Re-edited: March 15, 2023
This past weekend was the return of racing in our world of downhill skating.
The event came and went, with the fantastic opportunity to qualify to be on the USA national team (for men and women), but...
There were no women racers. There were no women participating at all.
Yes, Covid makes things difficult these days.
Yes, the event was quite a last-minute effort for most.
Yes, not everyone can just take a trip to a different city/ state and pay the money to participate in a weekend-long event.
Of course, life and things get in the way.
This event was announced with 1ish month of preparation time for athletes to make things happen. Yet, 60ish+ male skaters showed up. Again, not one woman.
There are so few active female downhill skaters, and even fewer that race. Without these few core athletes being able to attend the event, there was no women’s category.
Of course, you can argue that participation in downhill racing is low, to begin with. Not every skater needs to race, not every skater can take time off, nor afford racing, nor travel, nor has sponsors, etc., etc.
But 60ish men showed up. Why no women?
These issues go beyond simply not being able to show up. It’s bigger than that. Don’t ask or blame the fact that we didn’t show up, ask why there aren’t others stepping up. Why are our numbers so small to begin with?
Let's chat about some of the issues and solutions.
If you peer through a skate magazine, go to a skate shop, or are browsing skate publications, there will rarely be representation/ images of women skating. If you do see a women skater, how many men are there in the same space (i.e. magazine/ website)? Peer through a Thrasher magazine and count how many women are featured vs. men. Go to a company that sponsors skaters, how many women are sponsored vs. men?
If you're thinking: "there aren't as many women skating.. blah blah," or "There aren't as many women who are gnarly enough to get sponsored.. blah blah". That isn't an excuse. It's part of the problem.
The world of skating shows a limited amount of diverse skaters. When someone sees someone that looks like them representing in this sport, it can be everything to grow their stoke and to grow the community. Representation matters. We need more diverse skaters getting views on social media, getting video parts, getting sponsored, in magazines, in event recaps, on posters in shops, with promodels, etc.
When representation is more diverse, participation will follow.
As time progresses, more women are skating and more women are taking up space. These days, much of the space comes from self-promotion and social media. There are so many women out there skating and killing it and it's amazing that social media gives opportunities to see and be seen.
Representation is more than that. Go to a local skate shop and see what gear options are there. Very few for women or featuring women. We generally have to fit ourselves in other boxes to just get going in the sport.
An awesome thing today is that you can buy a complete double-kick setup with all gear from Nora Vasconcellos. That is beyond epic and she kills it. But she is one of the very few women that have this opportunity. While many men have been given the pro-model grace for sooo long.
Consider downhill gear. How many men have had promodels? How many promodels out right now are from men?
How many women pro-models exist in downhill skateboarding? For all time?
You can count them on your two hands.
What are some ways to combat these issues with representation?
-If you have a company, aim for representation and diversity to be a driving goal in your business.
~Anyone can skate, so use your means to reach any audience.
~Understand that marketing to specific demographics can be a boost in revenue/ customers.
~Diverse representation includes sponsored riders, social media representation, print representation, and diversity behind the scenes (filmmakers, photographers, office workers, etc.).
-Stop using objectification/ sexism to sell products.
~Want to use women for advertising? Show them actually skating.
~”sex sells” is old-fashioned and outdated. It can also be incredibly offensive and excluding. What does it say when a company only uses women’s bodies to advertise?
P.s. do not judge someone for using their sexuality and bodies as they want. There is a huge difference between owning and celebrating YOUR body and a company USING bodies to sell products.
-If you like to film/ make edits, utilize your platform to showcase the diverse talent around you.
-If you host events make sure to take steps to make your event welcoming for all:
~Different categories for racing to celebrate diversity. (A fantastic thing in our sport is the open's category, giving room for anyone to participate against each other).
~Showcasing and celebrating the many participants in videos, print, social media, event recaps, etc.
How many times are women omitted from an event recap?
How many times are other categories swept under the rug?
~Utilize diverse skaters for advertising (event posters, promo videos, etc.)
