Inspired by a resurgent skate community and a series of exciting projects, we dispatched our Culture Correspondent Nina Hoogstraate to investigate the other side of skateboarding – the women. Were they (as with other sports) sidelined as per tradition, or did skateboarding offer a forward-thinking and equality-driven environment in which sportsmen and women compete and practice side-by side? We’ll find out as the week unfolds and we talk to the boardwomen who skate, dream and inspire…
It all began in Cali, back in the ’50s. When the waves weren’t really rideable, the surfers didn’t know what to do with themselves, so they fitted wheels to small boards and skateboarding (or ‘sidewalk surfing’ as it was initially known) was born. No one really knows who invented the first skateboard; like all good it almost seems as though a bunch of people came up with the same idea, at the same time. The first skateboards were made out of wooden boxes or boards with roller skating wheels, which were somehow attached to the bottom of the board; who knows what they used for the trucks. Due to the popularity it gained, the boxes soon turned into planks, and companies began producing decks of pressed layered wood – wider, but very similar to the ones we use today.
1963 was the year skateboarding hit the maintsream in the States, with several companies beginning to hold skateboarding competitions. During this period, the boards were not used in the same form as today – it was more of a slalom, surfing-esque style rather than riding bowls and halfpipes and doing tricks. Up until around this time, there really were very few female skateboarders in comparison to male riders: Patti McGee became the first woman’s National Skateboard Champion in Santa Monica, in 1965. In some ways, she was the first female pro skateboarder – there are ongoing debates about this, as at the time the standard of skateboarding only really revolved around kickturns and slalom.
The evolution of skateboarding into the type we practice today began in 1975. The place was Del Mar, California; the event was a freestyle and slalom contest, held at the Ocean Festival. This was when the Zephyr team (AKA the Z-boys), a team made up of mostly guys, and one girl, appeared on the scene. Compared to virtually every other skater in the public eye, they had a different style to riding a skateboard. The type of skateboarding the competition was expecting was in a graceful and artistic style; the Z-boys, however, did not do this: they rode their boards low, and rode the concrete like a wave. They dragged their hand across the pavement and made turns like this too, almost like touching a wave.
They caused controversy at the competition, and his notoriety brought them fame; they would become the three most famous male skaters of all time – Stacy Peralta, Tony Alva, and Jay Adams. But there was one female in the group too; an Asian girl with long, black hair: Peggy Oki – she did not become a professional skater, but she was part of the team and was treated as one of the boys. Since the Lords of Dogtown, there have been more and more female skaters popping up around the world.
In 1988, Elissa Steamer, an American female skater attained a professional status when she won the women’s street section at Slam City Jam in Canada. She is considered the first professional female rider in ‘modern’ skateboarding. And although there are more and more female skateboarders every year, the level of competition, exposure and standard still does not compare to the male segment of skateboarding. This raises questions about femininity, strength, style and the idea that an ‘extreme sport’, for some, is not meant for women. Over the next few days, we’ll be exploring this issue and talking to individuals from across the skateboarding community:
- Amelia Brodka, a professional skateboarder and producer of documentary ‘Underexposed’ – Read the interview here
- Jenna Selby, a British professional skateboarder, documentary filmmaker of first European female skateboarding film ‘As If, And What?’, and founder of Rogue Skateboards – Read the interview here
- Ben Powell, editor of Sidewalk Magazine -Read the interview here
- Mimi Knoop, professional US skateboarder and co-founder of hoopla skateboards and the Action Sport Alliance – Read the interview here
- Lisa Whitaker, skateboarder and founder of website Girls Skate Network – Read the interview here
- Frauke Meyn and Erika Kinast from Skateistan, a non government organization that teaches children to skateboard in countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan and Cambodia – Read the interview here
They’ll be giving their opinions on the history and the current situation in the female sector of skateboarding and the work they are doing to encourage every female on this planet to grab a skateboard and go!
Keep your eyes peeled for the interviews in the next couple of days…
- Nina Hoogstraate