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Don't Tell These Venice Skateboarders To Be Careful

Members of GRLSWIRL during a group skate session in Venice. (Photo courtesy @GRLSWIRL via Instagram)
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Let's say you're walking down the Venice boardwalk, eating a soft serve and trying not to feel guilty about it after passing the weightlifters at Muscle Beach. Suddenly, a group of fifty girls on skateboards zoom by you on all sides.

If "GRLSWIRL'd" were a verb, it just happened to you.

GRLSWIRL (pronounced "girl swirl") is an all-female skateboard community created as a safe space for girls to learn how to skate. Its founder, Lucy Osinski, started the group after facing regular street harassment while skating around her neighborhood. Daily comments from onlookers ranged from condescending to downright inappropriate.

"People, especially even if I'm just teaching, they'll come up to me and be like, 'Oh don't hurt yourself sweetie,'" she said. "And that's just unwanted, but then there's the actual 'ooh, baby give me some of that,' or 'you're gonna make a man real happy.'"

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Dealing with street harassment is all too familiar for women, but when trying to pick up a new activity like skateboarding, it's enough to deter women from skating in certain areas, skating at certain times or even skating at all. This contributes to the gender gap in an already male centric sport.

Sports agent Yulin Olliver represents some of the best professional female skaters in the industry, including Lacey Baker and Jenn Soto. Over the years and across the country, she's heard similar stories regarding what it's like to be a woman skater.

"I'd say 90 percent if not 100 percent of my clients have said at one point that they thought that they were the only female skater in the world," Olliver said. "Women's skateboarding is almost seen now as the counterculture, where men's skateboarding in the past, that was considered rebellious."

Counterculture or not, a shift is taking place within the industry. With the rise of social media, female skateboarders are carving out a bigger presence in popular culture. Rather than wait for the occasional write-up or cover story in a sports magazine, women skaters and skateboarding groups can self-promote on YouTube and Instagram.

This exposure not only helps other women and girls to see the potential in picking up a board, but it also helps empower those already skating to keep improving, showing them they aren't alone in their passion.

Stephanie LaVita, a skateboarder who started a similar group to GRLSWIRL on the East Coast called New England's Female Skateboarding (NEFS), said social media has been pivotal in developing her own community.

For years, LaVita has followed both skate groups as well as professional female skaters on Instagram. "When you see somebody doing something that you're interested in on a phone it becomes more realistic, especially if that person's the same age or you can identify with them."

Though groups like GRLSWIRL and NEFS started as a way to feel safer out on the street, they've evolved into spaces where women can feel less self-conscious while messing around and trying new tricks.

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"They're like wild animals at this point,"LaVita said of her friends. "They don't care if they're falling with each other. They laugh. They make fools of themselves because they're confident and they feel comfortable with who they're skating with."

Judgment-free environments like these are breeding grounds for talent, and it's no surprise that professional female skaters are now scoring contracts with major brands like Vans and Nike. Women's skateboarding will even make its first Olympic appearance when the sport debuts at the upcoming 2020 games in Tokyo.

But all these big moments for female skating are made possible by tackling small hurdles as a new skater, and Osinski wants GRLSWIRL to be there while its members figure out their place in the sport.

"The biggest thing for us is making skateboarding less intimidating," she said. "You don't have to be a badass, you don't have to be a ripper, you don't have to be from California and have wavy, beach-like hair. You could be a girl with a 9-to-5, you could be a farmer, a clothing designer, an engineer -- it doesn't matter.

"You can still get on a skateboard."

If you're interested in skating with GRLSWIRL, they host bi-weekly open skate sessions in Venice. Follow them on Instagram @GRLSWIRL to get updates on the next one.

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