“Some girls can skate but I personally believe that skateboarding is not for girls at all. Not one bit.” Yes, that is a real quote made by professional skater Nyjah Huston in his 2013 interview with Thrasher magazine (“Nyjah Huston Interview”). Huston’s statement sparked tremendous controversy within the skating community, leading to his eventual apology (Huston). Unfortunately, Huston’s original statement is one that many men still stand by. Nowadays, skateboarding has become very mainstream, with video games and clothing brands centered entirely around the sport and household names such as Tony Hawk. However, there is one aspect of skateboarding culture that seems to be stuck in the past. Female skateboarders face tremendous scrutiny when it comes to being accepted as a skater, by both outsiders and the skateboarding community as a whole. Women have proven their skill and devotion to the craft of skateboarding time and time again, yet because of the deeply-rooted misogyny of skating and skate culture, they are more commonly discouraged from (rather than accepted into) the world of skating. Although the skating world has a long way to go before gender equality is no longer an issue, the ever-growing rise in popularity of female skaters over the years, along with the growing culture of solidarity amongst female skaters and skate groups, have created tremendous progress.
Skateboarding is becoming more and more popular each year, especially after the sport’s recent inclusion in the 2020 Olympic Games. At these Games, nineteen-year-old Sakura Yosozumi and twelve-year-old Kokona Hiraki made history, becoming the first-ever Women’s Olympic Park Skateboarding gold and silver medalists. Both skaters from Japan, Yosozumi and Hiraki are the inspiration for thousands of female skaters across the planet, including the 2020 bronze medalist, Sky Brown. In an interview with Kyodo News, Brown recalls a moment where Yosozumi encouraged her to keep going, “Sakura told me, ’You got it, Sky. We know you’re gonna make it.’ That really made me feel better” (Kyodo News). However, Brown is a trailblazer and an inspiration in her own right. The thirteen-year-old skater, dubbed the youngest professional skater in the world at the age of ten, has certainly made a name for herself in the skating world. Tony Hawk says that “[Brown] could definitely be one of the best female skaters ever, if not one of the best, well-rounded skaters ever, regardless of gender” (Maine). An endorsement like that is one of a kind, as Hawk was awarded seventy-three titles in skateboarding before his retirement from competition in 1999.
Like Hawk, Brown is focused on inspiring young skaters to chase their dreams, break boundaries, and defy the odds. In 2019, Brown told The Guardian, “‘I like to skate high; I like to do spins and kickflips. I like to do tricks that boys are doing because I feel like some boys think girls can’t do what boys can do. I want to go to the same height as them and push the boundaries for girls’” (Weeks). Brown has gained respect in the skating world, and rightfully so, but unfortunately successful skaters like Yosozumi, Hiraki, and Brown are often seen as exceptions in the skating community. Brown’s mention of the male perception of female skaters is not far off in terms of the obstacles faced by most women and girls in the field.
Skateboarding is not unique in terms of its misogynist agenda or its treatment of women as inferior to the men who run the sport. In her research on masculinity and the effects of gender relations in skateboarding, Becky Beal, an Associate Professor at California State University who teaches sociology and philosophy of sport, finds that sports originally gained popularity in the early twentieth century, during the rise of the women’s movement. Beal notes how the movement “threatened the traditional concepts of masculinity and men’s social position.” With this so-called threat, “sport was promoted as one significant means of ensuring that boys became ‘properly’ masculine. Today, sport is still a significant means of ideologically promoting hegemonic masculinity […] which affects male athletes’ views about themselves, their relationships with other men, and their attitudes about women” (Beal). With the origin of sports in mind—a male-centric creation used to maintain feelings of masculinity in a newly progressive world—it makes sense that women are less easily accepted in these spaces. Even now, in a much more progressive society, the deeply rooted masculinity of sports makes it very hard for people to begin accepting women in these communities.
The divide between male and female skaters and their acceptance in the community is strong enough to the point that strategy has to be enacted when it comes to creating an inclusive environment. In fact, in an article titled “Skateboarding beyond the limits of gender,” researchers Åsa Bäckström and Karen Nairn propose the idea of ‘strategic entitlement,’ arguing that “diverse strategies are required to intervene in the intransigent problem of gender inequality in the male-dominated sport of skateboarding.” The authors propose different ways to create feelings of entitlement in female skaters, where they would feel entitled enough to “skate in public spaces instead of being relegated to separate spaces and times” (Bäckström and Nairn). Some of the first steps in this entitlement of female skaters have come from the creation of women-founded skating environments.
