“To work for a day when all females have the strength and confidence to never feel limited in any ability, choice, activity or opportunity because of their gender”: It sounds like it could’ve been an excerpt from a keynote speech at one of the Women’s Marches that took place in Washington, DC, across the country and around the world last Saturday. But in fact, it’s part of the Vision Statement of the Girls’ Riders’ Organization (GRO), a national not-for-profit founded to encourage more participation by girls and young women in “action sports,” notably skateboarding. Its newest chapter, the GRO Hudson Valley Crew, took form right here in Gardiner, where the local group calls itself the Majestic Sk8 Crü, after its regular gathering place: the skate park in George Majestic Memorial Park.
Most of the young skateboarders one sees on the streets are boys, and there are very few female competitive boarders in the Eastern US. But the demographics of the sport are slowly changing; and when skateboarding becomes one of the five new categories being added to the Summer Olympics in Tokyo in 2020, there will be both men’s and women’s teams.
When the core group of the Majestic Sk8 Crü coalesced last summer, it was partially in response to harassment that some of them had received from a couple of the boys who congregate at the Gardiner Skate Park. “Girls feel more comfortable skating with the big kids when there’s a bunch of them,” observes Marla Fasano, one of the “skate Moms,” who designed the Majestic Sk8 Crü’s signature tee-shirt. As the new club grew, however, it became more inclusive, and there are now at least three boys — brothers of some of the girl members — among the regular participants. “All our brothers are feminists,” says Ruth Weinmann, ten, who has adopted the skateboarding handle “Ruthless Ruthie Rainbow” in the spirit of female roller derby competitors.
Ruthie and her friend Sema Tasslan, ten, who are schoolmates at Plattekill Elementary School, first had their interest in skateboarding piqued when they attended day camp together at Majestic Park three years ago, through the Gardiner Summer Rec program. “We saw people using the skate park,” says Ruthie. “And they were all boys,” chimes in “Sassy Sema.” For Ruthie, it was love at first sight. “I begged my Mom for a skateboard after that. I told her, ‘I don’t want to do tee-ball or soccer or any other sport; I’m a skateboarder at heart.’”
Her mother, Georgia Weinmann, at first responded cautiously, buying Ruthie a scooter instead. “We were scared,” Georgia admits. But eventually Ruthie’s pleading prevailed; she got her first skateboard. and nowadays Georgia is the president of the GRO Hudson Valley Crew. Sema quickly got a skateboard as well, and the two friends began learning the moves together at school.
Not long afterward, Ruthie reconnected with her best friend from nursery school, Piper Casey, ten, when they started playing lacrosse together. Ruthie began trying to persuade her old friend to take up skateboarding, and eventually talked her into it. “She said, ‘I will try it for one day,” Ruthie recalls. “We all met here, about six or seven kids. By the end of this past summer there were about 20 people doing it. After about three weeks, we said, ‘Hey, let’s have a club.’” Majestic Sk8 Crü co-founders Ruthless Ruthie, Sassy Sema and Piper the Punisher are now the youth co-presidents of the local club.
Since Sema had sleepovers at Ruthie’s house on Wednesday nights, the club began meeting each Wednesday at the Gardiner Skate Park. During nice weather, the group also got together there on weekends, and they continue to do so when conditions at the park are dry and not too cold. A large group turned out last Sunday, when the temperatures climbed into the 50s, with one girl only two years of age beginning to learn the basics, and other members ranging in age from five to 12.
That day, a minor crisis arose when “A little girl broke her board, and she was sad,” reports Ruthie. The older girls quickly came up with a new club tradition to cheer her up: the Skateboard Fairy. The owner of a broken board should put a shard of it in a baggie and sleep with it under her feet that night, for future skateboarding luck. There’s no word yet on whether the Skateboard Fairy leaves money, or if the parents are on board with the girls’ concept; “It means that you’re shredding it,” Georgia just says with an approving smile.
This sort of bonding and mutual support seems to be a natural part of the process of the crew’s formation. “We want it to be empowering,” Georgia says. “My daughter feels so powerful and fierce on that skateboard!”
The Majestic Sk8 Crü is looking for new members, and would like to recruit some teens who can help impart their boarding skills to the younger ones. “It’s hard to find older girls,” Georgia laments. Donations are also sought; a bag of hand-me-down equipment — helmets, kneepads, elbow pads, wristguards, even spare boards — is kept on hand for the use of first-timers who want to try out the sport before investing in their own equipment. Cash donations — tax-deductible, since the umbrella organization, GRO, is a 501 (c) (3) — are appreciated as well. Eventually, says Ilka Chase — Piper’s mother and the Hudson Valley Crew’s vice president — they hope to organize some fundraising events, with the long-term goal of refurbishing and expanding the Gardiner Skate Park.
While wintry weather prevents boarding sessions at the park, the Gardiner group joins the rest of the Hudson Valley Crew for a monthly meetup at 2nd Nature, an indoor skateboarding rink in Peekskill. The next event there is scheduled for February 5. “As soon as the weather gets nice, we’ll be meeting at Majestic Park,” promises Georgia. Anyone who wants to participate is welcome to join the group. For updates on future activities, meeting times and locations, visit https://girlsriders.org/?page_id=2105 or www.facebook.com/girlsridersorg, or e-mail email@example.com.