-Utilize social media to show off yourself
-Encourage others to participate
-Encourage others to step in front of the camera, encourage your filmers/ photographers to seek diverse skates for content
**Another thought to consider about representation:
Within today's world of over-advertising, marketing, and media, gender roles play a huge part in representation and lack of representation. As children, advertising reaches differently depending on who the "target audience" is. Little boys are often exposed to sports and athletics while girls may be exposed to things like makeup and dolls. Without images of women also existing in sports, some girls grow up with the notion that sports aren't for them. Some boys grow up thinking the same thing and therefore don't create welcoming spaces or attitudes. This is especially true for extreme sports. There is a high bias that women should stay "safe" and are not exposed nor encouraged from younger ages. Most women in downhill skateboarding got into the sport in or after college. (once away from their parent's biases maybe? Or trying things for themselves? Or using a board as a means of transportation and creating self-dependence?). If more images and representation exist showcasing women then more girls will be encouraged and participation will grow. Give the world a damn barbie doll of Emily Pross or Lizzie Armanto and let's see what happens. Give the world another Rocket Power cartoon with a more diverse cast and see what happens. Create more sports/ action movies where the protagonist is female. More female/ diverse leads in general, please.
Representation matters in all forms and with all ages.
Religion, culture, and bias also play huge factors. Many people are depicted only one way, if at all.
I won't dive too deep here as I am not religious, nor do I know the insides of every culture, but as a strong woman in the skate world, I will say that: Anyone can skate. Anyone is welcome. Anyone can do anything.
One of the highlights of downhill skateboarding is the people within it. Our community of skaters is a family and truly such an incredible part of skating.
But as a community, there is still work to be done.
We have to put effort into creating spaces we want to be a part of. Reaching out a hand to bring new skaters in is incredible. Helping skaters learn and grow and teaching safety and skills is amazing. Many skaters do these things and some don’t. That’s perfectly fine. We all exist in skating how we want to and get out of skating what we want. That being said, many skaters do not realize the differences in the skate world relative to each individual's perspective and experience.
For example, based on my experiences over 10 years in the sport, traveling, racing, and skating for fun, I consider multiple things when going to
A skate session:
~Will I be surrounded by encouraging, welcoming people?
~Will anyone yell from frustration?
~Will I feel left out of conversations or “the boys club” vibe?
~Will I be respected for being a skater? Will I have to prove I skate well to earn respect? Am I going to be compared to other women skaters?
~Will I be exposed to gross conversations or behavior?
Will this behavior be explicitly sexist, homophobic, etc.?
~Will I feel comfortable communicating with the skaters around me?
~Will I be comfortable standing up for myself? Will anyone understand? Will anyone stand up with/ for me?
~Will I have somewhere safe to sleep? Will I be forced to share a sleep situation with someone?
With whom? Can I trust them?
~Will I be able to leave somewhere if I feel uncomfortable?
~Will I be forced to stay in a situation because of my reliance upon someone else for housing/ transportation? And therefore will I be forced to maintain silence if things go bad?
~Do I feel comfortable with the crowd to let loose at the party?
~Do I feel comfortable at the campsite when randoms set up a tent nearby?
~Will I be sexually assaulted?
As a very seasoned skater, I have learned from my past and now approach a lot of my skating adventures differently than before. Now, I am more thorough about who I go to events/sessions with. I am more in tune with who will be around me and who I will have to interact with. I set up my sleeping situation vigilantly, or completely away from others. I never let myself get too drunk at parties and I don’t flirt the same, if at all.
These questions that fill my head upon heading out to skate have accumulated over time and are now my norm. Consider what questions you have in your head before you approach a session or event.
Consider that as a woman, I don't feel comfortable going to some places/ events because of the local community. Consider that as a woman, I am limited about where I may travel to skate based on differences in human rights laws. Consider that in some countries, women aren't allowed many freedoms, let alone the idea of skateboarding.
I will reiterate that the downhill community is generally filled with amazing humans. I feel comfortable most of the time I step foot on a board. Some of the comforts come with my tenure and my reputation. But I have gone through a lot and I do remember a lot from my past experiences. I used to be naive, and I used to succumb to my own internal misogyny. I used to want to step up and prove I was the best woman skater around. I used to feed into the “boys club” talk so that I was more welcomed. I used to show off more to be respected and seen. Now, I’m confidently being myself and this means I see more into the community. I see those hidden misogynistic comments and innuendos. I feel the difference in respect between myself and a newer woman at a session or event- and the fact that we're being compared. I can see the eyes of those that may aim to take advantage or cause an assault.
Just because you don’t think there are issues or people who cause issues, doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
Now, besides my own personal experiences, here are some other issues:
-Toxic Masculinity, which affects anyone around, creating an environment that feels unwelcome, full of pressure, judgement, etc.
