MUKILTEO — Most skateboarders are young, agile and more than a little fearless.
Most skateboarders are also male.
As much as we might dislike stereotypes, even avid skateboarders say as much. Because outside of tackle football, it would be hard to find a sport or activity that is quite as male-dominated as skateboarding.
In Snohomish County, though, a few top skateboarders — female skateboarders, no less — are vowing to change the sport’s gender gap.
Kristin Ebeling of Seattle is the skate park and teen center coordinator at the Mukilteo YMCA, which boasts one of the largest and most challenging skate parks in Washington. She is committed to making skateboarding fun, safe and appealing for all kids, but also admits she would love to see more girls in her park.
“I’m real passionate about getting girls on skateboards,” said Ebeling, who is 23. “I get little girls who say, ‘I don’t want to skate, that’s a boys sport.’ But there’s nothing about being a girl that should hold you back in any way.”
The problem, she went on, is that skate parks are often overrun with boys, “so the girls feel like they’re not going to fit in. They can feel scared and intimidated. So we have to make a space for them so they feel empowered to try this. Because the only reason there aren’t more girls (in skateboarding) is that we haven’t created that space.”
In the camps and clinics Ebeling runs at the YMCA, she goes out of her way to make girls feel welcome. She wants them to know that skateboarding can be every bit as challenging and rewarding for them as it is for boys, and her own story is a good example.
As a young girl Ebeling played traditional sports like soccer, basketball and tennis, but says she “just hated getting yelled at by coaches and getting told what to do. But skateboarding was just awesome because I could go off and do it by myself. I made friends through skating and it became my life.”
Today she calls herself “an amateur professional skateboarder,” meaning she has a handful of minor sponsorships and enjoys competing, but makes very little money in the sport.
Aly Richards of Mukilteo is a skate park attendant at the YMCA, and she is also an accomplished skateboarder. Like Ebeling, the 23-year-old Richards played team sports as a young girl, then got interested in skateboarding. She got away from it in high school, but returned as an adult, much to the chagrin of her father.
“My dad calls skateboarding a loser’s sport,” she said with a smile. “My parents were pretty bummed when I got into skateboarding again after high school and it kind of took over my life.”
No question, Richards confirmed, boys outnumber girls in skateboarding.
“It’d be cool to see more girls doing this, but that’s not going to stop me from wanting to skate,” she said. “I don’t mind going to a skate park and being the only girl.”
Moreover, she added, “Kristin and I could go to a skate park on any given day and be as good or better than half or more of the guys there.”
The Mukilteo YMCA holds summer skate camps for children and those sessions are very popular. Ebeling estimates they will have close to 200 kids this summer, with about half of them new to the camps. There are, she added, about 100-125 regular skaters who use the park, including about 25 on a typical day.
But they are still mostly boys, so Ebeling and Richards are looking for ways to boost the number of girls. One idea is an upcoming camp session solely for young girls since many of them “learn better with other girls,” Ebeling explained. “They aren’t necessarily scared to fall in front of other girls, but in front of a bunch of boys they can feel real awkward. It can almost be a negative experience.”
By holding a girls-only camp, “we can make it fun and positive for them,” she said.
And while the future for girls’ skateboarding is uncertain, it is hardly hopeless. Go back a generation or two, Ebeling pointed out, and many girls were reluctant to play a sport like soccer. But these days “all kinds of girls play soccer, from the girliest girls to the super-jock girls,” she said. “And I hope we get that way with skateboarding. Because no matter what shape, size, color or gender you are, you can skateboard.
“Before I die,” she added, “I want to go to a skate park and see half girls, half boys. That would be job done!”