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Back in the days it was not easy to be a girl skateboarder

An interview with Steffi Wolter, Imke Leerink, and Vanessa Konte

Female skateboarding is booming and there’s an increasing number of workshops getting even more young girls on board. For example Vans initiated a workshop at the North Brigade in Cologne this weekend and if you live in Berlin you can participiate in part two of the workshop at the Skatehalle Berlin on the 3rd of August. To get a bit of info about the event we talked to the legendary Steffi Wolter, German Champion Vanessa Konte, and Imke Leerink from @girlsshred and because they kind of represent three generations of female skateboarding we took the opportunity to also chat about how female skateboarding evolved and what has still to be done.

Can you introduce yourself please?

Imke: I’ve been skating for ten years and then I got a prettey sever knee injury. I’m still dealing with the aftermath. During the injury @girlsshred became even bigger. For me it’s good to have this outlet. I can roll a little now but I can’t do tricks anymore. So I put my passion into @girlsshred. Besides that I work fulltime as a floormanager at Blue Tomato.

Vanessa: I’ve been skating for about seven years. I don’t know how it even started. It came along with buying a Penny board. What I love about skateboarding ist that you meet so many people and have so much fun.

Steffi: I’m skating for 25 years now. I was one of the first German pro skateboarders and the first woman on the cover of Kingpin. By that time that was quite revolutionary. I worked for Vans for over 17 years. Then there was a break with a little family time and now I’m finding my way back to skateboarding. The whole movement especially of girls skateboarding is so great. It gets more and more inclusive and that’s what I love to see, cause this is skateboarding. It’s really inclusive. If you’re a skateboarder you find your tribe in every city around the world. There are no borders. To see that there is so much color and motivation in skateboarding at all levels and with all genders inspired me a lot the last months. That made me think about what I can give back so I quit my other job and went back into skateboarding. For the first time in like five years I got back for a real session at the girls session at North Brigade and I saw how close all the girls were. One girl was goth, the other girls was trans, it was so colorful and empowering so that motivated me to put all my energy into the skateboarding family again.

Steffiportrait

Steffi Wolter

"The whole movement especially of girls skateboarding is so great. It gets more and more inclusive and that’s what I love to see, cause this is skateboarding. It’s really inclusive. If you’re a skateboarder you find your tribe in every city around the world."

Skateboarding made a big change over the decades.

S: Back in the days it was not easy to be a girl skateboarder. You had to be down with some people or a crew to be accepted. Otherwise it was really hard to have the guts to show up at a spot. And skateboarding was also hard for homosexuals. There were no gay people skating cause they weren’t accepted in the community. That changed and that’s what I love to see in skateboarding cause that’s what I believe skateboarding really is. It is about having a good sessions together, wether you’re a man, woman, trans or whatever.

Because you’re three generations of skateboarding, do you all feel like skateboarding has changed and opened up or was it for you Vanessa already like this when you started?

V: When I started for two years I didn’t go to a park when there were people. So I wasn’t in the skate scene and didn’t know what was going on. But as soon as I got to know more people it was a whole new skate world for me. And there was definitely a change going on. Three or four years ago I realized that there are more girls and now it’s super normal that everybody is into skateboarding and it’s super colorful. But for me it was always inclusive and everybody was accepted. But what changed is the amount of girls.

I: I started skating in 2004 and it was hard to find people to skate with. I started with girls but whenever they fell they quit right away. So I skated with guys and after a few years I saw a few girls skating, which was not normal by then. Sometimes when I went to a skatepark it felt like as if I didn’t belong there, if you didn’t have you’re own crew, like Steffi said. But now it is super normal to see girls in skateparks. I love to see that everybody is skating together. The guys are really inclusive, the vibe gets better and I think skating together is better than just with girls, cause we learn from each other. It’s beautiful to see how it grew but it took years.

Imkeportrait

Imke Leerink

"I love to see that everybody is skating together. The guys are really inclusive, the vibe gets better and I think skating together is better than just with girls, cause we learn from each other."

