WHEN KRISTIN EBELING started skateboarding as a kid, she was the only girl at the park. Though she loved skating, the others mocked her attempts to join their club, leading to what she calls “some pretty traumatic experiences for a young person.”
When she discovered Skate Like a Girl, she says, “I felt like I found my people. I no longer had to try to fit in.”
Skate Like a Girl, a nonprofit group that teaches and supports skateboarding, is open to more than just girls. For one thing, there’s no age limit. The 30 or so people who turned up for classes at All Together Skatepark in Fremont on a recent Monday evening ranged from preteen to middle-aged.
For another, the group is open to trans people — and anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable in the competitive and sometimes-hypermasculine atmosphere of traditional skateboarding. But anyone who joins has to be absolutely willing to accept other people as they are.
In the cavernous indoor skatepark packed with modular ramps of various shapes and sizes, students break into small groups based on skill levels and practice one move after another. Each is more difficult than the last. Eventually, they’re tackling ramps and tricks. When they fall — and everyone will, at some point — the others cheer them on.
“There’s something empowering about taking something that’s very hard and breaking it into little pieces so you can learn it,” said Ebeling, now Skate Like a Girl’s executive director. “It also keeps you humble — there’s no such thing as perfection.”
Everyone’s wearing helmets and pads. Ebeling tells me that many skateboarding injuries happen in the first few weeks. Emphasizing safety and gradually scaling up risk help avoid that. Instructors are trained in both skateboarding safety and in helping their students feel safe in the social environment.
“They’re kind of like bumpers off to the side,” Ebeling says, ready to catch anyone who’s about to fall.
Instructor Ronnie Toms is constantly moving — and constantly shouting. But the words are always encouraging, and Toms is there to (literally) hold skaters’ hands as they attempt a move for the first time. “Skateboarding is a self-paced sport. It’s whatever the person wants to do,” Toms says.
Lisa Stewart drops in and cruises up and down complicated-looking ramps with the advanced class. Stewart skated as a kid, decades ago, “But I never kept at it because I didn’t have a community.” Skate Like a Girl provides that, along with a physical and mental challenge. “It’s one of those opportunities where your mind and body really have to be in sync,” Stewart says.
Stewart also appreciates the way skating can bring together people from different generations. “It’s inspiring being around all these people of different ages and see how they’re willing to work at it.”
Many of the beginners start with lessons from Connor McConnaughey. The first step of all is the one onto the skateboard, which is more than I can do. He offers to teach me, more than once. They have helmets and pads I can borrow, he says. Maybe next time, I say.
He promises that whenever I try, he’ll be happy to guide me. “I like to teach people about self-confidence,” he says. “It’s not just about skateboarding; it’s about courage.”