Light a Fire

Women Skaters Are Kickflipping Ass at This Portland Nonprofit

Skate Like a Girl provides community and space for women and nonbinary people.

By Alli Weseman September 23, 2019

Beau Harvey launches her self off of a ramp before rejoining her friends. 

Tucked inside an old warehouse, skaters of all levels are packed into a giant, purpose-built skatepark to practice new tricks, hang out with their friends, or learn how to ride a skateboard for the first time. Dozens of them are rolling the ramps, wheels humming, boards clacking, voices echoing around the vast space.

On the third Monday of every month, Skate Like a Girl hosts this “Womxn and Trans Session” inside the secret Nike SB Park on SE Main Street. Formed in Seattle in 2000 with the goal of providing a safe and welcoming environment for female, nonbinary, and trans skaters of all ages, Skate Like a Girl opened its Portland chapter in 2007. They host monthly clinics and sessions for all ages and skill levels.

“We don’t have any very strictly defined parameters of success,” says Skate Like a Girl PDX Chapter Director Terrance Stilin-Rooney. “If people just want to come to programs and that's the only time they skateboard, and they're having fun, that’s great.”

The goal is to empower women-identifying and nonbinary people by creating an inclusive skateboarding community for those who otherwise have to contend with male-dominated skate spaces. Skate Like a Girl holds most of their events at Commonwealth Skateboarding off SE Hawthorne, but when they're able to hold a program at Nike SB, they jump at the chance.

The Womxn and Trans Session begins with skaters putting their gear on and catching some air as they loosen up. Skaters who don’t have their own board are able to borrow one for the night. After giving people 30 minutes to play, volunteers gather everyone into a big circle to share their names, pronouns, and how long they've been skating. The answers range from 25 minutes to over 25 years.

“We focus on providing a safe and welcoming environment for [people] to feel comfortable in and try new things they're scared of,” says Skate Like a Girl league coach Jaime Brown. “It’s super intimidating as it is to get into skateboarding for the first time, so a comfortable environment is the key. That’s what we like to focus on.” 

Traditionally, skateboarding has been a male-dominated sport, but in the past twenty years, with organizations like Skate Like A Girl and Unity Skateboarding  (based in Oakland, CA), women and nonbinary skaters have been given a platform to even up the playing field.

“It can be intimidating showing up to a skatepark for the first time, never stepping on a board. It gives people a foot in the door, able to learn,” said the nonprofit’s treasurer Karissa Dobrzanski. “The vibe is everyone is cheering everyone on, people are learning tricks together. It’s really cool.”

Since 2016, major brands like Adidas and Nike have added famous female skateboarders Nora Vasconcellos and Lacey Baker to their respective teams. As a result, young girls have begun to see themselves represented in the sport.

“Brands like Nike and Adidas are known all over the world, so seeing women being represented by those brands is really awesome and a long time coming,” said Dobrzanski.

While the organization is mostly focused on women and nonbinary individuals, Skate Like a Girl is hosting an allyship session for all at the SB Skate Park on Sept. 23 to discuss ways to foster inclusivity in the skateboarding community.

“Skateboarding can be a very therapeutic experience, a very kind of meditative experience,” says Stilin-Rooney. “I think our programs allow people to do that.”

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