A community group feature by Canada Skateboard's SheCANSk8, supported by Bell.
Vanessa Bowles, Founder of Female Boarder Collective is breaking down barriers for female and 2SLGBTQIA+ skateboarders, on and off the board.
Female Boarder Collective is a skateboard community group based out of Thunder Bay, ON with a mission to provide programming to skateboarders who identify as female, and LGBTQIA+ including Two Spirited and non-binary that nurtures self-confidence, innovative thinking, leadership skills and entrepreneurship in a safe, and inclusive space.
Interview with Vanessa Bowles, founder of Female Boarder Collective. Vanessa pictured above.
Q: Why did you start Female Boarder Collective, and where did the idea come
A: The FBC started in 2020 to break down barriers for “females” and anyone in the
2SLGBTQIA+ community to learn how to skateboard. The idea came from my
experience being part of the skateboard community and seeing a lack of female
representation in Thunder Bay. I wanted to create a space that fostered a fun,
supportive, and welcoming atmosphere where females/2SLGBTQIA+ persons could
feel at ease as they learn to skateboard.
Q: You’ve been a part of the skateboarding community in Thunder Bay for many
years now. How have you seen diversity in skateboarding grow in your community over
A: My skateboard journey started back as a child in the late 80's early 90's with my first
Zellers skateboard. However, I would not have considered it skateboarding more
butt boarding. It was a couple of years after that in grade 8, that I really fell in love with
skateboarding. All the skaters were super supportive and there were 2 other girls I
snowboarded with that skated with me. The barriers back then in the city were a lot
different than they seem to be now. Back then, while I was skating, people driving
past me would shout things like “girls can’t skate” among many other demeaning remarks. I remember one incident when I was skating through a parking lot with a group of friends and a car drove by us and started shooting us with pellet guns, or the time I was dragged by my hair across our makeshift skate spot and beat up by a group of guys.
By ‘96 I was hooked up with my first sponsorship and started traveling down east to
skate in the summers. The Collingwood scene was amazing and insanely
supportive of female skaters but there were less than a handful of us and most of us
were teenagers. Skateboarding can be intimidating from my personal experience,
until you realize just how supportive a space it is. Having traveled to many different
cities to skate, there was nothing but kindness and support. I left skating for quite a
few years before a friend of mine mentioned that there were some girls learning how
to skate, and I should get back on my board.
Over the last 4 years being back on my board I have really seen a shift in our
community in terms of acceptance, diversity and support. In 2020 we started with 20
females/2SLGBTQIA+ skaters joining our sessions and now have over 130
females/2SLGBTQIA+ persons skating with us from all different backgrounds, ages
Q: Sunday Skates are a big part of Female Boarder Collective’s programming, can
you describe a typical Sunday Skates session?
A: Our Sunday Skates are personally my favourite. These sessions are supported by a
huge team of instructors and volunteers. Our sessions kick off with warm-up
exercises and stretching, followed by an hour of lessons. We cover various aspects
of skating, from the basic/beginner lessons to carving the bowl, rails, ollies, and flip
tricks. The last hour or two, we all skate together and help each other out.
I believe the key to the success of our programs is due to several factors. During the
summer, we offer these programs free of charge and provide over 20 loaner boards,
helmet, and pads that we transport to the park. We have also structured our
sessions to foster a supportive environment where skaters mentor and encourage
one another. This really helps to build self-confidence and leadership skills in our
youth and people using our program.
We also don’t turn anyone away. While our focus is on female/2SLGBTQIA+
persons skating, we have brothers that learn to skate with their sisters and others
that don’t feel comfortable skating at other times join us. It is a welcoming space we
have created for the community. We feel that it is important to work with boys/men
as allies to help create safe and inclusive environment. By working together, we can
promote awareness and understanding of the issues faced in a male-dominated
space. We hope by doing this, it will allow us to challenge gender stereotypes and
Every fall, we hold our annual skateboarding competition, which is the culmination
of everything we have taught throughout the year. It is a friendly and supportive
event that offers everyone the chance to showcase their skills. It has been amazing
to see our community and business really show up and support this event. Currently
we have over 21 local businesses donate to this event!
Q: What are three things that you will definitely find at a Sunday Skate?
A: "Laughter, encouragement, and acceptance."
Q: How can we break down barriers in skateboarding for women, and individuals
that identify as LGBTQIA+ (including Two Spirited and non-binary persons)?
A: I feel addressing these barriers requires a multi-faceted approach, including increasing
representation and visibility of females in skateboarding, providing equal access to
resources and opportunities, challenging stereotypes and biases and creating a safe
inclusive environment for females and the 2SLGBTQIA+ community to thrive. Personally, I
have been challenged with why this group was created and received push back about it being segregated. I believe education and acknowledging that there are barriers to
sports for women and the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, especially skateboarding is also
Canada Skateboard has taken such a proactive approach to this issue by
having female and 2SLGBTQIA+ representation in the organization and on it’s Board of
Directors, creating the SheCANSk8 platform, supporting groups like ours, and gaining
understanding of the barriers by gathering information by means of surveys and other
methods and then shining a light on it.
