Femmes across the (skate)board
Local project creating skate friendly spaces for LGBTQ+ folks
It’s funny how one person following through with their inspiration tends to spark the same drive in others. In Alejandra Cabrera’s case, it happened through an old acquaintance finding a new passion in skateboarding with a femme-friendly group in Vancouver.
Cabrera had skated in high school but dropped it soon after, and hearing about this group prompted some introspection. Skateboarding is and always has been a very male-dominated sport. During an interview with Cabrera I asked her how she found the atmosphere at the skate park. “There’s no room for women to learn,” she said with exasperation. “You’re either there to watch your boyfriend or you’re already a pro.” There’s not space for people from this femme/non-binary demographic, and there’s even less space for femme LGBTQ+ individuals.
Inspired as she was, Cabrera put the idea out on social media in early spring of this year for a skateboarding group for women, femmes, and non-binary-identifying people to get together and learn in a safe and constructive environment. The interest shown both by friends and strangers was overwhelming, and she realized that in order to get a group going she had to take the first step. “I can’t just put that out there and wait for someone else to do it,” she said with a laugh. Femmes Across the Board (FAB) started in May, and over the summer months there were upwards of twenty individuals ranging from six years old to people in their thirties who wanted to explore this new group’s potential and see what they had to offer.
Cabrera had asked around for boards and equipment so that people could try out the sport before investing in a set up, but unfortunately she found little local support initially. However, in the last several months through connections with Tiki Room and Vans, Femmes Across the Board has acquired both safety gear and boards so that those just wanting to try can experiment, and those unable to afford a set-up can participate. They were able to use this equipment and the connections to run a skateboarding workshop for YWCA’s Power of Being a Girl camp in July. Girls ages 8-14 had the opportunity to try some flatground riding with safety equipment and full instruction. Cabrera said that though there was initial hesitation from most of the group, they were all getting involved and cheering each other on by the end of the workshop.
“Who knows if they ever would’ve had that opportunity before,” she commented, as it’s not often that girls are encouraged to try “rough-and-tough” sports, but through this program they were introduced to a new passion and field of expression. Cabrera is excited for more like-opportunities in the future, and said she is “willing to take it anywhere” in order to make a difference for local youth and adults alike.
With the help of an organization called Rising Youth, she applied for and received a grant of $1,500. Rising Youth has a variety of grants up for grabs at any given time, and Cabrera said “…they made it possible that I could apply and do it successfully,” answering every question promptly and making the whole process smooth as could be. The grant itself is intended to be used by non-profits or donated, and FAB chose to put it into the community by having shirts printed through Articulate Ink as a way to boost their current sense of community and to start conversations with people day-to-day who might be curious. The shirts are designed to mimic biker-gang style, with the name of the group across the top, area codes 306 and 639 listed for location, andTreaty 4 land being acknowledged.
Femmes Across the Board has welcomed people from every walk of life and from many racial backgrounds, with a zero-tolerance policy for racism, sexism, and just about any other intolerant-“isms” out there (the group is a sisterhood, not a “cis-terhood”). In a city with few social events that don’t involve alcohol, the group also offers the option of a sober activity, free of charge, where you can learn a new skill and cash in on some free endorphins with the exercise and positive environment.
“If you don’t go out to the bar, where else to you meet people our age?” was a question Cabrera posed, and unfortunately in Regina there’s not many options – especially for people in their teens and twenties with very little expendable income.
Another issue Cabrera brought to light was the lack of lighting in our public skate parks, and a gross shortage of indoor locations that our winters in this province necessitate. Sunset tends to happen around 7 p.m. in September which leaves very little time for groups like this to get sessions in after their participants get off work or out of school. They’re already having to cut meets short, and with permanent snow being mere weeks away (sorry for the reminder) they’re in search of a place to continue this group and the sense of community it provides. Cabrera sent an email to the property owners of the Wascana Skateboard Plaza where they meet for their sessions to inquire about getting lights put in and never received a response, but noticed new benches put in shortly after (isn’t that just making more space for ladies to watch their boyfriends skate instead of getting involved? Who’s to say…).
On a high note, Cabrera said their presence has become much more welcome at the Plaza in the past few months, and they’ve welcomed many newcomers including girls who used to watch from the sidelines and a few guys who wanted a safe, constructive space to learn in. An unfortunate staple of skate culture is explosive anger when a maneuver can’t be mastered, which is intimidating in all the wrong ways. The folks at FAB, rather than focusing their decks, focus on constructive criticism and coaching that builds confidence as much as it builds skill.
“When someone finally lands that trick or makes it down that scary ramp, we’re all cheering.”