A group of young women in Puerto Rico are claiming space in the male-dominated world of skateboarding, empowering girls to take up the sport. For 21-year-old Grace Fernandez, skating is almost like a meditative act and for the last two years, she’s been recruiting girls to join in on the fun with her collective Skate Mamis.
“I go out on my skateboard, and I’m focused on something else, not problems, or what happened during a bad day,” she told Paper Magazine.
The girl gang goes beyond just a group of young women with a shared interest, it’s a grassroots attempt to carve space in skateboarding culture and the industry on the island.
Their members are all over the main island and range in age from about 14 to 28 years old through the range may expand since Fernandez is constantly bringing new girls in.
“The hype is super different and the progress is really different from when I’d skate with boys versus when I skate with girls, where all of us feel connected in a different way, but at the same time, the same. Because we’re all in different levels of skateboarding, but we all learn at the same time; we always have something to learn, and that connects us. We wanted to have a place where we can all skate together — to have that liberated space where we support each other to keep skating. Because when I started, that didn’t exist,” she said.
While Fernandez is on the cusp of change in Puerto Rico, the U.S. is also evolving when it comes to acknowledging female skateboarders. Skateboarding was created around the late 1940s or early 1950 in California but the world’s first female pro skateboarder didn’t exist until 1998 when Elissa Steamer was signed to Toy Machine.
Throughout the history of the sport, women have played key roles including 32-year-old Mexican-American Vanessa Torres. She is one of the top female skateboarders in the world and in 2003 became the X Games first featured female in skateboarding competitions, where she placed first in the street event.
Torres spoke with Vogue magazine about how female skateboarders are just now starting to gain more sponsorships and endorsement opportunities giving them a better chance to advance professionally and personally.
“It’s a little bittersweet in the sense that I’ve been doing this for almost two decades. How awesome it would have been if all of the opportunities that are coming up for this generation would have existed for us,” says Torres, who was born and raised in California. “But it’s sweet in the sense that it’s happening, and I feel like women like Lacey, Alexis, and I played a part in that.”
She’s referring to pro skateboarders and X Games gold medalists 27-year-old Lacey Baker and 32-year-old Alexis Sablone.
She also discusses how her friend, 23-year-old Jenn Soto from New Jersey, is going to the Olympics as one of the 16 members of the inaugural U.S.A Skateboarding National Team. She’ll compete to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games in the Women’s Street division.
This long road to acceptance in the industry in the U.S. is one Fernandez is slowly but surely cultivating in Puerto Rico.
Just like she states on her website, “Skatemamis is a women movement that emerged because of the need to be able to express with the same magnitude, freedom, and respect. Inspired to defend gender equality in all its aspects.”
She currently an advisor for the upcoming short See Ya L8R, centered on the underground queer community, their common love for skateboarding, and the Puerto Rican diaspora returning to their home island.
When asked about any differences between skating with boys versus girls, she says that her ultimate goal is to just enjoy the sport.
“But with girls, I feel like there’s a hype that I don’t know how to explain. When it’s us [together], I don’t know if it’s that it gives us more confidence — because you see the boys and you might think they’re tougher. I feel like there’s a confidence in us skating together, united. Skateboarding is about unity. I don’t see it as I’m better than you, I can do a kickflip, no — skateboarding is about teaching each other, even with the boys, and that’s what I focus on.”