If ‘popularity’ is the mark of success then right now is a tumultuous time to be a skateboarder. It’s not a word many like hearing when it comes to a culture often overprotective of its outlier identity. Though, before we condemn the use of this word, take a moment to consider the inclusivity of popularity and that, in fact, it just means: liked by more people. And thankfully, for skateboarding and everybody involved, more popularity has meant more than just your extra - straight off of the shelf - dudes.
In a society obsessed with celebrity, it’s a relief to see that there are some steady hands to guide girls in skateboarding. After all, it’s where lots of people look for guidance and inspiration; that’s especially true when starting out.
Thankfully, in the last year alone, Elissa Steamer and Nike SB brought us Gizmo; the first ever all female skate vid with parts from Leticia Bufoni, Lacey Baker and Rayssa Leal to name only a few.
We’ve seen Rayssa Leal burst onto the competition scene in the same way that only the Shecklers and the Nyjahs have beforehand. Though, it remains to be seen if Leal can avoid the pitfalls of MTV reality shows, Lamborghinis and of course prime time commercials for pizza rolls.
The impact of women in skateboarding has never been more prevalent. In fact, if you search ‘British skateboarder’ right now, the first link you’ll get will be for Sky Brown, an 11 year old who has been chosen to represent Britain in the 2020 Olympics.
It isn’t overnight momentum. It’s been over twenty years since Toy Machine’s ‘Welcome to Hell’; a video that featured Elissa Steamer: the first ever-female professional skateboarder. Though, despite breaking ground in 1996 by coming through with a casual east coast Menace-inspired style, Steamer had enough haters to clog the mailbox over at Toy Machine HQ. In 1997, she faced opposition from a leading magazine who offered her the cover – providing that she put a dress on. In the same interview, Steamer was asked what it meant to be a girl skateboarder and she put it simply: ‘I just skate. That’s all I’ll ever done, that’s all I’ll do. I’m not plotting a revolution or anything, just skating.’
The cover of a magazine in skateboarding is often considered a milestone in terms of achievements. While many might sell their sole for the chance, twenty years ago and unbeknownst of the impact, Steamer shunned a moment of glory in favour of a lifetime of integrity.
1998 saw the release and subsequent acclaim of ‘Jump Off a Building’ and the return of the power, grace and an effortless nollie 180 crook. Today, we have her influence to thank for a generation of skateboarders of different genders. Yet, it’s the momentum of the recent year that has been so exciting. Just look to Crystal Moselle’s ‘Skate Kitchen,’ a film that explores the experience of the down and out, the disenfranchised, and the misunderstood. One thing you might take away is that skate rat isn’t a gendered term.
Fashion, film and every other aspect of popular culture seem to be fed by the skateboarding machine. We are entering an overdue era of recognition for the Steamers, Bufonis and Bakers of the industry who have silenced the braggadocio of what a skateboarder should be. Finally, they are out front and shining a spotlight on what a skateboarder is.