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Women's skate club voices need for more campus representation

The skateboarding club stresses the need for campus accommodations while being a safe space for all ASU students


"As much as we're working to try to change it ... skateboarding in the 90s was very male-centered and a lot of it was sexist."

On sunlit Wednesdays in the early evening, the sound of dozens of wheels rolling on gravel can be heard behind the ASU Art Museum. A group of skaters convene there to practice tricks and compliment each other on their new gear. They range from novice to lifelong skaters, freshmen to seniors, and vary between all identity backgrounds and genders.

This is the goal of the Women's Skate Club at ASU: to be as diverse as possible and create a safe place for students to make friends and skate together.

Kennedi Cowles, the club's president and a junior studying English, attributes the club's inclusive nature to all of the different friendships she's formed.

"I open my arms up to literally anyone — you don't have to know how to skate or have to be good," said Cowles. "You don't have to be a woman. (The club) introduced me to a whole other realm of skating."

Cowles was introduced to the world of skating after her older sister and her friend showed her Thrasher Magazine's "King of The Road," a show in which "the world's best skaters go on a road trip adventure." The show hosts a women's week, which piqued Cowles' interest.

"I went down a whole rabbit hole of skate YouTube videos," Cowles said. "I saw my first ever woman skating: Brighton Zeuner and she was 15, or something. I was like, 'I want to do this.' I just thought it was the coolest thing ever to see girls dominating a male-dominated sport."

When Cowles first entered college, she said it was hard to find a skate community that wasn't "90% male." After attending her first WSC meeting, she met her best friend, Zamara Fabela – the president of the club at the time. Fabela, who graduated in 2022 with a justice studies degree, passed the club's presidency down to Cowles.

READ MORE: Women's skate club creates community for female skaters at ASU

"When I took over, being in justice studies, I learned a lot about gender studies," Fabela said. "The name is Women's Skate Club, but I think the real goal behind it is just creating a safe space for anyone who wants to learn how to skate and wants to meet people with common interests."

While the club's goal is to strive for inclusion, they are currently having trouble feeling included on ASU's campus. Recently, ASU has been cracking down on skateboarders, designating most of the campus to walk-only zones.

Within just one hour at a WSC meeting, the skaters were told to either "stop skating or move." First, an ASU security guard drove up to the group and turned his car's headlights on. He pulled out a speaker and gave a warning that the skaters doing tricks needed to keep all four of their skateboard wheels on the ground.

After compromising, the club decided to move to an alleyway near the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. After a few minutes, they were told to move again because of the "loud noise" of their wheels on the ground.

"If you want to talk about loud, let's talk about the music that's blasted by the MU," joked Alan Gomez, an associate professor at ASU who teaches justice and social inquiry. He has also been skating for 40 years, since he was 12 years old growing up in Corpus Christi.

He says skating teaches people important lessons, such as both literally and figuratively learning how to get back up after a fall.

"Skateboarding has existed for 50 to 60 years depending on where you trace the genealogy from," Gomez said. "So there's layers, whether it's physical health or mental health in terms of being able to focus on something and perhaps think less about all of the challenging things in the world, but also it was really about creating communities."

Both Gomez and Fabela agree that skateboarding should be more supported on ASU's campus.

"Kids are literally outside being active with each other," Fabela said. "I thought after skating was introduced to the Olympics it would become more widely accepted."

Douglas Miles, the founder of Apache Skateboards and a creative with an exhibition in the Phoenix Art Museum, shares the same sentiment that skateboarding is something that should be celebrated on ASU's campus.

"I think it's extremely important for ASU to support skateboarding on and off campus," Miles said "It's a public institution — it's meant to build up a society with more educated and informed thinkers. Really, ASU belongs to the people, so that includes skateboarders."

Miles and his son were approached by NAU to help with building a designated skate spot on their campus, which would cost the school $10,000.

Cowles said she thinks building a skatepark on campus in the same vein as NAU is a solution that ASU could implement. Cowles said WSC has attempted to bring up a skatepark with ASU in the past, but nothing came to fruition.

Gomez said ASU should work with Tempe to make the University more inclusive for skaters.

"It's just inevitable that in a matter of time ASU will realize, 'Hey, why don't we put some resources into creating something,'" Gomez said. "Why not get some resources from the general budget?"

He highlighted Arizona's long history with skateboarding and implied the importance of incorporating skating into both ASU and Tempe's culture.

"There was a skate park there in the back of Danelle Plaza," Gomez said. "As part of our work with Skate After School, we've tried to be in communication with some of the representatives from the city of Tempe and with the tenants at Danelle and the old school skaters that used to skate that skatepark that are interested in what it would mean to revitalize that plaza."

READ MORE: Tempe locals react to redevelopment of historic Danelle Plaza

Skate After School is a Phoenix nonprofit that Gomez, Cowles and Fabela are involved with. It serves to provide skateboard programs to children in elementary schools.

Along with Skate After School, Gomez works with Slow Impact, an organization that provides panels to discuss skateboarding, art and politics. Slow Impact held a panel that Miles spoke at to discuss what it means to "skate on native land."

According to Miles, a member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, it's important to be mindful of the Indigenous culture when skateboarding.

"As I started, I started to think about it," Miles said. "I was like, 'Well, I'm going to make a board and we'll say you're skating on native land as a reminder to these brands and companies and organizations, that essentially everywhere you're skating is native land."

Maurice Crandall, an associate history professor who was on the same panel with Miles for Slow Impact, also believes that skateboarding has a long way to go in terms of being inclusive to Indigenous skaters, women and the LGBTQ+ community.

"As much as we're working to try to change it ... skateboarding in the 90s was very male-centered and a lot of it was sexist," Crandall said.

According to Crandall, clubs like WSC are helping to bridge that gap and bring diversity to the forefront of skateboarding.

"We need clubs like this, we need far more representation," Crandall said. "Skateboarding is getting better, but by no means is it there, it still has a long way to go."

Edited by Katrina Michalak, Alysa Horton and Caera Learmonth.

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