The following article i wrote for the Heelside Magaine from Australia. Uploaded this here because a lot of people asked me to. Would be amazed about your opinion.
(Thanks to Travis!)
The more I think about it, the more research I do and the more I talk it over it with both women and men, the more it becomes apparent that this isn’t going to be an easy discussion, for it is all too easy to slide down the slippery slope of a gender debate. People often take offence and due to the frequently-encountered lack of a satisfactory conclusion,we revert to statements such as „That’s just how it is. Can’t change it.“ Thus far no one’s really looked into the physiology and psychology of why men tend to be faster (not better) at certain sports and how much differences in education account for in that respect.
To mention that skating is a male-dominated sport is like pointing out that the Pope’s a catholic. It’s always been like that and will be like that for at least a good while to come. Is that a good thing? Hard to say. Why‘s that? Not an easy one either, but let’s give it a go and try.
As for me, I’ve been skating for three years of which the first one mainly consisted of cruising through traffic. The first year I spend my time cruising around town on a pumpkin deck with really cheap trucks which baseplates I rode the wrong way around mounted, because I had no fucking clue about this stuff I was standing on. I just noticed that the turns were really hard for me to learn. With time also knowledge sneaked in and so I began to put together better set ups and started to slide and tried various stuff on my board. So one year ago I began to ride downhill and travelled a lot to get near mountains (we don’t really have them in Berlin). Compared to the people I usually skate with I therefore am relatively new to it all. Nonetheless I’ve observed a noticeable change, be it in my own town or allover the planet: More and more women start longboarding, be it in DH (where this year‘s Insul Cup for instance saw the highest number of female participants ever), dancing, sliding or slalom. The popularity of longboarding among women is steadily growing, particularly due to it being a fun means of getting around. This brings up a few questions, at least for me –Why now? Whay has it taken so long? And why is it all so differentiated?
An attempt to steer clear of any kind of gender debate whilst trying to scratch beneath the surface.
Without wanting to pidgeonhole anyone or anything, one has to admit that women often approach things differently to men. This particularly applies to sports and especially so to skateboarding since it is a sport that’s different from others and as such difficult to compare to, say, running, dancing or cycling. More often than not, skateboarding seems to be associated with a certain cool attitude, with being tough and badass since it entails injury and constant risk-taking. There’s a reason as to why the custom of not wearing a helmet or other protection prevails in street skating, since a lid is often considered as the ultimate sign of lameness.
No matter what you do on a skateboard, the more it becomes specialised, the more it gets frustrating. Be it a Coleman slide or a cross step– it is difficult and time-consuming to learn these tricks and it can be ever so frustrating to fail (and bail) time and time again. This is exactly why it requires so much passion and determination and it’s also the reason why some people stop after a certain amount of time. Many people start, buy an expensive setup, roll along a few meters and eventually come to realise that they have neither the ambition nor the interest to do much more. Which isn’t a problem at all. Nothing should ever involve pressure or having to force yourself to do something. In my opinion it’s exactly this kind of spirit that we’ve become the slave of. However, men seemingly find it easier to get started in skating than women.
Among other reasons, this could be due to a difference in perception. Being a female skater brings with it a near unbelievable, i.e. constant attention. You gotta be able to handle this. You’re being observed more attentively in the street by both sexes. I remember going to an indoor Berlin skatepark with a couple of friends last winter. The skaters there promptly stopped riding to watch me gingerly climb into a halfpipe for the first time. I tried to ignore the looks and continue to have fun even if I spent the best part of the following couple of hours messing myself up hard. Two days later, when I rode back and forth in that pipe (without doing any tricks or anything), one of the old stagers came over and said „You learn pretty quick for a girl.“ Right. This is but one of many strange comments I got to hear a lot. This paradox perception can be exhausting and sometimes I just can’t be bothered to prove myself. Some days you just want to be able to fuck up your slides without everyone taking note immediately. But no way. I therefore understand the idea to skate, far away from the pressure of being judged and to be able to keep up. I don’t think this is the solution though.
None of us female skaters is used to hanging out solely with women. In reality we’re usually the only one or one of very few among a bunch of guys. Those uppopping videos however display a different image, paired with statements justifying and explaining this grouping the tone of which really goes against the grain for me.
One of the last issues of Concrete Wave /Shered featured an article about the Longboard Girls Crew from Spain. When asked which changes she’d like to see in the female skating scene, one member replies:„ (…) What we aim for is working toward gender equality in this sport as it exists in other disciplines and helping to create awareness that girls can also ride and that longboarding can be a feminine expression. Foremost, our aim is to encourage more girls to get in this sport and have male skaters start seeing them as equals and not like chicks on boards.”
To mention that women can skate too is about as necessary as a poke in the eye thank you very much. If you’ve ever caught just one glimpse of the likes of Brianne Davies and Katie Neilson in action you wouldn’t dare claiming any different, to name but two of the more „famous“ examples. But where does this question about „female fulfilment“ come from all of a sudden? Guys, this is a sport.
Where does this compulsion to compare stem from and who decided the men are gonna be the benchmark? Whoever can skate can skate, it really is that simple. If you can control your board, you skate well. If you skate down a hill fast during a race, you’re a fast downhiller and so forth.
Most importantly though, if you enjoy what you’re doing and skate because you want to do so and couldn’t help yourself anyway beause it is your passion, then in my opinion this makes you a good skater.
All the specialities and particularities of this sport that are the reasons I feel at home in this world are at stake if all of a sudden it’s about having to make a choice: Man or woman? Make your decision as otherwise you don’t fit into our crew. But exactly this is the very essence of skateboarding. Or at least it is how I’ve experienced it: That it doesn’t matter where you’re from, how old you are, how you earn your money or if you don’t at all, how long you’ve been skating and how much time you have available to hone your skills each week.
There is nothing wrong with filming girls-only groups. It’s not even an issue to exclusively want to skate with women, that’s up to each and everyone individually. Like I said – skating is freedom. Make of it what you will. But please don’t act like the guys would stand in your way. They aren’t an obstacle and they won’t hold you back if you really want to go your way. Sure, there are idiots who will always judge you in a stupid way. But to prove that we can skate just as well as the guys by not skating with any men…backfires. I do not wish to be tarred with the same brush just because I am a woman, too. I don’t want to join in on this snivelling tone that implies that we’re being given a much harder time. Foremost, I do not wish to imply that I’ve never been taken seriously as a skater. Since the very beginning , I have experienced that yes, you do need to work harder to be taken seriously. But once you have „proven“ that you’re not in it to look good or to get any kind of fame, you’ll get the same amount of support and the same opportunities. You just need to take them. In a way it’s even easier for us women to get support, simply because there’s fewer of us. I know highly sponsored women who don’t even master a halfway decent footbrake and I know men who are being sponsored despite being minted. Which is equally unfair, but that’s a completely different can of worms.
This is skating. This is a sport. This is our life. It shouldn’t matter for shit whether that person on a board is a girl or a guy. The only thing that matters really is that this is a skater, no? Someone like you.
(Translation by the wonderful Cristina Maier. Thank you!)