In the early 1990s the Riot Grrrl movement, which originated in the Pacific Northwest was not only having an impact on young women who loved punk music, but also skateboarders and really any girl who was sick of being dismissed. Girls were ready to claim their space in subcultures, not just as sidekicks / girlfriends but as active members. They were defiant and motivated, and if you look at some of the early zines like Riot Grrrl Vancouver it’s evident that the members were keenly aware of the shitty behaviour going down in skateboarding magazines.
In the book Girls to the front: the true story of the Riot Grrrl revolution (2010) by Sara Marcus, she shared how, “Riot Grrrl zines commonly reproduced offensive graphics from magazines and added sarcastic retorts, but in the August 1993 centrefold from Riot Grrrl Vancouver, composed of images clipped from skateboarding magazines, juxtaposition and collage performed the critique with nearly wordless grace” (286). The collage was essentially derogatory porn in the guise of skateboard ads, and it was alienating to say the least so the riot grrrls called it out.
The riot grrrls were battling both blatant misogyny and traditional thinking that preferred women and girls to remain passive, domesticated, and flawless. Marcus wrote about another time when, the Vancouver crew “received an irate letter from a concerned mother (she wrote that the zine ‘disrupts the natural family order where the woman and children are indeed submissive to the male’), they printed it in their zine along with a point-by-point rebuttal. Maybe they could have just let the letter slide, but Riot Grrrl wasn’t about letting things slide. They were all high on outrage, on the surge of strength it brought” (287).
It’s hard to describe how toxic the skateboarding scene was in the 1990s. It was not simply a struggle to get photos in a magazine or a chance to be the lone female skater on a team, since those opportunities were insanely rare. And it was more than just an attitude that “girls shouldn’t skate.” The belief had become “girls can’t skate” and if you try to, we will shit on you and put you in your place. The level of arrogance and entitlement by men had exploded and the history of women skaters had been practically erased.
But female skateboarders always existed and would not idly step aside. After an onslaught of letters, Thrasher magazine stepped up in their February 1995 issue to feature six pages of “Girls Who Skate.”
The issue started with an anonymous letter by Poison Ivy of Pussyville, CT who wrote:
“Chauvinist pigs, you called? Yes, I am a girl skater. If you don’t like it, tough shit! Go and skate somewhere else. I like smashing stereotypes and male egos… To all the guys – sure I’ll skate with you, but ‘Ladies first!’ There really are a lot of girl skaters out there, in the shadows of the guys, practicing and waiting to come out… If you don’t like to watch me skate, close your eyes and leave…”
And then on page 66, we get to the goods! So many raging letters with a few heartfelt thoughts about skateboarding, some anonymous, some not. There’s “Skater Chick” of Bradenton, FL who explains that “I love to skate. It gives me this major rush. I guess I’m addicted.” Heather Harney of Corona, CA gave a low down of her daily regimen and progress. Shamsia Razaq of San Jose, CA had a rant about a crew of dickheads who started hassling her with questions. She stated, “as soon as I answered all their f*ckface questions and they same me make a totally down kickflip, they decided to cut on me! What asses!”
Airra Dalmacio of Hercules, CA also had a few choice words to share. “I just want to say a few things to the a$$holes out there who think girls can’t skate… They should just shut the f*ck up and get a life. The stereotype that skateboarding is only for guys is bullshit. Girl skaters deserve the same rights as guy skaters, like getting sponsored. All the skate companies should sponsor girl skaters. Thrasher Mag should encourage girl skaters, not as sex objects of toys, but as skillful and able-bodied skaters. Thanks for hearing me out.” I hear you!
More letters kept coming, and there’s rage for both guys and girls! Molissa Boston of Hot Springs, AR hollers, “Don’t just sit around any longer, skate biiitch or go the f*ck home!!!” while Moth of South Sioux City, NE was a bit more subdued, reminding folks that skateboards shouldn’t be just for carrying around or sitting on. Allison O’Brien of Yonkers, NY invited “all you boy skaters out there whose egos won’t fit through the door” to come to her town and prove themselves. Sasha Liege of Westminster, CA expressed some serious rage, both at herself for having low self-esteem and at other women. She was really struggling but concluded that “Chicks aren’t always posers.”
This accusation or fear of being a poser came up a lot in the dialogue, and this pressure to prove themselves as being worthy to occupy space was a real battle. Girls seemed to have to go the extra mile to demonstrate that they weren’t just skateboarding for the attention of guys or to look cool.
Athena Pascal of Vancouver, Canada was introduced to skateboarding by her brother Rick Howard (yes, pro skater for Girl!). She realized that “there aren’t a lot of younger girl skaters like twelve or thirteen, and I think more younger and older girls should get into it. What I really want to say is wake up, guys, it’s the nineties—girls do skate.”
Sofia Lauren Moberly of Tulsa, OK highlighted a hero of hers being Lori Rigsbee:
“I wonder what she is doing now. Does she still skate? Where did she go? Will I ever get to meet her or even skate with her?… Before long, female skaters will have their own teams, magazines, parks, videos and clothes, and you will be left out. Right now we’re just using you and your products. Yep, we’ve got it all planned out, and in the end we will have absolute gynarchy. Call me ‘betty’ now, but soon it will be ‘Queen Betty.’”
Heather and Susan of Ocean City, MD explained how they like to push each other to improve. Sarah Kornuta of Phoenix, AZ expressed some frustration with posers / skate betty’s and while she first wasn’t sure what her girlfriends would think of her as a skater, “Now I don’t really care.” Even up in Anchorage, AK a twenty-year old skater named Yolanda Ferdinand was out busting her butt (even broke her collarbone) and ended her letter with a simple, “Females do skate.”
The skaters writing in were committed and the letter that resonated with me the most was by Patricia Wodecki of Lithonia, GA who explained that “I basically do my own thing. I don’t copy anyone. My life is going just fine right now, but I wish that the ‘guy’ skaters would talk to me and invite me to go places with them. I love skating, and no matter what anybody says, I’m not quitting. I just want everyone to respect me for what I like to do, skate.”
Some of the photos are faintly tagged with names / photographers, which is frustrating, but I recognize Jen O’Brien, Jaime Reyes and Rhonda Doyle.
Please reach out if you know the names of other skateboarders who were included in this article or if you were part of this feature!