I found out about Pushing Boarders through my dear friend M. Dabbadie (they/them), who was invited to the inaugural conference in London to speak at a panel titled Not just some homogenised bullshit’: Skateboarding and the Gender-Identity Evolution. M. asked me to come support them due to their discomfort with public speaking and frustrated by the ways in which media and folks in the skate activism movement tend to use them as a spokesperson for the female skateboarding community despite their being trans and non-binary. Despite not having seen M. since India, we’d maintained constant contact. I even began distributing Xem Skaters zines to skate shops and spaces throughout South Africa such as Baseline Skate Shop, The Shred Skatepark, and The Skate Emporium. Upon researching Pushing Boarders’ website, I realized that this was not only my ticket out of South Africa, but also a momentous opportunity to participate in an exciting and potentially revolutionary social experiment.
I received M.’s email on a crisp wintry afternoon in Cape Town, where I was in the middle of organizing a series of girls skateboarding film screenings at a local skater-friendly bar called Yours Truly. June was supposed to be “girls skate month” and my 24th birthday was coming up on June 10th. However, it was wintertime and there was little traction around this event. People were interested, but not invested. Moreover, I’d built relationships with different skater women throughout the city and country, but felt that the movement lacked momentum and consistency. I wanted this initiative to be led by South African women with my support and resources. I got the approval of Yours Truly’s owner, but it felt wrong to organize these events by myself. It wasn’t until I read M.’s message that I realized how attached I’d gotten to Cape Town. What was the point of trying to champion social change in a way that wasn’t sustainable either for me or the movement? How would I be any different from any other charity who comes from without and provide solutions that local communities didn’t ask for?
It was time to move on. “Let go or be dragged.”
On 31 May 2018, I boarded my flight to London, leaving behind my life skating these mountains, surfing these seas, dancing in the desert, hiking through the plains and jumping off the cliffs and watching sunsets from my apartment in Bo Kaap. It was a bittersweet ending, but I was excited to see what awaited me in London.
Pushing Boarders is the world’s first skateboarding conference dedicated to the discussion and celebrating of skateboarding’s social and cultural impact throughout the world. This concept is a collaboration between four socially-conscious skateboarding organisations: SkatePal, Long Live Southbank, Skateism & Re-verb Skateboarding. In their own words, the aim of Pushing Boarders is to:
- Celebrate and spread awareness of the organisations and individuals doing amazing things using skateboarding around the world.
- Shine a light on the smaller organisations often overlooked in the skateboarding media.
- Encourage debate about lesser spoken topics in skateboarding.
- Create better relationships between academia, skate NGOS and the skate industry. A platform for networking and sharing ideas between different fields and organisations within skateboarding.
The inaugural conference took place from 1-3 June 2018 between House of Vans London and the Bartlett School of Architecture. I spent the entirety of the first full day attending talks and panels about topics ranging from the rise of female skateboarders architecture to the challenges of writing about visually-driven skate culture. My most memorable (and public!) moment during the conference occurred during the “Race, Skateboarding, and the Power of Imagined Communities” panel, where I shared my thoughts on the importance of intersectionality in discussions about race and how skateboarding can transform our perceptions and experiences of difference (43:35-47:14). Political coalitions I specifically addressed my concerns over the lack of representation in the panel: after all, a panel that consists of just two American black men isn’t necessarily a diverse one! We can’t deny that black men’s voices are often overshadowed by antiquated media depictions that portray them violent “thugs” who lack depth and nuance. That said, I felt it was important to acknowledge that people of color, especially women and queer folks, have unique and valuable experiences within skateboarding that I felt weren’t surfaced during the discussion. I asked questions that meant to make folks in the room question why we place the onus on individuals to be kind to their oppressors (e.g. “if I’m nice to them, they won’t be racist and treat me poorly”) and asked the panelists Neftali Williams and Karl Watson about their thoughts on how skateboarding helps to transform our perceptions of difference. Thanks to the openness of the panelists and receptiveness of the audience, the conversation deepened in a participatory way that reminded me why I love skateboarding so damn much!!
At this conference, I asked myself some really big questions around identity, possibility, concrete, urban design… even bigotry in skateboarding! As much as we want to act like skateboarding is this utopian space where no -isms exist, the reality of skateboarding’s historical roots in a Californian white Boys club and it’s present state as a male-dominated space, and skateboarding’s use value (where more and more it’s become a tool to achieve some other means rather than just a skateboard).
It is impossible to talk about skateboarding in the 21st century without addressing questions of identity and inclusion in the culture. Outside of contests (which to me represents the infiltration of capitalist, mainstream logic into the space), we’re a self governing culture. Generally we’re super inclusive, or rather, less tolerant to bigotry. Yet because we insist that skateboarding doesn’t have bigotry, we continue to suffer in silence while toxic shit gets thrown around. This conference is so important because it enables us to talk about skateboarding after so many years just being about it without taking the time to reflect on how radical skateboarding is and how it’s currently transforming the way we organize socially and politically, and even the way we build cities!
In addition to exciting adventures and epic street sessions around town, here are some additional highlights from my time in London:
- The Pushing Boarders organizers set up some kickers in an open space down the street from UCL’s School of Architecture. A lot of people came and we spent hours throwing ourselves around, having fun making new friends and playing skate. It’s great to talk about skateboarding, but sometimes (most of the time) it feels better to shut up and skate!
- I spent my first night in London on a houseboat with a bunch of skaters I’d met while skating at a pop-up near Bartlett. So random and adventurous and awesome!
- I met and skated South Bank with one of my idols Jamie Reyes, who is one of only three women to ever grace the cover of Thrasher Magazine!!! She is one of my heroes because she was holding it down in the skate underground back in the 90s when skateboarding had little support from the mainstream and female skateboarders were hard to come by. Together we cruised around with other trailblazers such as Louisa Menke. I even got to meet Alexis Sablone, a talented skater who also holds a PhD in architecture from Columbia University. I was so stoked to spend time with these icons and talk about family, both blood and chosen, and eat dinner together with so many greats. It’s so important to honor those who had the courage to be their most authentic selves even when it wasn’t popular. What was even more refreshing is that we’re all out here still skating our way through a wild world
- Pushing Boarders brought together people I’d met throughout my Watson year. I was so stoked to reunite with Marie and then skate together with Skate Kitchen (a collective from New York City I’ve skated with in the past) and local UK crews such as Girl Skate UK, Nefarious, and Girls Can’t Skate. It felt like everything came together so perfectly.
- I modeled for my first time for a gender-neutral skate clothing brand called Doyenne Skateboards, a Glasgow, Scotland-based collective of women skaters with ties to countries such as Brazil and Italy.
- I bought a new deck from the Concrete Jungle Foundation, who was raising funds to support my friend Jesse Mendes’ organization Angola Skateboarding Union to build Angola’s first skate park in November 2018!
- Got invited to the Girls Can’t Skate group chat, a group of over 100 girls in London who arrange meet ups, share information, encourage one another to skate, and go to events. Being able to have a constant stream of girls trying to link up for sessions made me so, so happy!!! Especially after spending almost six months pulling teeth to find women to skate with.
What with its urban sprawl, countless skate parks and spots, and electric energy, London stole my heart. My experience at Pushing Boarders gave me hope that this future I’m trying to help build is truly worth investing in.
To the Pushing Boarders organizers: THANK YOU! I hope that your idea blossoms into a full-blown movement within skateboarding that inspires collaboration and positive social transformation on a global scale. I hope to someday be a part of it, whether as a panelist or a facilitator. I look forward to seeing you all at next year’s conference!