Girls Skate Kamloops strives to make skateboarding more inclusive

Representation of girls is vital within the male-dominated sport says Girls Skate Kamloops organizer, Dianna Johnston.
A girl who founded Girls Skate Kamloops shows off her skills on her skateboard.
One of Girls Skate Kamloops founders, Lily Hawley, practices backside 180s, a well known skateboarding trick, at McArthur Island Skatepark. Photo courtesy of Neil Manuel.

With winter sports enthusiasts trading in their cold weather gear for bikes, boards, blades, scooters and skates, Kamloops skateparks are plenty busy and will likely become busier when SD73 lets out for summer June 29, 2023.

In Kamloops, many roller sports fanatics frequent McArthur Island Skatepark for good reason – The 27,000 square-foot skatepark has been acknowledged as one of the world’s premiere street-style skateparks and is the fifth largest in Canada. One club that uses the skatepark is working to make the sport more inclusive and welcoming for all genders. 

Girls Skate Kamloops was founded by local female skateboarders Myah Lawrence, Lily Hawley and Jessica Hemenway in June of 2020 when the trio decided to start hosting an informal gathering at McArthur Island Skatepark at 5 p.m. every Monday. 

Kamloops This Week reported that 16 girls showed up to the inaugural session, followed by 22 the next Monday and over 30 when the publication stopped by to chat with the founders the week after. 

When The Wren visited the skatepark Monday, June 5, to speak with organizer Dianna Johnston, another 25 to 30-some-odd girls were present, suggesting that Girls Skate Kamloops is equally as popular and impactful for young girls who’d like to get into the sport as it was back when Lawrence, Hawley and Hemenway founded the club in 2020. 

Upon arriving at the park around 5 p.m., “the littles,” as Johnston likes to call the club’s youngest members, were already chucking on knee and elbow pads, wrist guards and helmets and were practicing tricks in the grass. 

As we waited to chat with Johnston, who was already busy assisting some of the older girls who had left the grass to hit the skatepark, a Girls Skate Kamloops mom agreed to speak with us about her children’s involvement with the club. 

Nicole Webber has five children, three of whom are girls, and says she decided to check out Girls Skate Kamloops because she was on the hunt for an activity her girls could enjoy doing together. 

“My girls immediately fell in love with Dianna and got excited about the sport thanks to her tips and tricks,” Webber says. “It’s an incredibly inclusive group and there isn’t any pressure to be an amazing skateboarder. It’s all about accepting each and every girl exactly where they’re at.”

Webber also explains that Johnston offered to help source equipment for her girls to try out and eventually keep, which she says made all the difference. 

“It’s really hard to get all five of my kids engaged in extracurriculars because I sometimes find it incredibly expensive to get started,” she says. “For Dianna to be doing this just because she wants to support the kids, it really meant a lot to myself and my girls. It was huge for us.” 

The club has also been nothing but supportive and accepting of one of Webber’s girls who is neurodivergent, the mom shares. 

“It’s just been the absolute best and most respectful space. She has really been able to flourish here and it’s been so amazing to be able to watch her come out of her shell,” says Webber. 

As Johnston made her way back over to the grass, The Wren was able to speak to her in between pauses to hand out specially made Girls Skate Kamloops pins made by local graphic artist and motion designer, skateboarder and Girls Skate Kamloops supporter Neil Manuel.

Colourful pins that read Girls Skate Kamloops on them sit on a green cutting mat.
Cool and colourful pins designed and made by Neil Manuel were passed out at the Girls Skate Kamloops session on Monday, June 5, ahead of a BBQ hosted by The Truth Snow and Skate Life, a snow and skate shop located uptown at 1380 Summit Drive Unit 7. Photo courtesy of Neil Manuel.

When asked if sourcing equipment was something the club works to help with on a regular basis, Johnston explained that over the last few years bins of safety gear like knee and elbow pads, wrist guards and even a few helmets have been donated. 

She also says she immensely relies upon the Kamloops Skateboard Association (KSBA) and owners of local skate shops such as 808 Bench and The Truth Snow and Skate to help run sessions, offer their expertise and provide spare equipment on occasion.

“I’m also immensely grateful for a group of about a dozen older skaters who have never once turned me down when I need a demonstration on how to do a specific trick,” Johnston says. “All these people take such good care of us, whether it be helping the girls learn new tricks and techniques, offering a spare bolt or bearing, or even digging through their closets to look for old decks to give to kiddos who are in need.”

Johnston’s daughter, Jorja, says she is keen to encourage other girls to get involved. While she admits getting involved can be intimidating, she says the support from the older kids at the skatepark is encouraging if you’re able to muster the courage to show up. 

She recalls her first time at the park, where a substantial wipeout nearly sent her home.

“I was using a little penny board and kept falling because it was too small,” Jorja says. “I fell hard and started crying … there was this guy though that had an extra board that he came over and gave to me.”

“He said, ‘I know you’re crying, and you probably want to give up. But don’t. You can do this,’ and he gave me the board … people here have always been so kind and supportive. It’s really nice.”

A young girl stands with her skateboard in the grass at a Girls Skate Kamloops session.
Jorja Johnston poses for a photo with her skateboard while “the littles” practice tricks in the grass behind her. Kyra Grubb / The Wren.

Jorja also recalls another special moment spent at the skatepark when she decided she’d like to try to drop into the bowl for the first time.

“I was kind of stuck up there, and I was just standing there for like five minutes. Almost the whole skatepark gathered around the bowl and watched, and once I finally had the courage to drop in, they all cheered for me. It was amazing.”

For girls who are scared to get started, Jorja says, “I was scared too, but you’ve gotta break through the awkwardness and give it a shot because once you do, you’ll realize everyone is so nice and supportive.” 

Jorja says it sometimes makes her sad to see the older girls grow up and move away, so she’d really love it if more girls join and give skating a shot so that friendly competition is stoked.

Johnston reminds young girls that there’s a wide range of abilities and personalities at the skatepark, which can sometimes be intimidating. 

“Although it appears some of the super talented skateboarders have got it all figured out and never fall, they started somewhere too. The big thing is you’ve gotta keep pushing, keep getting back up when you fall, because even the best fall sometimes too.”

For many girls, the club provides a reflection of themselves at the skatepark, where Johnston says girls are often underrepresented, “especially in smaller city centres like ours.”

“Not seeing someone like you on that first visit could result in you never coming again. I’m thankful Jorja was so well fostered when she started coming here, and being able to offer that to other girls through the club is so wonderful. It really can make a huge difference for those that need that encouragement to try it out and keep coming back.”

Johnston encourages parents to consider getting their kids involved with the club. The group meets every Monday at McArthur Island Skatepark at 5 p.m. and is continually welcoming all girls and all skill levels. 

“Women are extremely underrepresented within the sport,” Johnston says. “There aren’t many female skateboarders here in Kamloops or in other towns of our size, so it’s important we continue to meet.” 

While visiting for the first time, Johnston suggests newcomers locate a quiet spot and be mindful of those in the park. 

“Safety is a big thing,” she says. “Not just because kids should be wearing their safety equipment, but if a board gets away from a kid, an older skater could get really hurt too if they’re coming in fast and don’t see the board.”

Finally, Johnston reminds parents that Girls Skate Kamloops is essentially a drop-in social club, meaning they aren’t held liable in the case of any injuries. While Johnston and older skateboarders can offer a helping hand and remind kids to wear their safety gear, ensuring your child’s safety yourself is vital.

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