Interview with Kristin Ebeling: "You Got to Stand Up"
By Melina Monlux, Editorial Intern Stereotypes are rampant in our world. They are entrenched in our society, in our ideals, but they do not miraculously appear from nothing. They are taught. This means they can be changed, broken, and shattered. Gender stereotypes are particularly prevalent in sports. Kristin Ebeling, a professional skateboarder and the Director of the Seattle chapter of the nonprofit organization, Skate Like A Girl, is no different. She has seen the worst of it-from being “good for a girl” to not being sponsored because she “wasn’t pretty enough.” I was lucky enough to be able to sit with her and ask a few questions, and though she touched on these obstacles, I gathered that for her, no challenge was too large. She has been destroying gender roles since childhood, when she refused to put a shirt on and get out of a tree because the only reason provided was “you’re a girl,” and she has never stopped in her life, certainly not in skating. Kristin believes that as a woman in a traditionally male dominated sport, “you got to stand up,” and show the world you can hold your own. As she states, it’s the women doing just that, such as Serena Williams, who are not only changing sports, but the world.
Q: So about the Skate Like a Girl organization, I wanted to know how the program promotes itself to young people, and how does it specifically target girls?
A: The name helps a lot. We do a lot of coed programs. I feel like where society is going kids are going to be less called out because of their gender and there will be more fluidity. Sometimes I don’t feel like I identify fully as a girl or woman you know? I feel like things are becoming more gender androgynous. We do a lot of specific programs, like right now we have a school program at Seattle Girls School, we also have a program at Washington Middle School, which is all girls. We also have ladies’ nights which are once a week girls of all ages and ability get together and skate and we do lessons, and we do a lot of girls only skate camps. I’d say…the fact that we’ve been around for fifteen years, most people know us. There’s not a lot of competition… and all the “competitors” with us, we already partner with, like Bellevue Skate Park and All Together Skate Park, we all kind of work together. We put up fliers at the skate shops and send out a newsletter. Actually, right now were really trying to refocus on girls, because for a while we were a bit broad, maybe a bit too broad, so now we’re trying to […] be a bit more strategic focusing on girls.
"Guys are like 'oh you’re pretty good…for a girl,' and I’m like, 'oh you’re pretty good for a 30-year-old white guy wearing blue pants.'"
Q: I’m not super familiar with skateboarding, so I just wanted you to fill me in. In the competitions do men and women compete with each other or are there separate categories?
A: So right now, in professional skateboarding, definitely not. There are girls' and boys' divisions, but when I was a kid, growing up I would always enter the guys' contests, and I would be the only girl. But yeah, competitively there’s X Games Women and X Games Men. But what’s messed up is that most of the time men get paid like ten times the amount of women and there’s also way more men’s events, so way more male athletes are allowed to enter. It’s changing. There are some really cool organizations out there that are really trying to work to advocate for women in skateboarding and to work on getting equal prize money, equal opportunities. We are really starting to turn the gender gap. One of the things that’s been helping that is trying to get skateboarding to be an Olympic sport. And in order to be able to argue that skateboarding is ready for the Olympic stage, essentially you have to be ready to say that it’s a male and female sport and that there’s multiple competitive arenas where men and women are both competing potentially to clench an Olympic team spot. So if skateboarding continued down this path, they wouldn’t be able to make it an Olympic sport because they don’t have the women’s component. So I feel like with that Olympic hype, I see some changes being made, trying to include more women. I don’t think that there’s anything about women’s bodies or our strength or whatever that wouldn’t let us be eventually on the same competitive arena as men and the reason why I believe that is the number of girls starting the sport is so small compared to the number of guys getting introduced to it. Like my dad tried to get me to wear skirts to school, he’d pay me money to do it or pay me to not go skating, and just weird. Stuff like that. So I feel like a lot of girls are maybe having a similar experience where their parents aren’t really ready to support their daughters in skating. They don’t know that it’s something they can do, whereas with boys it’s more like “yeah, go for it.”
