Published in the Summer 2005 issue • Features
Broads on Boards
Rolling with the Skirtboarders, Montreal’s feisty all-female skate crew
Montreal’s Peace Park is the kind of place most people try not to look at twice. It’s one of those downtown green spaces for which the term “green” is used loosely at best: there’s cement, some benches, a few anemic trees and a random assortment of people you probably wouldn’t want to encounter in a dark alley, unless you were planning on purchasing illegal substances from them.
And then there are the Skirtboarders. This all-female skateboard crew has made Peace Park its home, and to them, it’s paradise. They are as comfortable here as they are in Berri Square, South Parc, or pretty much anywhere else you’d expect to find a gang of tough-as-nails skaters. They’ve forged a kind of balance with the homeless people and local toughs who hang out in the park — they don’t give each other trouble, and when the police come to hassle them, both sides give the warning call.
The Skirtboarders’ presence adds a slash of neon colour to the downtown grey. Watching them kick-flip over curbs and grind down railings is like seeing graffiti in motion. The women scrawl their presence all over the streets, writing messages on the concrete with their boards. It’s the physical equivalent of a “We were here” spray paint tag.
Elysha Bastien, 21, is one of the dozen-or-so Skirtboarders, and the only woman certified to teach skateboarding in the province of Quebec. Also a member of the BOOB (Bitches On Our Boards) crew in Calgary, Bastien has been skating for almost four years. She likes skating with women partly because of the encouragement they give each other. “It’s important for girls to have a safe space to practice the sport on our own, to be ourselves and encourage one another,” she says. “In that way I think it’s also important for the younger generation to see all these girls [skateboarding together] — it’ll get more generations started.”
For Bastien, part of what makes skateboarding her lifestyle of choice is the steady contact with the city and its people. “You’re living almost like a street person, because you’re always on the street. You’re a soldier of the street,” she says. “You see things that nobody else will ever see. You see people going to work, couples fighting, people shooting up, kissing, having sex behind buildings. And you talk to everybody. I feel so lucky, because I know that 95 percent of society, they just stick to their own kind — 'I work, I make $100,000 a year, the only people I’m in contact with are people with social status.’ But we’re so open-minded, we hang out with all sorts of people all the time.”
Natalie Porter, another Skirtboarder, enjoys shredding the image of obedient, squeamish girls who think ollies should be left to the Sk8r Bois: “I like being part of a gang, intimidating people on the streets as a crew of girls bombards their world with noise and aggression. We represent the opposite of stereotypical female virtues — we are not fragile, flawless or passive, and we like it that way.”