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Flint, MI— When Jenna Bankston first started skateboarding at 13, she said there weren’t a lot of other girls for her to skate with.
In the last 15 years, that’s changed.
Bankston, now 28 and the co-owner of the Brush Alley Skate Shop in downtown Flint, says that there are more and more girls taking an interest in skating. But parks, and skate competitions remain male-dominated spaces.
“I see a ton of girls that are just starting to learn how to skate or they’re just getting their first boards, and there’s a need for girls that want to just learn a couple things, because they’re just not comfortable yet getting out to the park,” Bankston said. “If they know a couple things, they can feel more confident.”
She decided to start hosting a free monthly Girl’s Meet Up and Skate event for girls of all ages and skill levels to learn together, make friends, and skate without fear of judgment.
“I think a lot of girls are intimidated to skate around other guys, and this will be helpful for them to get out of their shells and do things they might not have done out in public,” Bankston said. “It’s cool to empower other girls.”
The first event will be held April 11. Girls can bring their own skateboards and meet at the skate shop at 1 p.m. From there, the group will walk down to an open area to skate.
One of the main challenges she’s facing right now is having a space to skate in Flint. Bankston said she’s part of a group trying to get the city to approve a skate park project, because the current park is too rough. For now, they’ll use whatever flat ground they can find.
Depending on the crowd, Bankston said she will split the group into a beginners group and a more advanced group. Bankston and another host will work with each group to practice the basics, safety, and some tricks.
When you’re a beginner, skating in front of people with more experience can be overwhelming, Bankston said. Her goal is that the girls who attend the event and improve their skills will feel more confident and comfortable mixing in with a more experienced crowd.
People all over the country have had similar ideas.
With a growing popularity of skating among women, which Bankston partially attributes to the internet and TikTok, lots of girls skating groups have popped up, she said.
“There’s a group in Detroit that does it…there’s even a nonprofit called Skate Like a Girl,” Bankston said. “So I just figured I might as well do it here, and there’s a lot of girls that i’ve brought it up to, and they’re really eager.”
Bankston believes skateboarding is beneficial in many ways—from getting exercise and making friends, to potentially building a career and getting sponsorships.
“I think it also has a ripple effect. If you build more confidence in skateboarding, it’ll build more confidence in your life, so it could help with other things as well,” she said.
But it’s important to have good mentors and friends to skate with.
When she was a teenager, Bankston said all of her friends wanted to drink and party, so she did, too. She said she wishes she had spent more time thinking about her aspirations, and wants to be someone that encourages the girls to think about theirs too.
“I wish I had that, because that’s what I’m striving for now,” Bankston said. “I’m trying to accomplish little goals every week, monthly, you know, it makes me feel better as a person… And I feel like I have this platform now, and I want to use it for the right reasons.”
The events are just getting started, but Bankston is already thinking about the future. One day she imagines the group could get together and design their own grip tape, and take trips out of town to smoother skate parks in Detroit or Ann Arbor. She would also like to eventually hold a girls Game of S.K.A.T.E, which is the skateboarding version of the basketball game of H.O.R.S.E.
“I just think it will be a really good thing,” Bankston said. “I think it’s a good thing to bring the girl community together, and have girls helping girls, so it’s not girls against girls.”