Published in the Summer 2005 issue • Features
Broads on Boards
Rolling with the Skirtboarders, Montreal’s feisty all-female skate crew
Continued from page 1
The crew is a loosely-knit network of women, most of them in their twenties, who have come to skateboarding from every angle possible — from Bastien, who started skateboarding at 17 with her guy friends at CEGEP (pre-university for Quebec students), to Marie-France, a 32-year-old mother who is training to be a street performer and skates when she has the time. There are no hazing rituals or membership tests — if you’re a woman and you’re prepared to get your skate on, you’re one of them. “If a girl just showed up tomorrow and she wasn’t very good, well, she’d be a part of the crew like that,” says Bastien, snapping her fingers.
The shared love of skateboarding goes beyond skill level, and sometimes even beyond words. In true Quebec style, members of this crew are both Anglo and Francophone, but not necessarily bilingual; in some cases, riding may be the language most commonly spoken. Porter confirmed this wordless bond between skaters in a story about her first trip to the Czech Republic: “Despite the language barrier, I became acquainted with two girl skaters who found me a place to stay and took me on trips to their cottage. It was amazing!” It’s as if skateboarding has given these women a skeleton key to anywhere they can imagine, as long as there’s good concrete and the weather holds.
When it comes to comparing male and female skill, Bastien is upfront about girl skaters still riding in the wake of their male counterparts. “Girls aren’t as good as guys, because we start skating later so we have less time to learn,” she says. Of course there are exceptions — American pro-skaters Vanessa Torres, Elissa Steamer and Cara-Beth Burnside have held their own alongside top male skaters in mixed-sex competitions (the Vans company even designed a signature Cara-Beth shoe in honour of Burnside). But on the street level, the intimidation factor often keeps girls from getting a head start.
Bastien’s point is significant: women are entirely capable of top-notch skateboarding — it’s not as if we’re genetically programmed to bake, sew and avoid face-to-face encounters with asphalt. But social norms often discourage girls from taking up a sport that stands for aggression, rule-breaking and physical danger. When you combine these conventions with a general lack of mainstream media representation, you get a gender division.
“It’s a vicious circle,” says Bastien. “There are fewer girls because girls don’t see other girls in magazines.” Since young boys are the biggest skate gear consumers and company reps generally assume they aren’t going to buy something they see on a lady-skater, it’s harder for women to get sponsorships and less likely they’ll be featured in popular media. Just flip through any big-name skate mag (Transworld, are you listening?) and see how many women you find who aren’t decked out like prom queens or draped over a baggy-pantsed dude.
There are notable exceptions, like Montreal’s Exposé Magazine (available in finer skateshops throughout Canada), which has a two-page spread featuring a female skater in every issue — two pages, Bastien points out, that could have been sold for thousands of dollars to an advertising company. Mathilde Pigeon, the writer in charge of the Chick Out feature, says the venture is only natural given the magazine’s purpose: “Exposé is a reflection of the skateboarding community in Quebec — since the girls are present in the community, we simply thought we could not ignore them.” And the response so far has been encouraging. Apparently there are actually readers out there who would rather see a woman rock a board than a bikini! But that degree of exposure is rare, and is for the most part limited to underground publications and webzines (see sidebar at the end of the article for some suggestions).