Dropping In

Three female skateboarders on overcoming fear and stereotypes and loving the sport

Liz Wilson performs a trick. Photo by Amelia Bjesse-Puffin

“When people see skaters in small towns skating down the sidewalk, they automatically assume we are bad, that we’re gonna go graffiti up the town and be loud. They just hear the wheels moving and think—destruction!” says Haley Mast, tilting her head back and laughing. For Mast and other skateboarders in Oregon, the sport is about more than just the stereotype of teenage boys taking over the streets and skate parks, being rowdy, and rejecting all rules while trying to impress their friends. 

Being a skateboarder is an identity for Mast, a twenty-one-year-old living in Hood River, but it’s not her only one. She’s also a girlfriend, a daughter, a sister, and a waitress at a local restaurant. “Skateboarding is something I want to do forever,” she says, “but I don’t think I want it to be anything more than just a hobby, unless it just happens on its own. It’s my outlet to keep me sane and happy, and I don’t want to lose that.”

“It’s never too late to learn to skateboard,” she says. “People say that and it’s like, ‘What does that even mean?’ Learning a new hobby is one of the most productive things you can do. No one wants to go to work from nine to five and come home, do the laundry, make dinner, go to sleep, go to work, and then do it all over again and just do chores on the weekend. You gotta have an outlet, you gotta be creative and do something that makes you happy.”

Mast is originally from Enumclaw, Washington. Growing up, her brother was heavily involved in snowboarding and motocross. Everyone in her family was physically active, but Mast didn’t care much for riding motorcycles. “I felt like I needed something to do on my own, separate from that, so I started snowboarding and fell in love with it,” she says, grinning. After learning they could snowboard on Mount Hood in the summers—a blissful part of living in the Pacific Northwest—Mast and a friend moved to Government Camp two years ago. Recently, she relocated to Hood River to live with another friend who is a retired professional skateboarder, and she has been snowboarding less and skateboarding more.

Mast began skateboarding when she was around fifteen. She had been sitting next to a guy in her high school biology class who was really into skateboarding and talked to her about it frequently. “He showed me all these videos of people ripping around, and I was like, ‘I want to do that, that looks so sick!’” A biology classmate gave Mast her first skateboard, and she started going to small parks with friends and riding around on the pavement to get used to it.

In Oregon, there is a big difference between skating in smaller towns like Hood River and skating in a more bustling urban environment with an established skateboarding scene like Portland. For one thing, the skate parks in Portland are often half the size of those in smaller towns such as Lincoln City, Hood River, and Bingen, Washington. Female skate communities also look very different from place to place. In the town of Hood River, Mast is, to her knowledge, the only resident female skateboarder. Recently, she met a fourteen-year-old girl at the local park who’s in town for the summer and started skating not long ago, but Mast says this is an increasingly rare occurrence. “It’s not the same as when I go to Portland, where there’s always women at every park I go to when I’m in town.”

As with any male-dominated sport, skateboarding can be a tough scene to find a niche in. The stereotypes are difficult to navigate, particularly judgments from men who may not have a firm grasp on what it feels like to be a woman in the skate community. While there are a handful of compliments given, there are also some resoundingly negative remarks. “I know a lot of people use the term ‘ramp tramp.’ People say girls are just into it for the boys, and that’s annoying for me to hear. Girls want to skateboard too—trust me, they are not just in it for the guys,” Mast says.

“People—most of the time guys—see me carrying my board and they’re like, ‘Do a kickflip! Do an ollie! Do this and do that,’ and I’m like, OK, please keep driving and leave me alone,” she says. “This isn’t something I do to look cool in front of someone, this is my art and what I love to do. It would be like me seeing an artist on the street and yelling at him, ‘Hey, paint a picture for me. Paint Starry Night, do it right now!’ I feel like when people yell those things out or when I get catcalled at the skate park, it’s extremely frustrating because then it makes me not want to do it anymore.”

 Skateboarding has taught Mast to get out of her own head. She’s able to clear her mind while working through a fear of doing a new trick or dropping in to something tall like a quarter pipe. She uses skateboarding as a form of stress release. “I already feel all this pressure and feel intimidated. It makes me tense up, and I have to ask myself, ‘What do I do now?’” She keeps skating.

