Recently, we attended House of VANS Johannesburg and it was everything VANS said it would be – and more. The location, Fox Junction was transformed into a wonderland for creatives, skaters, and the art- and music-obsessed. VANS design team created a photographic gallery-type space to showcase work from Ray Barbee, Karabo Mooki and Onkgopotse May. Everything from the artisan sorbet and Ray Barbee’s photography workshop (and impromptu street-market performance) to the girls’ skate build-a-board workshop was perfectly planned.
House of VANS Johannesburg Line-up
One thing’s for sure, the females at House of VANS Johannesburg commanded the spotlight – fresh AF street style and insane tricks on the one-of-a-kind obstacles at the skate park created by Baseline Skate Shop, Yardsale and Skate Society Soweto. We couldn’t forget Gina Jeanz’s set even if we tried – it was indescribable and when walking through the street market, DJ Si’Noir was a whole mood with her fresh beats.
If you’ve not yet seen Bye Beneco perform live, you haven’t lived. Their energetic performance was an overall masterpiece and their lead singer Lenny-Dee’s fierce and embellished looks on stage were created by local clothing brand Stylist’s Own and honestly, we need that entire look, boo.
The Future of Female Skateboarding
We later caught up with international VANS Girl, Helena Long and local VANS Girl, Melissa Williams, who recently won VANS Park Series (Africa) and will be competing in America soon. Sitting down with them, we quickly realised that VANS is so much more than just a sneaker or skating brand. VANS supports local creatives and have a considerable investment in growing female skateboarding. Through Girls Skate Nights in the UK and Girls Skate Jams at The Shred in Cape Town (which is super-important to Melissa), more girls are skating and stepping into this space, which can often be seen as dominated by boys.
Both Helena and Melissa were the only girls skating with their male friends when growing up in the UK and South Africa, respectively. They are both equally excited about what they see as the rebirth of the female skate scene, with Melissa saying that ‘skating is developing its own identity, with girls taking centre stage in videos for the first time. It’s a unique style being created that never existed before.’
On Skating As Kids
When asked about their childhood experiences, it’s easy to determine what makes skating feel like a community where self-expression and boldness are encouraged. No-one ever said to either of these badass skaters that they ‘skate well for girls’. When growing up they skated with their male friends and it almost felt genderless. ‘You learn from each other, you bounce off each other and you’re in, like, this safe little unit,’ said Helena.
More Access Means More Female Skaters
More girls, women and members of the LGBTQI community are skating locally and internationally, and both Helena and Melissa attribute this to having access to the sport and having a place to connect with others. According to Helena, more skateboarding facilities and smoother sidewalks in Europe are making it easier for girls to get out there to practice and enjoy the sport, although there has been a clampdown in the UK to regulate the sport on the streets. The skate nights in the UK are free and offer an opportunity for girls and women across all ages to enjoy the sport. Often, there is a yoga session, free drinks and skate lessons.
Just recently two new, free and easy-access parks have been built in Cape Town. VANS is actively involved in advancing and supporting the female skate scene by providing free transport for girls to the skate nights, spot prizes, VANS merchandise, pizza and more.
Melissa notes that in South Africa, there is a general movement of female empowerment, whereby girls are doing what they choose to and being proud of it – ‘it’s helped a lot of girls who were probably interested in it [skateboarding] before but wouldn’t dare do it, actually say to themselves that they can do it.’
VANS Girls Skate Jam
Female skating has grown massively in Europe over the last few years, according to Helena. There has been a lot of interest from girls but only in the last year have girls in Cape Town been super into it. VANS hosts a Girls Skate Jam once a month and has grown from 15 girls attending last year to 67 girls participating this year. Melissa is passionate about this initiative and beamed with pride saying that ‘a lot of girls entered the VANS Park Series contest this year after starting skating eight months ago, and the girl who earned second place in the competition just started skating months ago, too.’
A Sense of Empowerment and Confidence
The shift towards female empowerment in the workplace, the push for equal pay and the growth in confidence in general, is what these skaters believe has contributed to more girls stepping into skate parks to explore the sport. Did you know that VANS offers equal pay for male and female skaters? Yaaas!
Melissa noted that ‘many girls wouldn’t skate anywhere or any time other than with their group at skate nights, and now these girls have gained confidence, ‘they’re making friends and planning skating sessions outside of the Girls Skate Jams.’ Skating seems to be helping girls build relationships, step into their power and have fun.
At House of VANS Johannesburg, girls participated in a skateboard workshop, where they were able to build their boards alongside Helena, Melissa and fellow international skater, Amy Ram. VANS continues its mission to create a sense of connectedness and inclusivity in the skating community and will continue to support local creatives, artists and, especially, girls.
We’re super-excited about the future of female skateboarding in South Africa and we can’t wait to see what Helena and Melissa accomplish next. If you’re keen on checking out Girls Skate Jam, follow VANS South Africa on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
This post is sponsored by VANS SA.
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Feature image credit: Cedric Nzaka