Aug 7, 2022

Marginalized people find community in skateboarding as sport becomes more open Transcript

Marginalized people find community in skateboarding as sport becomes more open Transcript
RevBlogTranscriptsinclusivityMarginalized people find community in skateboarding as sport becomes more open Transcript

Skateboarding’s popularity has skyrocketed since its early outsider origins, but for a lot of its history, the sport has seemed largely reserved for straight, white men. Read the transcript here.

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Speaker 1: (00:00)
Its popularity has skyrocketed since its early outsider origins, but for a lot of its history, there’s been a barrier around skateboarding itself. Learn the vernacular, the aesthetic, and of course, how to skate and you can gain admission, but that entrance has seemed largely reserved for white, heterosexual, men. Special correspondent, Christopher Booker, reports on how the closed off culture of skateboarding is becoming a lot more open.

Christopher Booker: (00:28)
In 1997, when Alexis Sablone was 11 years old, she convinced her parents to send her to Woodward, Pennsylvania, to attend what was at the time, one of the few skateboard camps in the world.

Alexis Sablone: (00:39)
I was the only girl in the entire camp. It was like, 600 guys and me.

Christopher Booker: (00:43)
Did that discourage you at all to be like, one of 600?

Alexis Sablone: (00:47)
No, I didn’t care at all. I was just excited to be there.

Christopher Booker: (00:52)
Having fallen in love with skateboarding the year before, Sablone was a minority in what was still a subculture. The X Games was only in its third year and Tony Hawk had not yet landed his famed 900 aerial spin move.

Alexis Sablone: (01:04)
It was just me, and guys would be like, “Oh my God, that’s the girl.” I hadn’t skated with other girls, but they’d never skated with a girl either, so to them, it was surprising, and then I was just one of the crew.

Christopher Booker: (01:18)
Well, not exactly. Sablone was exceptionally talented and driven. By 12, she had become a sponsored skateboarder and her 2002 appearance in the skateboard video, PJ Ladd’s Wonderful, Horrible, Life, established Sablone as one of the best female street skaters in the country. This was all happening as skateboarding’s visibility was creeping into mainstream culture. From video games to McDonald’s advertisements, skateboarding was everywhere and there were growing opportunities to do it professionally, at least for men.

Alexis Sablone: (01:46)
No one was knocking down my door saying, “We want to pay you to come out to the west coast and be a pro skater.” It doesn’t matter how good I get, I’m never going to be able to make a living off this or succeed here. It was just something you accepted.

Christopher Booker: (01:59)
But Sablone didn’t stop. Her path forged, not with corporate deals, but contests. Since she first entered the X Games in 2009, she has won seven medals. This kick flip, part of her first place win in 2012.

Speaker 4: (02:12)
Big kick flip.

Christopher Booker: (02:13)
Her contest skating helped pay for her undergraduate degree at Columbia and graduate degree at MIT, but it was not enough for a full-time career.

Alexis Sablone: (02:20)
For so long, you’d hear guy skaters talk about how everyone could learn from skateboarding. Skateboarding’s for everyone. For so long, that just wasn’t true. It left out girls and gay people and trans people and just go down the list.

Christopher Booker: (02:37)
But Sablone says for women, the skateboarding world looks very different than when she started. In recent years, large corporations have been putting more and more money behind female skaters. She now partners with Converse and has her own signature shoe. The interest starting a few years before Sablone became the oldest member of the first U.S. Women’s Olympic Skateboard Team.

Alexis Sablone: (02:56)
Now, it’s really starting to change, and I think social media is a huge reason that we’ve seen the growth we’ve seen because I think that it used to be like, there were these pockets of girls skating here and there, and there was no way for them to find each other really. Now, you have access to this global network, so that gives you some form of community, and then has also really helped build actual physical communities because it’s a lot easier to find people.

Christopher Booker: (03:25)
It was through social media that skater, Shauny Stamm, along with partners, Corey and Anne was able to start Pansy, a Brooklyn based group they describe as a skateboarding based mutual aid organization for trans and queer people.

Shauny Stamm: (03:38)
We basically just wanted to help create a safe space where we could meet people, where we can say, “Hey, there’s other people that want to skate that are maybe not your traditional skateboarder.” It’s super inclusive. It’s the most at home I felt ever, in my experience of doing anything.

Christopher Booker: (03:54)
Pansy holds monthly meetups in skate parks across the city that invites people to come skate, swap gear, and talk about issues within their community. Have you run across resentment? Are there anyone that’s basically saying, “We should just skate. We don’t need to bring in identity and identity discussions into this space?”

Shauny Stamm: (04:11)
Here and there we’ll have negative responses. There Skateboards put out a video called, Ruining Skateboarding, and it’s all about these amazing trans and queer skaters doing their own thing, and there was a really crazy response to it. A lot of transphobic comments, homophobic comments, but it was just the perfect example that they knew what they were doing. They knew they were going to put this video out and that people were going to get mad about it, but then, that’s kind of the whole point is skateboarding is a toy. We’re supposed to have fun and be together and be a community.

Christopher Booker: (04:38)
Why do you think skateboarding lends itself to this conversation and this type of effort?

Shauny Stamm: (04:45)
Skateboarders seek out skateboarding because it’s different, so because of that, I think that queer people and marginalized people seek out skateboarding because it’s different, and then we find each other within that.

Christopher Booker: (04:57)
But the expanding umbrella of skateboarding isn’t exclusive to gender, identity, or New York City.

Justin Bishop: (05:03)
I’ve been skating for 21 years, 16 years with sight and five without.

Christopher Booker: (05:09)
At 25, a degenerative eye disease took the last of Justin Bishop’s eyesight, and for four years he didn’t touch his skateboard, but then a friend suggested he try again.

Justin Bishop: (05:19)
Those four years that I wasn’t skating, I was lost. I didn’t really know who I was, and the minute I had skateboarding back, I was me again.

Christopher Booker: (05:28)
Recently, Grind for Life, an organization that raises money to help cancer patients with travel expenses, hosted an event for adaptive skaters. It was part of a broader effort by USA Skateboarding to get adaptive events into the 2028 Paralympic Games.

Justin Bishop: (05:42)
Yeah, the adaptive skateboarding world has been growing a lot. We have limb difference, amputee skaters, wheelchair skaters, deaf, blind, visually impaired.

Christopher Booker: (05:54)
Where do you think you are five years from now?

Justin Bishop: (05:56)
Five years from now? Hopefully, getting beat by new kids because if new kids don’t come up, then this was a gimmick, but if new kids come up and start beating us and start putting their foot in the skate park and start taking us out of the rankings, then it’s an adaptive sport. It’s always been, if you’re a skater, you’re a part of us, but now it’s like, if you’re a skater, we don’t care about anything. As long as you’re on a skateboard, you’re a part of our club.

Christopher Booker: (06:27)
For PBS News Weekend, I’m Christopher Booker.

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