Mast says women like Nora Vasconcellos, the first female skater on Adidas’s professional team, are helping to make the skateboarding scene more inclusive. She also credits organizations like Skate Like a Girl, a Portland-based nonprofit that helps women of all ages learn to skateboard and build community. In terms of improving the skate scene, she wishes that more girls would get out and skate, and that the city would work to make the parks safer in general. Her biggest piece of advice to any woman starting out skateboarding? “Stick with it. You’re definitely going to experience downfalls, but in order to keep learning you just have to stick with it. Remember what you’re doing it for, that you are doing it for yourself, and to have fun—which is the most important thing that I feel people tend to forget about. Don’t just do your hobbies to record videos and take photos for social media, do it for yourself.”

I met nine-year old Willow Lamont and her Dad, Malcom Lamont,  at their house in Northeast Portland on a warm Sunday afternoon. Willow tends to get shy around new people, so we opted to start our afternoon getting a scoop of ice cream. Her eyes lit up as she took in all the different flavors and options; eventually she settled on a split scoop of bubblegum ice cream and Oreo in a waffle cone. She shared her plans to attend an upcoming skate camp in Portland while cautiously keeping an eye on her quickly melting cone, rotating it in different directions to catch the dripping ice cream.

Willow just finished the fourth grade at Rose City Park Elementary School. She enjoys riding her bike and her scooter, swimming, playing soccer, and using her pogo stick. She recently added two new items to her hobby list: riding her unicycle and playing The Legend of Zelda, a video game. Her soccer team, the Flying Pickles, which consists mostly of girls from Willow’s school who have all been on the team since they were in first grade, recently won first place in the under-ten division in the Portland Youth Soccer Association’s Fall Classic Tournament. And of course, there is skateboarding. 

Three summers ago, Willow was at her friend’s house and noticed she had a skateboard. Willow stood on it in the driveway and discovered what it felt like to be on a board. Her birthday was coming up, so when she came home, she told her parents she wanted a skateboard for her birthday gift. Malcolm says he was hesitant about the purchase, not wanting to get something that she might use only a couple of times before moving on to the next new thing. But he bought Willow the skateboard anyway, and she was instantly hooked.

“I think skateboarding is really fun,” Willow says. “I like dropping in from big high ramps, like the one at Glenhaven Park where they have the biggest one. It was hard and scary at first, but when I was done I was shaking from excitement. I feel more confident now than when I just started.” She says learning how to skateboard for the first time is scary, but once you get the hang of it, it gets easier—though you might get hurt. Willow has gotten hurt before, but “no broken stuff” because she always wears her pads.

Malcolm had noticed that Willow sometimes didn’t like doing things in front of other people, that she got nervous when the spotlight was on her. Because skateboarding is a sport where you have to focus solely on yourself, he thought it might push her out of her comfort zone and help her feel more comfortable doing things in front of people. Willow’s teacher later told him that Willow had begun standing up and reading out loud in front of the class more often; Malcolm believes that the confidence she gets from skateboarding helps her in other areas of her life.

Willow has made a lot of friends in Portland through the organization Skate Like a Girl, where she regularly goes to skate, attend events, and participate in summer skate camps in town. She met her friend Beau, who is a couple of years older than her, at a local skate park. Beau and Willow support each other in learning how to master a trick—if one of them does it, they encourage the other to do it as well. It helps that they are at the same skill level and often go to events together. In fact, they’re both going to the same skate camp this summer, where Willow hopes to meet other girls who skateboard. She’s tried to introduce skateboarding to some of her friends at school, but notices that a couple of girls tell her they plan to get a board but never do. “You don’t have to go on ramps first or anything!” Willow exclaims with wide eyes. “You can take your time.”  

“When people say skateboarding is for boys and not girls, it’s not true,” she says. “Anybody can do it if you just practice. I remember my first time dropping in on this big ramp, there was a boy who tried it too, but I did it first. He eventually did it like ten minutes after me because he saw I was able to do it, and then he kept doing it a lot.” She’d moved on from the ice cream cone and was now riding circles around her backyard on her unicycle. “Sometimes boys offer to help me a little bit at the skate parks, but not as much because they’re with their friends or maybe because I’m a girl.”

“I think she’s at a good age where it’s not obvious yet—it’s not a thing where she thinks boys are different,” Malcolm says. “As much as I think there is a male/female divide in skateboarding, there is something to be said about when you show up to a skate park and just do it—people give you the respect.” He is clearly proud of Willow, but thinks she is too polite sometimes. “She’ll get ready to go and then someone else will take a turn, and I’ve seen that frustrate her, because she just needs a few more seconds to make sure she won’t be in the way. She’s being too nice, and I think that’s a difference between her as a girl skater and the boy skaters—they want to take their turn whether it’s their time or not.”