-Differences in respecting women. Respecting women based on their skills in skating, or their appearance. Respecting only women you’re attracted to, isn’t respecting women. Treat all skaters with the same respect. Period. Just because someone has ovaries doesn’t mean they have anything to prove on a skateboard.
-Objectification: Objectifying women and bodies is entirely unnecessary. Explicitly supporting companies that choose to objectify women is a big red flag. Using gear that doesn't objectify women is a simple step to make the community a more welcoming and safe place.
-Equal support: Extend a hand to women skaters learning the same way you would to anyone else. Don’t baby them differently, don't offer different advice, and don’t touch them if it’s unnecessary (or if you wouldn’t do the same to someone else).
-Gatekeeping: Don’t do this to women if you wouldn’t to another fellow skater.
What are some ways to combat these issues within the community?
-One simple thing to do is to treat women skaters like any other skaters. Provide the same amount of respect towards women as any other skater and respect their learning, their personality, and their personal space.
-Understand your own experience in skating and in your life and realize that everyone is human and experiences things differently. Learn and grow through research and asking questions. Don’t always make assumptions, especially based on gender bias.
-Understand, as a woman in a male-dominated sport, things may be intimidating and overwhelming. Put in the efforts to create a safe and welcoming space where women feel comfortable to skate and learn and grow. (Apply this to every kind of person, not just cis women).
-Extend a hand where possible to help the community grow. Encourage new people to try skating and create an environment that welcomes them. Be the part of the community that is positive, encouraging, stoked, and diverse.
-Use and support inclusive/ positive language, media, companies, and more.
~Find the companies that promote diversity and support them
~Use language that welcomes everyone and is inclusive (i.e. hey y'all instead of hey guys)
~Support stoked diverse skaters and brands/ media that emphasizes good ideals and diversity
-Stand up for others if you see disrespectful behavior. Being the minority often comes with discomfort with standing up for oneself especially when the numbers are incredibly small. Being an ally means standing up for someone/ something when someone feels uncomfortable to themselves.
-Speak up. Are the conversations you're having or being a part of rude? Are they sexist or objectifying? Are they racist, homophobic, misogynistic, transphobic, etc? If you don’t like what you’re hearing, stand up against it.
~Of course, only if you feel comfortable with that. There will always be bad seeds in every watermelon. That is why smaller groups are often formed and why people seek out safe spaces. It would be great if every community could be a safe place, but that isn’t always the case. But YOU can help create safer communities for yourself and others.
-Event organizers/ companies:
~Utilize Inclusive language, advertising, and media
~Regulate, issue, and uphold a code of conduct
-Give talks, warnings, and expulsions as needed
-Give room and listen to participants' comments and concerns
What are some other issues you can think of?
What can you do to make the community more diverse and welcoming?
We all are skaters because we love it. It is our drug of choice and there is nothing like it. We are fueled by passion and adrenaline and we cannot get enough. We have an amazing community with such wonderful fellow skaters. Skating is for anyone that wants to jump in and it's wonderful to have so many people do it. But we need to do better to progress and to support the image of skating. Our sport is dynamic and diverse and that needs to be better showcased. As a woman in the sport, I want more. More women skating, more women in media, more women everywhere. I want to see our community grow the way it can and not be held back anymore.
We can put in the work to grow our communities and bring in more people of all kinds. The future is bright if we put in the effort.
What can you do the next time you skate to make a difference?
Thank you for taking the time to read.
I hope this fuels many a discussion and am open to discussion myself.
Contact me here or on Instagram @skatebagels
*We need to understand that downhill skating is a privileged activity where means, access, support, money, etc. are factors that let people pursue this sport. Not everywhere, nor every scene will have a diverse population of skaters based on many factors. But, diversity and representation still matter. Effort matters.
Take steps in the direction of the world you want to skate in. Extend a hand to get others involved. Reach out to different communities and get new people thinking about it. Bring/ donate gear to those in need. We all love skating for a reason and for most, skating has impacted our lives in positive ways. We can share this and make it a safe place for everyone.
**Women are not alone in experiencing many of these issues. Be an ally to anyone in the skate world. Extend a hand, listen, learn, create, and spread safe spaces, safe language, and safe experiences. We are all here because we love to skate.
Let's all work together to make skating a better place for anyone and everyone.