Welcome to Sarah Meurle's interview! Besides her clear vision and outspoken beliefs there is a pretty interesting thing in there she says; something that really makes sense but has never struck me before so clearly: Female skaters today are facing a similar situation as the few greying early 90's veterans might remember from those days when skateboarding was far-off from being everybody's darling; it's about full on passion for what you love, letting strange looks of others roll off your back, doing your thing on the fringes, looked at as different. Thanks for that Sarah! Thanks for this reminder for some of the things that actually make up skateboarding, that make it so special. And thanks for doing what you do: Shredding in life and casually breaking barriers, with a smile.
Words: Jan Kliewer | Interview: Jan Kliewer & Tom Botwid | Pics: Pelle Hybinette & Alana Paterson
Hey Sarah. When I was young it felt very scary the first times I went to the skatepark as a beginner, and I imagine these obstacles you face as a beginner being even higher as a woman in such a male dominated culture, how did you start skateboarding and did you feel like you faced different obstacles than boys around you that started skating?
I was 13. Of course something like starting skateboarding was a bit of a statement, standing out, especially as a girl. I had never seen a female skate, only guys. To some extent that probably also triggered me to start since I always thought I had the right to do the same thing as the boys. Growing up with two older brothers had that effect on me. Me and my friend Angelica made our parents take us to the sports shop and get us a 20 euro skateboard. We would skate in secret for a couple of weeks mostly around her house. Later on we told the boys at school that we skate too, and they were very welcoming actually, we had a bit of a crew going around skating in Blentarp. I was filming us with my aunts old video camera. After a while Angelica quit but I continued on. I think the most idiotic comments I would face as for example walking with my skateboard down the street would be from guys who don’t skate themselves. The skaters have usually treated me with respect. Except from comments on the internet possibly which I’ve never really been bothered to read.
What does Poetic Collective mean to you? What's your input in the company besides the skating?
It’s a skate company I feel fully comfortable in, some of these guys I’ve known since many years back. I see it as a collective with less of an hierarchy than most companies. With an open dialogue on what to do creatively and within the team but still some pretty clear ideas and visions from Tom and Paul on what we could do. I talk a lot with Tom about ideas, projects, problems.
Any plans to use it as a vehicle for your photography at all?
Yeah for this upcoming Spring/Summer 2016 collection I’ve designed a board. It’s an abstract photograph that kind of plays well together with three of the other boards in the collection.
"In one way female skaters are sort of where skateboarding was in the 80’s or early 90’s, rare and being looked at as different."
You work in both skateboarding and art, Do you feel like they are similar practices?
Needless to say they are both creative practices that requires a lot of dedication. It is something to become obsessed with, to be passionate about. The practice of the actual skating is very liberating and sets the mind free, (when it’s a good day.) With art it’s sometimes the total opposite, you think so much about things that your mind is fully on overload. But it’s a way to treat your thoughts and work with them, expressing and communicating and in that way it’s liberating as well.
In a time where skateboarding is so accepted and trendy I feel like female skaters are the only real underground skaters left, facing many of the obstacles older skaters still romanticise, like being an outcast, being different and/or underground etc. What are your thoughts on this?
Absolutely. In one way female skaters are sort of where skateboarding was in the 80’s or early 90’s, rare and being looked at as different. It’s a tight community, the chance of meeting a female skater while travelling for example and not having any friends in common with her doesn’t really occur. I think one effect of skateboarding being so big now, that all of a sudden the women have become more interesting than the men. Because they haven’t been exposed as much.
I always had the impression that you don't really care about conventions, you just skate, like everyone should really. Do you make any distinction between women's and men's skating at all?
I started skateboarding because it seemed like fun, and that’s still the reason why I do it. Although all the politics around being a female taking part in a male dominated sport came with it. I think the main difference between women and men’s skating lays in society’s view of feminine vs masculine. Since the actual act of it is the same whether you’re a man or a woman, possibly that body shapes can make a difference but that’s all individual from woman to woman and it differs from man to man as well.