Tensions in the skatepark have inspired women across the world to create what is most commonly known as the “all-girl skate sesh.“ These sessions are normally held by female skategroups with the hopes of gaining the interest of both practicing and prospective female skaters, providing a safe environment where they won’t be marginalized or seen as a “Betty.“ Many women find skateparks intimidating and unwelcoming due to the common stereotype of female skaters as “Skate Betties,“ or “female groupies whose intentions (according to males) are instrumental: to meet cute guys and associate with an alternative crowd. Females are not perceived as expressive or fully engaged in the values of the subculture” (Beal). The idea of a Betty comes straight from the harsh masculinity rooted in sports, in which women are seen as intruders and the sport is meant to enforce an environment for masculine ideals.
In 2016, Vice conducted interviews with numerous female skaters on the struggle of participating in a male-dominated sport. One skater, Madeline, stated that “the prejudices against female skaters are hard to get around, and they’re so sad. I know a lot of girls who would love to skate, but just don’t feel welcome” (Blanche and Sievers). Whether it be all-girl skateboarding sessions or skating groups such as the Skirtboarders in Sweden and The Skate Kitchen in New York, the idea of uplifting female skaters and creating safe environments for girls to learn and practice skateboarding has become widely popular. The fact that groups like these even have to be created speaks volumes to the lack of acceptance women experience within the skateboarding community. Women have been driven out of male-dominated skate-spaces and left to create their own welcoming environments, but not all female skaters have access to these communities. Without the comfort of peer support, many women are either left to jump steep hurdles in order to achieve the same success and recognition as male skaters or just discouraged from skating altogether.
The barriers that female skaters face are based on many issues, most of which can be traced back to the association between masculinity and sport. In a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, five-time X Games gold winner and 2020 Olympic skater Letitia Bufoni recalled, “Convincing my dad [to let me skate] was harder than getting to the Olympics” (Apstein). Bufoni recalls her father regarding skateboarding as “just for boys,” just as Nyjah Huston stated in 2013—enforcing the standard that sports, skateboarding included, are a strictly masculine activity. Both of these comments perpetuate the outdated notion of sports as a setting for masculine expression, and they aren’t alone in their beliefs. After apologizing for his statement about women in skateboarding, Huston explained, “What I meant was that skateboarding is a gnarly sport, … I don’t like the thought of girls (like my little sister) getting hurt” (Huston). Many men supported Huston, arguing the dangers of skateboarding, citing that women shouldn’t be injuring themselves in the same way male skaters do. Ultimately, the idea behind opinions like those of Bufoni’s father and Nyjah Huston’s boil down to one common belief: that women cannot handle the intensity of skateboarding as men can.
One of the most common arguments against female skaters is the suggestion that women and girls are simply inadequate in terms of skill when compared to their male counterparts. As twisted and dated as ideas like these are, there is a significant difference between the scores of men and women at skateboarding events like the X Games or the most recent Olympic Games. For instance, Sakura Yosozumi won the Games with an overall score of 60.09 points out of 100.00. Meanwhile, the top three scores in the men’s category were upwards of 85 points, with gold medalist Keegan Palmer finishing with 95.83 points (“Tokyo 2020“). The difference in competition scores between female and male skaters is clear: men score higher.
For many, this might prove the inferiority of female skaters. But professional skater Alexis Sablone, who ranked twelfth in the world in July 2021, acknowledges the difference in scoring: “It kind of makes us look bad … I’m sure sitting at home, when you see guys get 9.9s and then you’re seeing [girls] get 0.8s—it is what it is” (Apstein). While the scores could suggest the skill level of female skaters as second-rate, they could also be seen as the result of decades of exclusion and the marginalization of women and girls. 77.1 percent of all skateboarders are male, while 23.9 percent are female (“Who Are Skateboarders?”). Because of their exclusion from the sport, women haven’t always had the same opportunities to practice as men have—they have been stunted by the skating community. How are women expected to land tricks to the same extent that men can when they’ve been outcast from most skating spaces?
