Take a minute and do an image search for "skateboarder." You're probably not surprised to see picture after picture of young white boys, right? Images of skateboarders in the media are overwhelmingly white and cis male. While you may occasionally see women, you'd be harder pressed to find LGBTQ or people of color represented.
So when Ra Flenaugh used to go to the skate park alone, they felt left out.
"There were a lot of people didn't look like me. And I just felt like I couldn't do anything but sit there and watch them do something," Flenaugh said.
Things have changed since then. Flenaugh has found a community of skaters where they're welcomed and accepted.
This is froSkate, a Chicago-based skate group creating a safe and shame-free space for femme, queer, transgender, non gender-conforming and BIPOC skateboarders.
Flenaugh says froSkate "really helped me to take up space... I'm not an outsider or anything. We're all community, we're all together, we're staying together, we're using this park together."
Several other members of froSkate share similar experiences to Flenaugh's.
"A lot of us grew up skating alone, because we were the only ones who look like us in the skate park," said L Brew, froSkate's vice president. "So when we would go into these spaces, there would be a lot of stares, and a lot of assumptions, and it would just be super uncomfortable, but being able to be surrounded by other skaters who look like you kind of opens up a whole new world."
"The community needs it," L Brew added. "Skateboarding has always been known as a sport for white men. So just to be able to create a space where BIPOC folks and queer folks can come together, skate and have a good time, it's just been really crucial."
"We all know what it feels like to walk into a room full of people who look nothing like you or share no similar qualities to you, you feel isolated and feel insecure. So it's really important to be able to create these spaces where BIPOC folks, are the majority," said froSkate Founder Karlie Thornton.
Coming up with a name
It all started with a group chat in early 2019.
"A couple friends of mine, we were skating together, and we all had natural afros at the time," Thornton recounts. "I just made a joke, I was like, 'haha like we're like AfroSkate' and then I renamed our group chat to 'froSkate.' And the name just stuck."
The small group gradually grew from three people to 50, meeting up at skate parks all around Chicago. A few months later in the summertime, froSkate was officially born.
"We are a skate organization for BIPOC queer, transgender, non-gender conforming, and women in the Chicago area," said L Brew. "Our mission is to increase accessibility and representation in the skate scene and help folks who look like us, non-traditional skaters, non cis-white men see themselves in the sport."
Twice a month, the collective brings together dozens of BIPOC and Queer skaters to enjoy each other's company and the sport they love. They welcome skaters of any skill level.
Over the past two and a half years the collective has continued to grow, hosting more than 70 events, donating dozens of skate supplies and impacting more than 1,000 BIPOC and queer skaters throughout Chicagoland.
"We definitely want to create more sustainable and safe spaces and skate spaces for our communities, and unfortunately that's really lacking in Chicago. We want to get in Black and brown communities and help them build their own thing," Thornton said. "We also want to have more large events, last year we had a huge protest. We did some food drives and some Halloween fundraiser parties, and you know a lot of different workshops."
Although the meet-ups stop when the Chicago weather changes, the community created within froSkate is present all year long — serving as a resource for non-traditional skaters whenever needed.
"Representation is important. You just feel more comfortable if you're around people who are like me who can relate to you and who can share your background and your story and just understand you on like a deeper level," Thornton said. "It's just more comforting. That's why froSkate exists — to create that space and bubble of comfort by community, and it will never stop."