If anything it’s a psychological mindset of what you believe you can achieve, since you’ve seen it happen before, like back in the days when skateboarding videos were only available through VHS and everyone would learn that latest trick they saw of their favourite skater because they had seen it happen and could visualise it. So if nobody can visualise a woman doing a, let’s say; nollieflip nosegrind nollieflip-out it’s less likely that more women would do it. But you know, it’s still the same trick whether a man or a woman does it.
You're skating with guys a lot, but from what I get , many girls tend to be shy about skating around guys. Was this ever an issue for you?
As a kid it was normal for me. I was more nervous going to the all girls skate evening by myself on Mondays at Bryggeriet than I was going with my friends from school on Wednesdays. I just wanted to skate with my friends which were all boys at the time.
As a grown up I find it interesting, I think it’s very obvious in different cultures, depending on the country, it can even vary from city to city. Some guys crews are very welcoming to girls, and some crews have no idea how to handle it since they’re not used to the situation. Kind of like you’re intruding on their boys space. But if you stick to it they usually show acceptance after a longer period of time.
What kind of skating inspires you the most? Do you get more inspired from watching other women skate or does the gender of the skater not matter to you?
Skating that I can relate to is the most inspiring, like in spots I’d like to skate myself, or tricks I could at least dream of doing. Not the biggest set of stairs or the craziest tricks.
I have mostly been inspired by male skaters but if I’ve seen a good part from a female skater or met someone that rips that has had more of a direct effect on me.
Who do you look up to most in skateboarding and why? What/who are your biggest inspirations?
I’m from Malmö, so I’m definitely inspired by people around the Malmö scene like Danijel 'Jugga' Stankovic, Pontus Alv, John Dahlquist and more. At least for me the biggest influence is what surrounds me. Then you can nerd in and admire people, seeing Elissa Steamer is definitely the most star struck I’ve ever been, as for video parts I’ve watched the most since I started skating are probably Mike Carroll, Gino Iannucci, as for today, the next part I’m really looking forward to see is Hjalte's new part.
"Performance without style is like a song with a good beat but with a terrible singer, you can listen to it but you can’t fully enjoy it."
What's more important to you in skating, style or performance?
Performance without style is like a song with a good beat but with a terrible singer, you can listen to it but you can’t fully enjoy it. Or like when somebody is wailing too much in the song without really knowing what they’re doing, then you’re overdoing it. Just like you can try too hard with being stylish. If that makes sense?
In Malmö the female skate scene is quite big, I always feel like you have a really good community, do you get more stoked when you have other women to skate with?
Of course! There is such a good community of female skaters in Malmö, everyone is welcoming and there is so much dedication and strong friendships built through that scene. It hasn’t been like that forever, but it’s taken off the past years, it used to be girls starting, and then quitting again, but now, since there is such a good vibe at the girls skate on Mondays and groups in social media bringing everybody together. The girls don’t quit anymore, they come back for more.
Do you feel you have been treated different being a female in such a male dominated industry?
I’ve been discovered at a young age because I stood out as the only girl at the skatepark doing tricks at the same level as my guy friends. So if I would have been on the other side, if I would have been a guy there I believe I would have been less interesting to sponsor me since I wouldn’t have stood out in the same way. It’s very obvious that the industry treats women differently if you look at contests, in prize money, or at the scheduled times when it’s girls practice or finals.
I’ve been to a lot of contests where the girls warm up would start at 08:30 or so and qualifications around 10:00 when everyone else was still in bed. I’ve been doing less contests the past years and just skated more street since I find that more inspiring.
You just started skating for Nike SB, how do you feel about such a big company starting to give more opportunities to female skaters? What difference will that make to you? To skateboarding as a whole?
I’m really stoked to be on Nike SB, I literally just signed the contract yesterday! It’s a new energy and inspiration to keep on doing what I’ve been doing but even more. It opens up an area of time I don’t have to take an extra job alongside my studies. I can spend more time on skateboarding instead of standing in a skateshop selling things like I used to (which is also nice don’t get me wrong, you guys are great).
Nike has a lot of power to make a difference in the industry of female skateboarding, and not only the power but also the desire to do so. I think things are just starting, now with the women's division in Street League, and putting Leticia Bufoni in the spotlight which she really deserves, she is definitely one of the best female skaters of our time.
