BY KRISTIN EBELING | This essay was selected as the Runner-Up of the Awesome Sports Writing Contest.
Hi, my name is Kristin and I’m a skateboarder.
More specifically, I’m a female skateboarder, but unfortunately, I can’t say that with any authentic sense of pride. This is not because I don’t identify as female, or because I’m not a feminist. I am. It’s also not because I don’t have great female mentors, and haven’t heard of “girl power” before. I have.
So why wouldn’t I want to be called what I actually am, a female skateboarder? Well, because being known as “the girl skateboarder” since I was 12 years old has been more or less a terrible experience. Here’s why.
“To refuse to be labeled and limited by our genders is a radical act.”
I found skateboarding in 2000 through the video game Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. I remember scrolling through the characters, trying to pick the skater dude I most related to. Was I the guy with the baggy pants and the stereo, or the dude with the khaki shorts and crew cut? Suddenly, magic happened before my very eyes. Elissa Steamer popped up on the screen. What? I can pick her to be my player? Heck yes! And although I sucked at playing that video game, I left the controller that day knowing, without a doubt, that I was going to be a skateboarder too. If she could do it, so could I.
I didn’t realize it then, but I really was going to be just like Elissa — the one girl outnumbered by all the guys.
Fast-forward a year, and I’m at the local skate shop skating the ramp in the back. Out of nowhere, the 30-something shop owner asked me if I wanted to be sponsored and handed me a t-shirt. Although my little skate crew of middle school dudes were jealous, I gladly took the guy up on the offer. I didn’t quite understand it at the time, but I wasn’t getting hooked up because I was the best. Rather, it was because I was a cute young girl — a novelty who stood out from my male counterparts. Regardless, I bought into it. Who could turn down a free shirt?
A few years later I was putting the finishing touches on my “sponsor me” tape — a collection of all my best tricks edited to my favorite Doors song, “Love Me Two Times”. I was lucky because a buddy helping me put it together offered to share my video with some of his sponsors. My guy friends assured me that I wasn’t just “good for a girl” and I had a real chance of scoring some free gear for my real skills.
Weeks went by as I anxiously awaited a response. Finally, my friend told me the video was turned down. When I asked why, he begrudgingly replied, “I guess the dude said you weren’t pretty enough…?” As an insecure and awkward high schooler who was already concerned with what everyone else thought of me, this was a tough one to take. And although my skating abilities were arguably deserving of sponsorship, it was clear that my lack of make-up and the boys clothes I was wearing weren’t going to make the cut.
Looking back, the sting of rejection hurt, but the pain of this experience was much deeper. Instead of being mad at this jerk that refused to acknowledge my talent and hard work, I internalized it all. For years, I felt like there was a voice constantly questioning what I wore, what I looked like, and everything I did. I continually tried to be someone I wasn’t in order to fit into the macho subculture that is skateboarding. It sucked.
A few years later I was 17. After a multitude of similar negative experiences, I was on the verge of quitting skateboarding. Even though I loved skateboarding more than ever, the stereotypes, stigmas, and stress felt like too much. Then, out of the clear blue sky, another miracle happened; I was introduced to Skate Like a Girl. This grassroots organization swept me up like a big hug from an old friend and gave me a space where I could just be myself. How radical, right? It gave me the community and friends I had always dreamed of.
But even still, I couldn’t help but take in what the guys thought about it all. Outside of my Skate Like a Girl bubble, I was criticized and teased for being involved. It was hard to ignore what I heard from the boys. Even though I was a part of this new community with Skate Like a Girl, I was still on a crusade to prove myself, and in a larger sense, to prove that female skaters were legit skaters, too. I didn’t see it then, but I was trying to prove myself to the very same people who thought I wasn’t good enough, wasn’t pretty enough, or was just something to tokenize.
“I guess the dude said you weren’t pretty enough…”
Luckily, over time my views began to shift. I began building a community of so many amazing non-traditional skateboarders from around the world, a community where we were the norm. I learned that I didn’t have to care what the guys thought, because they did not dominate my space any longer. Finally, I had nothing to prove. In this new community, people like me don’t stick out, and therefore the label “female” in front of “skateboarder” is more or less redundant.
To refuse to be labeled and limited by our genders is a radical act. Therefore, my name is Kristin and I am a skateboarder.
Kristin Ebeling is the Executive Director of Skate Like a Girl, a 501c3 non-profit organization that seeks to build inclusive community through the sport of skateboarding. A University of Washington alumna, with a History Major and Minor in Labor Studies, Ebeling is passionate about about social movements. In her spare time, Kristin enjoys playing the drums in Lowest Priority, and all-female hardcore punk band.
Photo credits: Ian Kose, Marshall Reid, and Hollyanne Faber.
The Awesome Sports Writing Contest is an annual writing contest to inspire voices in girls’ and women’s sports. Our winners have been announced, and we will post them one-by-one over the next couple of months. Check them out and be sure to submit for the 2018 year!
This contest was made possible by the generous donation of the Jackson family in Edmonds, Washington, and Basketball Education in Action.