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Rollin' With The Girls

Rollin’ With The Girls was founded in response to the intimidation that Jess, and undoubtedly many others, felt when entering a crowded, profoundly male-dominated, skate park. However, this discontent has been channelled into something exceedingly positive and inclusive: “RWTG exists not as a clique”, Jess assures, “but as a platform”, which welcomes all ages and abilities, whether you’re “beginning or shredding”.

Though skateboarding and its coverage have always been densely masculine, it is by no means an exclusively male realm. “The UK female skate scene is booming!”, exclaims Jess, who points to the rise of national collectives like Girl Skate UK, who have been supporting and showcasing girl skaters for years. A similar community can be found in Leeds, with participation too extensive for Jess to articulate. It’s one that continues to grow; the influx of attendees at the bi-weekly girls-only night at The Works Skate Park is a testament to this. So why is the scene still so male-oriented?

“I blame the patriarchy!”, Jess remarks. Drawing similarities to the DJing and coding scene, Jess explains that skate-boarding is predominantly male because of the absence of female representation and encouragement. Though the solution is a work in progress, Jess refuses to let slow change dampen her spirits. “Things are changing!”, Jess observes, and RWTG is certainly helping to smash any pre-existing boundaries: “to really spit in the face of it you have to be there, you have to just do it and make your presence known”.

The coming-of-age film Skate Kitchen is a recent attempt to compensate for the lack of representation, documenting the experience of a young female skate community in New York. Yet, its veracity is questionable; Jess urges it to be taken with a pinch of salt. Despite certain relatable aspects, Jess declares that the male vs. female dichotomy in the film is misguided. To her, this misrepresentation is dangerous: “we should be trying to integrate, not segregate”. Besides the odd dose of “mansplaining”, Jess believes that the Leeds scene is more inviting than it may seem: “everyone in Leeds is stoked to see people picking up skating and progressing!”.

RWTG certainly adheres to this sense of openness: Jess stresses that it is not a “crew” per se, but something that is available to anyone. This community aspect can be seen in the very fabric of RWTG: whilst Jess runs the social media, other skaters, like Kayleigh Smyth and Minnie Mearns, provide the graphics and animations, not to mention the wealth of others involved. The community is charmingly diverse, with skaters as young as 11-year-old Kitty practising alongside older skaters, like Julie, who skates with her daughter Georgia. “There’s nothing better than watching a pal get a new trick”, Jess gushes, “it reminds you that if they can do it, you can do it”.

Social media has certainly influenced RWTG; in fact, Jess cites it as the reason why the collective exists. Hashtags, like #girlskate, allow people like Jess to track skaters’ progress and, ultimately, see what can be achieved.

It’s this opportunity that RWTG grabs: “I kind of make it my duty to hunt down girls in Leeds when I see them in person and pester them for their skate clips for the page”, she laughs; it doesn’t matter whether they’re “learning to push around on their board, or learning to kickturn”. The response so far has been remarkably positive, with engagement from girls across the country. However, RWTG also provides support on a more personal level: when its dry they can be found at Hyde Park, Micklefield or Thomes skate parks. Alternatively, the girls regularly attend the alternate Fridays at The Works, which welcomes scooters and BMXs too. An upcoming t-shirt line, in collaboration with local artist Bobbi Rae, hopes to raise the required funds for professional coaches and for these female-focused sessions to continue.

For those who are interested in skating but too worried, Jess suggests just doing it. RWTG is here to help, from providing boards at The Works sessions to offering advice. For those looking for their own equipment, Jess suggests consulting local skate shops, like Welcome, for advice about deck sizes (she skates an 8.25) and the best trucks, wheels, bearings and bolts within a specific price range.

Jess’ enthusiasm for skating is strikingly clear: “the main draw of skate culture is the freedom; you don’t have to like a particular genre of music or dress a certain way, and that translates to the actual skating too. You don’t have to skate a certain way, you can literally do anything you want”. In this sense, skating is not just a sport, but a means of expression, from the customisation of your board to the individual’s style of skating. But more importantly, it is a chance to challenge oneself—something that Jess values in an age so accustomed to the instant gratification of Google, Deliveroo and Tinder. “It’s definitely not easy, and you’ll probably fall a lot, but if you want to really feel proud of yourself then skating is definitely something for you!”. Jess’ personal experience seems to embody the fulfilling nature of skateboarding: “it’s almost humbling not to be able to land a track first try. I have to put actual effort in, and I have to not be discouraged it if takes me days, weeks or even months to get a trick”. To her, skateboarding is a reminder that things are challenging, but “that’s ok I guess!”.

Safi Bugel

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