Skate culture has long been a refuge for outsiders. Where misfits can find their tribe. Without changing the reasons they don’t fit in. It serves as a form of meditation. A meeting point of like-minds and unalike minds alike. A mode of living. A place for people to express their individuality, creativity and freedom.
Who else wants equality in Australian skate parks?
More than one in five skaters are women. Yet the widespread idea that skating is an all-white and all-male sport prevails. The result is that women still deal with discrimination.
Women often feel unsafe going into male-dominated spaces. Skateparks are no different. Here women still experience varying levels of aggression from guys. Both directly and indirectly. Men who skate often assert dominance over what they see as their culture. Exclusion still exists.
Trans, Non-Binary and Queer skaters tell similar stories. As do skaters of colour. Even top skaters face prejudice. The pay gap between professional male and female skaters remains embarrassingly large.
How a skateboard can promote equality
Only in the last decade, as skateboard culture has moved further into the mainstream, have traditional prejudices begun to erode. Social media has brought minorities and the mainstream closer. As diversity in skating grows, more people are finding their place within it.
The online world has made skating more accessible. Kids can watch skate videos and learn tricks online. As a result, they are improving faster than generations before them. The recent classification of skateboarding as an Olympic sport in 2020 also sends a powerful message. This sport is much more than the emerging subculture it once was.
Today the culture of skating flourishes. In 2022 there are more skateparks than ever. According to one recent study, there are more than 1350 in Australia alone. Brands are offering professional sponsorships to skaters at younger ages. 13-year-old Olympic skateboard medallist Sky Brown recently became a multi-millionaire after signing a sponsorship deal with Nike in 2021.
Why are women paid less?
As skateboarding enjoys newfound respectability, sections of its community are also receiving long-overdue recognition. Queer skaters have become a fixture in leading skateboard publications. Women and Queer friendly meet-up groups empower people from all walks of life to learn at a local level. International organisations such as Skatistan support vulnerable skaters in developing countries.
An Equal Pay for Equal Play law is now in place in California. The new law requires equal prize payouts for sporting contests regardless of gender. Skateboarding competitions included.
An Australian campaign is also underway. Led by pro surfer Lucy Small, Equal Pay For Equal Play champions gender equality. Key to the campaign is the idea that Australian sports clubs and organisations backed by government funding should be creating better opportunities for female athletes. “They need to show that they have equal prize money and equal opportunity,” Lucy says. “And not just that they have those, but that they actually have a strategy to increase women’s participation and support them.”
Sydney skaters play by their own rules
What this all means is that skate culture is changing. Internationally and at a local level. To get a better picture of these changes I reached out to a friend. They put me in touch with a couple of local skaters, Dani Southcombe and Vi.
Meeting in the afternoon, we headed to Sydney Park on the first sunny day in almost a month. The park was teeming with all levels of talent. I snapped some shots of Dani, Vi and the other skaters there. My hope is that these images illustrate the diversity I saw.
On a skateboard, it doesn’t matter who you are
When I left, my impression was a positive one. At Sydney Park, people from all walks of life practised and performed on equal terms. Less experienced skaters were given their space. Everyone had their place. While aggression and unequal pay gaps are still a very serious problem, skating really is one of the few sports that champion community and self-expression. It is everywhere, and it’s clear that it is for everyone.