How a Women’s Skateboard Retreat Helped me Claim my Space in Skateboarding

KICK, PUSH, COAST: Years wasted avoiding skateboarding until I found a place in the woods that felt safe and inclusive. 

Words by Heather Loweena, a Sex Educator, Lomilomi practitioner and guest at last years retreat at The Skate Retreat in Norfolk.

I’m not sure when I first felt drawn to skateboarding but I know that the thought of even attempting it didn’t even cross my mind until my 30s.

There was a skatepark built in my hometown when I was a teenager and I stood on a board a handful of times, but, it felt there was an unwritten rule ‘This isn’t for you’,and I didn’t question it. Through the years I’d see people skate and I’d just feel so curious, who are these people who have the ability to be able to skate? To move around town on wheels… let alone those who did tricks! Was it just for the chosen few?

I dated skateboarders, perhaps subconsciously seeking permission to have a go, but that didn’t work out and just reaffirmed any power at play. Now the local skate park feels more like a triggering place to stay clear of, than one of opportunity, nurture and safety. My background is in youth work, so I knew the importance of facilitating space for people to safely explore and develop new skills. Skateboarding was no different.

After seeing clips from Skatistan, supporting and encouraging youth to build confidence and empowerment through skating, I saw myself in the coaches, ‘I could do that!’

Mimi Knoop & Sky Brown with the crew at Skateistan 

It was then I realised that I needed to learn how to take up space by being vulnerable, and learn to skate in order to be relatable. Only then could I truly empathise with others feeling nervous about landing a trick, or stretching their comfort zone – no matter how much metaphorical experience I had, it wasn’t on a board.

Around the same time I saw some older women (I’m talking 60+) using skating as a means to get about. Watching the thirst for life these women have and the ‘zero fucks left to give’ attitude really sold it to me. Now I was the only one standing in my way. The anxs was real. Seeing non-male skaters sparked something in me, and though I’d watch skating 101 clips with female skaters, I still didn’t feel as though I had somewhere to go play. 

Until, BOOM…

The algorithms aligned and brought me to Girl Skate UK and The Skate Retreat on Instagram. I see images of this stunning wonderland, immersed in the beauty of nature. At a garden somewhere in Sheffield was a skate ramp surrounded by blooming buds, offering workshops to female AND trans + non binary folk, as well as vegan wood fired pizzas for lunch?!

Skateboard Lessons at The Skate Retreat in Sheffield

This was the most inclusive and wholesome scene I could have ever imagined or dreamed of learning to skate at. The seed had been sown, I had to go to THE SKATE RETREAT. 

I was hyped to head up after lockdown vibes. Unfortunately, I had a false start when my van broke down enroute meaning I missed the beginners workshop I had booked on to, and I wondered if this was an omen… perhaps I wasn’t meant to give skateboarding a go?

But, when I found out they were bringing the workshops on tour – a full weekend of training, connecting, and SO MUCH MORE to the neighbouring county of Norfolk, I knew TSR was a blessing just waiting to greet me with open arms. I booked on to the weekend dates and was not disappointed.

There was apprehension and discomfort as it had been a while since flexing the muscle of adventuring and meeting new people, but I knew how to do that bit. The setting was in a woodland where you could rent beautiful wooden glamping structures for accomodation, with camping options too.

Idyllic Camping at The Skate Retreat in Norfolk. Photography by Hilda Quick

On arrival, I was shown around the site and excitedly anticipated what was ahead of me whilst admiring others who had already settled in and taken advantage of play time. I was to wait patiently of course – out of nerves – but this had such a nourishing energy that I thought to my earlier cynical self ‘Yeah, but we get to learn here!

The weekend was planned around training, playtime and extra bonus activities like foraging. And, there was massage and physio therapy! 

Activities at The Skate Retreat in Norfolk. Photography by Hilda Quick

As the sun set and head torches were turned on for more forest skating shenanigans, folk started to head towards the kitchen area where sourdough was being prepared for DIY pizza making. I found a spot to sit and mingled with an introduction

“This is my first time”…

Any insecurities I felt from daring to sit with these experienced individuals dissipated as soon as I confessed that I was just starting out. I was reassured to hear these women share with me their own stories of starting out, some mothers who got into it with their children, others for a convenient mode of transport – each validating the fact that the scene can be intimidating. Acknowledging that too many vulva owners have struggled to navigate skateparks heavily dominated by cis, white, penis owners.

Wood Fired Pizza at The Skate Retreat. Photography by Hilda Quick

The conversations went into the night. In they end I felt that infact it wasn’t ever really about skateboarding – that it was just a tool for something much more philosophical, that it was actually about developing and strengthening the relationship we have with ourselves.

The people felt friendly, familiar and supportive, and I’d say that that is a reflection of the inclusive queer nature of The Skate Retreat.

Guest photo at The Skate Retreat in Norfolk

With my new inspirational crew, it was time for bed to get some rest before the big day, a new season of life was awaiting me, and I wasn’t the only newbie on the scene.

The next morning after breakfast, we headed over to the ramps and got kitted out, and the day just flowed from learning, playing, practicing and supporting. Instantly everyone was cheering each other on and the coaches made it feel super accessible to just crack on and were honest sharing their own experiences and fears which made it relatable. They weren’t arrogant or showing off, but actually wanted us each to take up space on our boards. Even my peers didn’t seem to mind if I got in the way… 

Lessons at The Skate Retreat in Norfolk. Photography by Hilda Quick

This was the best place for me personally to learn. 

The Skate Retreat = The freaking dream!! And now I’d met some people I could meet up with and feel able to take up space in the ‘real world’, skating outside of this fantasy woodland skate paradise.

It’s still going to take some effort to carry over the empowering lessons from my time at The Skate Retreat to feel the same excitement and motivation on my own, but when I look at my board and remember that essentially we are only what and who we allow ourselves to be, with our self limiting beliefs, then I know that there is plenty more to come from me and my skateboard in the future. There is no rush, I’ve just got to keep supporting and encouraging myself like how folk naturally just did for each other whilst there in the woods.

Campfire at The Skate Retreat in Norfolk. Photography by Hilda Quick

One thing stuck with me that one of my new friends had said – when they found that they could be receiving all the encouragement to try learn a new trick or develop a skill, but it’s actually that voice inside us that needs nurturing. 

The self belief of ‘I can do this‘ – that’s where the magic happens, that’s the growth. This wasn’t about skateboarding at all.

Thank you for The Skate Retreat. Thank you for your attention to detail. Thank you for pursuing your passion project and allowing us to join in with the vision too. Thank you for creating something so beautiful which included singing ‘Skater Boy’ at the top of our lungs around a camp fire – because nobody gave a fuck about whats cool or not.

Thank you for challenging the patriarchy, for making space for others who feel, like me, anxious at the thought of stepping foot into this environment and for making it feel not only safe – but also aesthetically beautiful – and generally just an incredibly wholesome experience.

Published by Danni

Founder of Girl Skate UK and The Skate Retreat. @danniglover 🌸🌿🛹

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