Your right, it has been a long way and somehow I feel like female skating was on a certain level back in the days with Elissa Steamer or Marisa Dal Santo but then there was no progress for quite a while till all of a sudden it exploded. Do you see it the same and what do you think are the reasons for that?

S: I totally agree. It’s just a guess but at some point the whole skate industry changed and the whole scene stopped growing for a bit. And also that everybody was able to dress how they wanted and express themselves as they wanted was not just a skateboarding thing but also a general thing around the world. All of a sudden influencers on social media were showing their pimples or fat rolls. That trickled down to skateboarding that you’re no longer ashamed about who you are and don’t care what other people think about you. Leticia Bufoni for example was the first girl who was so proud of herself and showing that on instagram in hotpants or whatever. You could not think of that 20 years ago. In skateboarding girls all of a sudden go to the skatepark in bras and short pants and are like: “I’m not a bitch, I’m not a slut, I just go there and skate!” The self confidence is so strong right now and you have a whole variety. You also have street skateboarders like Alexis Sablone for example.

I: I think there’s also another side cause when it started, the industry didn’t pay as much attention as they do now. It already was starting but because the focus was not on women a lot of people didn’t see the potential. But at some point it had to happen that Nora Vasconcellos for example got on adidas cause you couldn’t close your eyes anymore to the level of women’s skating with the X-Games and everything going on. Now they get more attention which helps it exploding even more.

V: Whe I started I only knew a handful skateboarders from the US and they were all a certain type: contest skaters like Leticia. Now if you look on instagram you see all different kinds of styles. For me that’s amazing cause first I thought if you’re a professional skateboarder you have to be like Leticia but now you also see somebody like Fabiana Delfino and they’re so different. So now you can find your own style and know that it will be accepted.

When I talk to women my age, we have the same idea of skateboarding. Full length videos, reading mags, filming VX and stuff like that. When I talk to younger girls, most of them don’t even know videoparts or mags or whatever and they don’t care. They just enjoy skateboarding. Is there a generation gap?

V: When I started I didn’t have a clue about anything. I knew that there might be mags but I didn’t have access. I wasn’t really living the skatelife for the first three years. Only lately I understood what is really going on with mags and parts and that you can look to some old stuff and experience the whole stuff around skateboarding. Before I didn’t know much because there was instagram and you could already see a ton of stuff and that’s what I knew. Now that I know that there’s magazines and stuff it gets a lot more interesting. Before I was only in this instagram bubble.

I: I think it’s also personal preference. Cause a lot of my friends, doesn’t really matter which gender, hardly ready any magazines or watch parts. Some don’t even know all the tricks. They’re just skating. And then I have a lot of friends who are real skate nerds. But also what Vanessa says, everything is on social media now. It’s fast and everybodys attention span is a lot shorter so some don’t have the time for a longer video. But I think it’s personal.

But social media also has helped female skateboarding a lot. Without it it would not be as big by now. Also your account @girlsshred is way bigger than most skatemag accounts. How did you start and what do you want to present on your account?

I: I started way back in 2007 on Myspace because when I started skateboarding I only knew a few girls in the Netherlands and I wanted to connect with them. I never expected it to grow but when instagram started it started to grow more. At some point girls started to connect through the platform. I don’t know how it grew that big but I think this community was needed to have the motivation and connection together. And it’s amazing to see all the girls connecting and getting to know each other through events and meet ups.

Vanessaportrait

Vanessa Konte

"Whe I started I only knew a handful skateboarders from the US and they were all a certain type: contest skaters like Leticia. Now if you look on instagram you see all different kinds of styles. For me that’s amazing."

Meet ups or workshops weren’t a thing back in the days. You were expected to learn it yourself. Nowadays it’s more a cooperative thing where people help each other. Why do you think that changed?

I: I think there are still girls that don’t feel accepted when they go to the skatepark and there are only guys. So girls at some point needed that motivation and acceptance from each other. And the more they get into the scene they get more confident and see that everyone is doing their thing without being judged.