Skateboarding is an activity that Willow and her dad have been able to share and bond over. Malcolm learned to skate as a kid, but says Willow is a thousand times better than he was at her age. “I kind of wanted skateboarding to be something we would do together, and keep doing,” he says. “I think she got good at it early on because she was so young and didn’t appreciate how much she could get hurt, so there’s a kind of ignorance in it that makes you pretty fearless.” Malcolm has built a mini-ramp in their garage for them to skate on. He’s even taped a pool noodle to the roof of the garage to protect their heads from the beams when they drop in on the ramp.

Willow has mastered tricks like the ollie, dropping in, the slash grind, and the rock to fakie, where the front truck—the part that connects the wheel to the board—is placed over the lip of the ramp and then the board is “rocked” slightly before coming down backward (the fakie). She wants to learn more tricks, and at a recent skate clinic, she started doing board slides. “My dad helps me learn things a lot. He taught me how to do an ollie,” Willow says. Malcolm cuts in, adding, “Honestly, Willow is better on ramps than me. She’s taught me things as well, and believe me, she always tells me if I’m doing it wrong. I think she’s a better skater than I am.” Before he can even finish his sentence, Willow laughs and adds, “I agree!”

Recently, Willow and Malcolm were talking about skateboarding being more than just a hobby for some people. Willow was surprised and asked, “They earn money just by skateboarding?” When Malcolm told her that many people participate in contests and get sponsorships by skateboarding, she lit up. They discussed whether or not Willow would have to get a job when she was older, and how that would look. He told her, “Yeah, you kind of do, but it doesn’t have to be a job where you go into an office or something. You can use your creativity to earn money, and that could be a sport, or art, or music. It doesn’t have to be going to a building every day.”

For now, Willow says that when she gets older she might want to be an artist or a skateboarder. Her advice for new skaters is: “Just do it, get on the board and go for it. Don’t feel scared. If you fall down, you need to try again and keep skating.”  

Skating in a small town can be challenging, particularly if it doesn’t even have a skate park. Twenty-six-year-old Liz Wilson, a resident of Rogue River in southwestern Oregon, has to drive more than seven miles to get to the nearest skate park, in Gold Hill.

“Being in a smaller town is tough,” she says. “There’s not a lot of women there. I’ve had to create a community myself, and I try to organize meet-ups to get other women to come and skate, but because they’re all from different areas it makes it hard,” she says. 

Wilson is originally from California and moved to Oregon in 2002. She has lived in Rogue River for most of her life, and is used to having to explain to people that the nearest “big” town is Grants Pass. She has always been interested in skateboarding, but started skating in earnest when she was around sixteen or seventeen. She had a longboard she used to cruise around town on as her primary source of transportation, but she always wanted a shorter board. Eventually someone pointed her toward a skateboard, but it took her a little while to find one that was comfortable for her. She found longboarding and skateboarding to be very different, particularly when she would bomb a hill—that is, ride down a hill as fast as possible—at roughly sixty miles per hour, since longboards are more stable and suited to going at high speeds for long distances.

She says the most difficult part about skateboarding is overcoming fears and obstacles. “Sometimes you go to a park and you’re like, ‘Man, I can’t do anything here,’ and it sucks, but you just have to be as creative as you can,” she says. “When I first started skating that would happen a lot, but it’s gotten easier as the years progress. I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable, and I feel more confident, and I like that a lot.”

Wilson has a skateboarding dog named Odin. She got him when he was five weeks old and took him everywhere with her in her backpack. One day, tired of trying to get him to walk on his leash, she put her board down in front of him and he hopped right onto it. Ever since, Odin has loved to skateboard. When Wilson takes him to the skate park he runs around the whole park, though he often steals people’s skateboards and runs off with them. There are a couple of viral videos of him online, and people are mostly very receptive to him at skate parks, which has allowed Wilson to make friends with people who approach them.

