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Grlswirl Empowers Women Through Skateboarding

Meet the women behind the organization building community through shredding.
grlswirl final

Numerous groups have popped up over the years to support and promote female empowerment. For example, women across the country formed Lean In Circles following the publication of Sheryl Sandberg’s bestselling book. But one group of women have banded to bring attention to women’s issues through an unusual medium: skateboarding.

Grlswirl is a skate collective in Venice, Calif., that originally came together through a text chain between nine women. The participants on that chain were searching for others with whom they could feel safe skating. Fate had them all meet one night, and what began as a laid-back get-together has turned into a community, movement and business.

Since starting the organization four years ago, they have taught over 1,000 people to skate, held over 100 public group skates, opened chapters in San Diego and New York City, traveled to Mexico twice to teach refugees skateboarding, raised over $18,000 for local charities, and have created a retro merchandise line including our their own GRLSWIRL Carver skateboards for all levels and ages.

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This has been a clear testament to women’s power when they work together. Here the co-founders share the insight they gained from starting the community and what they hope to do in the future.

What is the mission of Grlswirl?

“My mission and passion in life are parallel to Grlswirl’s mission,” says co-founder Lucy Osinski. “To empower as many women around the world through skate. To give women around the globe the tools to create their own skate sisterhoods and move mountains in their communities by working with the women around them instead of against them. I’ve seen firsthand what giving someone who has nothing a skateboard; it gives them a sense of belonging and freedom, and my life’s work will be to change as many lives as possible through skating alongside women.”

How does skating help build confidence in girls and women?

“Skateboarding helps girls and women build confidence because it makes us overcome fear with style,” says co-founder Eliette Singleton. “Skating requires one to repeatedly put themselves in a place where pure, unadulterated commitment is required. These moments of commitment are the difference between a bust and a bruise or an epic moment. The commitment to just going, through snake runs, over stairs, across coping, reinforces trust in our bodies. And this trust we develop between body and board usually develops into unique and wondrous skate styles. Which, as skaters, may be our biggest pride. So the skate styles we women create with backgrounds in ‘softer’ sports such as dance and swim are breathtaking and something to be confident about.”

How has skating helped you personally?

“Skateboarding has helped me on more levels than I can put into words,” says co-founder Val LaForge. “On a personal level, skating combines the elements of mind, body and spirit. My board’s feeling of complete presence is a divine expression of grace, flow and freedom. When the mind, body and spirit are in harmony, I transcend into a flow state. This is the magic of skateboarding! Not only has skating been a sort of meditation for me, wood and wheels are also a vessel for building self-confidence and positive self-image, and creating an empowering community around an art form that is often seen as deviant.”

She adds, “Skating has allowed me to build the most loving and supportive global community, as well as introduce me to some of my best friends. My love for skating has brought me all over California, Oregon, Mexico and New Zealand in search of the best skateparks. That’s why skating is so powerful and bridging; it is universal. As I progress and develop, I also become a better leader in my skate community. I love bringing people together, building relationships and connecting people from different backgrounds and walks of life. And community for me is the heart of skateboarding—spreading love and joy and hope and happiness. It’s an honor to inspire people to experience the same magic as I feel on a skateboard. It’s absolutely transformative.”

Skateboarding is now an Olympic sport and some of the best skateboarders in the world are young women. What are some of the changes you’ve observed within the skate community over the past 10 years?

“The skate world is a microcosm of our larger, shared society,” says Singleton. “And due to its small size, change is realized much earlier and at a faster pace within the skate community. In general, with so many glass ceilings being broken by phenomenal women, we are reaching a point where our younger generations will not heed the barriers placed on things they know they can do. This is seen with young girls charging vert ramps in tutus or women finding freedom in skating bowls with wheelchairs. The skate community has been seeing some amazing transformations in terms of the intersections of identity that participate, and it’s a very passion-fueled chance to witness and take part in.”

What's been the most rewarding part of this adventure for you?

“The most rewarding part of this experience has been getting to watch the community grow and see how strong it’s become over the years,” says co-founder Julia Ama. “Having a positive impact on someone’s life is priceless, and with the Grlswirl digital and IRL community, we’ve been able to do that at a global scale. In addition to the community, our skate mentorship program works with kids from underprivileged areas, schools and refugee camps to reach skateboarding, and that’s been an incredibly rewarding part of the journey as well.”

Do you have any advice for other women wanting to start an organization to help their community but don’t know where to begin?

“Start from your heart and lead with something you are passionate about,” says co-founder Kelsey Harkin. “Real community building begins from a space of love. Then just put yourself out there and start spreading your mission. Be a presence in your neighborhood, chat to strangers, create relationships with local businesses, be active on social media by storytelling and posting meet-ups. Remain true to why you felt called to cultivate a community, and your people will show up.”

What’s the future for Grlswirl?

“We have so many amazing plans for the future,” says Osinski. “Some really amazing skate products, a TV show, chapters in Sydney, Paris, Portugal, and so much more.”

Beginning on International Women’s Day (March 8), the Pay With Change initiative will be front and center on SI Swim channels through daily spotlights on the women, brands and properties making a concerted effort to fight for women’s equality.