The skatepark can sometimes be a lonely place for a girl. Just ask 34-year-old Stephanie Battieste, who often was outnumbered by the boys when she first started skating at 15.
“I really felt like I was the only one doing it,” Battieste told Global News one afternoon. “At first, I didn’t see a lot of exposure of women — whether that was through other companies, whether they were sponsoring girls or showcasing them in ads, or on TV.”
Frustrated by the under-representation of females in the industry, Stephanie decided to do something about it. Inspired by the ’90s-era legendary skate team, Bones Brigade, Battieste started her own brigade six years ago — with a girl-power twist.
She patented the name and launched the women’s skateboarding company and team, and is now spending countless hours a week teaching skate lessons, throwing events and contests — all with the goal of empowering the next generation of skater girls.
“I just wanted to find a way for us to connect and be able to meet up at the same skateparks and being able to encourage each other, because I find that seeing other people like yourself, that alone inspires you,” she said.
Though skateboarding continues to be a male-dominated sport, Battieste notes that the tables seem to be slowly turning. These days, up-and-coming female skaters aren’t short on inspiration.
It came in the form of gold, silver and bronze on July 26 at the Olympics’ first-ever women’s skateboarding event debuting at the 2020 summer Olympic games in Tokyo. Japanese 13-year-old Momiji Nishiya clinched the Olympic title in the competition, her 13-year-old rival, Rayssa Leal of Brazil, clinched silver, and 16-year-old Funa Nakayama — also from Japan — took bronze.
All young teens, dominating the podium, proved that the Olympics can be within reach — even if you are only in Grade 8.
For Stephanie Battieste, the unusually young ages of these star female athletes prove that attitudes towards this often misrepresented and misunderstood sport are now shifting.
“There are more parents supporting their kids in doing stuff like skateboarding regardless of gender,” said Battieste. She remarks that what once was considered by parents too dangerous of a sport for young children to participate in is now considered an opportunity for self-development.
One thing is for sure: the successes of Nishiya, Leal, Nakayama and several other young Olympian female skaters are flipping archaic stereotypes on their head, leaving no doubt in Battieste’s students’ minds that skating is not just for the boys.
Hitting the rails and tackling the ramps at a skatepark at Ashbridges Bay, six-year-old Sydney Yeeshuy had a message for those who still believe girls can’t (or shouldn’t) skate.
“I would say, yes they can!” Yeeshuy told Global News, emphatically. “Everybody can skate!”
With one look at the current demographic makeup of Battieste’s classes — and with the buzz generated by the Olympians — it seems more and more people are starting to agree.
“It’s growing everyday,” said Battieste. “I’ve taught as young as three years old, I have a lot of people requesting lessons for four-year-olds, and I’ve taught women in their late 50s, so there’s a huge, broad spectrum there,” said Battieste.
“I’m now teaching boys and men and because I’m teaching younger boys. They’re not gonna grow up thinking, ‘Oh it’s weird that a girl skates because a woman taught them their first lesson when they were a kid.”
Ten-year-old Simon Owoh, who’s still working on that ollie trick Battieste taught him, happens to agree.
“We should inspire women to get into sports, not just men,” says Owoh. “They should have the same rights.”
And for 11-year-old Audrey Wong, who picked up her skateboard for the first time a month ago, there’s nothing quite like the powerful rush of proving people wrong.
“When I’m going down the hill, it’s super fast and then when we stop, you’re like, ‘Oh my God, I did it!’ It’s beyond amazing,” said Wong.
Awestruck by the successes of Nishiya and Leal, Wong says she’ll be keeping her eye on another 13-year-old skating phenom, Sky Brown, who makes her Tokyo Olympic debut on the night of Aug. 3, Eastern standard time.
“I really felt inspired and I felt like I had the right amount of courage,” Wong says about the feeling of watching Nishiya and Leal perform. “And I just really love how they were so brave to go up in front of the world and I think that every girl, every boy should look at them and say, ‘Wow, I feel inspired to do it.'”
For Battieste, carrying on that sort of legacy and inspiring the next generation of skater girls to see what’s possible is what Babes Brigade is all about.
“If you give them a chance to try different things like this, they gain a confidence at a much younger age than it used to be, so I think we’re rewriting history.”