Social Media and Community Growth: Bringing Non-traditional Skaters Together in Winnipeg
E: I have wanted to be a skateboarder for as long as I can remember. When I was younger my parents didn’t want me to skate because it was “for boys” and I could “get hurt”. I finally rebelled and bought a used set up off the internet when I was 20 (summer 2015) and started to teach myself. I felt like, because I was new (in my head “not good enough”) and didn’t know anyone (especially other girls) who skated, I couldn’t go to parks until I could “skate”. To me, that meant being able to ride around, kick turn, ollie, and 180. As a result, I spent my entire first couple months skating in my driveway and obsessively watching YouTube skateboarding tutorials/trick tip videos to try and teach myself to skate.
E: Later that fall I heard about The Edge Indoor Skatepark and saw something about their Thursday evening “Girls’ Sesh” on their Instagram. Honestly, I don’t remember how I ended up at The Edge. I remember being terrified to show up to my first session (even though there were only 12-15 girls there). I had literally never skated with anyone before. My clearest memory from that first session is watching a group of girls trying to learn board-slides on a little curb and even though I had never tried a board-slide in my life,I thought that if I could 180 I could probably board-slide. Trying to boardslide with the girls that night was the first time I had met and made friends through skateboarding.
E: During the course of the winter, I connected with most of the Thursday night girls on Instagram. When sessions were ending for the year, I started to get anxious about not being able to skate with them and going to parks and skating with only guys, which was and still is very intimidating for me. I started an Instagram group chat with all the girls I had met through these "Girls Sesh's". The motivation was to keep everyone connected and to meetup to skate outdoor parks together during the summer months. That was four years ago. The first time we maxed out the members on the Instagram group, I remember panicking because there were new girls and I wanted them to be a part of our community. As the Admin of the Instagram group, I had to go through the current members and delete a couple girls that had moved away and ones that had stopped skating with us to make room – that trend continued for a couple of years. By the spring and summer of 2020, the community of girls and non-traditional skaters was growing too fast for the Instagram group to keep up.
E: The main idea, when I created the Instagram group, was to prevent girls from being alone and uncomfortable at parks in the summer (predominately used by straight, cis, white dudes). In the group chat members could send a message about where and when they were planning on going skating and whoever wanted to join could, so girls could continue to skate together and hopefully feel more comfortable together at parks.
M: When I first started skateboarding, I was pretty lonely. I got my first skateboard when I was 8 years old. The boys on my street were all skateboarding at the time, but they stopped soon after and I didn’t have any friends to skate with. For a long time, I never left my driveway, because I was too intimidated by skateparks. Eventually my dad started taking me to the skatepark by my house early in the mornings so I could skate before other people would take over the park. I stopped skateboarding when I was 13 because I didn’t have anyone to skate with and I didn’t see anyone like me skateboarding, which was discouraging. I started skateboarding for the second time when I was 19. I was still too afraid to go to skateparks alone.
M: I was skating alone in my neighbourhood all year, until late October when I saw Taylor Peters post a video clip on Instagram from “Girls Night” at The Edge. I wanted to check it out, but I still didn’t have anyone to go with and was too nervous. I ended up going to a rental at The Edge with a few friends, saw the poster for “Girls Night,” and we decided to go the following week. I went consistently after that first Thursday. I was in a pretty bad place mentally when I first went to “Girls Nights” at The Edge, and it gave me something to look forward to.
M: After I had been coming to Thursdays regularly for about a month or so, the girls mentioned an Instagram group chat they used to keep in touch. Em ended up removing someone from the chat who had been skating less frequently so she would be able to add me. The group chat was constantly at capacity, so that cycle kept happening until one day there were too many people skating regularly and we had to come up with a solution.
M: Katie (Edge Volunteer on Thursdays) suggested we move the group chat to WhatsApp, which would allow a significantly higher number of people in a group chat. The new group chat would also let members add friends via a link, instead of one person facilitating the adding/removing of people.
M: The WhatsApp chat made it really easy to stay connected over summer and encourage folks who were new to skating. Any time I met someone new while I was out skating that identified as a non-traditional skater, I would ask if they wanted to be a part of the group chat. The chat quickly grew to over 60 people, and the community growth was evident this winter. When The Edge Skatepark opened (for 20 people for 20-people-maximum sessions before COVID-19 restrictions increased) it filled up within the first hour. I remember Em and I talking about how we didn’t know most people at the session.
M: The growing community and people I met over summer were definitely an inspiration for creating The Other Skaters Zine. I really enjoyed hearing how others got into skateboarding. Overall, I thought it could be a good way for people in the community to get to know each other.
E: I know for me, the first winter I skated Thursdays at the Edge I worked so hard at progressing, mainly because of the support and love the other girls were giving me. Skating with them has always pushed me to be a better skater and to learn new things. Having first the Instagram group chat and now the WhatsApp group has continued that feeling for my last four years of skating. Having the group chats and the opportunity to skate with our community has helped me be a better skater. It has also helped the non-traditional representation at parks grow (almost exponentially) every year which has, in turn, helped introduce and keep more non-traditional skaters skating. They have benefitted and complemented each other.
M: At times when I wouldn’t have gone skateboarding because my friends were busy and I didn't feel comfortable going to parks alone, I was still able to go because I would reach out to folks in the Instagram and WhatsApp group chats and find others to skate with. That’s been one of the biggest impacts it’s had on me personally. I think the group chats have functioned that way for a lot of others in the community who might not feel safe or comfortable going to skateparks without a few friends.
M: I have seen some (mostly cisgender, heterosexual, white men) skaters express on social media that skateparks are inherently safe places for everyone and skateboarding is by default a sport that’s inclusive. For a lot of marginalized folks this isn’t the case. Skateparks can be not only intimidating, but unsafe. Skate meetups that are specific to marginalized skaters can give folks an opportunity to skate with less worry that they will be the only non-traditional skater in the park, and could reduce the chances of experiencing violence.
E: Non-traditional skaters taking up space in parks helps reinforce the idea that skateparks are not exclusively for straight, cis, white dudes. The more space we, as non-traditional skaters, take up the more comfortable park regulars will be seeing non-traditional folks skating and may give newcomers the confidence to show up at parks knowing that there is space for them. I know for me, I still find it intimidating to roll up and be the only girl skating with a park-full of guys and I hope that having a non-traditional community growing as fast as ours helps others feel comfortable at parks and know they always have people to skate with.
E & M: I think any other non-traditional skate groups out there would definitely benefit from starting a group chat, especially one that’s open for members to add their friends or people they meet at parks. It has worked better than we could have first imagined when the Instagram group chat was first created, and I hope that other communities in other cities can experience the growth and benefits of building and expanding non-traditional skate groups chats like we have in Winnipeg.