Skateboards no longer just for the ‘bros’
‘Babes Brigade’ are among growing number of women shifting the balance in sport
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.”