A year ago I didn’t know Scarlett Markham, founder of Ladies Skate Night (LSN) and owner of local clothing brand, Flour Pail Kids. I didn’t know that on the third monday of every month Breaking Free Skatepark on University Ave becomes a spot for women to gather together to learn and fall and shred and laugh.
A year ago I was working as a flight attendant in Washington DC. The day after our 45th president was inaugurated, a quarter million people and I converged on the city to be a part of the Women’s March. The idea for the demarcating accessory of the pink pussy hats had spread like wildfire thanks to the internet. There was a sea of them at the rally, then in the airport terminal the next day. I was no stranger to airports, but that day Reagan National Airport felt different. Typically the people flying resembled the airport itself. Clean cut businessmen in monochromatic suits rarely interacting. Instead, I was in the middle of mostly women, reading, sharing and meeting each other. I felt like I was sitting in my living room having tea with good friends rather than in a sterile boarding area.
Ironically I was grounded by a skateboard. A broken wrist kept me from flying so I ventured around the east coast in my car, one Monday I drove back to Rochester to see my longtime friend Katie Epner. That night she told me to come to the park since she was there for LSN. I couldn’t skate with my injury so I went up to the observation deck to watch. What I saw was women of all ages and abilities on wheels sweating and smiling. The ones who were new were wearing rental helmets, they happen to be bright pink.
As I watched the pink heads bob beneath me I was struck again by a group of women taking a very utilitarian space and historically masculine activity and transforming it into a safe place. Feeling welcome is so necessary when you’re learning something new. I think the older we get the less willing we are to be beginners at anything, at the heart of it we’re scared to be vulnerable. But it’s much easier to do that when you have people you trust cheering you on.
I asked a few of the skaters to tell me about how LSN had changed them. Linley Pipech, Scarlett’s sister in law, told me that, “I skated in high school...but always did so alone. Not the safest to be downtown as a teenager by myself in the middle of the night. Being able to go [to LSN] as a beginner and not be judged for barely being able to ride was so necessary.” Other skaters have been riding for years but rarely got a chance to do so with other women. Brianna Fedele, a KrudCo team skater, told me, “Sharing this love with other females is something I never had the chance to do before...I was always the only girl skater surrounded by all these dudes.”
I asked Scarlett about how she came up with LSN, “Since moving back to Rochester in 2013, the owner of Krudco, Aaron Costa, had consistently asked me to become involved in creating a ladies skate community. I was scared by the idea of it as I have never seen myself as outgoing or a leader, but thankfully he persisted.” I then asked Scarlett about any pushback, “Mostly [people used] words such as: ‘why isn’t there a guys night?’ and I respond with ‘Every night is guys night, let us have a community of friends to skate with too.’”
A few of our male friends have come on LSN to coach or film and I ask them if it feels strange. They’ve said that it’s a weird feeling to be a minority at the park. It’s uncomfortable walking into a space that doesn’t feel like it’s made for you or accepting of you. And that’s what it feels like every time you walk up to a skatepark alone as a woman. But we don’t have to go alone any more, because for the first time we’re part of our own girl gang. We’ve helped each other find jobs, places to live, new connections and even romantic relationships. What started as a 3 hour hang out once a month turned into a real community.
A year ago I didn’t know Scarlett, or Linley, or Brianna. I didn’t know I would move back to Rochester and get a different job or find love. A year ago I didn’t know about Ladies Skate Night, I’m so grateful that I know it now.
Thanks again to Emilie Dawson for sharing your thoughts!