With heavy backing from Shiner Dist and Santa Cruz, and the ranks of the female skateboard contingent pumped up with new members, the celebrations went off with a bang and featured hordes of new faces sessioning alongside many of the stalwarts of the British female skate scene. We caught up with Danielle Gallacher and Kirsty Tonner, two of the main people behind the day-to-day running of www.girlskateuk.com on the following Monday, to get their perspectives on the growth of the female scene, the importance of inclusivity, what they have planned for the future, and more besides. Read on to find out about a little more of what GSUK do, how you can get involved yourselves, and to get a little taste of what went down in Leicester. Big up all involved!
Could you give us a little bit of back-story on how the site/community first came to be established please? When did you first come up with the idea and what inspired the decision to set up a central hub for the UK female skate scene in the first place?
Danni Gallacher: I was helping out at the Malmesbury Abbey half term skate festival in 2014 when the idea of creating a ‘hub’ for the UK girls really came about initially. From seeing how many girls participated in those sessions when given their own space and a female coach or ‘role model’ (whatever you want to call it), it became pretty clear that there needed to be more opportunities for girls to have these spaces where they felt comfortable enough to give skateboarding a go. The same was true for the sessions for the little kids at the Abbey too, which shows this isn’t a solely gendered problem, and that we needed to come together to create spaces for all types of minority groups within the existing skate world.
After speaking with loads of the UK girls that I skated with, it seemed pretty clear that the scene would benefit from a community space where we could share details of upcoming events and meet ups, as well as a way of showcasing the talents of the more established UK girls: along with also being really keen on also sharing photos and footage of those fairly new to skating just to kind of encourage other beginners to give it a try.
Kind of a way of saying that everyone starts somewhere and that nobody should be embarrassed to give it a try if you like. Those were the initial factors that inspired the birth of GSUK and now here we are, three years later!
Were there any particular online communities that you drew inspiration from? Girl Skate UK was the first of its kind in Britain but there were already a fair few similar networks out there, right?
Kirsty Tonner: After my short 12-year hiatus from skating, I had a little search for other girls in the UK and the Girls Skate Network site threw up Danni’s, Lucy’s and Lois’ names I think. That was more of an online bio sort of thing and not really a place where you could contact people or go skating together in real life at that point, but at least it showed they were there and skateboarding somewhere!
Danni: Yeah there’s the Girl Skate Network in the US run by Lisa Whitaker, it’s a website I’ve been following since I started skateboarding but it’s had a name change since then. That’s definitely been the main inspiration behind Girl Skate UK.
There was actually a good website run by Geoff & Greg Else called SkaterGirl.co.uk that myself and Stef Nurding used to write for but I think when they changed direction to incorporate other sports that they lost a lot of their skate audience as skateboarders are generally purists as you know. After that there was nothing for a few years so it seemed a good time to do something.
What was the mission statement for GSUK from the perspective of those people involved in setting up?
Danni: I just wanted to create a proper network for girls to meet, organise skates together and stay connected. It seemed a good idea to have everything in one place in regards to event info, bios, coverage and general info.
Back when we interviewed Lucy Adams she spoke a lot about how visibility is the most crucial thing really for attracting other women into skateboarding – more so than any other factor– was this part of the thinking behind GSUK?
Danni: Yeah definitely, and that’s one of the main reasons I like to post girls of all ages, all abilities and all backgrounds. I think there’s something really empowering about seeing lots of different types of skateboarders – and somebody looking through our feed might spot a skater they can relate to and think, “yeah, I can do that too.”
It seems as though female skateboarding globally has been growing at an almost unprecedented rate over the last few years and is probably bigger now (participation numbers-wise) than at any point since the 1970’s – is that how it looks from your own perspective?
Kirsty: Definitely. You see so many young girls giving it a go now, as well as their mums who might be maybe 40 years old! It’s like someone’s flicked a switch, and so now a girl skating at a park or carrying a board in the street isn’t a big deal anymore and that’s how it should be.
