By Winona Young, Peak Associate
The first time I went to a skatepark with my board and helmet, I remember feeling excited. I chose to go on a BC holiday — which would turn out to be a big mistake — and opted for the park that was closest to my neighbourhood, which was nestled in a little suburban area. The park itself was small but versatile; it featured two bowls, a rail to slide on, and little hills that featured colourful graffiti against smooth, sleet-coloured concrete.
It was a little past 11 a.m. with the sun full-frontal in the sky, which already had me sweating by the time I got to the park. As soon as I entered the green fence, however, my confidence dropped. I chose to come alone, thinking I’d have time to skate around an empty park, but instead, I found myself in a buzzing hive of white boys (baggy shirts, jeans, and all) ranging from kids to grown men, blasting past on their scooters and skateboards.
I was the only woman (and for that matter, only person of colour) there, in a sea of skaters who were younger and more talented than me. I gulped, my body suddenly tense, and my hands more than ready to text my mom to pick me up.
I decided to start skating several months ago. It was a move that surprised not only my family, but me too. But in hindsight, it really shouldn’t have.
I grew up in a Catholic Filipino household. Being the youngest of three daughters, I always noticed I was deviated from my parent’s expectations of being a proper Filipina girl. When I was eight, I often opted for baggier t-shirts, hated the colour pink, and listened to my dad’s Queen CDs. It wasn’t until I turned 12 my mother outright told me that video games were for boys and began dressing me in more pastels that I quietly closed the door on being a tomboy.
From that age, I would explore my femininity for a very long time. This past year, at the age of 23, I saw my partner ride his skateboard and felt electrified just seeing someone cruise down concrete.. Wide-eyed in my pink skirt and tight ponytail, I thought about how cool it was to be the girlfriend of a Sk8er Boi, á la Avril Lavigne style. But as soon as he let me ride his skateboard, I thought to myself: oh wait, I can be the cool Sk8er Boi.
I began looking up skate tutorial videos on YouTube, excited to dive into something new — but then, I was painfully reminded of the fact that there was a standardized Sk8er Boi look that I didn’t fit. Namely, a white male in a baggy t-shirt. So whenever I walked the streets with my skateboard, or moreover, saw a white dude with his board skate past, I would feel immediately defensive. I felt paranoid if others, especially men, would immediately see that I was a beginner and would call me a poser like we were in a generically mediocre 90s TV show.
However, I understood that it made sense for skateboarding to be populated by white males because it was founded in California during the 60s by Caucasian beach-blond boys who wanted to surf on the sidewalk.
This isn’t to say that there were only white skaters; men of colour, especially Black men, were part of the skating scene. Skaters like Steve Caballero (pro skater and creator of the skate trick, the Caballerial), and Christian Hosoi (pro skater and past rival of Tony Hawk) were also big names that are integral to the history of skateboarding.
But I still felt alone. I did, however, begin improving over the next few weeks. Every single time I rode my board, I felt this incredible urge to prove to others I was competent enough to ride. I kept trying to prove that to myself so I didn’t feel like an impostor. It’s not that the skate community, online and offline, wasn’t welcoming, but I found it hard believing myself that I was part of that community and I belonged there as a woman of colour.
Then, enter Skate Kitchen. Skate Kitchen is an all-female skate collective based in New York City. Their members include Rachelle Vinberg, Dede Lovelace, and Moonbear, who are all women of colour and even actresses in the HBO series, Betty, wherein it showcases the lives of fictional characters based on themselves.
When I first saw Vinberg and her all-female crew spill into a male skate park in the series, I remember feeling a surge of empowerment and the striking feeling of being found. Although I didn’t immediately feel less of an impostor, I definitely felt more safe.
After seeing Skate Kitchen, I began looking to my own community; I hit up a fellow female SFU student I met from Emo Nite Vancouver, and began asking her where to go in the big old skate world of Vancouver. She recommended that I follow @vancouverqueerskate, a pro LGBTQ2+ skate account based in BC, @latebloomersskateclub, an inclusive skate account that posted daily inspo-videos of (usually) women sharing their skate progress, and suggested I joined Chickflip, an all-female Facebook group of female skaters in BC.
After months of looking inward and looking outward at skate videos online, I decided to get my skateboard at Skull Skates, Canada’s oldest skate shop downtown in Vancouver. So when I walked into the skate park, alone, with my new board, shaking in my pastel-coloured Converses, I did the only thing I (sort of) knew how to do. I skated — badly.
I pushed around on my board, doing small turns around the hurdles and not so much stopping, but stumbling to a halt every time I circled the bowl. Guys did laps around me, getting air time, doing tricks, and out-racing their friends, but I kept pushing through the anxiety until all the other skaters left the bowl.
I remember feeling my face erupt in the smallest smile meant only for myself because I knew, despite the fact I was the only woman of colour there, I was a skater, and nobody could tell me otherwise.
Fast forward to the end of this summer and I was in Surrey, skating on a late afternoon day. There’s a road of fresh concrete that spans a block down at the block my partner lives. He and I were skating down that concrete after a board session at the park nearby. I followed behind him, my right sneaker pushing off the pavement hard, my left hand at my hip holding my bubble tea order as my eyes focused forward. The wind whipped past me and I stood up straight on my board, enjoying the sunlight.
But as soon I cruised down the concrete, I saw a girl cruising towards us, her bangs in her face as she stared down at her board, arms flailing as she tried to steady herself on her board. I sped past her but stole a look as I was riding away. She looked like me, five months ago, struggling to skate in a parking lot while better skaters passed me.
I thought more about her as I put away my helmet and board once I got home. I thought of how I wanted to tell her that it was OK to struggle, that all she’s gotta do is commit. But mostly, all I wanted to tell her was how good it was to see her, and how just like me, she belonged too.