Without in-depth knowledge and a deep understanding of skate culture, two things readily come to my mind when discussing skateboarding: Tony Hawk, and Avril Lavigne’s “Sk8r Boi.” While Hawk is a pioneer of modern skateboarding and Lavigne’s song is only indirectly related to skating, both showcase the male-centric nature of skate culture and its media depictions. Women skaters haven’t gotten the same level of pop-culture immortality as the men have, but they have been shredding the gnar for as long as skate culture has been around. Professional skateboarder Patti McGee was featured on the cover of Life Magazine in 1965 and Cara-Beth Burnside was the first woman to have her own skate shoe with Vans. So why has it taken mainstream media so long to catch up?
Though they’ve been at it for eons, female skaters are really having a moment right now. Take Crystal Moselle’s new film Skate Kitchen, which has been gaining traction for its depiction of a skater girl gang on the Lower East Side. The film’s name comes directly from its real-life inspiration, The Skate Kitchen – an all-women skate collective based in New York. It came to be after Moselle, a documentary filmmaker, encountered some of the girls on the subway and was so stricken by their style and boards that she decided to create a story about them, weaving in elements of their real personalities with elements of their fictionalized selves to make complex and compelling characters. Most of the actors are actual members of the collective playing semi-fictionalized versions of themselves, and the whole art-imitating-life element shows just how badass of a story these women genuinely have.
Both the film and the IRL collective fight damaging assumptions that “skater girls” somehow aren’t true skateboarders. As the director and cast have discussed in interviews, girls new to the skating scene might face extra challenges to prove themselves and show that they’re not “posers.” Skate Kitchen shows us that these girls are where it’s at—no question about it. Boys are inevitably present, but boy drama is the least of the skaters’ concerns—nailing tricks on sidewalks, rooftops and skate parks are more on the present mind. Skateboarding is a means of exploration of both city streets and self; through membership in this skate collective these girls have a unique opportunity to find freedom, engagement and understanding of their lives and the world around them.
While there are plenty of alt-rock and indie odes to skating, the skating community is still much more diverse than such media depictions might lead you to believe—which is why women and people of color getting the big-screen treatment is even more exciting. Despite the Vans Warped Tour ending in 2018 and economic conditions leading many local skate shops to close down, skateboarding isn’t going anywhere—if anything, it’s been popping up more and more frequently in the media. Jonah Hill’s upcoming film Mid-90s lovingly captures the youth skate culture of Los Angeles, and Riverdale’s Camila Mendes recently starred in a music video featuring female skaters jumping and jamming with one another. The widespread appeal shows that skating is not just for one “type,” and it escapes singular classification—it can be a sport, an art, a mode of transportation, or just a source of fun, all at once.
Even for someone like me who has minimal skating experience at best, watching fearless girls skate, do tricks, fall, and get back up is exhilarating. I remember all those times in middle school when I would go to the skate park with my friends to just watch from the side as boys did jumps on the half-pipe or as my friends shared one skateboard between them. And maybe it just wasn’t the thing for me. Not everyone has to be skater; but anyone can be. Though there are formal competitions for skating (including in the X Games and, in a first, the upcoming 2020 Olympics in Tokyo), part of the beauty of the sport is its accessibility. Skating’s roots lie in experimentation, where uneven sidewalks, crowded city streets, flights of stairs, and empty pools are endless possibilities.
Who cares about so-called authenticity, street cred, and what constitutes being worthy of holding a “skater” title? A badass gang of women are getting their very own movie made about them, and skating is finally being seen how it’s meant to be: something for everyone. Whether you’re an X-Game medalist, a teenager zooming down urban streets, or a middle-schooler trying tricks on a skateboard from the mall, you too can be a skater girl. All it you need to do is skate.
By Katie Duggan
Princeton student, feminist film enthusiast, and lover of all things spooky.