Photo capiton: Nancy Chang, 29, heads the Skate Like a Girl Seattle program. Photo Credit: Michael Weinhardt / Real Change. Re-printed with permission.

Zi Zhang, 18, is of Chinese and Hawaiian descent and it makes sense to him that Asian-Pacific Islander parents might be more hesitant to let their kids skateboard.

“I think it goes with the stereotype of how they want us to be studious all the time. I still am pretty studious but over time [my parents have] become more laid back and allowed time for me to skateboard.”

Zhang works for the Youth Employment Skateboarding program (YES), a program put on by the organization Skate Like a Girl for 12-23 year-olds who like to skateboard. YES combines passion for skateboarding with opportunities for social service. Participants learn about youth development, gain work experience and get leadership training. Skate Like a Girl’s mission is to promote skateboarding as an inclusive sport while providing diverse role models and creating positive opportunities for kids who like to skate.

Nancy Chang, 29, is the organization’s Board Chair. Chang is Taiwanese and, like Zhang, experienced resistance to skateboarding from her parents.

“[I grew up] with my parents being really concerned with ‘That’s not what girls are supposed to do” but it’s good to be able to say ‘Yeah, that might be the stereotype but we can change that.’”

Gender stereotypes aren’t the only image the program seeks to change. There are other negative associations that kids like Minh Tran, 17, seek to combat. Tran started working for Skate Like a Girl in 2011.

He said, “Our goal is to change the way people look at skateboarding because everyone assumes we’re all hood rats and we all smoke weed and do drugs and just destroy stuff.”

“It’s not all filled with bad people who do drugs all day,” Zhang said. “I mean there definitely are [those types of people], but it’s not the majority of skateboarders. Kids can benefit from skateboarding because it’s something that takes hard work and it’s like any other sport.”

Zi Zhang, 18, assists a kid during “Under 12” drop-in lessons at Lower Woodland Park on Sunday, July 7, 2013. Photo Credit: Marshall Stack Reid.
Zi Zhang, 18, assists a kid during “Under 12” drop-in lessons at Lower Woodland Park on Sunday, July 7, 2013. Photo Credit: Marshall Stack Reid.

Safety is another reasonable concern for parents and promoting safety when skating is another goal of Skate Like a Girl. According to a report by Skaters for Public Skateparks, there were thirty skateboard or longboard-related deaths in the United States in 2012.

Every reported accident occurred on streets and a majority of the accidents involved getting hit by moving vehicles or motorcycles. The city of Seattle has been supportive of providing skateparks to promote safer skateboarding since 2005, when a task force — now the Skate Park Advisory Committee (SPAC) — was formed to advise and create a citywide skatepark project. Since then, the city opened nine areas designated for skating in various Seattle neighborhoods and there are at least two more projects in progress.
Zev Magasis, 17, said that the citywide skatepark program helps skaters stay off the streets.

“It gives us a place to go and practice our skateboarding. There are soccer fields and baseball fields; we need our own stomping ground.”

If parents still have concerns after safety and fear of raising a slacker, Chang invites them to come to Skate Like a Girl events to have a conversation and ask questions.
Magasis said, “I’d want [parents] to check it out and see what’s happening here … if they saw this I think their thoughts on skateboarding would change a little bit.”
The YES program has internships for 16-23 year-olds, and they earn service learning hours and pay for their work. Kids who aren’t old enough to work are known as Coaches in Training (CITs) and work for service learning hours.    For Tran, the most rewarding thing about YES isn’t mentioned on the website.

“If you’re teaching kids and they pick it up really well and they really like it, they’ll probably remember you and you can be like ‘I taught that kid’ … it just feels really good.”

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