Q: Has being a female athlete in the traditionally male dominated sport ever made you feel empowered, or special in any way, and then on the flip-side, has it ever made you feel insecure or out of place?
A: Yeah, I would definitely say both. Sometimes it is really empowering, when with guys, you know I roll up to the skate park and […] I can sort of just see it in their eyes I make them uncomfortable […] because sometimes they’ve never seen it before, and it is sort of empowering to be able to hold my own and see them slowly be like “hey what’s up” or “sick trick.” At first they’re often really standoffish like I look like a freak to them, so it is really cool to be able to prove myself, but at the same time, it’s messed up. What if I sucked? I should still be able to be included too. It’s just cause I’m pretty good at skating that I feel like guys are more chill with me and maybe not so much to my sisters who are not as good, or still learning. And then also it does feel really weird and messed up when guys are like “oh you’re pretty good…for a girl” and I’m like, “oh you’re pretty good for a 30-year-old white guy wearing blue pants," like it’s stupid. I’m better than a lot of women, I’m better than a lot of men, I’m also way worse than a lot of women, I’m way worse than a lot of men. My gender really has no application to my ability level, and I feel like once people get that out of their heads they’ll blow their own minds. I try really hard to when I’m skating because sometimes I’m like, “oh I can’t try that, I’m not good enough” or “there’s no way I’ll ever land that trick,” but, if I limit myself in my mind, of course my body, the physical, is going to be limited.
Q: What advice would you have to any women or young girls who are struggling with being accepted or feeling normal because they’re in a certain sport, like you said with young girls playing basketball, like it is changing, but girls who are feeling a little bit insecure or unfeminine. What advice would you have for them?
A: Step one: consider yourself a unicorn. Step two: go on the internet, get inspired by women worldwide that are shattering gender boundaries and not giving a crap about what their dad says, or the dress their mom got them or whatever, just being themselves. So finding that community online because we are so lucky now! When I was little, YouTube had just started, so I was getting on there, watching videos and getting inspired. Now it’s like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, there’s so much out there. You can watch a million videos of girls kicking ass and get inspired. Step three is just acknowledging that most likely in your tight little community, your little bubble, you’re not going to find somebody that’s just like you, you are a unicorn. […] It took me until I was 23 to find other girls in my community that I wanted to skate with, I wanted to play music with, I wanted to be a badass with. We’re rare, and that’s really cool, but don’t expect people to really get you and accept you right away. You have to prove yourself a little bit, I guess.
Q: Do you think that nowadays, women challenging traditional gender roles in athletic spheres, has any impact on America’s view of a woman’s role in society?
A: Yeah, I definitely think it plays a huge part of it. […] There’s really been moments where the women’s US soccer team totally kicked ass and the men, it was almost, “what happened to them?” Then there’s other women in athletics, like Venus and Serena who have constantly been in the media and been told they have thunder thighs, just like mean, quasi-racist, weird language about them, and they don’t even care, they’re just out there, making hella money, whooping ass on the tennis court and they’re not like Anna Kournikova, stereotypically blonde and skinny, and pretty, they don’t let that get to them. They don’t let that break their stride. So when people see and encounter those things, then it might change their mind. Obviously women watch that and get inspired, men watch that and are like “whoa, what’s that, ok” and I feel like that definitely does bleed outside of sport. It can change cultural norms for sure, but its going to take a village. One woman can’t be the token woman. We can’t just have Venus and Serena. We have to have lots of women out there, preaching that, and embodying that. Maybe that’s also a part of being a unicorn. You got to stand up. Tell people what’s up.
"Now it’s like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, there’s so much out there. You can watch a million videos of girls kicking ass and get inspired."
Each month, one of our high school interns will interview a former athlete and current leader in her field. Our mission is to connect our girl athletes to experienced ones, to tell the stories of our women’s sports community, and to inspire her own voice. Interested in joining our Editorial Intern Program in the fall? Send a letter of interest to firstname.lastname@example.org.