Make skateboarding a sport for everyone

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Allie O’Rourke recently returned to skateboarding after a long hiatus. She first learned to skate on improvised ramps as a teenager, and had taken it up in college, but had since drifted. Back on the board, she was skating at Weaver Park in the Dublin Freedoms. Located on Cork Street, the park had only recently opened. That day, she was the only skater in the park.

While skating, O’Rourke was approached by a group of teenagers. She didn’t notice them until she was hit from behind.

Amy McSweeney takes a moment during a Skate Birds meet at Weaver Park, Cork St in Dublin city center. Photography: Aoife Moiselle

Cork Street is probably Dublin's most integrated park - 'This is where you get the [greatest] mix of people.  Everyone has different age groups, you have different genders.

Skate Birds Aoife Moiselle and Chelo Del Rosario skate on the UCD campus. Photography: Oisin Belling

O’Rourke, a transgender woman, had been the victim of verbal abuse since returning to skate parks in Dublin. But it was the first time that she had been physically attacked. Shouting insults and carrying knives, the attackers fled after O’Rourke started swinging with his board.

“I brought a skateboard to a knife fight, and I won,” O’Rourke told me, a stand-up comic.

After the attack, O’Rourke stopped going to skate parks around town.

“There was a level of discomfort and danger to the skatepark that went beyond falling off my board,” she says.

“It’s incredibly intimidating to go to a skatepark. When I started … I didn’t know any girl who skated. It wasn’t bad, but you still didn’t feel out of place

Some time later, while browsing Instagram, O’Rourke came across a group called Skate Birds. Describing himself as “a skate team,” O’Rourke’s interest was piqued. She sent a message and was then added to a WhatsApp group used for dating.

Less than a week later, O’Rourke returned to Cork Street for the first time since the attack. There she met Chloe Christie.

Christie had been introduced to skateboarding a few years earlier by a boyfriend: “He was in the skatepark, and I was just bored looking. I was like, ‘I’m going to start skating.’ “

It was not a minor decision. Going to a skatepark as a beginner is intimidating. Being a woman greatly intensifies this experience.

“It’s incredibly intimidating to go to a skatepark,” says Christie. “When I started… I didn’t know any girl who skated.

“It wasn’t unwelcoming, but you still didn’t feel like you belonged, because there was no one else like you there.”

In an area that suffers from a lack of leisure facilities, the skatepark and its surrounding facilities have assumed an important social function.

Chloe Christie sculpting the bowl at Bushy Park in Dublin. Photography: Lisa Roth

Skate Birds at Cork Street Skatepark.  Photography: Nick Bradshaw

Allie O’Rourke of Skate Birds at Cork Street Skatepark. Photography: Nick Bradshaw

Some time after she started skateboarding, Christie was introduced to a group called Girl Skate Ireland. The group was small, but they held weekly skating sessions and allowed Christie to meet other women interested in the sport.

In 2018, membership started to decline as people focused on other activities. An opportunity opened up for Christie to take the reins. Along with Jesse Donnelly, another skater Christie had met through the group, she decided to rename the crew: Skate Birds.

“When Jesse and I took it over, we wanted to make it a little more diverse,” says Christie.

“That was our philosophy behind it all. We just want everyone who wants to be a part of skating, join the community and not be afraid to be there, basically. It doesn’t matter the sex, the sex, whatever. Race. Something like that.

At that time, Skate Birds was just Christie and Donnelly. “When Chloe and I started Skate Birds, it was literally the two of us. We would go to Portobello and skate, or we would go to Bushy Park and skate, ”Donnelly says.

The crew picked up members here and there, while increasing their social media presence. Two became 10. For Donnelly, who bought his first “proper” skateboard in Temple Bar at the age of 12, it was a whole new experience.

“We always saw big circles of boys, so when we started walking downtown with a group of 10 women, it was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever experienced.”

The pandemic has come and, with it, a tipping point. People looking for new hobbies, reasons to leave their homes, and inventive ways to exercise have sparked an influx of requests to join Skate Birds.

“Before the lockdown, we had a WhatsApp group, and there were about 20 people. There are now over 100 of them. And this is just a WhatsApp group that comes from our [Instagram] page, ”says Christie.

Other groups began to appear across the country. Skate Feeks originated in Galway and NorfsideSk8 sought to diversify the skating community in Northern Ireland. Skate Birds members traveled to meet up, forging bonds beyond the Dublin scene.

Skate Birds has created space within the community, providing a platform for those who might not have had the courage to visit their local skatepark before.

Chinyere Enyoazu skate crew member at Clongriffin Skatepark. Photography: Aoife Moiselle.

As Skate Birds has grown, its members are now part of the skating community at large. It’s a community that’s a lot like the scene Christie encountered when she first took a board.

“I think it’s getting more and more diverse, and obviously the domino effect of people now seeing it as something they can do, where it used to be so male dominated,” says -it.

Skate Birds has created space within the community, providing a platform for those who might not have had the courage to visit their local skatepark before.

“Now I’m walking into a skatepark, and it’s a fact that there will be women there,” Donnelly says. “You feel a lot more fearless … if you see people doing this that looks like you, that reminds you, then you might feel, if they can do it, so can I.”

O’Rourke skates regularly in Cork Street. “[Skate Birds] gave me freedom and support, [it] allowed me to return.

Along with the skating community at large, Skate Birds helped shape Weaver Park to become one of the capital’s most diverse places to skate. In an area that suffers from a lack of leisure facilities, the skatepark and its surrounding facilities have assumed an important social function.

“The great thing about Cork Street is that there is interaction,” says O’Rourke. “There are children from disadvantaged backgrounds there who seek treatment, receive skateboards from local skaters and learn to skate.

“It’s probably the most integrated park in general in Dublin. This is where you get the [greatest] mix of people. Everyone has different age groups, you have different genders. “

The people we skate with, we’re all friends, and we’re probably going to be lifelong friends… And that’s because we support each other

There is a feeling that places like Weaver Park need to be protected, especially when traditional skating spots – such as Portobello – have been clamped down by authorities citing violations of public order.

“Because of the culture that exists, and because there are so many people who have taken over the skatepark, the local community, the skate community, from different walks of life, [anti-social behaviour] is not really tolerated, ”says O’Rourke.

By enhancing diversity and promoting public space, much of what Skate Birds is about goes far beyond the activity of skateboarding. Supported by other ‘pillars’ on the scene – such as those linked to Goblin magazine and independent skate shop High Rollers – Skate Birds continues to build a more accessible community.

“Hold people by the hand when they are trying to learn things, or help them get up when they fall. It’s all this relationship building, ”says Christie. “It’s not just about playing sport together.

“You have this appropriate bond with each other, because you started doing all of this together.

“The people we skate with, we’re all friends, and we’re probably going to be lifelong friends… And that’s because we support each other. Not just in skating, but in outdoor skating. “

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