What do you attribute that to? Obviously visibility via Social Media must be a big driving force plus the number of skateparks these days too – are there other factors as well?
Kirsty: I think the growth has to also be put down to both popular culture and fashion-boards being everywhere, even just as “accessories” at first, as people are introduced to skating that way and then go on to buy a proper skateboard and try it out, so the presence of ‘accessory skateboards’ can only help the scene to grow.
Danni: Obviously Social Media is clearly a great tool to connect skateboarders, but I also think it has a lot to do with global campaigns such as ‘This Girl Can’ that highlight the ridiculous stigma attached to women in sports too.
Social Media plays a big part in what GSUK does – the site itself gets a lot of comments from people wanting to start skating and looking for advice, presumably the FB and Instagram accounts operate like that as well?
Kirsty: Yeah, people will use Insta or Facebook to send a message wanting advice, or just to show you something which they found and think is cool and worth sharing. Everyone from big brands to 5 year olds have the apps these days, so they can send us details of events, pictures and videos which we can then repost. This also makes GSUK really accessible to everybody.
What’s the most common question that people ask?
Kirsty: “When will you be doing a girls night at ***** skatepark near me?” is a common one.
Danni: Another common one is, “I’ve always wanted to skate but felt intimidated to go to the park on my own, how do I get over this?” I will always ask where they are based and their age in the politest way possible (laughs), and then try to direct them to a girl’s nights in their area or towards local lady shredders who they could meet up with.
What about the most common misconceptions that you come across in terms of the things that stop other women from giving skateboarding a go?
Danni: A lot of times we get messages from girls saying that they are the only girl skater in their town or city, but once we find out where they’re from, we can almost always point them in the direction of someone nearby who is up for a skate. Another common one would be that they might feel like they’re not good enough to visit a skatepark yet, but actually skateparks are made for everyone – there will always be a quieter session or a little corner to go and learn in.
You were involved in organising and running events long before getting involved with GSUK Danni – what function do female-specific events have from your own perspective?
Danni: Yeah I’ve been running skate events for about 8 years and the participation numbers over the last few years have grown massively. Events help create awareness of the scene and act as a meeting place where we can all just get together and have a skate – a lot of us come from all over so it’s really nice to see everyone make the effort to come to all the events we host.
You’ve been to a few female-focused events over in Europe recently as well – which places seem to be pioneering in that respect and what is it about their events/scene/approach that makes it work?
Danni: Sweden is definitely up there. Malmo has a rad girl’s scene thanks to Bryggeriet and Andrea who has worked for years on the girl’s sessions, camps and competitions there. They do get a lot of funding from the government who really support skateboarding but it’s really down to the passionate skaters there. It’s one of my favourite places to visit.
Which events would you recommend to any new skaters out there to check out this year – either UK/Europe and why?
Danni: A lot of the UK girls are heading out to the CPH Pro comp this May, then there’s our annual ‘Push the Prom’ event for Go Skateboarding Day that we host with Lucy Adams – that’s a great one for beginners and families too as we take a leisurely skate along the Brighton promenade and have a jam at Hove Lagoon afterwards. There’s also the Unicorn Jam at Mile End, which is always a fun day out whether you want to enter the comp or just have a beer in the sun and watch.
Have you seen much effect in terms of numbers since the announcement of skateboarding’s inclusion in the 2020 Olympics?
Kirsty: I’m not sure about numbers, it is talked about a little more but it’s still a little unclear how it will all happen.
Danni: there’s been no noticeable change in regards to event participation, lots of people I speak to have no clue to be honest, but it will be interesting to see if that changes as it draws closer and there is more coverage.
What’s your own take on that? Is it something that GSUK will cover/want to be involved in?
Danni: It’s one of those things isn’t it? It’s happening whether we like it or not, so we may as well try to control what we can. I think we are going to see more equality at least, as more funding will be have thrown at the girls. We’re definitely keeping in the loop on it all and will of course cover the event; whether we will be involved or not – we will see!
