A Fresh Start
I arrived at my flat in the Wedding neighborhood of Berlin around midnight after an 11-hour journey through Sweden, Denmark, and Germany. Exhaustion, relief, release. I made it!
I spent the bulk of that first week in the German capital going for walks along the river near my flat in Wedding and journaling to process the whirlwind of constant introductions to new places and people that my life had become. I’d reached out to Girl Skate Berlin a few weeks prior and was eager to meet them, but after almost 3 months of constant social interactions, skate competitions and sessions, long bus rides, inconsistent housing, and wavering confidence in myself and my project, I needed a break.
Solitude, stability, sleep, space: Berlin gave me just that. My flat in Berlin was simply furnished and smelled faintly of cigarettes, but it was a stable place to call home for the next two months and for that I was grateful. I shared the apartment with one other person named Tori, an American artist and activist from Florida. Living with a fellow American was a surprising source of comfort for me. Though I identify more as a “New Yorker” than an “American”, it’d been months since I interacted with any other Americans. It felt good to have someone who, though new in my life, shared a language and culture with me that neither of us had to explain or translate. To my pleasant surprise, my friend Hannah, a close comrade from college, lived walking distance from me in Berlin. Experiencing this new city with someone who loves me, someone who knows my story and needs no explanations, someone I cherish — that was such a gift.
In those first weeks of writing and recuperating my energies in Berlin, I reread my original Watson application several times. Two months into my Watson year, I felt embarrassed at how out-of-touch my original project proposal sounded. I realised in Sweden that an “intercontinental collaborative online network for femme skaters” wasn’t necessary because such networks already exist! The visual mapping element of my project is a unique dimension to explore, and there are skate maps of cities in countries like Spain and Germany that could serve as useful templates for my own map. However, there’s already so much incredible work around skateboarding in Europe! So much to learn from and absorb.
My Watson was quickly transforming into something different, but I couldn’t put my finger on how or why it was changing. I came into my Watson year set on building something new. Now I found myself at a juncture where I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself but felt I had nothing little to contribute. At times, it felt like I couldn’t distinguish between me and my project. I was growing attached to the story I was telling about myself and my life rather than being a fully present participant and agent in it. Other days, I felt confident in my vision and was excited to see it progress, expand, and take on a life of its own. I realized in Mozambique and Sweden that it is not enough to base my project around the assumption that women in skateboarding are inherently revolutionary, or that skateboarding in and of itself can be considered a “vehicle” for “empowerment” and “revolution”. I was embarrassed by my use of that trope in my Watson application essays but felt thankful that I had started questioning myself and challenging the foundations upon which I had built my project. In order for me to learn and grow from this experience, I must be willing to evolve beyond “I want to skateboard with other women who skate” and ask more questions. Who are these womxn you’re meeting? What are their stories? How do they relate to concepts such as “woman”, “democracy”, and “power”? How does skateboarding fit into, contribute to, or even detract from our lives?
Skate Jam in Kassel
A week after arriving in Berlin, I travelled west to Kassel to attend GorlsRocknRoll Skate Jam. There I found a small but friendly and ambitious group of femmes with whom I ate delicious barbequed food, practised dropping in and skating transitions, and connected over our shared passion for skateboarding, which brought together women and girls from all over Germany to come skate for the weekend.
My time in Kassel prompted me to be more active about finding skate events and following up with women skaters who I was beginning to build virtual friendships with. I returned to Berlin abuzz with excitement at the plethora of opportunities for women and girls in Germany to connect with one another through skateboarding. It felt incredibly affirming to see organizations and individuals alike working to host girls-only skate sessions, promote all-gender skate jams, and increase visibility for women and people not traditionally represented in popular skate media.
Upon my return to Berlin, I began hanging out with some older Spanish skaters and kickbikers who I’d met one day coming home from iPunkt. They encouraged me to travel to Spain, a country renowned for its incredible skateboarding scenes and increasingly interconnected women’s skateboarding community.
In addition to wanting to catch the last of Spain’s summer weather, I am keen to visit Spain because of its active women’s skateboarding scene. Its increasingly fraught political atmosphere due to the Catalonian Independence Movement makes this weekend an important moment in modern Spanish history. My background in international relations means that I have spent a lot of time thinking about concepts such as capitalism, nationalism, and globalization. I am anxious to draw connections between the theories I learned about in university and the reality of struggle for power, space, and resources on the ground. I am also excited to taste the Mediterranean sea for the first time and check out some of the dopest skate spots in Europe!
Hasta mañana, Barcelona 😉