It was a blistering hot day on July 26, 2021. But the day was made even more intense as spectators congregated at Ariake Urban Sports Park in Tokyo, Japan to witness the Olympic debut of skateboarding.
When it was officially announced in August 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, fans and athletes alike were ecstatic to hear that skateboarding will finally be represented on the global stage. And with the inclusion of the female category, it proves that skateboarding is a sport that is ready to embrace inclusivity.
Female Skateboarding on the Global Stage
Before the Olympics, women have long been competing in skateboarding events professionally. However, despite the undeniable skills that female skateboarders have demonstrated in such events, women in skateboarding are still largely underrepresented.
But when the Tokyo 2020 Olympics gave the spotlight to female skateboarding, the stigma surrounding women skaters has changed significantly. Truly, it was a refreshing change to the sport that was - for so many years - dominated by the likes of Tony Hawk, Bam Margera, and Bucky Lasek.
The success of young female skaters such as Momiji Nishiya, who won the gold medal for last year’s Olympics, has set the stage for many people to see that just like men, women can also skate. At just 13 years old at the time of her victory, Nishiya made headlines all over the world for being Japan’s youngest Olympic gold medallist. More impressively, she is also one of the youngest winners in the Olympics history itself.
Her final three tricks helped her to secure the win, finishing the competition with a score of 15.26. Brazil’s Rayssa Leal, who was only a few months younger than Nishiya, and Japan’s Funa Nakayama won silver and bronze respectively. The U.S. women’s skateboarding team also brought in familiar names such as Mariah Duran, Jordyn Barratt, Alana Smith, Brighton Zeuner, Alexis Sablone, and Bryce Wettstein - each of them demonstrating heart-stopping tricks that were achieved through years of hard work and training.
Breaking the Stigma
“I honestly think that skateboarding should be a mixed sport,” Skater Agathe Moreau said. “There is no reason that women shouldn’t be able to have the same skill level as men do.”
Agathe, who lives in France, started skateboarding in early 2019. When she received her first skateboard, her passion for the sport didn’t develop right away. It was until she started practicing every night that she discovered her love for skateboarding. In her YouTube channel, Agathe documents her skate progression while demonstrating easy, beginner-friendly tricks.
As you go over her vlogs that she uploaded throughout the years, it was impressive how much Agathe has improved. From watching her perform those flip kicks and ollies, it would be easy to think that she has been skating all her life. And it’s all thanks to her fearless and never-give-up attitude.
“When I started skateboarding, I was alone. I didn’t have any friends to skate with,” Agathe recalled. “But it didn’t bother me that much. Unlike some people, I wasn’t that much scared to skate in parks in front of dozens of other skaters.”
While some beginner skaters would often shudder with the thought of practicing their tricks publicly in fear of being ridiculed or mocked, Agathe didn’t let the idea faze her. In fact, she feels that skating publicly is the only way - especially for women skaters - to overcome the fear and discomfort.
“I know it can be complicated, many have been there,” Agathe said. “But you should really ignore those people who are looking at you. Every skater was once a beginner and no one should be discouraged before even starting.”
Skaters who feel the need for speed would sometimes find themselves turning to downhill skateboarding. It is a sport that is definitely not for the faint-hearted, as it requires you to ride a longboard down a steep hill at high speeds.
And one female skater, in particular, is making waves in this sport. As the champion of the 2019 European Women’s Downhill, Lisa Peters is no stranger to winning. In 2017, she bagged first place in the Transylvania Freeride World Race in Romania. In 2018, she placed second at the Kozakov Downhill Challenge in Czech Republic and went on to participate in two more events in Romania and Belgium.
Lisa has been skating since 2014. At first, she only used her skateboard to go from one place to another. When she finally got the hang of her board, she tried doing some easy tricks until YouTube videos led her to discover downhill skateboarding.
Lisa Peters in action (Photo: Lisa Peters)
“When I saw videos of people going downhill on epic mountain roads, I knew it,” Lisa said. “That’s something I want to learn. Even though I live in the Netherlands which is really flat, we have a surprisingly big community of Dutch downhill skaters. When I met them, that’s when I learned how to brake. We call it a slide which makes the wheels drift over the pavement and slows you down.”
To improve her skills, Lisa started practicing on small hills around Amsterdam. In 2016, she attended her first event in Slovenia. A beginner at that time, she found the roads hectic and often tumultuous but her unparalleled dedication paved the way for Lisa to make it through the event.
Wanting to see how far she could go, Lisa competed in more races all across Europe ultimately cementing her status as a force to be reckoned with in the sport of downhill skateboarding.
“In 2019, I became 1st at every European event and could proudly call myself as a European champion,” Lisa proudly shared.
But her journey to where she is now doesn’t always come easy. Like any athlete, Lisa admits that she always has a bit of fear and stress every time she drops onto a road. However, she has a gift to turn these emotions into her advantage as fear and stress teach her to be more careful and calculating of her every move. But nevertheless, they weren’t something that mental and physical preparation couldn’t overcome.
“I stretch my legs and visualize the road,” Lisa said. “I like to think, usually when I’m alone, on how to take the first corner. Then, I take a few deep breaths. Once I’m done, I can push all my focus on the road and on the other skaters. Enjoying the magical views also helps.”
As a sport that relies on speed, maneuverability, and focus, skaters need to protect themselves during downhill races. Lisa, with her experience in countless races, notes that a small mistake slows you down, or worse, you could end up crashing.
This is why Lisa stresses the importance of head protection. “You will definitely fall a few times before you learn it,” Lisa said.
Participants would usually wear helmets, either full-face or half-shell, to keep themselves safe from any possible impact or head injury. Hip-pads, although sometimes an underrated part of downhill skateboarding protection, are also useful to shield the hips and waist area when a skater falls over. Knee pads, strong pants, slide gloves, spine protectors, elbow pads, and grip soles are also the other essential pieces of gear needed to minimize the risk of injuries.
When you’re turning corners at 40mph and something gets in your eyes, it could lead to less than ideal situations. This is one of the reasons why skaters, often those who opt to wear half-shell helmets, rely on sunglasses or goggles to shield their eyes from the harsh sunlight and other elements that could get in the way of performing their very best.
From a sport that started out as a way for surfers to have something to surf on when the waves were flat to a sport that has been recognized by the mainstream media, skateboarding has surely come a long way. In the past, however, it was considered as a sport that’s dominated by men - at least, that was how the mainstream eyes saw it.
But with the decision of the Olympics committee to include the women’s division in the skateboarding event debut as well as the recognition of women skaters in organizations such as the International Downhill Federation, it is slowly becoming clear that it’s breaking the barriers of gender.
For young girls and women who have always wanted to try skateboarding but are still having second thoughts, Agathe shares this advice: “Don’t have second thoughts! Do it. You have nothing to lose. Skateboarding is a life-saver for me. It’s such a fun and free environment. People in skate parks are truly caring and everyone helps each other. In my opinion, it is probably a sport with the most freedom and diversity.”
Lisa, on the other hand, has some advice for those who are interested in downhill skateboarding: “Try to get used to your skateboard first. You have to feel comfortable cruising around before you drop down a steep road. Search on the internet if there are other downhill skateboarders in your local area so they can teach you the basic steps.”