Women in skateboarding, the next big opportunity for brands?
A trend is emerging, and now is the time for brands to react.
According to YouGov Profiles, in the last year an estimated 74k women in Great Britain have skateboarded, with around 16k doing so in the last fortnight. And this number is growing, with annual participation up 24% in the last six months, and participation in the last 2 weeks up 87%. This data illustrates an emerging female trend in skateboarding, one that is set to have a significant impact over the coming year.
Right now is a great time for the women’s action sports industry. Participation is growing exponentially — although there are still a lot more males riding boards overall, the growth rate for females is progressing much quicker than it is for males, making it the consumer demographic with the most potential.
The women's scene in 2016 is edgier and more underground than men's skateboarding, and as Sam Haddad writes on Mpora:
"The scene is still small, with few participants, very little money involved and barely any outside recognition or brand support. And it’s so much more interesting for that." - Sam Haddad
Of course, the presence of women in skateboarding is nothing new; in the USA Elissa Steamer first competed professionally more than 20 years ago, and went on to star in the successful Tony Hawk Pro Skater series, while in the UK Lucy Adams has been virtually unbeatable in contests since the early 00s and a shining light for British women's skating. But this finding from YouGov hints at a potential tipping point in more mainstream female participation, and supports some of the other key female skateboarding – and action sports - milestones from the last couple of years:
Leticia Bufoni became the first ever female Street League champion, acquiring a mainstream sponsor in the process - the first girl to do so since Elissa Steamer.
The Shextreme film festival launched with its inaugural film festival in Bristol.
The trend also made its way on to the fashion catwalks, at last year’s London Fashion Week, with fashion designer Ashish Gupta utilising models on skateboards to showcase her Spring/Summer collection. And in 2014, Factory Media's own Cooler ran a girls only session at the HTC One Skatepark at Selfridges.
Mpora has also recently reported on the growth in participation amongst young girls - in particular on the skills of this seven year old - and how the attitudes of teenage boys towards girls in skate are shifting (as illustrated by this letter).
And perhaps the trend is most apparent in Afghanistan of all places, where skateboarding has been used as a tool for female youth empowerment.
In 2007, an Australian skateboarder called Oliver Percovich decided to give girls from the most autocratic and repressive societies the opportunity to skateboard. He took Skateistan to Kabul, Afghanistan, using the urban street sport as a tool for empowerment, and a hook to get children aged 5 to 18 from poor and displaced Afghan families into full-time education.
In a country where girls aren’t allowed to ride bikes, and where only 20% of women aged 15 to 24 are literate, skateboarding has become the most popular sport for girls. In 2016, Skateistan now works with over 400 children per week in Afghanistan, Cambodia and South Africa.
Brands can already take inspiration from successful campaigns like This Girl Can and Like A Girl, but there's a definite opportunity to do something that taps into the lifestyles of real skaters, rather than the anodyne, sexed-up versions Lucy Adams describes in her 2014 interview with Cooler.
"I’m thankful to skateboarding for giving me the inspiration to still dress how I want and like that of a 15 year old boy. If it wasn’t for the feeling of being totally free when I’m out pushing, then I would most likely be repping M&S threads and trying to fit in with other 30 something year old women, all the while feeling totally out of place. Long live baggy jeans and white t-shirts." - Lucy Adams
So what’s next for women in skateboarding, and what are the opportunities for brands to tap into this emerging trend?
Well first off, it seems that for many female skateboarders, the commercial realities of living as a professional are yet to add up, and as such there’s a real-life story for brands to tell around the effort, commitment and competitiveness of professional female skateboarding, and to harness the authenticity of these very real skaters, their skills, their struggles and their stories.
“…I'm fucking broke, haha.…a lot of people think we are complaining. "You should be grateful to get less than half of what the first place prize is for men for our whole entire purse." Go fuck yourself. I'm going back to work on Monday to make my living." - Lacey Baker
Secondly, the IOC announcement in 2015 that skateboarding is shortlisted for inclusion in the 2020 Olympics, brings with it the possibility that some of these athletes will become household names, transported into the living rooms of casual fans by the mass appeal of the Games. Following her success at Sochi 2014, snowboarder Jenny Jones became a household name, her performance leading to coverage on the front pages of all major newspapers, an appearance on Jonathan Ross and scoring her own show on BBC Radio 5Live.
And finally, there is an underground heritage to female skateboarding, just waiting to be unearthed. The aforementioned documentaries have gone some way to illustrating this, but there is an opportunity for a brand to own (for want of a better word) female skate; its past, present and future.