In 1981, a ramp near Southland Drive was immortalized on the cover of Thrasher Magazine, putting Calgary on the map in the world of skateboarding and solidifying the subculture in the city.
Skateboarding and the culture that surrounds it, is sometimes seen as an exclusive community and lifestyle. However, this exclusivity leaves many feeling deterred and discouraged from getting involved, especially women.
Bailee Werstroh, a 22-year-old Calgary skater, has felt excluded from Calgary’s skate scene.
She explains that it’s the anxiety of judgment and a lack of safe spaces for underrepresented skaters to learn and make mistakes that has often kept her from enjoying Calgary’s selection of skateparks.
“Sometimes, when people look at me for too long when I’m skateboarding, I tend to think that they’re a good skateboarder, and they know about form, and [that] I’m doing it wrong,” she says. “No one’s ever been like, ‘you suck, get off your skateboard.’”
Werstroh is not alone in this feeling.
Identifying a need for a community of femme and queer skaters, the Calgary-based 100% Skate Club has been tackling this issue by creating safe spaces for women and underrepresented communities to get involved in the sport.
Erica Jacobs, founder and chair of the club, says her vision for the non-profit is to support girls and non-binary folks by incorporating them into the male-dominated skateboard culture.
Operating for the past seven years, and with a community that is now over 200 people strong, Jacobs says that 100% Skate Club is hoping to keep growing and making a difference.
Jacobs, a lifelong skater and snowboarder, notes her inspiration to create the club came from feeling underappreciated and unnoticed as both an athlete and a woman.
“When I started snowboarding 30 years ago, there wasn’t even a women’s snowboard line. You just wore men’s clothing,” explains Jacobs.
Jacobs’ introduction into sports clearly lacked role models, something experts say is vital.
“I think the biggest thing is representation,” says Clare Fewster, a mental performance consultant with Mount Royal University’s campus athletics department.
Fewster explains that being able to see ourselves represented in a sport is an integral part of building confidence.
She also notes that people need safe spaces to learn, helping them build the confidence needed to continuously pursue any activity.
“We’re trying to say, you can try new things and you may or may not be great at it, but you get to try new things and we’ll be here to support you,” says Fewster.
This support is an important part of what the skate club has set out to do.
Jacobs plans to develop a mentorship program, “so that when people go to skateparks, there’s just this positive person there that’s encouraging that safe space,” she explains.
Advocacy aside, a commitment made by Jacobs’ organization is to get more underrepresented communities involved in Calgary’s skate scene. They do this through creating jobs for young people to teach and support beginners.
Jacobs says that mentorship is an integral part of shaping and maintaining a diverse community.
“They’re going to grow up and be the next leaders of the Calgary skate scene,” says Jacobs. “It’s really nice to see that skateboarding has a voice and that there’s room for women and diversity.”
This diversity is imperative to getting people to try new things, something that Jacobs hopes will demystify the sport.
Ebhoni Paul, a local skater and university student, explains how 100% Skate Club is inspiring to anyone who has ever wanted to try the sport.
Paul started skateboarding only five years ago, but picking up skateboarding as an adult woman meant she faced unique barriers. This included a lack of representation and safe spaces to make mistakes.
She was first introduced to 100% Skate Club in 2017 by some femme-skater friends, and credits the club for giving her more reasons to never give up.
“It felt like if I wasn’t good enough, I shouldn’t even be there,” says Paul. “Then I met these girls from the 100% Skate Club, and they were like, ‘the only way you’re going to get better is by showing up here.’”
Paul says that skateboarding means more to her than just fun physical activity — it has benefitted her mental health, taught her life lessons, and become part of her identity.
“I started so late in life,” she says. “Now I’m 23-years-old, I’ve been skating for almost five years, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Jacobs says that just encouraging someone new to get on a skateboard for the first time, even if they quit the club in the future, is a success.
“They were brave enough to get on a skateboard,” Jacobs explains. “They’ll forever say, ‘Yeah, I tried skateboarding.’”