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Sage Wilson stands at the edge of the bowl at Northside Skate park. She looks down at the empty pool below, leans into her board, and then feels herself pull back in hesitation again. Twenty minutes have passed since she decided to face her months-long aspiration of dropping in to an outside park’s bowl after her introduction to skateboarding in November, and now she isn’t sure if today will be the day. She’s in her head. She wants to leave. Voices alongside her echo encouragement. She’s held her best friends’ hands and slid into the concrete; they helped her learn the motions and picked her up when her knees collided with the ground.  “Do it on three!” a voice calls out to her. “You can do it! Don’t think about it! Just count to three and just fucking go!” She breathes, counts to three, and hits the concrete for a smooth sail up to the adjacent wall. Screams fill the skate park, and Sage’s spirit noticeably shifts. She’s lighter. Near tears, she digs herself out of the pool and hugs each of the women who encouraged her, and they film her as she drops in to the once insurmountable obstacle again and again. Everyone is proud. It’s obvious that this feat represented overcoming much more.

“I really needed this,” Sage said as she sat on her board to catch her breath. “I’ve been in a dark place. I really, really needed this.”

Born as a subculture that propagates creativity outside the host of regulations typically observed in other sports, skateboarding holds with it a reputation of rebellion and danger. Its essence as an unregulated and unbounded physical freedom caused the sport to be unevenly accepted since its birth in the 60s, both as a valid sport and as a valid lifestyle. This biased dynamic continues in many towns and cities that are without skate parks and that have strict street regulations. Accessibility exists as one of the sustaining principles and one of the most esteemed aspects of the sport. One does not necessarily need an empty pool to skate the way a soccer player needs a field, though it certainly makes an impact. Fort Collins alone boasts the existence of five skate parks intertwined within the many that reside in Colorado, but many argue that accessibility to the activity should not stop with Olympic acknowledgment and multitudes of outside parks alongside the 1-25 corridor. In honor of the legacy of Peggy Oki, Cara-Beth Burnside, Hillary Thompson, Lyn-Z, and many other women who have traversed and personified the bounds of skateboarding and its culture, a group of Fort Collins women are grinding on the pavement laid down for them by their badass historic sisters and thus embodying what makes the sport intrinsically righteous.

Each month, the group meets at The Launch Creative Center, affectionately referred to as Launch Skate Park, or by locals, simply as “Launch”. Launch is one of Northern Colorado’s only indoor skate parks and is the headquarters of Launch: Community Through Skateboarding, a 501c3 non-profit organization that aims to empower others to “better themselves and the community through skateboarding.” The park hosts an array of activities throughout the month, from open skate nights, to beginner’s classes, to build-your-own-skateboard workshops, and one ladies-only night per month that is offered for women, girls, non-binary, and transgender individuals to hone the craft independently of a typically man-dominated space.

The night was advocated for by Launch employee Erica Vetsch, who has been skating since 2016 and saw a gender gap in the sport. A Ladies Night already existed that focused primarily on roller derby, but Erica found a specific need to make an additional space for skateboarders.

“I feel like skateboarding was more stigmatized than roller-derby for chicks, so I wanted to have safe space to work on that because I knew a lot of people who wanted to learn,” Erica said.  “I’d been skating for a year or so, and I had kind of gotten over that stigma because my friends forced me to. But not everyone has that group of friends who will make you get out there and do the thing. I was like, ‘I want you to have access to that group of people who will make you get out there and do the thing!’ So, I talked to Andy, who is the owner of Launch. We get the space for one night a month, and it’s been going really well. A lot of people are showing up, and they’re feeling great about it, and doing the thing. It was all about noticing we didn’t have the space for our community to grow.”

Although Erica acquired many friends who valued and encouraged her as she integrated herself into the skating community, she also acquired unsettling experiences of having her skills belittled, inappropriate advances, or the simple refusal to share the space with individual men. Intentional or otherwise, these negative and sometimes unsafe experiences identified to her a need for a learning space without them. Ariana Feist, another member of the ladies crew and Erica’s best friend, once received a concussion from a man who, after acknowledging her latency in the bowl, almost dropped in on top of her. While skating at multiple outside parks around town, Erica found the beginning of her skating odyssey consistently interrupted by comments about her body, her and her friend’s skill level, and strangers asking for her number or seeking her out through Facebook or other social media platforms to send her unsolicited messages.

