This article originally appeared on VICE Australia.
As a 36-year-old mum working in a jewellery store, Alana Smith is about as far from the stereotypical skater as you can get. But when she saw a YouTube video of a female skate crew in California made up of mums over 50, Alana figured there were no more excuses to stop her from getting into skating.
So for Christmas, Alana's partner bought her a skateboard. But how does a woman who's just learning to skate fit into a scene that's dominated by pimply teen boys and sweaty men?
Although skating is decidedly different to, say, footy bro culture, on the whole it's still seen as this "masculine" thing. Which is one of the reasons people put forward to explain why there are still so few women who skate. Between the lack of women in the sport, the skater stereotype, and the exclusivity of skate crews, there are lots of barriers for someone like Alana to start skating.
That's why Alana and her friend Stass started Thrusher—a Melbourne crew of mostly female skaters—one boozy New Year's Eve. The pair of Kiwis who were both living in Melbourne's north, and over beers they decided they wanted their own skate gang. They started with some public invitations to skate sessions on Instagram, and Thrusher was born.
You've probably figured this out already, but the name "Thrusher" is a pun. It combines the iconic San Fran skate mag Thrasher with "thrush," a vaginal infection that affects three-quarters of women at some point in their lives. Stass and Alana have even re-appropriated Thasher's classic "skate goat" logo for their own—subbing in a set of ovaries overlaid with a pentagram. It's bit of an insider's joke that represents their vibe: decidedly female, not too serious, and an irreverence toward the boys' club.
Thrusher isn't exclusively for women, Stass tells me, but since they're so under represented in skateboarding, the crew's focus is to get more girls on boards. Stass used to work for a local council running skate competitions, and saw that while skateparks are supposed to be public spaces, they tend to get used by boys and men almost exclusively.
"I realised that councils put so much money into building these skateparks that are for young people, but a lot of girls—not all, but a lot—don't feel comfortable there," she says.
Stass and Alana say Thrusher is all about strength in numbers. Because skateparks are so heavily dominated by groups of guys, female skaters can feel unwelcome and, at times, intimidated. "If we rock up to the skatepark, we feel like a bit more of a formidable force as a group," Stass tells me, adding, "It's kind of nice to have a posse."
But it's not all diversity and female empowerment. At competition level (which, to be fair, is the lame aspect of skateboarding for many), there's a massive pay gap between women and men. "It's fucked up," Alana tells me, explaining how at the top of the international competition circuit, "the guys are winning $200,000 [in prize money] and the girls are getting $30,000."
That's the rule, rather than an exception. In fact, at the moment, there aren't any women in Australia who actually make a living from skating.
While these inequalities certainly exist at the top, they mostly affect a microcosm of the best female skaters, rather than your average girl at the skatepark. For the majority, sexism within skate brand culture is probably a more pertinent issue. Stass says one of the barriers in female skateboarding is that, "it's still based on how you look when you're doing it rather than what you're doing."
There are plenty of skate companies and media outlets who objectify women in order to sell products to men. And, according to Stass, most simply don't see women as part of their market. "You can make money [by marketing to women] but almost no one is doing it," she says, going on to add that she and Alana are in the process of making Thrusher into a brand.
For now though, Thrusher has been focused solely on altruistic initiatives. Recently, they've thrown fundraisers for the Melbourne Period Project, which is a charity that provides tampons, pads, and other sanitary products to homeless women and transfolk. The crew also recently did a fundraiser for victims of domestic violence.
Through skating, throwing a few parties, and getting the word out, Stass and Alana also want to break the cliche that skateboarding is reserved for teenagers. While the crew will be open to youjnger women down the line, for now it's actually more of an adult thing. A place for girls to drink some beers, talk shit, and not worry about setting a good example.
"It's kind of nice to have something that's just for grown ups," Stass says, "I'd hate to be a role model and be drinking beers."
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