Erica Jacobs didn’t originally plan to become a professional skateboarder. She started out as a competitive snowboarder before she picked up skateboarding in her 20s.
And when she attended her first event at Millenium Park in 2002, she assumed it was just a gathering of professional skateboarders. Little did she know, the event was actually a competition.
“I didn’t even have a chance to like warm-up or even think about it,” said Jacobs, adding she later found out she’d won the competition without even realizing it.
From then on Jacobs was hooked, motivated to develop her skateboarding skills and eventually turn pro – even if she’d have to carve a space for herself.
Changing the skatepark dynamic
Although women were involved with the sport when skate crate races were held on the streets of New York City in the early 1950s, the first women’s skateboarding competition did not happen until 1965. While males have historically dominated the sport since its inception, skateboarding is beginning to adopt a new role as an inclusive space for female and non-binary skaters.
Jacobs says most serious skateboarders rely on video pieces showcasing their skills to get sponsorships and magazine appearances. She submitted her first tape on a VHS in 2004 and that same year joined Calgary’s Mission Snowboard and Skate Shop team as their first female skateboarder and snowboarder.
Her pro career introduced her to a group of women who called themselves the BOOB Crew, with members based in Calgary, Vancouver and Montreal. While the group no longer exists, Jacobs credits them with initiating her “skateboarding journey.”
In 2004, when she attended the premiere of Villa Villa Cola’s Getting Nowhere Faster – the first women-only skateboarding film – shown in Vancouver, Jacobs says she began to see just how many women were in the sport.
“That’s when I really felt like, ‘Hey, we’re not just a small minority group here, we have strength in numbers.’ And you could see that starting to develop.”
Wrist surgery and acceptance to dental hygiene school would prompted Jacobs to quit skateboarding. But she began to crave the community she’d had before and eventually decided to take it up again.
“I was hanging out at the skate park with all these dudes and I was missing that BOOB crew connection.”
100% from the ground up
In 2015, Jacobs started Calgary’s 100% Skate Club. She wanted to create a space where women, girls and non-binary individuals could meet and find community.
“I chose 100% as the name. I wanted it to be like, everybody can be a part of 100% and everybody can see themselves in this inclusive space.”
Celeste Pang, associate professor of women’s and gender studies at Mount Royal University, says given the current climate of anti-gender protests and limiting policies towards trans and queer students within schools, having safe spaces like the 100% Skate Club is especially important.
“We need to see sports as a kind of microcosm of society as well as an arena in which perhaps change can be affected, where it can’t be elsewhere,” said Pang.
She adds organizations shouldn’t focus on gender-related separation, but more on emphasizing spaces where there is no division.
“Sports is a great physical activity that helps people build confidence and learn teamwork – what’s the need to decide based on binary genders in the first place?”
For Jacobs and 100%, the goal is to foster a supportive community where skaters of all ages, backgrounds and gender identities can learn, and fail, together.
Emily Roadhouse has been a member of 100% for the last few years. She didn’t start skateboarding until she was 18 and says she was hesitant to go to the skatepark alone at first.
“I actually would almost exclusively only go to skateparks for the 100% meetups when I first started skateboarding, because of that anxiety of feeling like, ‘Oh, I’m going to be the only fem person at the park, and I feel like everyone’s looking at me and seeing how good I can skateboard and judging me.’”
Pang explains how resources and economic class also create barriers for female sports. Typically, she says less funding is allocated to women’s sports and only a “privileged group of people” can access and continue to participate in them.
In 2019, 100% became a non-profit, which Jacobs says enabled the organization to expand and start its mentorship program. Through the program, young skaters work with mentors, helping the group better determine how to create safe spaces by hearing from the skaters themselves.
Roadhouse joined as a mentor two years ago and says it is a rewarding experience which allows her to offer guidance and create connections with new members. She said, “I think it’s really amazing to be the person that I wish that I had growing up.”
Jacobs adds male skateboarders have also been incredibly supportive and encouraging of the group.
“I usually get a lot of praise from the male skaters saying, ‘It’s really nice to see more inclusivity and more participation.’”
While sport still has a long way to go to become fully inclusive, Jacobs says she is proud of what the group has done.
“We just want to continue our organic growth that we’ve always had and hopefully create that nice, safe environment that people can continue to grow themselves for years to come.”