In our series, A More Perfect Union, we aim to show that what unites us as Americans is far greater than what divides us. In this installment, we take you to the famed Venice neighborhood of Los Angeles, a place where skateboards are common. But women in skateboards? Not so much. But one group is putting the idea of girl power on wheels.
The women of GrlSwirl are on their way to a board meeting — and yes, that pun is intentional. Their mission is simple: change the way the sport of skateboarding sees women, and vice versa.
It all started about a year ago on the bike paths and side alleys of Venice, California, the mecca of male-dominated skateboard culture.
"I was on the Venice Boardwalk, and as a woman without a skateboard, it is a very intense place. You have just a lot of catcalls and just — it's not very comfortable," GrlSwirl co-founder Lucy Osinski said.
Growing up, Osinski always felt empowered when she rode a skateboard, but she also felt alone.
"I was addicted to it. But I just didn't feel supported in the same way that I wish I was. So I started skating with another girl," she said.
That one other girl turned into three other girls, including Julia Guedes Ama.
"Those three other girls knew four other girls. And long story short, they said, 'Hey, how fun would it be if we got everybody together to skate at once?'" Guedes Ama said.
They ended up with nine women in the group, and they knew they needed a name.
"I felt like we were all like an ice cream swirl. Like, there was different colors and ages and types of people. And we were just swirling together. And I was — I just said, GRLSWIRL!" Osinski said.
At first, they stayed in touch informally with text messages, but Myriah Marquez said they quickly outgrew that.
"We went to Instagram. And that just kinda exploded overnight with… other girls being stoked on it," Marquez said. Now, with almost 50,000 followers, Marquez said, "It blows my mind every day."
But it's not just online. Twice a month, GrlSwirl hosts a group skate in Venice where dozens of women show up, many for their very first time on wheels.
"We never actually know how many girls are gonna show up to each group skate. And we're constantly blown away by the girls that do show up," GrlSwirl co-founder Lindsey Klucik said. "To feel safe, as a woman, and for us to have created that space is, I think, like, I don't know, that's what I love the most."
"Most of these girls are in the Venice area… the fact that we were all within, like, a couple of mile radius and didn't know about each other and now we just, like, come together, it's just — I mean, it's amazing," GrlSwirl co-founder Sarah Tobi said.
The group attracts all ages, from grown women to the youngest, 5-year-old Penny Pollard.
"You don't have to, like, rip. You don't have to do tricks. We're just asking to kick push. We're there to, like, support you in it. The whole idea is we're trying to make this less intimidating for women," Osinski said. "When you're a woman alone on a skateboard, it's very different. When you're a woman together, with all these other people… you really create girl power. Girl power is real. You can change things in your community."
That community is now global. The group has gotten messages from women as far away as Italy and Dubai, all wanting to start chapters of their own. And now, GrlSwirl even has the ultimate symbol of skater cred: a board of its own, built by iconic skateboard brand Carver.
"Only pro athletes get their own skateboard. So the fact that our group is getting to launch one with them is amazing," Guedes Ama said.
"It's beautiful," Marquez said.
But not nearly as beautiful as a sunset skate along the Venice boardwalk, possible because of nine women determined to get everyone else on board.
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