All words and photos by – Sandi Sidwell
Everyone has their, “How they got into skateboarding story”. Mine follows the I was going through a rough time narrative and needed help. I quickly found out that when you are learning to skateboard, your mind is completely focused on not falling. It let me exist for those hours without feeling the immense pain of losing a loved one. Fast forward to today, skateboarding has brought me an incredible community of all kinds of people and has taken me to some of the most beautiful places in the world including the Transworld Skatepark in California, the airplane-hangar skatepark in Haines Alaska, and the new DIY spot by a creek in Moody, Alabama. I have given up more than a decade of my time, blood, and sweat to the skate gods and they have blessed me with a really special kind of belonging.
The first lesson I learned as a skater in Birmingham, is that nothing is set in stone. We may pour concrete and move a few metal ramps but there was always an end to an era. May Homewood Skatepark, Battlegrounds, Montgomery Skate Park, Fort Collins, Vestavia Skate Park, The Bridge Spot 1 and 2, the Basketball Court, Shoe Factory, the Dojo Spot, Ghetto Banks, the spot on 280, and many others all rest in peace. They were built by locals with their own money and eventually doors were closed or ramps were bulldozed by the Alabama Department of Transportation. Although I miss these places to skate, the DIY spirit is something I will always love about skateboarding. Build it and skaters will come.
The second lesson I learned is this piece of wood can transform into a million things. Local skateboarder, and founder of Box Turtle Skate Co, Kenyon Crawford, said it was something that made him feel like he was flying! For many uneducated, they see a stigma made up by movies in the 90’s-think “bad kids.” Because of this, I have witnessed the council members of Hoover, Alabama stick up their noses at building a skatepark but easily give $600,000 to build more tennis ball courts for “pickleball.” For me, and millions of others, this piece of wood transforms into a toy. It is a play thing that helps keep me moving mentally and physically. It is also a way for me to play with my kids. Because yes, mom’s skate too!
Yes, women skate! And over the past decade I have seen so many more young girls picking up boards. I love it. I remember the days of being the only woman skateboarding at a spot. I could feel this fire on my back from spectator eyeballs. Some guys were inclusive. Ben Giley was a great supporter of female skaters. He would always give me boards to give out to other women that wanted to try skateboarding. Peter Karvonen, Mark Leo, Jacob Hayes, Joel Nesmith, Montego Brown, and Montero Brown were some of the first skateboarders in Birmingham to include me in skate sessions and guide me to become a better skater. There were also some gatekeepers too. I’ll never forget reading the words of pro skater Nyjah Houston in Thrasher Skateboarding magazine, “Some girls can skate, but I personally believe that skateboarding is not for girls at all. Not one bit.” After much backlash for the comment, Houston has since apologized but unfortunately, many skateboarders still feel this way. Just this year, I was hanging out with some skateboarder friends who told me they thought women who street skate weren’t sexy. Insert massive eye rolling. Which brings me to my next lesson, resilience.
Another life lesson that skateboarding taught me, is that you have to take your turn. No one is going to take it for you. Although, skate etiquette dictates that we all have to share the space and so we have to be courteous and take turns, there are plenty of men who are willing to snake you. In layman’s terms, they are line skippers. Sometimes they did it because they were rude but sometimes they just genuinely didn’t see you. It’s important to take up space and know that you belong just as much as anyone else. I’ve skated with a lot of younger women who struggled skating alongside higher skilled male skateboarders. They would politely decline their turn over and over again. But please let me give a huge shout out to the skateboarders like Chris Solomon who will turn down their offers and point with encouragement, “No you go! You got this!” It is important to learn that you do not progress when you always let others in front of you. At some point, you have to take your turn with failure or success. Which brings me to my favorite lesson, falling.
Falling is important. Learning to fall includes a lot of practice! I sometimes teach lessons to beginners and this is one of the first things we spend time doing in class. I have thoroughly enjoyed pushing little kids off their boards! To practice low impact rolling of course! It’s the same lesson I have given to 40 year old beginners as well. Learning how to fall and get back up to try again is a valuable lesson for anyone at any point in their life. I believe the reason why we have this brilliant new Skatepark in Birmingham is because of how many times skaters just kept going. I can’t tell you how many years Peter and the skate community showed up to community meetings to ask for a real skatepark only to be let down by empty promises from local elected officials. I had been in a few facebook wars with DeJarvis Leonard about their involvement in the Birmingham skate scene. Some may know him from his appreciation plaque at City Walk. ALDOT had every intention of building whatever they wanted instead of listening to all of the voices in the community. It took a lot of whistler blowers, a lovely lady by the name of Mary Jean Baker LaMay, strategic phone calls, and most of all a lot of skaters showing up to meetings for years to have what we have now.
Now we have this giant opportunity that is the City Walk Skatepark. It is the fruit of an unimaginable amount of labor. Skateboarding parents like Marvin Hicks, Bruce Harbin, and I sleep easier at night knowing our children are set! We have a skatepark that has lights, security, and bathrooms! We are beyond grateful so we are quick to teach respect and appreciation to the next generation of skaters. Not only do women have a place to skate but every class, every age, every gender belongs at this skatepark. The skate community has grown so much I am ecstatic that Qiona Payton, was one of the first managers hired to help run the park. She is a force on some skates and just last weekend, I saw her practicing her kick turns on a skateboard. Yes skaters and skateboarders get along now, (THANK YOU TRAGIC CITY ROLLERS), but that’s another article for another time.
Nowadays, I find myself chasing after my babies and preaching about helmets. I try to get to know the other women skating, but there are so many, it’s hard to keep up! I hear the newest ripper is a woman named Lupe. She is also working at City Walk. You’re also likely to see skateboarder Josie Claire Lee rolling around on some flat ground working on her varial kick flips. I am happy to see the torch still lit and glowing strong. I can’t wait to see where our added creativity takes skateboarding in the next decade!
Sandi Sidwell is a Skateboarder, Photographer and Mother living in Birmingham Alabama
Written by: Sandi Sidwell
By - Kristi Houk “These are dangerous days. To say what you feel is to dig your own grave.” -Sinead O’Connor, “Black Boys on Mopeds” from I Do Not Want What I haven’t Got, (1990) I wasn’t supposed to write this. I was slated to review the latest Guided by […]
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