Whether it’s complete newbies or people returning to the sport, everyone is welcome at Ramp City’s Girls’ Skate Night. Antonia Charlesworth steps tentatively onto her board.
Photos: Claire Griffiths
I’m standing on a skateboard for the first time in almost twenty years. The last time resulted in a few weeks in a luminous pink cast on my left arm and now I have a lot more to lose.
The truth is, even then I was no badass rider – it was a guy friend’s deck and I was feeling brave and asked for a go. I learnt my painful lesson and went back to topping up my Juicy Tubes lipgloss – careful to make sure my ironed hair didn’t stick to it – and watching the boys from the top of the half pipe.
Now I’m in a busy indoor skatepark alongside some incredibly talented and competitive skaters and I’m attempting to join in. It sounds anxiety inducing, I know, but I’m only about five per cent tempted to slink out of the door unnoticed.
There’s a few reasons for this – I’m hiding behind my notebook, my eight year old daughter and wrist guards – but mostly because there’s no guys threatening to show my inner self-conscious 14-year-old self how it’s really done when I inevitably deck it.
In reality – according to every skater I’ve chatted to tonight – male skaters are unlikely to capitalise on your shortcomings to boost their own egos. But the feelings of imposter syndrome, they all confirm, are very real. There’s no room for those feelings tonight at Ramp City in Blackpool, where over 40 girls and women, aged between five and 45 and of all abilities, have gathered for Big Woody’s Girls’ Skate Night.
“It can be intimidating to approach,” says 23-year-old Lucy Nattrass, picking up her old hobby. “I’d see these amazingly talented guys and think, I don’t stand a chance, but they’re actually amazing. Skaters are some of the most supportive people you’ll ever meet. Boy or girl they just want to help you and see you succeed at what you’re trying to do.”
Nattrass, from Newcastle and studying in Leeds, says it was fears over her safety that made her quit – though not her own.
“Girls are expected to be girly, and not being down with the nitty gritty and covered in scabs and bruises, but also there might not be a lot of places where they feel safe. A big thing for me was my parents didn’t want me to do it. If I hurt myself in the dark skatepark, late at night, who would help me?”
Indoor parks and girls’ nights might have helped alleviate these fears in a practical sense but, as she perches atop a small ramp, poised to drop-in with assistance, there are obvious psychological obstacles. Cheering her on is her friend, Jess Winter, also studying in Leeds but from Blackpool. The 25 year old is currently completing coaching qualifications and is beaming at the sight of so many females in the skatepark that’s been a second home to her since she was 14.
“It’s family for a lot of people,” she says. “My family live in Spain and Bulgaria but I’ve got a unit here that I know I can rely on 100 per cent if anything ever happens.”
She tells me that every little thing is a victory on a skateboard – whether that’s rolling around or mastering a massive ramp – then breaks off into celebratory screams at Nattress takes the plunge. Her board slips from under her and she falls, but she gets back up and does it again.
“It’s her first drop in so this is a momentous occasion,” she says. “I was in her shoes when I started here 10 years ago.”
Flushed and out of breath, Nattress comes over to high five Winter and I ask her how it felt.
“It hurt. But it’s good. I’ve wanted to do that for the longest time,” she says then returns to the ramp, dismissing my suggestion that she wear protective pads.
Helping her is Chris “Woody” Wood, a key figure on the Blackpool skate scene for over two decades and owner of Big Woody’s skate shop. “My main inspiration for this was the amount of skateboards we are selling to girls,” he says. “It’s the highest it’s ever been but we see very few of them in the skatepark.” Judging by the turnout on this freezing Tuesday night in the cavernous 29,000-square-foot park, they were just waiting for permission.
“The turnout is far better than we had hoped. I think a lot of girls feel intimidated around what is generally considered a male sport.”
“On social media there’s been a huge explosion of girls skating, particularly on Instagram. There’s a girl called Skate Moss – they’re really stylish,” says 20-year-old fashion student Brooke Townson returning to skating tonight after a six-year break and interested as much for the aesthetic as the sport.
“Big Woody wont remember me but I remember buying a skateboard from him and him saying it matched my shoes. It was never my shoes will match my handbag but my shoes will match my board.
“I think the girls that skate are really cool – kind of tomboy and some of them have really cool street fashion. I like any girls that like extreme sports, and just like getting out there.”
Woody is not the only male in attendance. Alongside some impressive female coaches there are one or two guys to make up numbers, and there are lots of dads. Gavin Sparks for one. His daughter Lilia has been stealing the show all night – rolling on ramps like it’s second nature and deftly manipulating her deck like a skater with years of experience.
“She had a skateboarding lesson at school just over a year ago and when she came home she said, ‘I want to skateboard’,” says Sparks who has brought Lilia from their home in Barrow for the event. “I used to skate with Woody years ago so there was no resistance from me. I started back with her. I can still skate but I have the fear factor.”
