Shredding the Patriarchy: an Interview with the Girl Skateboarding Crew Determined to Smash Glass Ceilings
By Michele Zipp
Photos by Mike McGregor & Michele Zipp
Can you name a female pro-skateboarder? Probably not. But that’s going to change if The Majestic Sk8 Crü has anything to do with it. And start by remembering this name: Ruth “Ruthless Rainbow” Weinmann. Ruth aka “Ruthie”, 10, started this crew and she skates with girls from 5 to 12 years old from the Hudson Valley, New Paltz, and Gardiner, New York. Everyone is welcome. They named themselves Majestic Sk8 Crü after Majestic Park, where they skate in Gardiner.
Though created to join forces with other girls, they have honorary members in their supportive brothers and even their toddler sisters. “You can shred with us” is a hashtag often used on their Instagram.
Right before my own two kids joined Ruthie at Majestic to skate, we ran into her at our local Mermaid Parade -- she was doing the parade on her skateboard in a rainbow Purr-maid costume. My kids took one look at her and their eyes lit up with that “Yes! I want to know her!” look. Ruthie, at 10, was “much” older than my twins who were 6 at the time. But age didn’t matter to her -- Ruthless Rainbow is an incredibly welcoming soul and an effortless leader. She has an air about her that makes adults want to know her -- she’s just naturally cool. My kids wanted to skate like Ruth. And we didn’t pass up the invite to the next skate sesh at Majestic.
Georgia, Ruth’s mom, found the kids an instructor in 19-year-old skateboarding competitor Ashley O’Gorman to come teach and inspire the girls (and boys) to skate. More kids started showing up and as a result of the interest and dedication, many of the kids joined Girls Riders Organization (GRO), the first non-profit group to support girls skateboarding, snowboarding, and in action sports. GRO started in 2006 by Courtney Payne-Taylor who was awarded the Everyday Heroes honor at the espnW: Women + Sports Summit last year. Payne-Taylor started GRO to empower and inspire girls after she saw how much skateboarding helped her through depression. She wants girls to know they are not alone; and that they are capable of doing whatever they set their mind to. Georgia runs GRO Hudson Valley NY Crew -- the newest member of the GRO family. Currently there are 10 crews across the country … a number we expect to grow not only because the events they host are so incredible, but because skateboarding has finally been added to the Olympics and will make it debut in 2020. That isn’t lost on these girls -- they are setting goals beyond just learning to ollie. And they are building their confidence. I witnessed this just last week when my daughter was the only girl (and the only kid who wasn’t a teenager) at the skate park. There were five older teen boys skateboarding the ramps. At first my daughter was nervous to get in the mix of it, but she eventually did. As she set up her board to go down a ramp she waited patiently for one older boy to finish. It was her turn, but another kid was in her way. She called out and motioned to him, “Can you move over, please?” He didn’t hear her at first. So she said it louder. He moved. She skated the ramp and one of them even yelled out, “Nice!”
I’ve seen the confidence build in these kids as they learned to skateboard, not only in their ability to try anything on the board, but beyond. And the spirit that GRO and The Majestic Sk8 Crü fosters for kids is one of helping each other succeed, and grow, and to keep trying and not to give up. Nevertheless, she persisted … indeed.
"[Girl Rider Organization] wants girls to know they are not alone; and that they are capable of doing whatever they set their mind to."
I spoke with my two kids, Penelope and Hunter (twins, 7), along with Ruth (10), Arlo (5), Mia (9), and Helena (7) about what skateboarding means to them. They want everyone to know #youcanshredwithus.
Michele: How did The Majestic Sk8 Crü start?
Ruthie: The Majestic Sk8 Crü started because I had no one to skate with and I wanted to skateboard again. I begged my friends Piper and Sema to skateboard. They said "Yes" and we had our first skate meetup. After three weeks, we decided to make it a club. Younger kids were coming with scooters and bikes and we banned them so that only skateboards were allowed. We met every week and named ourselves "The Majestic Sk8 Crü" after our home park. Kids I didn't even know started showing up. I feel like we started a movement!
What made you interested in skateboarding?
Ruth: When I was younger, I saw people skateboarding at Majestic when I went to summer camp there. It looked cool and I wanted to try it. I wasn't scared, I was "nerv-e-cited."
Penelope: Ruth. I loved seeing her skate for the mermaid parade. It made me want to learn. I thought maybe I'd get real good at it and then become a skateboard teacher.
Hunter: I thought it was cool. I was afraid at first, but I got brave. We do lots of fun things together -- we do the indoor park when it’s cold and we even had a Halloween skating party where we all skated in costume. I couldn’t wear my Hulk mask when I went down the ramp though because my helmet didn’t fit over it.
Helena: I thought the ramps looked fun.
Mia: Well, I love all things on wheels. So I thought this will be awesome. Plus, my Dad used to skateboard. Then I just fell in love with it.
How would you describe The Majestic Sk8 Crü?
Ruth: Are there words? How do I put it in words? The Majestic Sk8 Crü is a family -- we are funky wackadoos who are mostly daredevils who love each other.
Mia: The Majestic Sk8 Crü is the best. Everyone is really nice. I enjoy watching everyone.
What has be a part of this group taught you about friendship and helping each other?