Skate culture among women is something she reflects on a lot. While female skate culture can be cliquey, she considers it pretty accepting as a whole. She knows that when she rolls up to a park and there are other women there, they might not always come up and say hi, but they’re excited to see another woman at the park. Wilson has made a lot of female friends at skate parks and through social media, where she posts skateboarding photos, and has kept up with people at her local parks who she’s known since she was a kid. She says, “It’s also encouraging to see other women with similar body types as you out there skateboarding and ripping too. A lot of times I see awesome women skating, and they’re skinnier, and it seems like that’s the norm, but then I know a lot of girls who are different shapes and sizes who shred. It’s interesting because you would probably never hear a dude talking about that, except maybe to say a guy is shorter or taller than them.”

“I think there is still room for more inclusion among women skaters, especially in terms of transgender people,” she says. “I think about skaters like Cher Strauberry [a famous transgender skateboarder from California] and am so grateful that they exist within the community and are getting seen and their voices are being heard. Women have definitely gotten our foot in the door, but like I said—there still isn’t always visibility for bigger women who shred.” 

Wilson says that another difficulty faced by women skaters is the lack of public restrooms available for women at skate parks—there are often only restrooms for men, or dirty portable toilets. “I really wish the city would take into consideration having bathrooms for women,” she says. “There have been so many times when I’ve had to leave a skate park because there isn’t one for us. Or they’re not always safe or clean—often the toilets are clogged. It can be a deterrent for women, if you’re already reluctant to go out and skate and then there’s not even proper facilities for you to use or change your tampon or clean yourself up.”. 

Though female skateboarding culture is evolving and becoming more inclusive—with more female pro skaters gaining attention and recognition, female skate camps thriving, and a more prominent presence on social media—problems still persist. Wilson always takes safety into consideration when she goes out to skate, and always remains aware of her immediate surroundings and who is present at the parks. She knows men who skate who have harmed women within the skate community. 

“I’ve experienced physical abuse from men in the skate scene,” she says. “It’s really hard, and I hope that’s something women stay alert about and speak up about. You can be a good skateboarder but still be a shitty person—the two aren’t mutually exclusive.” Wilson still regularly receives messages through social media from men looking to explore a physical relationship instead of wanting to skate together or talk about the sport in general. Her motto? “Date your skateboard, not a skater.”

Wilson has also experienced discrimination from other women. Two weeks after she gave birth to her daughter, Atlas, Wilson took her to the local skate park with her then boyfriend. He strapped the baby to his chest and just rolled around on the board, not doing any tricks or dropping in, and another mother at the park ended up posting a video of them to a community page and calling Wilson a bad mother. People began attacking Wilson and threatening to try to take away her daughter, but others defended her. Being blasted on social media so publicly caused Wilson anxiety for several days, especially since she considered the moment a private and special experience she was trying to share with her newborn. “As a new mom it was super disheartening and sad,” she says. “I wasn’t even the one carrying her, I was just enjoying the moment and observing my daughter taking in the world at the park as a newly formed human being.” 

Wilson chose not to let the interaction deter her from bringing her daughter to skate parks. Atlas, who is now two and a half, already knows how to say “skateboard” and will cry if they don’t go to the skate park. Wilson plans on teaching Atlas how to skate once she gets older, but for now the time she spends at the skate park is her opportunity to be alone.

“Having a child has affected my skateboard life more than skateboarding has affected me being a mom,” she says. “I just skate for fun. I have no desire to ‘go pro,’ but I would really like to start making my own boards. I used to draw all these little characters with my friends, and I just want to do the same thing and put them on the skateboards. Ultimately I just want to travel and skate as many skate parks as I can and have fun.”


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2 comments have been posted.

Hi! Thanks for bringing this amazing article out here! It means so much to me to know what regular women skateboarders across the world are talking about their life with the sport! It's crazy knowing that it's so fucked up in its misogyny and rape culture even in a place where skateboarding has such long and incredible history. I'm from India and I've been skating on roller skates and inline skates and longboards from when I was 4. The magnitude of shit I faced over my love for skateboarding was so heavy that I had to quit. And I felt like longboarding was more my thing, and I needed someone who knew who might teach me a bit, so I went searching, and landed straight into a really fucked up rapey longboard crew here who used a lot of their resources in recreating the notorious groupie - grooming culture under the garb of promoting the sport. A lot of people, including me, were survivors. It sucks a little too much because I love the feeling of skating and I miss skating. I'm so so happy for your magazine to exist and for this article to exist. It makes me feel less alone and more encouraged to take my space and not give in.

Dakini | October 2021 | India

Wow ! always great to have Women skaters Diversity rules

Carl Warren | September 2019 | Bingen Washington

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