Rolling toward the ramp, the hard urethane wheels growled under the skateboarder’s feet. She shifted her weight and pumped up the 3-foot-tall quarter pipe. Extending the front axle beyond the ramp’s upper edge, the skater teetered — only the skateboard’s belly still touched. The skater rolled backward past the lip and into the ramp’s curve in completion of a trick called “rock to fakie.”
Flushed with adrenaline and feeling stoked, the 3-year-old skateboarder broke into impromptu song. “I’m flying on a rocket ship, up to outer space / It’s what I do every day on my skateboard, in the warehouse,” chimed Curren Meyen-Weatherby, clad in a white helmet covered in marker scribbles and pink Velcro Vans. Gabe Triplette, her skate coach and Bearings Skateboard Academy’s co-owner, held the preschool girl by her thickly padded arms and swooped her up and down the ramps, simulating tricks.
Curren is the youngest of around 25 local females who attend BSA’s Girls Night on Fridays. The growing participation is indicative of a grass-roots movement that overlaps with that of national women’s empowerment. Girls and women are taking their skateboards to ramps and rails, long the turf of boys and men.
The mentoring of young girls in sports, much like a professional setting, offers role models, acceptance and affirmation vital for success on the board and beyond.
Additionally, locating a safe, welcoming environment to learn a male-centric activity, like skateboarding, can be a hurdle for mothers and daughters or girls and women wanting to learn on their own.
At Bend’s BSA, the oldest female participant is 50, and there are several mother-daughter pairs who take lessons together, said Triplette, 39, a former professional snowboarder who has skated for 31 years. Girls Night was born from Friday Pizza Night, one of the many themed skate sessions that BSA organizes. Popular among boys, girls began showing up, too.
While the girls rolled around the park getting their bearings, the more experienced boys would “snake” the girls, or cut them off, Triplette said. So he dedicated Friday nights to girls of all ages.
As the mission statement on Skate Like A Girl’s website reads: “Girls and women who believe in themselves are more likely to raise their hand in the classroom, advocate for themselves in the workplace and attract the company of those who respect them.” The nonprofit instructs around 100 female skateboarders in Portland.
Skate Like a Girl Portland’s program director, Brandy Machado, 23, has skated since age 6. She said skateboarding is good for young girls because unlike most traditional sports they’re ushered toward, skateboarding teaches them to confront fear.
“One of the great things about skateboarding is that when you do it, you’re scared all the time, but you try your tricks anyway,” Machado said, adding that learning to work through difficult or scary situations to achieve goals is a great life lesson.
The 3-year-old skater’s comfort with a board is no surprise. Her mother, Janna Meyen-Weatherby, is a former professional snowboarder best known in the action sports world for her four-peat gold medaling in the X Games slopestyle competitions between 2003 and 2006. The 14-year Bendite was also the first woman to nail a Caballerial 900 — on the more difficult toe-side, no less — that involves spinning 2.5 times in the air from a backward position.
Retired from professional snowboarding since 2012 (she said she hasn’t hit the hill since), Meyen-Weatherby, 39, said she and her husband, Kirk, have summer plans to build a mini-ramp in their backyard. They want the whole family to skate together, so they were pleased when Curren jelled with her skateboard lessons, which she’s taken at BSA since last September.
Curren, halfway through the lesson, lost her balance, and her miniature skateboard rolled off. “Come here, skateboard. It’s not your job to run away,” she said.
Later, when she toppled to the pavement, she was almost as alarmed by the smarting pain as by her chipped fingernail. Her mother helped her to her feet. “Shake your bum to make the pain go away. We can repaint your nails when we get home,” she said. Curren followed her mother’s instructions. Soon after, she pulled Triplette toward a different ramp to try a new trick. He simulated frontside airs (jumps) by gripping her wrists and wedging his foot under her board. She cackled with delight. “Weeeee!”
When Curren’s attention span waned halfway through the lesson, Meyen-Weatherby took advantage of the open ramp space. The unapologetic stay-at-home mom, who also has a 16-month-old daughter, plunked down a brand-new skateboard on the warehouse’s floor and pushed back and forth between two quarter pipes. The nonchalance of her warm-up tricks belied the fact that she hadn’t skated in five years.
