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The Comedy of Errors

The Nottingham Women Ending the Gender Skate Gap

16 September 18 words: Jade Vowles
illustrations: Amy Blackwell

Skateboarding holds all kinds of stereotypes, but most people associate the sport with a group of lads utilising any block of concrete they can find as assets to their impressive activities. There’s a gender association that comes with skateboarding that needs correcting.

“I don't like getting called a skater girl, and I don't like having Avril Lavigne’s song shouted at me by some random dude hanging out of the pub,” says local skater Charleigh Evison. “I really hate the perviness. I'm not here to pick up man, I'm here to skateboard.”

Girls skate too, and have been shredding the streets for decades. Patti McGee was showing the world her mad skills on the cover of Life Magazine back in 1965, and went on to be the first woman to go pro. Peggy Oki, Cara-Beth Burnside, Elissa Steamer and Lucy Adam are just a few of the big names that paved the way for the acceptance of women in the skateboarding world. Acceptance on a professional level is one thing, but for the everyday street-skating girl, proving your worth is tough.

It’s no coincidence that you’ve seen an influx of female skaters around Notts. Yes, skateboarders thrive in the sunshine, but it’s not just the weather that’s made these girls get on their boards. Skate Nottingham and some of the wonderful women in the city have been working their wheels off to make sure that women of all ages, shapes and sizes feel confident and comfortable giving it a go.

“One of the ways we felt we could make an impact on Nottingham through skateboarding is through gender diversity. We want skateboarding to be as good as it can be,” says Chris Lawton from Skate Nottingham. “We’re collectively frustrated about the wider social issues of generational divides, the gender pay gap, and issues around active girlhood, including the idea that young girls aren’t encouraged to take risks, or to be active in the same way young boys are. All of this we thought we could address through the medium of this skate project, and gender diversity has to be absolutely central to that.”

Charleigh Evison and Claire Dunn have been on the Nottingham skate scene for years. Claire, 32, now skates with her husband and son. She first stepped on a board back when she was just a kid. “I got my first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fishtail deck when I was about six, in the nineties, and that was sick,” says Claire. “I probably got into skateboarding properly in the early 2000s, when I was in my teens and all the lads were doing it. I was into punk and rock, and everyone hung out in the square. All the lads had skateboards and I was like ‘Oh, I can do this, why’s there no girls doing this?’”

The misconception that “girls can’t skate” was reinstated in the popular skateboard magazine, Thrasher, in 2013, when Nyjah Houston was quoted saying: “Some girls can skate, but I personally believe that skateboarding is not for girls at all. Not one bit.”

The growth of the female skateboarding community in Nottingham has had a huge impact. Two of our own are even going to Palestine in October, to act as skateboarding coaches on the occupied West Bank. Charleigh and her good friend Raegan Peck are raising money to go to the deprived area and help give the joy and freedom of skateboarding to kids who’re caught up in conflict.

I'm not here to pick up man, I'm here to skateboard

Charleigh, 24, started skateboarding when she was thirteen years old, after spending a lot of time BMXing: “It’s really hard and there’s a lot of pressure, because the minute you’re heading down the street you get ‘Do a kickflip, do a kickflip’ or ‘Girls shouldn’t ride skateboards.’ I used to get it from my dad when I was younger. He said girls shouldn’t be riding skateboards and BMXs, and told me to go play with my dolls and horses.’”

Nineteen-year-old Isabelle Rees only hopped on a board a year ago but already describes skateboarding as a part of who she is. “What would I do without my skateboard?” she says. “What makes me any less capable than a dude? My advice to other girls is to do it. If you don’t like it, you gave it a go. Never think about what-ifs, just do it.”

Overcoming the pressures of parents and gender stereotypes is huge, and having the courage to drop into a bowl when all the lads are doing hardcore stunts can be somewhat intimidating, especially when you have the added pressure of proving that girls can skate.

“I’ve heard people say, ‘Girls skate because they think it looks cool, and they’re gonna get themselves a skater boyfriend.’ No, I skate because I want to skate. I skate because I like skating,” says Isabelle Rees.

Skate Nottingham, and these wonderful ladies, have put their heart into making a change, and it’s paying off. The monthly ladies night at Flo Skatepark has seen an influx of girls, both young and old, getting involved.

“We started the women-only session, and that for me was the start of something massive,” says Claire Dunn. “We had all these young girls and women coming along and just enjoying it, and the atmosphere was different. There was no pressure, nobody watching you. There were mums dropping their kids off and I was like ‘Come get involved!’ They’ve been coming to the skatepark ever since.”

Liz Evans, 48, is one of the mums. She took her two girls down to the women and girls’ sessions at Flo, and found herself being encouraged by Claire to give it a go.

“I started last year,” says Liz. “I didn’t plan on it, but Claire encouraged me. I enjoy extreme sports, but this is the scariest thing I’ve ever done, and I’ve never looked back. As an older skater, it’s even worse challenging the prejudice, but there’s strength in numbers and the skater-women tribe in Notts is growing.”

Flo Nottingham is currently closed and the future of the park is uncertain.

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