She got game (or, In the company of men)
Three skatin', snowboardin’ women talk about what it’s like being the only girl at the park and on the slopes
As a girl snowboarder, I would just like to bitch about how people represent boarding. … The ads in magazines and elsewhere represent women’s boarding as some cute little snow bunny strapped onto a fiberglass board … and that’s not what it is about—it’s about ripping up the parks, flying off cliffs or trying new tricks. It’s doing tricks you know you can’t do and falling and getting hurt but still being so proud that you cleared the jump. … It just makes me mad when I flip through a magazine and see a girl carving down a hill and touching the snow … but then I flip to the next page and there is a guy clearing a huge jump, and it looks so sweet. I know girl boarders do that too. Shoot, we can do that with our eyes closed.
Letters to the Editor, Snowboarder Magazine, 2002
Editor’s reply: "… Maybe you are ‘flying off cliffs with your board, trying new tricks you know you can’t do, and falling and getting hurt’ because you are trying to ride with your eyes closed. Just a thought.”
“Keep shooting,” the young female skateboarder says. “You’re helping our game.”
I put the camera back in front of my eye. The auto-focus makes its cold, metallic whirring sound as I track the motions of Annie Blank, Aubrey Mennella and Sarah Myers. The girls, all in their early 20s, are moving fast. I’m not sure who asked me to keep shooting.
It’s not a physical “game” I’m helping. It’s a psychological one. I’ve got a camera lens trained on the three lone females at Mira Loma Skate Park, and some of the 20 or so guy skaters present are taking note. Though they don’t seem to be the staring type, they’re casting sly glances our way.
Blank, Mennella and Myers all live in the Tahoe area. Mennella and Myers go to school at Sierra Nevada College in Incline Village; Blank works as a cook and as a salesperson at Dave’s Skis and Boards in Tahoe City. At the skate parks near their homes, they say, they kick ass. Here, they don’t feel so hot. The guys are good—and the girls are scarce. But, then again, it’s they who have a reporter snapping photos of them.
“With skateboarding, you are always going to be the worst, because you are the only girl,” Mennella says. “If there were 100 girls right now, I would be out there.”
The “there” Mennella is referring to is the series of deep cement hollows at the heart of the skate park, ramps that are filled with high-school-aged boys.
“But,” adds Blank, “we’re better than all the girls.”
The sinking afternoon sun doesn’t do much to warm things up here. Behind us, the low hills of east Reno are ablaze with fall color. Skateboard wheels spank the cement again and again, until the sharp thwacks become indistinct background noise. Blank, Mennella and Myers drop into the skate park’s “pool"—a swimming facility-shaped skate bowl, complete with depth markings—"7 feet,” “9 feet"—and painted the deep cerulean blue of a backyard pool. It’s the deepest skate pool in the area, Blank tells me. From its depths, the skaters fight the notion that they’re in over their heads.
Even off their skateboards, the three girls are an arresting sight. Mennella has a partially shaved head and a solid body. She’s tattooed and pierced. She wears a white tank top and low-slung men’s shorts. The sight of her is enough to make any cheerleader tremble in her miniskirt, but Mennella’s smile is beautiful, guileless—feminine. Of the three, Mennella is the only one who claims not to have an aggressive, competitive nature. She’s no pussycat, but competition just isn’t her thing.
Blank—who wears a white shirt and a black tie and keeps her long, blonde hair in a ponytail—has a different story.
""I was a sophomore in high school and just got my skateboard,” she remembers. “I was stoked. There was this 12-foot vert ramp, so I was like, ‘I’ll do it, I’ll do it first.’ I did it four times. The last time, I got knocked out and seizured. I love riding with guys; they love riding with me. Because I’m one of the guys, I can keep up.
“I was always the first snowboarder on the mountain,” Blank continues. She mentions that she’s training for the X Games’ snowboarding competition. “I’m really competitive. … It’s always been my dream to live [in Tahoe] and get a sponsor and compete, and compete, and show everybody in my high school: ‘You guys suck. You never went anywhere. You all got married.’ “
All three girls are, first and foremost, snowboarders—skateboarding is a way to pass the summer months. Myers, who’s currently training for the Vans Triple Crown Snowboarding event, is perhaps the most diehard snowboarder of the bunch. With her waist-length brown hair and simple, casual clothes, Myers seems less interested than the other two in alternative modes of self-presentation—at least off the slopes.
“I always felt like, since I was the girl, I had to compete against guys,” she says. She laughs, remembering a competition at Mt. Rose that she entered when she was 12. There was no competition category for girls under 14, so she had to vie against the 10- to 13-year-old boys.
“They said that I won but wouldn’t be allowed to go up and grab the trophy, because they didn’t want to embarrass the little kids.”
Was she bitter?
“I think I was so young I didn’t really grasp that I had won. But I could sense something from my parents, because they paid just as much money as the [boys’ parents].”
All three trace their boarding success back to parental support.
“My dad would be out [in the snow], shoveling a jump so I could board,” Blank recalls. “I had my first skateboard when I was like, four. I had tea parties on it. I tooled around in the living room. I taught my older brother how to skateboard and snowboard. He’s my No. 1 fan, but he’s still pissed because I can do it better than he can.”
“That’s one of the best feelings,” Myers interjects. “When [a guy’s] like, ‘Go ahead girl,’ and you come up, and he’s like clammed up because you’ve shown him you can do at least as much as he can, or at least threaten it.”
Mennella points out that female snowboarders are generally more daring than female skateboarders, more willing to push themselves to the outer limits of the game. Put simply, there’s white stuff there to pad a snowboarder’s fall.
“Girls are more protective of their bodies,” she says. “We have children, we create life—and guys are meant to go out there and hunt. I’ve gotten more hurt in [skateboarding] than I’ve ever been [snowboarding]. In order to learn something new, you have to get hurt.”
Myers agrees, saying that girls are often more aware of the physical consequences of their sport.
“But progress is faster when you hurt yourself, because you know not to do that again.”
I ask the girls why they like to board, what makes them different—what makes them willing to put their bodies at risk the way most girls won’t. They laugh and shrug.
“It feels so good when you get that line, when you get that perfect line,” Blank finally says.
“It’s like cutting through butter. I don’t know how to explain it.”
In the end, it seems that there are just some people who need to make their bodies move, no matter what the stakes.
Even when the foundations of femininity are on the line.