Once, after a skate trip, Ariana and Erica decided to hit Northside to monumentalize a successful week of skating in multiple cities. They were met with an intoxicated man who threw them a slew of inappropriate comments that included announcing that he wondered how good Erica “would look riding something else.”

Erica acknowledges that men at the skate park absolutely have to deal with their own discomfort and valid grievances: combating the need to perform adequately for “look what I can do” culture and feeling the pressures to stylistically impress others. However, she asserts, women and femme skaters often bear a contrasting experience where they must persevere through interruptive and sometimes debilitating predatory inflictions while trying to do what they love. They are adversely and uniquely accused of not loving the craft genuinely and only participating in skating as an appendage of men’s interests.

“When I first started skating, a bunch of my friends thought I was doing it to impress me ex-boyfriend,” Erica said. “I was like, ‘That’s an extremely weird thing to say. That’s definitely not what this is.’ And then when I did start skating, he told me that it was, ‘great that he got me into it.’ I was like, ‘You didn’t!’ A guy didn’t need to tell me how cool skateboarding would be.”

Sage Wilson has been skating with the skate night ladies since October after a breakup resulted in the loss of a support network to continue comfortably skating. Lost and seeing the pursuit of the craft as necessary for her wellbeing, she relied on her faith in the universe to bring her another avenue. According to Sage, skateboarding is a need and vital mental outlet, and her asks of the universe were certainly answered.

“We’re relatively new and we’re kind of just in our own world,” Sage said. “We’re not trying to do stuff for the gram or filming it. We’re really trying to get better for us.”

Ariana celebrated her first year of skating on March 30th. After initially leaving several skate parks without even an attempt due to the intimidating environment and presence of many people whose skillsets were molded by years of practice, she began her skating journey at a Ladies Skate Night. For many of the girls and women who attend, the monthly night aids in laying down foundations to bypass intimidation outside the space by armoring them with confident skills. Now, with the women she’s met through the program and the prowess she has acquired as a result, ripping it at the skate park is a much more inviting feeling.

“It definitely feels safer to go to a park with the ladies, because if anything happens, everyone has got each other’s backs. If anyone says shit we’ll be like, ‘What? What do you want?’” Ariana said. “I feel like in the little community that we have, everyone’s out there for each other and everybody is in tune with where everyone’s at. We know everyone’s skill level, we know what everyone is trying to learn…When first I went to Ladies Skate Night, I learned to drop in on the first night, so Ladies Skate Night is kind of the only reason I started skating and really had the balls to do it.”

Ariana admits some of her previous discouragement in the scene stems from a feeling of involuntary intimidation due to seeing young, exceedingly proficient boys kill it at skate parks and feeling consequently disenfranchised by backwards narratives of what people socialized as girls are ‘allowed’ to do as children. Her apprehension is echoed throughout the group of women, many of whom are starting the sport in their late teens or early 20s. The exception of Nora, a 15-year-old who comes from a family of skaters and inspires and empowers her peers with a daring vert style.

Sage finds particular comfort in the group’s representation and understanding of a late start.

“I love that Erica has brought this together because there are not many places other than Cali that you hear about a huge girl scene,” said Sage. “It’s fine to just skate by yourself, but when you have been skating with boys who have been skating since they were fucking out of the womb, it’s just not the same. You feel really self-conscious and guarded and like you can’t let go. Skating with girls who are just as new as you, or even with girls like Erica or Nora who have been skating for years, it’s really dope, and I feel so blessed.” 

Even though she spent the first twenty years of her life in the mecca of skate culture, California-born Ladies Skate Night attendee Anna Herrera still found herself to be alienated from aspects of the scene. She wasn’t introduced to skate parks until the unfortunate passing of her friend whose memorial service began at their local skate park. There, she found herself inspired by the way his life was so intertwined with and bettered by the space. When she was twelve, she only cruised on her board, admitting it was scary to skate without someone else with her to guide her or learn with her, and has skated on and off for years now due to this lack of community.