S: Nowadays if you come to a spot as a beginner you will not be judged by the level of your skating. Back in the days, if you arrived as a beginner – no chance. Nowadays you get welcomed with open arms if you want to start skating and people really try to help you. If you want to learn it, you’re welcome. Back in the days when I came to a new town I was able to do a few tricks and was accepted right away. But if a girl couldn’t do a kickflip or something, it was really hard. And when I see social media content from girls who do just basic stuff they get props from everybody. Before you kind of had to match the level of the boys to get props. I enjoy seeing that now and that’s also what I really love about Imke’s platform, cause they celebrate the first kickflip or first pop-shove it.

Talking about hypeing up people for their first tricks. That’s something you do in the workshop as well. Can you explain what will happen there?

S: We will offer an open coaching. We will have Vanessa, Kim Wibbelt, Nora Meinhardt and Diana Kränsel as coaches. Everybody can come and ask the coaches to progress on a certain trick. We make a little game out of it and you get rewarded if you stick the trick and Imke will cover that on her platform.

What else besides skateboarding is happening there?

S: In the workshop section we will tie dye shirts together. You can bring your old shirts or jackets and we make them fresh. This is not only for the girls, this is for everybody.

Vanessa how you approach the coaching?

V: If there’s any problem they can come to me and hopefully I can help. Even if it’s just telling them that they can do it. Sometimes it’s not even about landing the trick but rather about getting over your fear and trying it. If it doesn’t work you’re still a step further.

Imke, what will you be doing?

I: Like Steffi said, two girls can form a team and if they nail a trick they get a price and I’ll capture those moments, which hopefully motivates them more.

You mentioned that the workshop is open for all genders. Was that important for you? And do you think girls only sessions and safe spaces are still needed or is it slowly coming to a point where everybody can just skate together?

S: For this event we decided that it is our mission to bring everyone together. But for the beginning we wanted to have a safe space so the coaching is girls only and then we open it and there is still a lot of time for everybody to skate together.

I: I think it’s still important to have safe spaces, but when girls feel comfortable skating in mixed groups it’s way better. Then you can go to the skatepark alone. It’s important for girls to see that there is a lot of support from guys, too.

Are there more events planned?

S: It depends on how successful it will be but it’s planned to do it pan European.

In which direction you think female skateboarding will grow and what has still to change?

I: What I hope is that there is more coverage cause there’s still a lot that hasn’t been covered. And I hope that in the end it is not girls only, but we have one big family. That everybody just has fun with this piece of wood.

V: I totally agree. What I also wanted to add is that it’s important to have safe spaces in the beginning. But what I noticed is that if some girls found each other they tend to separate from the guys or the scene cause the mindset is that guys might look at them in a bad way. But I think it’s super important to tell beginners right from scratch that there are all the safe space events but that you also shouldn’t separate from the guys, because if that’s happening there will be girls skateboarding and guys skateboarding and no skateboarding together.

S: I see it the same. If you look at it from a professional level at the Olympics for example the girls will be judged with the same system then the guys. Of course there is still a difference but the progress in female skateboarding is so gnarly that it gets closer and closer. So it’s good to have the mindset that women can get on the same level and so also the price money will be even.

I said in the beginning that it’s kinda like three generations of skateboarding here so my final questionis: Who are your favorite female skaters of past, present and future?

S: Elissa was one of my favorites back then. Now it’s Alexis and for the future maybe Jenn Soto.

I: Past for me is Jessie van Roechoudt. She was the first girl I saw in a skatemag. Right now I really like Mariah Duran but also Jenn Soto. She’s kind of an underdog and has a lot of awesome tricks. And who’s also crazy is Rayssa Leal.

V: For me past would be Vanessa Torres. Now Fabiana Delfino. Future is super hard, cause there are so many good girls, but I’d also say Rayssa Leal, cause her skateboarding right now is insane.

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