While women are underrepresented in action sports today, the numbers have improved greatly in the past two decades. Though action sports are some of the newest in sporting history, the fanatical cult following for these sports is monumental and ever-increasing. Women are a fast-growing demographic in skateboarding, surfing, snowboarding and BMX biking, yet their male counterparts outnumber them. Some women in action sports have to fight to be taken seriously in this male-dominated arena. But that could change. The Orange County/San Diego based all-girl skate crew, Pink Helmet Posse, aims to re-calibrate the young sports world and perhaps change the way girls are treated in skateboarding.
Bella Kenworthy, Rella "Relz" Murphy, and Sierra Kerr make up the core of the Pink Helmet Posse. Other than their 15 year old mentor Jordyn Barrat, they're all under 10 years old. But there is a mission driving their madness: encourage more girls to get on the board.
Bella, Relz and Sierra first started skating together because of a coincidence: they all wore the same color helmet. Their friendship led to regular practices together. Then with the help of their dads, they now swarm the skate parks with their families, adding new members to their team each weekend. "We skate together sometimes, but mostly it's just us three," seven-year-old Bella says. "We're kind of all the same [level], but Jordyn is better because she's the oldest." Their camaraderie has helped them become better skaters, mastering tricks and skills as a supported group, and has also helped them battle the competitive boys at the skate parks.
"That's kind of how they got so good, they pushed each other," Bella's mom Sarah says. "When one of them wanted to do something new, the others wanted to learn it too. It was just a constant support network they built for themselves."
When Bella's father Jason Kenworthy created a website for them and an Instagram too, their humble endeavor began to gain traction outside Southern California. A short documentary on the Posse was made by Ben Mullinkosson and Kristelle Laroche from Chapman University. "The Pink Helmet Posse" (2013) was nominated for Best Documentary Short at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival, and toured through a few other film festivals as well.
Even at the young age of seven, Bella, Relz and Sierra are no strangers to discrimination from the skater boys in the area. "They've definitely gotten some guff from the boys. I feel like boys are always kind of hard on them," Sarah explains, "but they're getting tougher, they're learning to stand up for themselves."
"Boys can be mean to us; sometimes they snake me," Bella says.
Gender-separated sports has its roots in the Industrial Revolution. While the "nature of women" was debated by the bourgeois Victorian upper class, so was their place in the new inventions of leisure time and sporting for entertainment. Often, women were encouraged to perpetuate the delicate, "porcelain-doll" woman standard; the woman whose job was to look good, rear children and be attentive to her husband as to show off his wealth and her fertility. This also excluded women from participating in sports. That social stigma on women's propriety and exclusion from sports lasted for nearly a century.
In the 1960s, skateboarding and surfing took off like a viral epidemic among the youth cultures, for men and women both. In 1965, Pattie McGee even made the cover of Life magazine, doing a handstand on her board. Women remained in the skateboarding scene as an important minority for years. But the advertising and media focus within this sport very rarely focused on the women's skill at skateboarding. Instead the focus was often in a hyper-sexualized, passive "groupie" role. In the 1970s and 80s, skate parks were closing down and advertisers and companies began to consolidate their financial energy, honing in their attention on the young male and straying away from the female skater, surfer, and rider.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, female skateboarders, BMX bikers and surfers were able to utilize some of the burgeoning technologies in online videos and blogs to help expand their support network, though larger companies and media outlets ignored this demographic. Now, though the X Games -- the world's largest competitive action sporting event -- only 33 of the 192 competitors were women.
In response to these odds, the Pink Helmet Posse seeks to inspire other girls to pursue their dreams of skateboarding professionally.
Six-year-old Ryann Cannon, practices in a big bowl with her dad while Bella and Relz are taking their turn on the big ramps, trying to catch some air and do some tricks. Bella's favorite tricks, "Disasters" and "Smiths," are not easy for most seven-year-olds, but Bella says she's committed to sports; loves to travel; and hang with her posse. She skates through the bowls and on the ramps without anyone's help or coaching. There isn't even a trace of fear on her face. When she was a little younger, her mother says she learned that doubting oneself in skating wasn't just an esteem issue; Bella could get hurt if she didn't trust her instincts on her deck. "Bella got a concussion from second guessing herself," her mom says. But watching her skate now, without fear or doubt -- Bella seems to have learned to believe in herself. She's been skating since she was five, and says she wants to compete in the X Games for skating and surfing soon. "I practice skateboarding every day," she says. "Well, sometimes I take a day off."
While the Pink Helmet Posse is based around these five girls who like to skate, the young skaters aren't quite aware of the impact of their fast-moving troupe. They are breaking gender stereotypes and perhaps encouraging new generations of girls across the world, showing them that anyone can kick-ass if they want, even in pink.
"I don't know why girls wouldn't want to skate -- it's fun," Bella says.