Lilia however, is fearless – she speeds across the vertical ramp side-to-side –though starting with a push from her dad rather than the top. She tells her skateboarding role model is Sky Brown – the 12-year-old skateboarding sensation who made the Olympics Team GB alongside four grown men in, before her chance to compete at Tokyo 2020 was dashed. Brown’s 780k+ Instagram followers go someway to explaining the surge in girls interested in skating.
“I’m pushing myself to do different things and this is one of them.
I was always in positions where I didn’t feel like I could do what I wanted to do.
Relationships, and then I had children and then, oh well, you can’t do that because you’re an adult.”
There are lots of women doing that tonight. Like Kayliegh Algie, a 28-year-old beautician and street skater who’s left her two and four-year-old children at home and is determined to tackle some ramps.
“I’m pushing myself to do different things and this is one of them. I was always in positions where I didn’t feel like I could do what I wanted to do. Relationships, and then I had children and then, oh well, you can’t do that because you’re an adult,” she says.
And like sisters Rhianna and Abi Borsley who have both left their kids at home to come. Rhianna, 26, is the more experienced of the two but says she’s not skated in years and has never been on ramps. This is an attempt to give it a go but also to claw back her identity.
“I was an artist, I did portraiture, and then I had kids and just didn’t have a life.” While Abi, 34, has never skated but always harboured the desire to. “My kid’s dad is a really good skateboarder so he can’t know I’m here,” she says earnestly. “He’d just laugh at me. That’s the good thing about tonight – we’re all at different levels and ages, it’s relaxed, you’re not thinking about looking stupid.”
Tonight may have given her the opportunity to finally give skating a go but, Abi adds, it was he seven-year-old son that spurred her on.
“He’s learning now and there’s no way he’s being better than me.”
Already better than any of us might hope to be is 12-year-old Molly Seed, from Preston, who’s been taking the biggest ramps in her stride all evening but is now hesitating at the top of the vert. She teeters on the edge for a moment too long then drops to her bum, grabs her board and comes down on it like a slide.
“I was really hoping that I might drop in on the vert but I’m not sure about it,” she says. Seed has only been learning for nine months after taking some coaching sessions at Greystone skatepark in Salford. “People in my school all do netball, or football or dance and I’m the only one who does skating. I enjoy doing something a bit different.”
Testament to the coaches approachability and patience and the warm atmosphere in the otherwise cold space, I’ve not seen my own child for some time. I find her under the tutelage of Becky Davis – a competitive skateboarder and qualified coach working at Greystone and in schools where she says girls typically engage more with lessons.
My daughter is now rolling down a small ramp without call for any of the protective gear I’ve bundled her up in. She’s buzzing with adrenaline and it’s clear to me now that her lack of inhibition needs safeguarding more than her unscuffed knees. It’s not gone unnoticed by her that I’ve spent most of my night asking people about the merits of giving this thing a go while managing to do very little of it myself.
With help I manage to get a decent flow going on the bottom few inches of a pipe – travelling from one side to the other with the momentum of a sort of swing action. It’s tokenistic but there’s no denying the thrill of it. For a fleeting moment I imagine I could actually do this.
Girls’ skate sessions are cropping up across the country but when Lucy Adams set up Brighton’s She Shredders in 2013 the concept was brand new.
“For me it was really important that women in particular felt like that had a time and a turn because even the bravest of us that did muster up the courage to go to that busy skatepark session still experience those feelings of shrinking on the sides,” says Adams who is the number one female skater in the country and former chair and director of Skateboard England.
She applauds the people setting up new girls’ nights but says in 10 years time she would prefer to see an integrated scene. Skate media, she says, needs to catch up.
“Their excuse is there aren’t enough women and girls that are good enough to be in our magazine and we won’t publish substandard photos. There’s just a huge element of gatekeeping – on the photographers they use and on the brands that get their riders into the magazines. If you’re not shooting with the top guy you’re not going to get it into print.”
She sees the girl skate scene on social media as a reaction to that lack of representation.
“You’re able to put yourself out there and you choose who you want to watch so my Instagram is littered with female skateboarders and you can connect with them all over the world. And then there are more role models. You can’t fail to notice the [then] 11-year-old girl that made Team GB.”
So what are Adams’s tips for women and girls thinking about taking to wheels?
“Remember that everyone was a beginner once. We all take a slam. We all fall off. No matter how good we are. Just keep on trying. There’s always another option with skateboarding – that’s what’s so good about it. You might go out with the intention that you want to roll down the ramp today but it might be really scary and hard. That doesn’t mean that you can’t skateboard – you can decide to learn to do your turn instead. There’s always an alternative and it’s always fun.”
Ramp City is currently closed but set to return with girls’ skate nights once government guidance allows. Visit @woodysskateshop on Facebook for updates and more information.
This article was originally published in 2020 in Big Issue North. The magazine’s vendors are currently unable to sell due to coronavirus restrictions but you can support by buying a copy online at shop.bigissuenorth.com
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