2021 X-Games gold medalist in women’s skateboarding, Sky Brown, is only 13 years old.
Olympic women’s skateboarding gold medalist, Momiji Nishiya, (Japan) and silver medalist, Rayssa Leal (Brazil) are also both 13. The bronze medalist, Funa Nakayama (Japan), is only 16.
I consider myself somewhere between an academic and a hermit, so naturally I’m really not into sports, nor the Olympics, for that matter, but I am majorly into watching girls and women from all over the world make history by competing in the premier of skateboarding as an Olympic competition.
My own brief introduction to skating came from taking turns playing with my friend’s skateboard at a beach on Staten Island. My friend was helpful and supportive, but of course I ended up hogging his board for a bit as I was making progress. I got my just desserts, however, when I ate shit flat on my back and a cyclist making his rounds appropriately shouted, “ooooooooh!” as he disappeared again out of the parking lot. I remember staying on the ground, lifting my arm up and saying, “Thank you!” in that cheeky, sarcastic teenage way. I wasn’t really afraid of falling or getting hurt. As a young teen, I was certainly indestructible. But I definitely felt the loser’s sting after the rando’s ridicule. I’m not sure how much longer I kept going, but memories of Staten Island beach days are as murky as the water there.
Coveting my friend’s things, I requested my own skateboard for my birthday one year, but my mom gave me cash to buy it myself instead because she couldn’t be bothered to figure it out for me. I still appreciated the gesture because I know she didn’t want me to have a skateboard, and it was a rare moment when she tried to understand me in a disjointed, but well-intentioned, way. I think?
Despite numerous past requests being aggressively declined by my mother, I could finally get the one thing I thought would guarantee me an idealistic and inexplicably desired social status. But the money made me nervous. I didn’t know how much a skateboard cost. I was worried it wasn’t enough. I was worried if I said I only had $100 to spend, I would be considered cheap, or ignorant, or that I wouldn’t be able to get a board at all. I suffered silently with worries and took my ass to the Staten Island mall with no real game plan and insurmountable terror. OVER BUYING A SKATEBOARD FOR THE FIRST TIME! An irrational fear that could have altered the course of my history, had I had the guts to overcome it.
Though I’ve always wanted to get into skateboarding since I was a youngster, I was so out of depth on how to approach skateboarding that my entire bday skateboard buying experience began with me going into Zumiez, seeing boards on the wall with no wheels (which confused the fuck out of me) being too afraid to ask any of the (only male) employees to help a noob out that it ended with me escaping in shame and spending my birthday money on Circa Survive t-shirts and other transient nonsense instead, probably from Hot Topic. And maybe a pretzel.
And so I never got the skateboard. I wasted my birthday money on junk and my mom criticized me for not getting the skateboard as if I knew what I was doing. Maybe that was the plan all along! I never worked up the courage to ask anyone to teach me, or bothered saving up for a board after that. I basically just admired skateboarders from afar and left the desire to just skate around locked away in my heart as something that wasn’t really for me, but that I was and still am mesmerized by. I also borrowed Skate 2 for my Xbox 360 once.
When I watch movies like Skate Kitchen, or the spinoff show Betty, it makes me wish that I was brave enough to have taken any of the necessary first steps required to learn skateboarding. I was envious of the girls in my school who could skate and hang with the boys who could skate, but I could never muster up the courage to ask any of those untouchables to lift me up. Who knows if they even would have? Skateboarders can be elitist and exclusionary, too, after all.
I wish I had access to these programs and events when I was in high school. I wish these things existed when I was growing up and I could see girls/women like me doing things I felt excluded from because I am poor, black, female, shy, annoying, crazy, scared. I’m pretty much still all of those things, but just add “old” to the list and you can see how I still limit my own potential for happiness because I perceive my differences as things that make me unworthy of something. It is particularly ironic that I feel like an outcast from a counterculture of teens and young adults who frequently cite their own “bad reputations” as outliers of societal regulations.
I still don’t know how to skateboard. I’m not cool. I don’t even have a bicycle. But I’ve never stopped imagining myself using a skateboard as a primary means of transportation around my neighborhood. I’ve always wished that I could be as cool as my friends who skateboard breezily through neighborhoods. I felt a tinge of jealousy when a friend was hospitalized after a particularly bad skateboarding accident. Everyone came to visit her and give well wishes and I just fantasized that it was me who was brave enough to skate through Brooklyn at night, or get on a board, or even buy a board for Gods sake!
This is a pivotal moment in history for skateboarding and for girls and women. I hope that anyone watching the X-Games or Olympics will be inspired by these prodigies to pursue skateboarding as soon as possible.
I’m as scared of talking to a skate instructor as I am to get on a board at the skate park near my house. I am mortified at the idea of the crowds of teens watching me practice for the first time ever. I hate when people look at me in general; having skaters with various levels of talent potentially gawking at me makes me feel particularly vulnerable.
Still, it didn’t stop me from looking up beginner’s lessons in my neighborhood. I’m wrestling with the idea of doing this because I’ve always wanted to, because I’ve seen a showcase of talent in the last few days that made me proud to be a woman and made me less afraid of trying things because I’m worried a couple of useless boys might tease me.
Furthermore, the American contender who I was routing for, Alexis Sablone, is closer to my age AND represents Brooklyn. And though she is seasoned in the skate world, seeing someone who I could relate to in age and general location competing in the Olympics personally made me feel like I could just start the damn lessons and fuck it if I suck at first because what didn’t I suck at in the beginning anyway?
Well done, women in skateboarding. We can only go up from here.
I don’t know why I said “we”, but I am a skate enthusiast so I feel like I count. Especially if I work up the courage to get myself a skateboard someday.
For someone with anxiety/depression/the works, transitioning from always wanting to do a thing into I might actually try this thing is a huge step. So yeah, women’s skateboarding has impacted me in a relatively immense way and I am excited to get into it (and hopefully no one calls me a poser during this journey.)
Can’t wait for park skate next week. 🙂