Do you think Callun including all the UK girls in Get 420 has raised awareness too? I mean to those people who might not have known about the scene beforehand?
Kirsty: I’m not sure; I would be surprised to think that a lot of skaters in the U.K. hadn’t already heard of people like Zeta, Stef and Rianne. But then again it might have made people more aware of Savannah and Zoe perhaps?
Danni: I was stoked when I found out there was going to be a girls section in Get 420, it’s rad that Cal included a bunch of the UK girls as it’s still pretty rare to see. It clearly raised a flag to some that might not have known there was a strong girls scene over here but like Kirsty said, most who follow Sidewalk and such would’ve heard most of the names before – hopefully we’ll see an even wider selection in the next one.
How was that experience for you personally? Did Callun go easy on you or was he his usually militant self?
Danni: Does he go easy on anyone? (Laughing), I enjoy going filming with Cal; it’s pretty chill. If I can’t do something he’ll just suggest something else and doesn’t make you feel bad about trying something for an hour. He does enjoy a good slam though.
It always seemed to be about 30 degrees each time we went out last year, which made it tough, although I shouldn’t really complain in this country.
You just celebrated the 3rd anniversary at Broom in Leicester – how did that go? Were there lots of new faces?
Danni: Oh it was so good! I made so many new friends, including one little 9yr old ripper called Lola who came all the way from Saltash with her parents: she absolutely smashed it. It’s always good seeing everyone!
Kirsty: Loads of old and loads of new faces, some younger faces, with girls under 10 years of age killing the mini. Santa Cruz really hooked us up this year and we had so many prizes along with cash to give out for tricks. I’m pretty sure everyone left with something whether it was a deck, or money for cheap WKD blues on the après skate in Leicester.
What’s next in the pipeline for GSUK as far as 2017 goes?
Danni: Well we are pretty booked up for summer at least, we’ve just confirmed that we will be taking on management on the Girl’s competitions at both NASS and Boardmasters this year, and are planning another big competition in Hull this August. Loads more to come I’m sure, as it’s still only March…
How should anybody out there reading this approach the community to get involved in the scene?
Kirsty: Find your local skate shop, buy a board, find somewhere to skate, hit us up if you need any advice, and come along to one of our events.
Is there anything else that you’d like to say?
Danni: Cheers to you guys for all the support over the last few years! X
Event report, also by Danni Gallacher
We had an amazing turnout at Broom Skatepark in Leicester for the birthday jam with people coming from all corners of the UK (from Scotland to Newquay!) on Saturday 18th March.
After a couple hours of free skate time, we started with a hip and block session. Georgie Winter kicked this off with a pop shove tail grab and boardslide line winning herself a limited edition Pabst x Santa Cruz board, which was swiftly backed up by Romy Haynes with a full cab over the hip, bagging herself some cash.
The elusive Claire Alleaume knocked out a front nose grind winning a Shiner 40yrs anniversary deck, and the comp was shut down by Zoe Kings with the cleanest front board bigspin out.
An injured Lucy Adams took over the mic for the mini ramp competition which took place on both ramps – the kids smashed this one, with Broom local Poppy Hill grinding some long 5050s, Plymouth shredder Kiah Ajunwa absolutely going in with all things frontside, and 9-year-old Lola who was killing it with her layback rock n rolls and bert slides on the big ramp.
The lads were also on top form all day with Matt Beer charging around at Mach 10 and skating the vert wall like it was a mini ramp, whilst Kieran Menzies effortlessly slid his way through nose blunts and frontside airs over everyone, which won him a decent bit of cash!
Big thanks to Kirsty Tonner, Lucy Adams and Alan Glass for all their help with this years jam. Also, respect to CJ for the photos and Callun for the footage. Big up to Santa Cruz for the cash and product, to Pabst Blue Ribbon for the free beer and to Spellbound Bakery for the sweet treats. Cheers to everybody who came to skate or to support and, of course, big thanks to Broom for having us yet again. Super stoked x
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