For Meyen-Weatherby, teaching her daughter to skate is only natural. Her mother taught her to push a skateboard at age 6 — long before she first glimpsed a snowboarder on Bear Mountain, in California, near where she grew up. As a mom, she appreciates how skateboarding can burn off her daughter’s boundless energy in a positive, healthy way.
“First and foremost, women literally gave birth to every skateboarder on the planet, so let’s give credit to where credit is due,” said Chris Nieratko, a 20-plus-year veteran writer in the skateboard industry. Nieratko said he was recently heartened by the X Games offering equal prize purses for male and female skateboard contestants.
“The skateboarding industry traditionally has been immensely small and marketed toward 13- to 19-year-old boys,” the owner of two skateboard shops said. “For me, I’ve always thought of skateboarding as a lifestyle that incorporated male, female, gay and transgendered.
“Skateboarding is just a sub-society of America, which is inching along” in terms of progress, he said.
If America’s skateboard industry is slouching toward equal gender representation, there are those who say why wait.
Terri Craft, the owner, publisher and editor of iconic Juice skateboard magazine, wrote in an email that she believes the power to progress girls skateboarding lies in the hands of girl skateboarders, and they shouldn’t depend on the skate industry to forward their efforts. Girls can find new ways to get to the top, as many already have. Everyone should applaud these women who have forged their own paths to success, both locally and globally, she wrote.
A silver lining
Triplette, who is relocating BSA to a new 3,200-square-foot location near Bend High School, said he hopes to have it open by April 1. He acknowledged a difference of attitudes between most of the aspirant boy and girl skateboarders to whom he teaches 40 classes a week.
“Girls start skateboarding because they want to have fun,” he said. “Boys skateboard and right away they want to know, ‘What do I have to do to get a sponsor? What do I have to do to turn professional?’”
This purist attitude may be the silver lining of being practically ignored by the $4.8 billion skateboard industry. After all, a glimpse of any skateboard magazine or televised corporate-sponsored contest illustrates how men enjoy more than the lion’s share of sponsorships and prize money — vital wealth that, in an industry where a professional career lasts roughly as long as an NFL player’s, is supposed to last a lifetime.
While Meyen-Weatherby laments the lack of representation of women in female skateboarding (they’re much more prominent in professional snowboarding), she acknowledges how girls’ enthusiasm may be less cluttered than boys.
“My hope for Curren is that if she ends up skateboarding forever because she loves it, great; if it turns into something else, then whatever,” Meyen-Weatherby said, adding that parents who look for an agent and sponsorships for their child are missing the point of skateboarding — or any other action sport — altogether.
The giving tree
At a private mini-ramp housed in a large shed east of Pilot Butte, Mia Murray, 11, was learning to pump up and down the ramp’s walls when she fell and caught a case of unwanted splits.
The Bear Creek Elementary School fifth-grader refused to cry. Miki Keller, a veteran snowboarder and motocross rider, said: “I promise in 10 minutes it’ll be fine; just breathe.”
Ten minutes later, Mia, who started skating last December and also attends BSA’s Girls Night, was all giggles. “A lot of girls should try the same things as boys,” she said, adding how she plays soccer. “Like, take that, dudes.”
Keller said she recently got back into skateboarding. To get her “skate legs back,” Keller aims to skate every day for a month on the 4-foot-tall, 20-foot-long mini-ramp her partner Joey Boisineau has maintained for over five years. A focal point of any get-together the couple hosts, the ramp gets skated two or three times a week. Recently, Keller began encouraging her friends’ grade-school-age daughters to come learn to skate — she wants new friends to skate with, and she wants to foster a place where girls can learn skateboarding fundamentals without feeling self-conscious, like they might at a public park.
Keller runs her own action sports marketing company and frequently works with X Games. She’s seen skateboarding’s culture change — for the better, she said.
“Now boys will see you skate and trying new tricks and they’ll be stoked, but in the ’80s and ’90s, girls were poseurs,” she said. Or worse, they were “betties,” the equivalent of mainstream sports’ cheerleaders — passive and relegated to the sidelines.
When Keller was asked why she wanted to foster a love of skateboarding in girls, she became a bit choked up with emotion.
“I was lucky enough to be exposed to this stuff when I was young, and it became my life, my career,” she said, describing how her work in snowboarding has taken her around the world. “Snowboarding, moto and skateboarding are what I love, and I love sharing it with people. If any girls can have any of the opportunities that I’ve had, I would be thrilled.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7816, firstname.lastname@example.org