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Girls Unite!
A look at women in skateboarding
By Sky Siljeg

Skaters Heidi Fitzgerald, Sky Siljeg and Cressey Rice.
Skaters Heidi Fitzgerald, Sky Siljeg and Cressey Rice.
(Photo: Courtesy Sky Siljeg)
"It was a wake up call. There were all these amazing girl riders in the competition and they're even doing inverts and 360's!" exclaimed Danny Tumia, my teammate, after returning from a World Cup contest in California earlier this year.

The level of female riding is nothing short of phenomenal, but to look at it as something new is off base. Since the early days of skateboarding in the 1960's, girls have had the same passion as guys for the "four wheeled monster."

It hasn't been easy for many of them to be taken seriously, though, in an environment that hasn't always welcomed girls. One of the first girls to shake things up in the 60s was Patti McGee, the "First Betty" of skating.

"I had two weeks to decide to go pro or not after winning the US Nationals in 1965," said Patti. Patti chose to become the first professional female skateboarder in history, and said goodbye to the competition circuit.

"Back then there was nothing after the Nationals. Really there were not a lot of contests," she told me as we sat in her Arizona home. "About a year later skating came to an end for everyone!"

The next wave of skate popularity came in the 1970s, and more girls got in on the action. This new era, influenced by surfing, brought vert, pool and concrete park skating into the limelight. Peggy Oki, a free spirited girl from the Dogtown neighborhood, is one greatest skaters of this time. She became the only girl on the legendary Zephyr team.

Though her teammates accepted her, girls at contests protested against her. Their objection? "She skates like one of the guys!"

"Competition, politics and unfair rules were a disappointment to me," said Peggy.

Peggy remains passionate about the sport, though. "Over the years I never lost my love for skating. To me it's still about flowing and having fun."

During the 1980s, girls occasionally appeared in skate videos. In 1988, Powell-Peralta ran an ad that read, "Some girls play with dolls. Real women skate."

Still, girls were shut out of the core skate scene. Skaters who held onto the male-dominated idea of the sport did not welcome girls in their skate scene.

"I was shoved off the ramps," said Heidi Fitzgerald, top ranked World Cup skater. Yet true love for skating made women like Heidi, Cara-Beth Burnside, Jen O'Brien, and Jodi McDonald persistent.

A group of skaters after the 2006 X Games.
A group of skaters after the 2006 X Games.
(Photo: Kevin Knoop)
Throughout the 1990s, there was an increase in the number of female riders. Thanks to a change in thinking, the number of girl skaters grew to more than 25 percent of the total skaters by 2004.

"The right to skate professionally and be accepted has not come easy," said Cressey Rice, team manager and rider for Kronik Energy, "we girls have got to stick together."

The X Games

In 2003, women's skateboarding became a medal competition in the X games, which now attracts women skaters from Brazil and Australia, as well as great talent from here in the USA.

"UNITY" was the word that crossed the back of the girls at X Games 12 this year. Only weeks before, the girls of The Action Sports Alliance, a group formed by Mimi Knoop and Drew Mearns to promote and professionalize women in action sports, threatened to not show for the games. "We felt that our voices had not been heard," Cara-Beth Burnside, president of the Alliance.

On the eve of the games, the Alliance scored a victory for girls' in action sports when they came away from a meeting with ESPN's vice president John Skipper with a negotiated increase in prize money and television exposure for their events.

In the competition, CB Burnside came away with her fourth-consecutive gold medal in woman's vert and a prize of 15,000.00 this year. The men's purse was 50,000. However, this is a huge step forward for women in all action sports. The world will see that these women are serious about just how far their boards will take them!