“I probably saw one girl once, and I was so excited. I was like, ‘Oh my god, there’s a girl! I’m going to go up to her. I’m going to say what’s up. I’m going to be like, ‘Hey, do you want to skate with me?’” said Anna. “And she was super new at skating, too, so we were just riding around the park together, and it was just a super dope time. Yeah, the guys at the park were super supportive and were like, ‘Yeah! You can holly! Do it Anna!’ but they were already so good, I was kind of discouraged.”

Both Erica and Sage felt boxed in by their upbringings, as they were discouraged from stereotypically “masculine” activities and dress despite their drive and natural tendency to defy dated perceptions.

“It’s a great anger outlet. You fall into fucking concrete and it really wakes you up and gets you out of your head, out of your own way,” Sage said. “When a girl can get out of her own way and let go, it’s the most beautiful thing, and they just look like art. They’re just carving it, and it’s beautiful. Boys are beautiful angel boys when they skate, too, but it’s just different, especially since I know these girls and I know they’re stressing about school and work or whatever else…What I love about Nora is that she brings in a force; this freedom that she expresses in herself. And I’m thinking that if I’m around these people, I must have the ability to express myself in that way, there’s just a block. Even though I keep breaking it down, brick after brick, I still know that there’s so much there. But I know that the people you are around are reflections of you. So, If I’m around people who can bring that energy, then I can bring that shit, too. That makes me feel really good about myself, like I’m not just a little fragile girl. Skateboarding makes me want to bring the heat.”

Sage admitted that her parents are now grateful she has found means of escape and purpose that contributes heavily to her wellbeing. They tell her that they are sorry for their lack of previous encouragement. She expresses dissatisfaction with the activities that girls are so thinly allotted such a dance, ballet, and, cheerleading, asserting that being limited to these kinds of activities confines girls to expectations of perfection, while skateboarding encompasses a valuable permission for disarray and creativity. The activity encompasses many styles, including slalom, freestyle, street, Cali, ledges and more, and this allows for artistic freedom and agency.

“It’s really sad that we’re so often sending a message saying, ‘No, this is for boys, and you can’t do that.’ Boys get to be free but girls can’t? That doesn’t make sense,” Sage said. “I’m convinced that because women are so powerful – even men who are with it can see it – that the moment we unlock that and really break down the barriers and the boxes, the world better watch out.”

Anna’s pre-Colorado life included being a major part of her family business as a celebrity dog behaviorist for such stars as Pierce Brosnan and Hayley Kiyoko, and but as she grew older, she didn’t find herself fulfilled. After a hard break up and an invite from a friend from her past, she packed her skateboard and moved to Colorado.

“I was in a really bad time of my life when I first started skateboarding. That was kind of the only thing that made me happy,” Anna confided. “Whenever I stepped on that board, I would just get that sense of freedom that I just couldn’t get anywhere else.”

For many of the members of the ladies skate group, the passionate freedom of skating has contributed to critical aspects of their livelihood. Along with the feeling of recovery and control that skating gave to her, Anna acquired new passion about her future. She is currently going to school online to earn a degree in design. She hopes to open her own business illustrating decks. Arianna also used skateboarding as an outlet to overcome emotional turmoil after a bad breakup and now uses it as an avenue for celebration.

“Anytime I got super sad and started isolating myself, I’d just be like, ‘Fuck it, I’m just going to go jam out at the skate park,’” Arianna said. “It has definitely brought a new light into my life. It’s made me feel way more grounded; having a thing to do when the shit gets rough or even when the shits not rough.”

Erica says that skating gave her insight into how she wants to live and feel about herself.“A lot of people say shit like this, but I really do think that skateboarding has kind of saved my life,” Erica said. “It’s not like I was going to die or anything, but I feel that ever since I started doing this I’m a lot more comfortable with who I am. I’ve learned a lot about myself in this time period. And it’s also a really amazing outlet for people who might struggle with mental illnesses. It’s cool to have something productive to do where you can push yourself, have that non-structured persistence, and kind of do whatever the fuck you want.”

