Feature / Katherine Clemens

FEATURE: The Genders of Skateboarding

By Katherine Clemens

I have been skateboarding since I was six years old. My older brother never used his board, so I decided to pick it up one day and I never wanted to put it back down. It has always been my favorite physical activity, but there is one question that has troubled me since I began:

Why is it so rare to see a girl skateboarding?
I’ve always wondered about it. If I can do it, surely other girls can. I’ve always been pretty scrawny and fragile, I’m not terribly athletic, and it never feels good when I slam my body against the pavement. My love for the sport has always outweighed the trouble it has brought me, but why doesn’t this hold for many other members of my gender?
Guys always try to tell me that it’s because girls don’t like to get dirty. They don’t like to hurt themselves, dress down, or sweat. That’s obviously not true; there are plenty of other physical activities requiring blood, sweat, and tears that women dominate.
When I was younger, I believed what men said about it. I believed that women just couldn’t stand that feeling of salty sweat gliding through their disheveled hair as they take a slow motion nose dive straight into a ramp that feels like it’s made of fire, and standing up only to find that their legs are covered in bloody contusions and they’ve ripped their shirt. I believed that this feeling that I had become all too accustomed to was just a rare exception, and that I was just a weird girl and that was that. But then as I started to grow older, I realized something really important in the progression of what I’m trying to explain here. I noticed that as my body developed, no matter how often I skated, my skill significantly decreased. As time goes on and I get older, I get worse and worse no matter how much effort I put forth. I can think of an innumerable amount of tricks that I used to carry out flawlessly that I no longer even think about attempting in my wildest dreams. In this realization, I had the epiphany that it’s not that girls don’t like the thought of skateboarding; it’s that skateboard tricks are not designed for a woman’s body.
(I just want to take a quick second before I go on about the structure of a woman to acknowledge that I’m making generalizations about the shape and mass of the female body. I am not trying to offend anyone with this overview, but it is most easily explained as follows.)
The act of skateboarding presents a physical blockade for women. A female skater reaches a certain level where it becomes almost impossible for her to progress in her skill. There are exceptions to this, but they are few and far between. There are only 14 professional female skateboarders in the world, which is a very contemptible number. It’s safe to say that skateboarding is a predominantly male activity, and it has been developed over time by men. Because of this, most tricks are tailored for a man’s weight and body design, making it nearly impossible for a woman to be able to learn from a man. Skateboarding consists of a series of very precisely timed executions that a girl is left to determine all on her own through a painful series of trial and error. The whole process of performing a trick gets lost in translation when a male skater tries to instruct a female.
This can be extremely discouraging.
Simply put, men’s bodies can move in ways women’s can’t, and vice versa. A woman’s body structure is such that she has a low center of gravity, located in her lower abdominal region. Naturally, girls have heavier hips and a wider bone structure in their lower midsection. Men on the other hand have wider shoulders and a higher center of gravity. One might be tempted to think that a woman would be at an advantage when skateboarding because of this. There are occasional times where this can work to her advantage. However, this is rarely the case for two very good reasons: momentum and force of gravity.
Momentum is a matter of force and velocity. As momentum resists alteration, a person with more weight will gain more momentum than someone who weighs less. A greater amount of force is primarily needed, but the person will use less energy when they begin moving due to a combination of inertia and momentum conservation.
Force of gravity increases in relation to body weight. Gravity pulls on the skateboard to augment speed. The faster a person goes, the higher in the air he or she is able to go. The higher a skateboarder can go means the more time there is for the skater to execute a trick.
So, these matters of momentum and gravity suggest that because a man is typically heavier/has more mass and a heightened ability to exert necessary force, he is able to attain more time to execute tricks. This is where the woman is at her biggest disadvantage because since men created the sport, it’s tailored for the specific amount of momentum and airtime that they can achieve. It is significantly more difficult for a woman to achieve this airtime. Although a woman’s lower body is fairly on par with a man’s, her upper body very rarely is because of her bone structure. Women tend to have fewer muscle fibers, making it difficult to achieve the mass of a man’s muscles. Men also have the aid of testosterone, which helps to build necessary lean body mass. Women do have the ability achieve a similar body mass, but it requires immense and enduring dedication.
While watching the video I’ve provided, it’s very easy to see the difference in my skateboarding compared to my friend. While we are both putting forth the same amount of effort, he has a much easier time gaining the necessary speed and height. To use a very noticeable example, the “ollie” is the most basic skateboarding trick there is. The term is used to describe when someone pops themselves and their board into the air without the use of their hands. The ollie is the basis of almost all tricks that involve the skater leaving the ground. The ollie comes down to three things:
1.      The weight of the skater.
2.      Force of gravity on the skateboard.
3.      Force of the ground pushing up on the skateboard.
As you can see, his is much higher than mine even though we both exerted the same amount of energy. It’s not that I can’t do it, I just can’t achieve the height that he can. I would need to be moving very fast for that to happen, and even then it’s not a guarantee that I would attain the same height.
So, all in all, it’s not to say that girls can’t skateboard or don’t want to skateboard. It’s just an extreme challenge for the female body to be successful, and it is constantly discouraging. But the way I look at it, that’s all the more reason for girls to develop the sport and modify it in a way that better suits the female body.
 Katherine Clemens is a freshman at Champlain College. She can be reached at katherine.clemens@mymail.champlain.edu
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