race, gender, and skateboarding

I’ve been skateboarding for a long time.  Every time I’ve been a regular at a skatepark, it hasn’t been common to see more than a handful of girls that ever skate there.  It’s like the problems women have entering male-dominated professions, but dumber and more obnoxious because the people involved are 15.  This is a cool mini-documentary about the experiences of female skateboarders in the United States:

Vice just published a great article about female skateboarders in Afghanistan.

But what makes Skateistan even more special is that 45 percent of their 800 students are girls. When 19-year-old Nelofar steps on a skateboard and flies down the big ramp she tells me she feels “very brave and very strong.” She feels free.

Skateistan found the ultimate loophole when they discovered that skateboarding is still a fairly unknown sport in Afghanistan. Cycling, football and kite-flying might be socially taboo for girls in 2015, but no one quite knows what these boards with wheels actually are. “It’s perceived more as a game than a sport,” says Buck. Ignorance is most definitely bliss for Nelofar and the 400 girls who get on their boards and fly down the Skateistan ramps every week in their colorful headscarves.

The spontaneous reaction of both genders to skateboarding is to see that it’s awesome. When nobody’s told them it’s something they’re supposed to be sexist about, apparently Afghans are more progressive about it than Americans. If skateboarding was in the Olympics, or appeared more on international TV for some reason, it would be less available to those girls as an empowering thing to do. The more it’s a sport with formal contests held for TV audiences, the less potential it has for girls in Afghanistan. It’s free to the extent that it’s something outside of/opposed to mainstream culture.

Skateboarding deserves credit for actually being colorblind and accepting all kinds of weird people, though. Someone used this point as an excuse for putting together awesome footage:

It’s not all unicorns and rainbows, though.  Naturally, this is the guy rewarded with a show on MTV: