Newcastles Poppy Starr Olsen (20) @poppystarr and Mansfield (VIC) Hayley Wilson (18) @hayleykwilson, are two names you’ve probably never heard of unless you are emersed in the skateboarding scene, where Hayley and Poppy are two of Australia’s rising stars. Until a little thing called a ‘pandemic’ struck, both were bound for Tokyo and a shot at skateboarding’s first Olympic Gold.
Just like Steph Gilmore and Sally Fitzgibbons, Hayley and Poppy’s shot at Olympic history and a Weetbix ad, was interrupted when COVID19 forced the cancellation of Tokyo 2020.
The Olympics has created many opportunities for females skaters as well as pathway for Hayley and Poppy and other Olympic hopefuls to excel and receive recognition. Unlike surfing, the ‘pathway to the podium’ for skating had to be manufactured from scratch with a complicated selection criterion. Skating’s entry into the Olympics was no less controversial than surfing’s, with die hard skaters insisting that skating didn’t belong under the Olympic rings.
However, it seems the Olympic dream has nothing to do with the resurgence in skating (and roller skating) Instead, there’s been a steady ‘grind’ towards greater number of girls skating for a few years now. The level of motivation and female progression has accelerated over the past 12 months and helped females to have a sustainable skateboarding career. This is something that the skateboarding industry has never quite managed to pull off by itself, and the Olympics has been a catalyst for change.
Skateboarding has always been cool, but it’s mostly been dominated by males, however, in the back streets, skate parks and abandon basketball courts around the country there’s been a revolution going on throughout COVID19 enforced lockdown. In the current climate of change, it’s not males driving the skate industry boom; its women and girls. Not discounting Hayley or Poppy’s influence over more girls taking up the sport, but the reasons for the change are more pragmatic.
Throughout lockdown, skating (and roller skating) have become one of the fun ways to stay active and there’s an abundance of content flowing on social media driving this change.
With the skating industry starting to see a far more diverse consumer group, Globe CEO Matt Hill recently observed; “It’s been epic to see a whole new excited bunch of people to expand the participants in skateboarding. It’s brought a new energy to this skate boom that makes it different (and potentially way bigger) than previous booms.”
Peggy and the Z-boys.
In the past, skating has really been characterised by tomboys, which leans into skating’s counterculture roots. A genuine icon of the girls skate movement is American skateboarder, surfer, artist, and environmental activist Peggy Oki. Oki was an original member of the Z-Boys and competed with the Zephyr Competition Team in the 1970s. She was the only female member of the Z-Boys, truly groundbreaking stuff and Peggy helped pave the way for future generations of skaters to compete with the boys.
These days, skating is a far more diverse group, and we’re seeing girls in their teens all the way through to their late 20s taking up skateboarding and roller skating.
“What’s rad is seeing how the women skating are from all walks of life and there are so many different types of characters and personalities choosing to skate on the female side,” observed Matt Hill.
Around ten years ago Penny boards took off, with ‘feminine’ colours included in the initial run for the first time. It’s not often pink is included, it is usually released in a second wave marketing campaign ‘for girls’. For women and girls, it has been a slow build to be included in the skating world. Skating is beginning to exist without borders, across all genders and races.
“The female push in skating has been coming for some time, and we’ve had Impala skateboards in the works as a consequence since the year before last. I think it ties to a really amazing movement of women looking to celebrate who they are as individuals and looking for new and unique ways to express that individual identity,” says Matt Hill.
There has been no major ad campaign encouraging everyone to get into skating. It seems quarantine has merely provided the perfect storm of having nothing to do, nowhere to go, and every second social media post telling you to ‘do that thing you’ve always wanted to do.’
With plenty of surfers locked down in cities, there is only one way to scratch that saltwater itch; four wheels under your feet instead of fiberglass and foam.
“With most team sports stopping it’s giving kids and adults a new way to keep active and have fun. Skateboarding is a great way to have some sort of control in a pandemic where there is no control,” says Kat Williams of Girls Skate Australia.
Social Media Turning The Wheels
With quarantine providing the perfect opportunity for a skating boom, new social media channels like The Skate Witches allows us a window into the ‘daily grind’ of Olympic hopefuls like Holly Starr Olsen. It’s latest release ‘Portal to Melbourne’ is shot in typically underground way and gives us an insight into how Melbournians are grinding out lockdown. Social media allows us to dive into these communities and emerse ourselves in a culture that seems to really embrace all, regardless of gender or identification.
“Social media has been a big part of the girls skate movement with lots of girls aspiring to the Surf Skate lifestyle, ” says OBFIVE’s Kris O’Brien.
