Skate­boards no longer just for the ‘bros’

‘Babes Brigade’ are among grow­ing num­ber of women shift­ing the bal­ance in sport

Toronto Star - - GREATER TORONTO - JESSE WIN­TER AND CHRISTOPHE­R REYNOLDS STAFF RE­PORTERS

A group of fe­male skate­board­ers are kick­flip­ping their way into Toronto skate parks, and a new gen­er­a­tion of girls could soon be chas­ing them down the half-pipe.

Babes Brigade, a skate­board­ing meetup group, was formed last year and is paving the way one ol­lie at a time for fe­male board fans look­ing to break into the sport.

Founder Stephanie Bat­ti­este says she was sick of see­ing women un­der­rep­re­sented in skate mag­a­zines, videos and on the streets of the city. So she called up some friends and cre­ated a Face­book page. “Hav­ing a com­mu­nity has been pretty in­stru­men­tal in my growth over the past cou­ple years,” says Bat­ti­este, 29.

“I just wanted to give that back and spin it out­ward.”

The group meets weekly to forge a stronger com­mu­nity out of the women’s street-surfing set. For Parm Kaur, 20, the crew couldn’t have come soon enough. She first started skate­board­ing at the park across the street from her child­hood home in Oril­lia, and faced re­sis­tance and iso­la­tion from her male peers.

“‘Leave the skate­board­ing for the bros,’ ” Kaur re­calls hear­ing. “It was re­ally in­tim­i­dat­ing . . . I’d never seen a girl skat­ing there ever.”

She says women are still be­ing de­meaned and ob­jec­ti­fied. “If you go to a YouTube video of a girl skate­board­ing, you’ll see com­ments by guys: ‘That girl’s pretty good — for a girl,’ or, ‘I wish I could find a girl that skate­boards.’ ”

Babes Brigade takes it in stride, play­fully ap­pro­pri­at­ing that un­so­licited sex­u­al­iza­tion. And it’s been get­ting no­ticed. Mem­bers hosted a wellat­tended, women-only skate con­test in East York in March, ap­peared in an On­tario hip-hop artist’s mu­sic video and adorned the pages of Fash­ion Mag­a­zine.

Babes Brigade isn’t the only all-fe­male club in town. A new part­ner­ship be­tween the city of Toronto and the Chill Foun­da­tion is bring­ing skate­board­ing to a new gen­er­a­tion of girls, in a safe and judg­ment-free en­vi­ron­ment.

Run out of the Gran­dravine Com­mu­nity Recre­ation Cen­tre on Tuesday evenings, the pro­gram pro­vides skate­boards, safety gear and ex­pert in­struc­tion to girls who are new to the sport.

As class wraps up on a re­cent evening, some of the girls hang around to keep hon­ing their skills on the bas­ket­ball court nearby.

Kayla McClusky, 13, has been skat­ing for a cou­ple of years. She’s got the bat­tle scars to prove it.

“At first it was me fall­ing all the time,” she says, laugh­ing and point­ing to the scrapes on her knees.

McClusky says hav­ing a group of peers she can learn from helps keep the jit­ters down, which in turn helps her avoid leav­ing skin be­hind on the asphalt.

“It’s more like you can feel more con­fi­dent and be your­self with­out (boys) mak­ing fun of you. It’s an open space. You can be who you want,” McClusky says.

“If guys were there, some of them would prob­a­bly laugh at you, make fun of you if you fall or do some­thing wrong.”

Fif­teen-year-old Jodie Chin­nery agrees. She’s only been skat­ing since May, and the girls-only classes have helped a lot.

“You have peo­ple who are in your shoes and who are most likely feel­ing the same emo­tions and thoughts as you. It’s more re­lax­ing. You can feel more open and be your­self,” she says.

Alix Buck is the ex­pert in­struc­tor, and it’s a ti­tle she’s earned. She’s been skat­ing for a decade in Toronto and has taught skate­board­ing to young women as far away as Afghanista­n. When she started, there were hardly any fe­male skaters around at all, she says.

“There were prob­a­bly two other women in the city that I was aware of who were skate­board­ing,” she says.

“This is kind of a re­flec­tion of a chang­ing land­scape in Toronto skate­board­ing. Toronto was re­ally lag­ging in the fe­male skate­board­ing depart­ment for a long time be­hind a lot of other cities. I don’t think it is now.”

COLE BURSTON PHO­TOS/TORONTO STAR

Rolling rest Stephanie Bat­ti­este sits on her board along­side friends dur­ing a skate at Duf­ferin Grove skate park for a Babes Brigade meetup.

Skater soror­ity Chan­tal Gar­cia, right, laughs along­side Bianca Lio as they pre­pare to start a game dur­ing a skate at Duf­ferin Grove skate park on June 10 dur­ing a Babes Brigade meetup. “No long boards al­lowed,” says Lio. Even sup­port­ive skate sis­ters...

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