it used to be. Thanks to organisations like Women Skate the World, the community is becoming more open. “Just to see women helping women, there’s something really amazing in that, and it makes me really proud,” said Amber.

Author: Emma de Ruiter

Emma is Dutch/Portuguese, 21 years old, and currently a Journalism student at the University of Groningen. She has previously obtained her Bachelor's degree in Liberal Arts & Sciences at Leiden University College in The Hague.

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