All of this said, the rise in female skaters nowadays is substantial, and with more female representation, more and more women are beginning to skate. Yosozumi, Hiraki, and Brown represent and inspire a new generation of female skaters, young girls who don’t give up in the face of the oppressor. As of 2021, “there are more female skateboarders now than there has been in the history of the sport … the number of female skateboarders has grown by 24 percent over the past 12 months, to about 112,000” (Wade). With more women taking up skateboarding, their scores are bound to increase as these male-dominated spaces become less hegemonized, ultimately creating better chances for equal opportunity.
The rise in female skaters in recent years is promising in terms of changing the skating culture. For so long, women have been seen as inferior to men, in skateboarding and in the world as a whole. So much of our society was built on the foundations of oppression and marginalization—sports like skateboarding included. Because of this, men have been able to skateboard for decades, but women haven’t been welcomed into the community as easily and have had to work harder to build their careers or even find spaces to practice free from judgment or scrutiny. The exclusion of women and girls can make skateboarding demoralizing for aspiring female skaters. I myself only started skateboarding about a year ago, but I’ve found it very hard to progress and take the next steps towards park skating out of fear of ostracization.
I was first inspired to take up skating after watching female skategroup The Skate Kitchen in the HBO limited series based off of their lives, Betty. The film follows a group of female skaters through their lives in New York City and perfectly exemplifies both the freedom and fun that skating brings while also showcasing the challenges faced by female skaters. After drawing inspiration from Betty, my friends and I started skating together in our driveways and parking lots, promising ourselves that one day we’d set foot in the skatepark. At times it felt like a lost cause, but then I’d look to skaters like Sky Brown, Sakura Yosozumi, and Kokona Hiraki, who are so inspiring to young girls everywhere, especially those girls who are looking to start skating. Seeing young women break the boundaries put in place by men is empowering for myself and thousands of others just like me who are still building their confidence in the sport. Skateboarding still has a long way to go before men and women are on an equal playing field, but the rise in female skaters is a great step towards that future.
Apstein, Stephanie. “Women’s Skateboarding Debut Proves ’Girls Can Skateboard.’” Sports Illustrated, 26 July 2021, https://www.si.com/olympics/2021/07/26/womens-skateboarding-tokyo-olympics-debut-momiji-nishiya.
Blanche, Obvi, and Ilka Sievers. “Girls Talk about Skating in a Guy’s World.” VICE, 19 June 2016, https://www.vice.com/sv/article/5gqzkx/girls-talk-about-skating-in-a-mans-world.
Huston, Nyjah [@Nyjah]. “I want to apologize for the remarks I made in Thrasher about female skateboarders…” Twitter, 3 June 2013, https://twitter.com/nyjah/status/341689513711636480.
“Tokyo 2020 Olympic Medal Table: Gold, Silver & Bronze.” Olympics.com, 2021, https://olympics.com/en/olympic-games/tokyo-2020/medals.
Kyodo News. “Olympics: Sakura Yosozumi Keeps Japan’s Golden Skateboard Run Rolling.” Kyodo News, 4 Aug. 2021, https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2021/08/ae67aca35c05-breaking-news-sakura-yosozumi-wins-1st-olympic-skateboard-park-gold-for-japan.html.
Maine, D’Arcy. “Tony Hawk calls Sky Brown ’a unicorn’ on a skateboard.“ ESPN.com, 1 July 2020, https://www.espn.com/olympics/story/_/id/29364764/tony-hawk-calls-sky-brown-unicorn-skateboard.
“Nyjah Huston Interview.” Thrasher, July 2013, https://www.thrashermagazine.com/articles/magazine/nyjah-huston-interview-120413/.
Wade, Kai. “What Has Fueled the Female Skateboarding Surge in 2021?” Go Fast Girls, 6 May 2021, https://gofastgirls.com/blogs/motor-action-sports-blog/what-has-fueled-the-female-skateboarding-surge-in-2021.
Weeks, Johnny. “Sky Brown, the 11-Year-Old Olympic Hopeful: ’I Want to Push Boundaries for Girls.’” The Guardian, 11 Dec. 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/dec/11/sky-brown-11-olympic-hopeful-britain-tokyo-2020-i-want-to-push-boundaries-for-girls.
“Who Are Skateboarders?” Public Skatepark Development Guide, Tony Hawk Foundation, 2021, https://publicskateparkguide.org/vision/who-are-skateboarders/.
About the Author
Sharon Fitzpatrick is a rising sophomore at Fordham University at Lincoln Center. She is majoring in Communication and Culture with hopes of a possible minor in Arabic. She loves life in the city and enjoys spending time at Central Park.