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Bigotry in Skateboarding | Embrace the Art, Reject the Hate

We’ve made progress, but more needs to be done…

Outside of the contest circuit, the skateboarding industry has survived by being self governing. There’s no fines for sending an offensive tweet or calling someone a racial slur in an interview, save the repercussions inflicted by your peers. You can have a pro board while shooting heroin or wearing a Skrewdriver shirt. This thing of ours is ours and it’s been run predominantly by straight white men. Of course, this common narrative mostly ignores the tremendous roles women have had since skateboarding’s inception, and completely refuses to acknowlege that anyone from the LGBTQ community has taken part in skateboarding’s history.

Words: Anthony Pappalardo | Illustration: Tom Delves

Good news, albeit quite tardy, but skateboarding is wholly becoming more diverse  and simultaneously less tolerant of sexism, racism, bigotry, transphobia, and social dividers, but it hasn’t been seamless or without dull pains. In fact, the new found consciousness is very much in its infancy and―like a bubble-headed newborn, still shitting, pissing, and puking at will―it’s really awkward and in need of some guidance―there’s a lot of work to be done.

Sure, there are still the ridiculous and misogynistic, homoerotic, and perverse pointed based antics of Thrasher’s King of the Road, the inexplicable presence of Monster Energy Girls at Street League (women compete, why aren’t there “hot guys” hawking sugar water?), and your local shop is rife with decks that depict scantily clad or even naked women, along with the general penchant for the average skater to drop sexist, and homophobic language on the regular and on their social media accounts.

»Skateboarding has an awareness problem«

Skateboarding has an awareness problem, because few challenge these things frequently and this type of bro-haviour is rewarded.

The most obvious flashpoints recently have been Brian Anderson publicly coming out as gay  and Lacey Baker’s recent ‘My World‘ edit. It pains me to change the conversation from their actual skateboarding and contributions to the art of it, but it’s impossible to ignore the way discussion about gay/lesbian/transgender/female skateboarders – essentially, anyone who isn’t a straight man – digresses into hate speech. Rather than screenshot comments or link to tweets, which only serves to amplify their message, I’d like to break down why this is so alarming and backward.

In the case of Anderson, many people in the social space questioned why his sexuality was necessary to mention, often employing the cliched caveat that, “They’re cool with his sexuality,” but “he should keep it to himself.”

This is the opposite of what Anderson or any public figure seeking balance in their life should do, especially if they are taking the position of being an activist. By watching Giovanni Reda’s VICE documentary, it’s obvious that being closeted brought a lot of unnecessary stress upon Anderson, so much so that you could see him almost being reborn on camera as he announced that he was gay. In the wake of last year’s documentary, Anderson has been accepting and accommodating of the press deluge that followed the coming out of a skateboarding icon, steering the conversation to positive places and openly saying that he’s committed to becoming an activist and raising awareness. This is key, because it completely foils his detractors―Anderson is using his celebrity to create dialogue and empower those who may have shared his apprehensions. Furthermore, he was careful not to flip a switch and throw those he’s friends with under the bus for using homophobic language, but rather use his platform as ground zero of a new understanding.

In the case of the also openly gay Lacey Baker, the discussion veers off into different and equally hurtful territories, questioning her physical ability, motivations, and her sexuality. Within minutes of Baker’s recent part’s release, comments and arguments began. Baker was too critical of the skate industry, a claim sparked by a republishing of an interview in Broadly from December of 2015 on Facebook by Ride Channel rather than any recent comments from Baker herself. The negative commenters said her part was “good for a girl,but not up to par for a male pro,” her “female body prevents her from performing at a level of a male pro,” and, of course, negative comments about her androgynous appearance.

»We’d “rather watch Gino push,” – so why are we lashing out at women for technical ability?«

While there was a lot of positive support for the part and plenty coming to her defense employing enlightened arguments, even having to refute the slurs and hate is frustrating, because the root of it is so flawed and uneducated. To start, the status of being a professional skateboarder is unique. Unlike other competition based sport, pro simply means that someone is paying you to ride a skateboard, and sometimes without even putting your name on a board. With the majority of current pros not making a salary, it’s their shoe deals that often dictate their pro status, but nothing is predicated upon where they rank, how they are drafted, or any governing body. So, Baker’s status is analogous to that of someone whose name is on an Instagram brand’s board, Todd Falcon or a big name pro without a deck sponsor, who cashes a shoe/energy drink check. This is fact. Skateboarding really has no qualifier for being a pro.

