From the first time a pool was emptied and skated, the bowl, park and ramp have primarily been a men-zones. Samara Pepperell, the creator and founder of Chicks in Bowls (@chicksinbowls) is changing that. Her efforts have kickstarted a global underground resurgence of roller skating at parks and bowls, and the gals are leading the charge.
Founded back in 2012 as a casual group of friends, Chicks in Bowls has rapidly become a symbol for the sport – growing from 10 likes on Facebook to over 16,000, 21.2K followers on Instagram, and 237 different "chapters" around the world. The friendship-group-gone-business now holds global rollerskating meet-ups, large-scale competitions, has an apparel and hardware line, and sponsors over 13 roller skaters full-time. We caught up with Samara to tell us a bit about what's happening in the world of women's roller skating right now and, what it's like to be a chick in a bowl.
Samara, tell us a bit about how Chicks in Bowls has developed since 2012...
Well, people have been roller skating in bowls since the 70s, and the sport has never been completely off the radar, but Chicks in Bowls seems to have sparked an interest with a lot of people who didn't even know it exists. When I saw what was happening, I decided to turn the brand, which started as a Facebook page between me and a few friends in Auckland, into a company. I built a website, a line of apparel and started to see what could come from it all.
Right as that happened I was contacted by a group of girls in Argentina who wanted to start their own Chicks in Bowls page, to see if they could use the name. We talked about it and a friend suggested that we run chapters, so we wrote up an ethos and had no idea at the time we'd end up with what we have now.
The rules we set were it had to be all-inclusive (gender, religion, age, sexuality), no skill-level excluded – basically we wanted to form a safe environment for people who wanted to quad skate in parks. Now we have these crews popping up all over the globe. Some members have been skating for 30+ years and some are girls just getting into it. It's this amazing hub of people who have a drive to share the sport.
What's the progression from when someone picks up skates to actually dropping in at a skate park?
It almost always starts with roller derby. But the reason we have these chapters is to give some support during those first times in the park – it's really intimidating showing up to a skate park, especially if you've never been before. There are often a group of guys that are the regulars and they know what they're doing, and for the most part they're encouraging and welcoming, but every once in a while you get that little tease. We push etiquette hugely and we try to teach them how to integrate without making that much of a fuss or making it known that they're the newbie. It is a daunting, but thrilling, experience.
What are people's reactions when you tell them what you do? What's it like to be a chick in a bowl in Australia?
I've never had a bad backlash. I'm pretty extroverted and reasonably chatty nowadays, but my confidence has grown a lot since I first started. Having skates on my feet I feel like a different person – I'll quite happily rock up to a park alone and feel comfortable. But that comes with time. You do stand out, and once you meet someone once they know you and they won't forget you – that can be a good or a bad thing, but it definitely can make it easier to meet friends.
People think there's a rivalry or something between skateboarders and roller skaters in parks, but the thing is, we can relate to each other. Sometimes you just have to explain how. I mean, our trucks are made to grind like theirs. Skateboards were made for the first time by busting apart a pair of roller skates and sticking them on a piece of wood! 70 years later the cycle has come full circle and we're modernising skate parks to suit roller skates... it's kind of a cool circle.
Skating is such a dominated male sport... does being a woman in skates help with the male domination at skateparks?
It's an interesting thing. We get a lot of questions about the fact we're called Chicks in Bowls, and yet we have guys in our gang. But the thing is that I push the female aspect because it's intimidating being a woman in a skatepark, and I want to encourage them and help them get into it. It's an easier environment for a male to walk into. Being a female can be hard, not because people are mean, but purely because you don't know if they're going to be mean.
And, where do you see the sport going? What's next?
My favourite thing is when I go to a park and see a skater I don't recognise, if even via social media. There aren't that many of us out there. My goal is to be able to rock up to any skate park in the world and see that – but not just one girl I don't know. A lot of girls I don't know. To have just the same amount of skaters and skateboarders. To have the same amount of girls as guys.