Amber Edmondson and Nanja Van Rijsse are changing lives with the help of skateboarding.
I first met Amber and Nanja at the Bright Skateboard Trade Show in Berlin. The thing is, I didn’t actually say anything to them! Thinking back, I’m pretty sure this was because I was simply too busy checking out the awesome booth they had created. It featured a wall where visitors could write “a barrier in women’s skateboarding” on one side and “ways to solve barriers” on the other. Both sections were filled with comments, funny and serious, along with tons of positive and inspiring messages for women. In the middle, there was a beautiful skate deck that read “Women Skate the World”.
Amber and Nanja started Women Skate the World just this year. They’re creating an international network of female skateboarding instructors, many of which are currently teaching and inspiring girls around the world to skate. However, their programs are about more than just skating – they are designed to use skateboarding as a tool to teach women important life skills, to believe in themselves, and to face their fears.
I recently got in touch with Amber while she was working in Athens to hear more about Women Skate the World and where it’s heading. Here’s some of the things she had to say…
Hi Amber! Tell us about how Women Skate the World is impacting the communities you’re working in?
Hi! Yes, we’ve just launched our flagship women’s program with skate non-profit Free Movement Skateboarding. We aim to ensure a female presence within global skate projects which can make a massive difference in participation of girl skaters in these conflict areas. For example, we’ve worked in places where it’s not culturally acceptable for older girls to have direct contact with men. This often means that if a female instructor is not present, local girls won’t skate. We also train local women in instructing and being a leader for girls in their area, so the female skate scene continues to thrive after we’ve left.
Our programs are focused on community building and we’re not trying to create the next X Games superstars, it’s really just about introducing girls and women to skateboarding, giving them equal access to skateboarding spaces and showing them that they can do anything they set their mind to.
What do you believe that skateboarding teaches girls and women in these places?
When I was working in Iraqi Kurdistan, I met two sisters who were seven (Shams) and five (Malek). Before I left, Shams had already began dropping in and riding down the big banks and Malek could go down the small slope on her own. They loved it and their dad was bringing them every day. Eventually, they even started bringing their mum to show her all the things they could do. Finally, the dad decided to try getting on the board himself and even their mum had a go.
Watching this young family skate together is one of my personal highlights since I’ve started teaching skateboarding. Something really powerful came from that situation. The girls’ Dad was having a go at skating down this little slope while I sat watching with his 5 year old daughter. She turned to me and said “sister not scary, me not scary, dad… scary!” She was totally amazed that her dad was afraid of something that she had already conquered. It was a very proud moment for her.
Skateboarding is an incredible tool for teaching because everyone is naturally afraid when they first start. This means that you have to build your confidence from within and continuously face things you are afraid of. A key lesson for us to instill is the idea that fear does not mean you are incapable. This is along with countless other things like getting back up when you fall and even that falling itself is not the worst thing in the world! Some of the girls I’ve met come from quite sheltered backgrounds and it’s terrifying to risk taking a fall. Of course, this is never good, but it’s a critical part of personal progression, learning determination, and finally achieving something they had envisioned – all things that are applicable in life.
What differences do you see between female skate scenes in the communities you’re helping vs. other parts of the world?
I believe that women’s skateboarding globally has truly flourished in terms of of participation and “cultural acceptance” in Europe, the U.S., etc. The difference with these communities is that skateboarding is still very new to them. They really don’t have this established, Westernized belief that skateboarding is/was male dominated. Many of them are just now getting a skatepark or they are working with a “space” where skaters will congregate.
This is so important for WSTW because our instructors may be the first contact that new skaters in these areas have with skaters from other parts of the world. When an adult, female instructor shows up, it basically immediately creates this belief that skateboarding is for anyone. Some communities are so early on that we’re just explaining what a skateboard is and how you use it. When we are there, it’s just like, “yeah, it’s for boys and girls, men or women, anyone can try”. This can be critical to the future development of skate culture in their local area.
Do currently existing skate non-profits/NGO’s already have skate programs that include or require a female presence?
Some skate NGO’s have dedicated programs, such as ours, that teach gender equality and include female instructors. The issue is actually getting the female skate instructors. To all the women out there: if you know how to push on a skateboard and possibly how to drop in, you are definitely good enough to make a huge difference in these girl’s futures. We’re trying to break down barriers that could prevent female skate instructors from getting out there and spreading the joy of skateboarding along with their male counterparts. You are needed, you are enough and you will absolutely love it! Please get in touch with us if you’re interested or have any questions or concerns, it’s exactly what we’re here for.
Women Skate the World also exists as a resource for female instructors, or anyone wanting to start a local skateboarding program, to connect with other instructors and have a sort of “database” including female-specific information as well as skate program information in general. The information includes safety tips, teaching methods, lesson plans and stories from female skate instructors in various communities globally. We want women to know that they are not alone if they decide to take part in these programs.
What is the ultimate goal of Women Skate the World?
Women Skate the World aims to be the go-to authority for women’s skateboarding programs. We want everyone from grass-roots organisations just starting out to global organisations with years of experience to know that they can turn to us for consultation on how to be as gender inclusive as possible with their participants, volunteers and staff. This isn’t something we want to achieve alone though, we’re working to develop a global community of female skate instructors who use our programs in more areas, thus making them even stronger as we learn together how to use them successfully in a variety of regions and cultures.
Helping Women Skate the World
Donations to Women Skate the World go towards setting up new skate projects, supporting existing women’s skateboard programs and supporting female skate instructors around the world. Women Skate the World is thankful for even the smallest contributions.
Check out WomenSkatetheWorld.com to see all the great stuff Amber and Nanja are working on.
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