Audible from Launch’s gravel parking lot, the booming effervescence of a Ladies Skate Night seeps through the front doors. Anything from Dolly Parton’s Jolene to Blue Face’s Thotiana could be heard bouncing off the concrete walls alongside the echoes of boards and bodies hitting the wood of the inside park as skaters of varying ages, skills, and identity take turns grinding and ripping throughout its edges and ridges. Some attendees dance on the sidelines between turns and howl bits of lyrics though bouts of laughter, while others eagerly yell encouragement to fellow skaters dropping into the bowl, egging them on with enthusiastic calls whether the skater lands a new trick or slams into the ground after a defiant attempt.

“To me, skateboarding means doing it even if it’s scary,” Arianna said. “If you want to do it, even if you’re scared, you just got to shoot your shot. We love to cheer everyone on. Even if you eat shit, we’ll still be cheering you on,” Sage said.

Extra boards, and an array of safety gear, are free to use with the purchase of a $5.00 pass for the night. No one is shamed for a fall, or for strapping on safety gear before a particularly risky run. The collective mentality across the group asserts a safety-driven, no-shame attitude: regardless of the stigma that comes with choosing to wear a bulky helmet or endless straps encapsulating the extremities, getting an injury isn’t worth the recovery. Many of the Ladies Skate Night attendees have suffered injuries ranging from rolled ankles to cracked knees that prevented them from skating for long periods of time.

During her time in Cali, Anna once dropped into a high bowl and came away from the drop with fifteen staples in her knee, three months of bed rest, and a new conception of safety.

“When I was recovering, and I couldn’t move my leg, and I couldn’t bend my knee. I realized, ‘Wow, I love my legs.’ My legs are so important,” Anna said. “Now that I’ve gone through that, even though I still think it’s kind of lame to wear knee-pads, I realize they are important. It is actually cool to be safe. It’s cooler to be safe with knee-pads and land your trick versus not being safe and having to deal with not being able to skate.”

A huge dynamic present on these nights is a cohesive goal to empower each other through paralyzing feelings of apprehension. By building a supportive atmosphere free from shaming skill levels and instead promoting collective learning, peers encourage skaters to challenge their comfort zone and own their potential. Women and femme folx talk each other through tricks throughout the evening, catch their friends when they fall, and remind them of their absolute ability to crush whatever they seek to master.“To have women say ‘I will literally hold your hand while you do this,’ when they just keep pushing you and supporting you, is really powerful for all these women getting together and growing,” Sage said. “Every month we grow, and everyone keeps getting better and better and better.”

Reflecting on the beginning of the event, Erica has witnessed first-hand how the environment cultivated by Ladies Skate Night exponentially increased skill level and confidence, and she is proud of every person who has chosen to contribute and grow with the up-and-coming inclusive community.

“It’s really nice to have consistent women who are into learning,” Erica said. “A lot of people are starting to fucking kill it, too. It’s so sick to watch. I remember being there and helping people drop in for the first time who are now doing shit that I can’t do. I’m just like, ‘Yeah! That’s so sick!’ You can do it if you want to. We’re here for you and here to help, and even if you don’t live in communities like this, you can start them. I think it’s sick, because right now it’s becoming way more normalized for girls to be out here doing this. For the longest time, in King of the Road, skating reality TV basically, the only times women would be featured were for a make-out challenge segment or ‘find a girl that can do an ollie.’ Like, an ollie? There’re so many girls all over the place that can do so many things. If you open up old issues of Thrasher they have ads for hardware and bearings and trucks and stuff with really gross, half-naked images of girls. It’s fucking nasty, and it’s going away. This is our time. We’re coming up.”

For many of the members of the Ladies Skate Night group, the aura and positive mentality of the group is what enables their skating – they hold an innate desire to practice the sport, and the support of the women and girls validates and ensures that their desires mold into fruition.

“It’s just cool to see that there’s an actual group of girls out here who come out to skate, because every single time I’ve gone to Ladies Night, I keep meeting new girls,” Anna said. “It just keeps getting bigger and bigger. My community didn’t have Ladies Night or cool events, so that’s what always gets me to go back: seeing the girls again.”