Ruth: It's taught me that you're never too late to learn and complete opposites can be best friends. All you need is a little time and patience and a good feeling and you can do anything. I like to encourage my crew to do what they think they can't do.
Helena: We are fast and fun. We all help each other learn to skate.
Penelope: I love us all being together with each other and learning from each other. I want to skate like Ruth when I get bigger.
Hunter: I do, too. Ruth always helps me. Everyone does. I like seeing everyone try new things because it makes me want to try to do it, too.
During the warmer months, you had a skateboarding teacher come to work with you all. Can you tell me a bit about that experience?
Ruth: Ashley was amazing! I went from just being able to go down ramps to almost getting my ollie because of her -- that's a big step. She helped a lot of kids learn the basics and always made time for me.
Mia: She was really nice and an awesome skateboarder. She taught me how to do a ollie and gave me the courage to go down a ramp.
Skateboarding is finally recognized by the Olympics. What are your thoughts on that and what changes would want to see as far as the sport and how it is viewed?
Ruth: YAY! Finally -- Olympics! I think what people think needs to change. They think of girls as pretty princesses and boys as knights, heroes, skateboarders -- all that cool stuff. Girls aren't encouraged to be risk-takers and seeing girls shredding is unexpected. Hopefully the world will see that girls can do anything and belong on skateboards.
Penelope: The Olympics are great. I hope to be in the Olympics someday.
Hunter: Yeah, it’s awesome. I want to be a professional skateboarder. And a pizza maker.
Mia: A boy in my class told me skateboarding isn't a real sport. Now he can see that it is.
What does being a feminist mean to you?
Ruth: Being my own person, not what anyone expects -- standing up as a woman and being unstoppable.
Arlo: Everything -- like love everybody besides yourself.
Helena: Being kind to everyone.
Penelope: It means love and care and being together to get things done.
Mia: That we all have equal rights and there are no boy or girl sports, it's just sports.
Hunter: It’s togetherness.
How has skateboarding empowered you?
Ruth: It makes me feel confident, strong, independent, and RUTHLESS.
Helena: It gave me lessons to be brave and do more tricks than I used to be able to.
Penelope: I feel proud when I'm able to do a new thing.
Hunter: I've gone down ramps by myself now and it makes me feel I can do things I thought I couldn't do.
Mia: I feel stronger.
What is your latest skateboarding accomplishment?
Ruth: I mastered all the ramps at Majestic. I can drop-in in a bowl and rock to fakie -- most of the time.
Arlo: I ALMOST can Ollie!
Helena: I am working on Ollying.
Penelope: I can do the ramp by myself now.
Hunter: Me too!
Mia: Going down ramps.
Sometimes at your skatepark, there are older kids there -- most of the time all boys. How do you feel about skating with boys? Are they welcoming?
Ruth: I don't mind. Now that we've gotten to know them. At first they were annoyed by us and intimidating. They actually really help me and challenge me. I see what they can do and it makes me want to try it ... I like having my girls with me though.
Arlo: Yeah. I like the big guys. They probably feel good about me and them.
Hunter: Not all of them are welcoming.
Penelope: They are distracting, but it’s a park for all of us. I hope they are okay with us skating there, too. But my brother is a boy and he's great. He’s part of our crew.
Why do you think there are more boys who skate than girls?
Ruth: Skateboarding has always been boy-dominated. If you search skateboarding on google, you're going to find more boy pictures than girls. That's the truth ... it's back to that pretty princess thing again. That isn't who we girls are.
Penelope: I think there are more girls. At least at our skate park there are when we are all there together.
You are now an official GRO chapter -- how has those events shaped you?
Ruth: GRO is amazing! People coming together to help others -- girls teaching girls. I love meeting new girls who haven't skated before and want to learn. It’s all about learning together, cheering each other on, and teaching each other.
Mia: It's cool that it's growing and inspiring more girls.
"The Majestic Sk8 Crü is a family -- we are funky wackadoos who are mostly daredevils who love each other." -- Ruth, age 10
What have you learned from other GRO chapters?
Ruth: The GRO NYC crew inspires me -- they taught me to do my first drop-in. I skated with them in Riverside Park and 181st Street. I learned so much and felt amazed at what they could do and that they wanted to help me reach my dreams. Skating with the NYC girls at midnight in this lit-up savage skatepark under a bridge was probably one of the best times I ever skated. GRO NYC is like our big sister crew. I also met my good friend Zoe at a GRO-event in Asbury Park, NJ. I just keep meeting all these amazing girls through the female skateboarding community -- and every one of them is full of love and encouragement and can shred!
What are you hopes for GRO Hudson Valley and Majestic Sk8 Crü?
Penelope: I want to learn to do the skateboard limbo. And get better at the ramps. I wish we had a good indoor place closer to our house so we can skate more. Maybe they can build that.
Hunter: I want to do a 360 and go to more things. I take karate and hip hop dance, every week -- I want to do skateboarding in every week, too.
Ruth: I want our crew to grow. I hope GRO becomes well-known where we live and everywhere and more girls decide to try skating. I want to try to skate every day and I'm stoked to have girls to shred with. We also want to make Majestic an Olympic-worthy skate park -- think concrete and a big concrete bowl. We can always dream