Do you feel like women's skateboarding should be more included in the industry as a whole or do you feel/think that it can/should evolve into an industry of its own?
It is evolving into an industry of its own right now. There will be new releases this year of female only skate videos, and there are contests that are only for women, websites, skate companies, etc. I doubt that any of these projects are swimming in money I believe it comes more from the love of skateboarding and uniting in a minority. I dig the fact that women are just doing it for themselves, there’s no time to wait for the industry to act. Over the past couple of months though, I’ve seen more interviews with female skaters in skate media than I’ve ever seen before, so something is happening.
The goal should of course be towards equality in the industry. Imagine opening up one of the leading skate magazines of today and seeing 50% male and 50% female content in there.
Why do you think there aren't more girls into skating and doing well at it?
I’ve gotten this question about a hundred times haha! Truth is I don’t have the answer to it. There are many different aspects. But what about if you look at other sports like hockey for example; the best hockey players are from cold Northern European countries or from Northern America, since it’s a well developed culture there, and there’s a high quantity of players in these countries. That’s where the best ones come from, and not from Spain or Mexico. And with female skateboarders, how many are there out of a thousand males? Maybe 5? If there were 500 females out of a thousand I guarantee that there would be more women doing well at it.
What could the skateboarding world do to attract more women?
By supporting your local female skaters and just being open, inviting to sessions, showing respect. Not be afraid of the girls but to engage and skate together, of course this goes bothways with a female group of skaters including men in their group. On an industry level things like giving women more space in media, better sponsorships, sponsor girls skate events. Intertwine women in male contests. ( Note: By that I don’t mean inviting employed girls from energy drink companies to give away awards!)
"Ironically skateboarders can be some of the most judgemental people, you judge what everyone is wearing, what kind of gear you have, what’s cool and what’s not, which tricks are in and which ones are out."
Skateboarders like to think they're liberal and the most openminded people out there. Do you agree or could allegedly macho sports like football, or maybe tennis be much more open to include women?
Ironically skateboarders can be some of the most judgemental people, you judge what everyone is wearing, what kind of gear you have, what’s cool and what’s not, which tricks are in and which ones are out. It’s quite common to judge a female skater for her looks rather than her performance. At the same time it’s a platform to meet people from all cultures and to connect across social ladders and ages. But is it macho? Yes. But it depends on where you’re at. There are different kind of skaters just as there are different kind of people. I like to surround myself with people who show respect to others no matter colour age or gender.
Being a sponsored female skater do you feel you have a responsibility as a role model?
Since I myself seek inspiration from video parts or clips mostly I think the best thing I can do as a role model is to skate a lot and produce video content. Sometimes I can enter a contest because a sense of responsibility comes in to show that there are female skaters as well. Even though I might not really feel like competing or I’ve had a twisted ankle or something I try to participate since it’s important to show that we exist.
The female competition scene has evolved a lot during the last few years, still there are very few female video parts being released, why do you think that is?
I don’t really know but I feel like you say, that there’s more of a focus on contests in the female scene. I’m pretty sure that we will see more parts coming out eventually though.
Do you think your part and the raw street skating you represent will inspire more women to go out and film?
Hopefully. To me this part is very now, what was happening in 2015 sort of. It’s filmed during a couple of months spread out over spring/summer and fall, just being out skating in the streets and having fun. I’ve had a lot of problems with my right ankle before this, so it was kind of like getting back on the board and getting into filming again which has been a great experience.
What are your aims and goals for 2016?
Projects with Nike SB and Poetic Collective, filming, travel some, I think the upcoming trip will be to explore Budapest with Poetic. We're also going to skate inside of a museum next week, I’ll be working in school as well with exhibitions and studies, I’m doing a BA in Fine Art Photography. Yeah all of the above, not sleeping!
Where do you see Poetic Collective go? Which direction would you want it to take?
It has some good looking graphics and a concept behind it which I think we can go pretty far with. I see it as very aware of it’s environment in these two worlds that it’s trying to collide, the skateboarding and the art world. More collaborations with museums and letting skateboarding take place in such an environment. It creates new meetings and shows it in a different light. I also hope that whether you’re a woman or a man you can see yourself wearing the clothes and enjoying the artwork of the boards.