Representation Matters

Claire Alleaume / FS 5050 / Photo by Concrete Girls

Let’s make one thing absolutely clear: Skateboarding is for everybody. If you want to have a go at riding a skateboard, and be a part of this community, nobody has the right to stop you. 

I’ve wanted to post about this for a while, but I guess I wanted to find the right time. I didn’t want to get on my high horse about a lack of representation, whilst also not doing my part to better represent more diverse voices in skateboarding. I’ve mentioned this before, but skateboarding has been somewhat resistant to the idea of including people who aren’t just straight white men. 

This year probably proved once and for all that skateboarders come from all backgrounds. No matter who you are or your background: skateboarding has been a refuge for many stuck in Lockdown in need of exercise and activities that can be practiced alone. And if you follow the trending skaters on Instagram, you’ll see this diversity in the skateboarders who are popular right now. If you’re not seeing a diverse selection of skateboarders in your feed, I’m gonna be honest: you’re not following the right people.

This diversity has not carried over to the mainstream skateboarding press though. Major magazines and publications are still run by primarily straight, white men, and although this may not be intentional, everyone who isn’t a straight, white man has been somewhat overlooked when it comes to being included in articles for these magazines. 

Lucy Adams / Switch Front Shuv / Photo by Chris Johnson

UK skateboarding legend Lucy Adams recently ran an exercise to catalogue the number of pages and Instagram posts of Free Skateboarding Magazine over the last year which feature marginalised genders, and disappointingly the result was around 2.5% of all posts and pages. 

Free Skateboarding Magazine were chosen by Lucy as they had attended “Pushing Boarders” – a conference which holds talks from skateboarders about increasing diversity in skateboarding and growing the community. Free said they would be doing the work to improve representation in their magazine and on Insta, which is positive news, but there is still work to do. 

This got me thinking about The Terrible Company. I talk a big game about diversity, representation and inclusivity. I strongly believe in those values and think everyone should be encouraged to skate. However, I’ve run this blog since 2003, and there hasn’t been a lot of representation for marginalised genders or even skaters who aren’t white. I can count the total number of marginalised genders and POC (people of colour) skaters who I have made full parts for on one hand – and that includes my wife, and as a mixed White and Black Caribbean man, that also includes myself! So, in the grand scheme of things, my videos haven’t been that diverse at all.

The blog itself is even less diverse, and truth be told I haven’t really been searching for more diverse voices. I have plans to change that, so I hope in the next year I can say that things look a little more varied and more representative of actual modern skateboarders. This begins with more interviews and articles from marginalised genders and POC skaters, and at the very least sharing clips from those skaters on Instagram to boost their representation in the community. 

Marbie / Nollie Bigspin Nosepick / Photo by Sam Christensen

I didn’t really explore any of this for a long time, mainly because I felt like it wasn’t my place to. Who am I to provide a platform for marginalised genders, or POC skaters? To be honest I felt like a bit of a fraud, and felt like I was butting in where I wasn’t wanted.

My ethnicity has been a point of contention before, with other mixed race skateboarders pretty much telling me I am not “allowed” to represent them in skating because I am not “Black” enough. I mean, I’m sure my biological, fully 100% Jamaican dad would laugh at that, but for me it put me off even trying to provide a platform for other people who never fit into white or Black culture. 

Ironically, this lack of representation has put me off pushing further in skateboarding and trying to build The Terrible Company into something more. There weren’t many guys like me I could see riding skateboards in the media or even locally. I saw guys like Ray Barbee, Stevie Williams and Kareen Campbell, and that luckily gave me the confidence to think “Hey, there are skateboarders who come from Black backgrounds, so I shouldn’t feel weird about trying to skate”. But still, these were rare examples, and I didn’t see many other mixed race skaters, especially in England, and especially in Coventry. For many years it was hard to accept how alone I was in the scene.

Later on, being told by Black skaters, and other, darker-skinned mixed race skaters that I wasn’t truly the prominent Mixed Raced skater from a Black background they were hoping would be the one out there filming and documenting skateboarding kinda knocks your confidence to inspire and encourage other people like you. Since then, when I try to be a positive role model for any mixed race kids who don’t feel like they belong in skateboarding, I am hesitant and not nearly as confident. By bowing to such pressure though, you close yourself off from being the person some kids might need to see on a skateboard to feel like they truly belong.

Nassir Roumou / BS Wallride / Photo by Ginge The Geeza

I met my wife, Emily, through skateboarding. Through meeting her, and spending almost 15 years with her, I have observed and heard of the kind of crap marginalised genders have been through in skateboarding: The comments of “You’re pretty good for a girl”, the ridiculous bullshit people spout about how women can’t do certain tricks (seriously, one guy once told it was physically impossible for a woman to 360 flip because “their hips don’t allow it”), and unwarranted comments about whether a woman who skates is attractive or not.

I thought it would just come off as a bit “mansplainy” to tell any of you why you should care about a rad skateboarder who happens to be a marginalised genders. But, I think I was wrong: It isn’t about who is telling you about the skater, it’s providing that skater with a platform to begin with. The reason organisations like GirlSkateUK exist is because traditional skateboarding media wasn’t doing a good enough job at giving these skaters a platform – so they made their own. 

Giving more skateboarders a platform (especially giving a platform to skaters who have different life experiences to our own), doesn’t affect your ability to enjoy skateboarding at all. For the people who currently have zero representation, or feel like they aren’t welcome in skateboarding, it means everything. That feeling of being included can be all the difference between quitting skateboarding forever, and being a lifer who contributes more positive energy into this thing we love to do.

Emily Cottrell / BS Slash

At the end of the day, the philosophy of this blog is to share stuff I am stoked on in skateboarding. There are a huge amount of skateboarders out there I am super stoked on, and I am finding they are coming from increasingly diverse backgrounds. If my ever expanding list of favourite skaters is getting more diverse, I hope to bring that same thinking to this blog, and make more skateboarders feel welcome, involved and empowered to be creative and skate more. That can only be a good thing, right? 

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