We agree that skateboarding is more performing art than sport, often elevating people to legend status for their style over their technical prowess. This is standard when the skateboarder in question is male, but this changes with regard to female, trans or genderqueer skateboarders. Part of this is explained by the overwhelmingly male audience: the most common complaint men have about female skaters is their style, as it’s relatable to what they’re accustomed to seeing. By saying that the female body cannot perform as “well” as a man is ridiculous. Along with decades of intense research about how menstruation physically alters women and impacts them mentally, adding different stressors and chemical triggers throughout their cycle, Nora Vasconcellos also brought up an interesting point recently on The Nine Club, that women are wired to be risk averse and protect themselves physically as they get older, in order to stay healthy to have children and she feels that weight as she gets older. Sure, that’s also a part of aging and being less carefree, but it raises some important points that most men would never consider, as our biggest concern in that regard is sacking ourselves on a rail. Vasconcellos’ comments on the podcast are a positive step in educating men about what it’s like to actually be a female skateboarder.

Since most would agree that technical ability is not paramount in skateboarding, why handicap Baker or other females for not being able to perform the most technically advanced or dangerous tricks, which are reserved for a select few? Skateboarding holds style as its most sacred currency, so much so that we’d “rather watch Gino push,” so why are we lashing out at women for technical ability? Clearly, women are held to a much higher standard than men.

Is it a stretch to say, that like the boards of the ‘70s and ‘80s, the actual engineering of skateboarding equipment isn’t tailored to its growing audience? Generally shorter, with a different center of balance, skateboards and their wheelbases most certainly aren’t geared towards the women riding them. Remember how hard it was riding a standard-sized deck when you were 12-years-old? Perhaps Professor Paul Schmitt has some insight. We can also cite that the vast majority of skate shoes aren’t designed with women in mind and no, adding “feminine” colors to a current model doesn’t qualify.

If we’re to believe those commenting, they are saying, without any scientific knowledge, that a woman would never be able to 50-50 that big ass, million kinked handrail that Kyle Walker did in his Vans part, simply because they are anatomically different. I’m going to say that’s an “alternative fact,” Street skating as a discipline itself has only existed for a small fraction of skating’s entirety―isn’t it possible that women skaters are just getting their feet wet and progressing accordingly? Perhaps these detractors are forgetting that Marisa Del Santo secured herself a spot on what many see as a “rail/daredevil” company with Zero, delivering a pivotal part in Strange World (2009).

»Are mainstream sports flawed? Absolutely, but skating truly is an art, so why the hell are we acting like some out-dated macho stereotype and not embracing it as such?«

Personally, I’ve enjoyed Baker and Anderson’s skating for years, because it pleases me aesthetically and captures something I wish I had―the causal control and feel that I was never able to harness. That being said, there are hundreds of skaters I couldn’t give a shit about, who are measurably “better,” yet I don’t comment on their gender or sexuality when pointing out that I don’t enjoy their skateboarding. Sure, I might dislike their trick selection, spots, and yes, their fits, but that criticism is never based on their sexuality or gender, as if this was somehow a causal factor.

More skaters will come out, the female and transgender communities in skating will continue to grow, and we’ll be absorbing more content at a faster rate than ever in the history of humanity. We can’t control the hate and unfounded negativity that will come with that speed and volume, but what you can do is be involved in adhering to a standard. Don’t be afraid to challenge and correct people, and do it without preempting who you voted for or support. This isn’t about Trump or Brexit or where you worship, but rather elevating skateboardings conscious to where it should be, otherwise this creative outlet is decades behind other sports that at bare minimum, hold accountable anyone being a complete asshole.

Are mainstream sports flawed? Absolutely, but skating truly is an art, so why the hell are we acting like some out-dated macho stereotype and not embracing it as such? How many of you dorks defend liking GG Allin because “music is art”? Thought so.

I think the answer is simply because we aren’t supporting those who are challenging it, but instead ostracizing them or offering backhanded compliments, which is something that’s actually easy to change.

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