The Tik-tok app ‘aesthetics’ with teens posting short nostalgic skate clips hark back to time they’ve never known with high socks, scallop waists, sweatbands and rainbow colours of the 70’s. A flip through the latest Impala Skateboards look book is a blast from the past.
The Daughters of Doom
Though it’s not just mandatory isolation and Instagram that has brought about this change and it’s not an overnight progression. It is a movement that Kat Williams of Girls Skate Australia has seen coming for a long time. Girls Skate Australia run the only all women’s annual skateboarding competition; The Daughters of Doom.
“It’s been incredible to watch, when I was growing up there weren’t many women skaters at all. There has been a massive shift with the numbers of women skaters, this creates more opportunities and equality,” says Kat Williams.
With an aim is to increase participation of women in skateboarding and provide exposure for women in Australian skateboarding, Girls Skate Australia has been working hard to bring women’s skating to the foreground for a long time.
“There has been incredible progression of the level of women skaters to, higher numbers mean more people pushing the boundaries. Companies see women skaters as a way to make profit now, so with proper sponsorship, they can focus on skateboarding pushing the boundaries and having a career,” observes Kat.
The Beauty Of Skate Boarding.
All you need is a skateboard. There’s no special equipment and no downtime while you set up. Skateboarding in fun and its active and skate shops play a key role. For retailers, there’s never been a better time to bolster that skateboarding section or stock up on protective gear. These categories are running hot on our ActionWatch panel for a few years now and the merchandising options are a great addition.
“Surf shops do a great job of merchandising skateboards these days as well, so this makes boards a lot more accessible,” says OBFIVE’s Kris O’Brien.
There are now so many different styles of skating too. From long to short boards, coasting to kick flips; women can choose if they want to be punk or pastel.
“I would like to see it continue to progress and grow. I think it’s more normalised now so if a parent is getting their son a skateboard, they will also get their daughter one,” says Kat Williams.
Impala skate and OBFIVE’s releases of skate lines by and for women is the support all customers love to see.
“I think more women are skating now for a few different reasons. One reason is that the colours and design offerings are a lot more appealing to girls,” says Kris O’Brien.
Now more than ever equality, is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. There are so many stereo types being broken, and skating is just one of them. You are no less coordinated because of your gender; you are no less active; and absolutely no less extreme. I think back to when my dad built my brother and I motorbike jumps and left us to ‘play Crusty Demons’. We were eight and ten at the time, and we stacked a lot. I loved jumping motorbikes. But the thing I really loved; the idea of a pink motorbike.
This doesn’t mean I want there to be pink skateboards for girls and blue skateboards for boys, I’m stoked that there is now the choice to have a pink skateboard and purple knee pads.
“The (Impala) line looked to offer products to all functions of skating and to be the first brand to feature exclusively female artists to provide the graphic content as opposed to male designers making what they saw as being “feminine” says Globe’sMatt Hill.
The amazing female artists doing these graphics for Impala boards; Grace Miceli (ig: @artbabygirl), Rachel Dejohn (ig: @surfybirdy), Robin Eisenberg (ig: @robineisenberg), and Lisa Dino (ig: @elroseable). This boom is far reaching and wildly inclusive, the female lead skating boom hasn’t just created opportunity for women to skate but for female artists to gain airtime too. And the Impala skate line is proving that girls want airtime.
“While we were confident Impala skateboards would be successful, we had anticipated a bit more seeding and awareness in the market being required before it went off, but that moment came right from the first sneak peaks of product!’ says Matt Hill.
The Future Of Women On Wheels
The cultural divide between surfing and skating really came to a head when Bobby Hundreds addressed an audience at the Surf industry Manufacturers Association a couple of years ago challenging the status quo of surf industry. Bobby, whose parents emigrated from South Korea in the ’70s, took the opportunity to address the subject that’s close to his heart as an Asian-American surfer and brand-builder in his speech about The Importance Of Diversity and Representation In Brand-Building.”
Bobby went on to say how skateboarders and skate brands, were always so much cooler than surf, growing up. Historically, skateboarding has influenced every major progression is surfing. It could be argued that on race, ethnicity and on gender equality, surfing has a lot to learn from skateboarding, and that this pandemic has really just accelerated the curve.
Whilst both sports are on a trajectory towards the Olympics in 2021, under COVID19 lockdowns, both sports have thrived, as have the communities they engage with. Skating is a wholly inclusive activity which has taken isolation (and Instagram) by storm. In metropolitan cities and streets, it’s skating, not surfing embracing change.
“I hope to see more equality growing in the industry and see more women having opportunities. I hope to see the women (skateboarders) in the Olympics they work so hard and deserve that platform for the world to see.
“I believe it can be a sport, culture and art form, however, it’s important not to forget the reason we all started,” concludes Kat Williams.
Words Meg Finch