It’s important to note that to some, skateboarding can be extremely intimidating due to
personal reasons such as lack of self confidence or lack of access to equipment. But if
we really look at the industry, skateboarding and its subculture there are many aspects
of it that can be seen as demeaning to females and the 2SLGBTQIA+ community such
as merchandise/advertising that objectifies women, and being called “Betties” or the “girlfriend” not to mention some of the comments that you see on social media accounts focused more on the girls looks than her actual ability, to which compounds the issues we face.
Our approach to breaking down these barriers is by providing accessible skate
programs and equipment, creating a safe environment for people to learn and grow in,
educating others, and providing programming in the different aspects of the industry such
as filming, photography, graphic design, blogging, creating magazines and editing, and
eventually manufacturing. We also ensure that our staff, Board of Directors, and
Advisory group are represented by “females” and the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.
Our hope is to empower more of our underrepresented skaters and teach the skills needed to enter different areas of the skateboard industry.
Q: Skateboarding has traditionally been a male dominated industry. What challenges have you faced in terms of being taken seriously as a woman, community leader, and business owner in skateboarding?
A: While I have personally encountered various challenges, I cannot say for certain all
those challenges were due to my gender. However, there were times when I felt that
my knowledge of the design and construction aspect of the project was not taken
seriously, and I felt I had to prove myself. However, the biggest thing skateboarding
has taught me is to keep going and eventually the barriers become easier and easier
to move through just as tricks become easier and easier to land. This project would
not have come to fruition without the incredible volunteers that stepped up and were
at the park building day and night and the love and support from the Advisor Board,
Board of Directors and skater friends in Canada and the USA.
Q: This past year, you opened up Cinema 5, an indoor skatepark in Thunder Bay
that is known as being ‘welcoming for everyone’. How has access to this space
affected the skateboarders in your community?
A: Within our few short months of operating we are bringing a welcoming and positive impact.
We’re bringing a more welcoming approach which is allowing curious onlookers
regardless of economic status, ethnicity, orientation, gender, etc, to give skateboarding
a try without being heckled or laughed out of the park. Thanks to such a successful opening and to the generous support of Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charity we are able to give back and provide 40 youth an after a school skate program where everyone gets their own equipment to keep. The beginners in the program are starting to show more confidence in themselves not only on their boards but how they interact with each other and how they carry themselves. They are often leaving with smiles on their faces, eager to show their parents what new skill they have learned and even more eager to return and work on new skills. For the older veterans of the skate community, having an indoor park is a dream come true.
Overall, it’s been largely beneficial for all skaters of all experience levels, new or old,
and everyone in between. Having a place to continue skating throughout the winter is
huge. A little early to really give a definite gauge, but we’re off to a strong start.
Q: Both Female Boarder Collective and Cinema 5 skatepark help to create safe
spaces, as well as mentoring and workshops for female/2SLGBTQIA+
skateboarders. Why do you think these resources are important?
A: I personally feel creating safe spaces, mentorship programs, and workshops for
female/2SLGBTQIA+ skateboarders is important for several reasons.
First, female/2SLGBTQIA+ skateboarders have faced various forms of discrimination,
harassment, and exclusion. By creating safe spaces, mentorship, and workshops
specifically for female/2SLGBTQIA+ skateboarders, it allows them to feel more
comfortable and supported while pursuing their passion for skateboarding.
As well, mentorship and workshops provide female/2SLGBTQIA+ skateboarders with
the guidance and support they need to improve their skills, build confidence, and
achieve their goals. This can be particularly important for young or inexperienced
skateboarders who may not have access to experienced role models or resources to
help them develop their skills. As well, with the inclusion of our programs/workshops
focusing on other aspects of the skate industry such as photography, filming, editing,
graphic design, blog and magazine development and manufacturing will provide
valuable skills needed should they want to pursue a career in other areas of the
industry. I also feel, creating safe spaces, mentorship, and workshops for female skateboarders can help to build a sense of community and promote inclusivity within the skating. This helps to break down barriers and create a more welcoming and supportive environment for female/2SLGBTQIA+ skateboarders, which can ultimately help to encourage more to start skateboarding. It also promotes diversity and representation within the sport. This can help to challenge stereotypes and promote positive images of females/2SLGBTQIA+ skaters in skateboarding, which can ultimately help to increase participation and interest.
Overall, I really feel, creating safe spaces, mentorship, and workshops for
female/2SLGBTQIA+ skateboarders is an important step towards promoting inclusivity,
diversity, and representation within the sport, and can help to encourage more to pursue
their passion for skateboarding.
Also, as an Indigenous female, I think it is important to highlight the work we have been doing in partnership with our northern Indigenous communities. These partnerships provide gear and mentorship to youth who may not have the means or access to skateboarding. All youth who attend our programs learn the basics of skateboarding and spend the first part of the morning learning how to assemble their boards. The goal of these programs is to bring skateboarding into communities that don’t have immediate access to equipment and support. Which leaves youth with the equipment and means to
continue skating after we leave. Our hope for this program in the future is to support
communities to grow their own infrastructure such as indoor or outdoor parks or boxes and rails that can be easily set up in the hockey arenas in the summer.
Q: Skateboarding was introduced as an Olympic sport at the Tokyo games in 2021.
What changes/opportunities have you seen for womens skateboarding at a
competitive, high-performance level since then?
A: I feel there has been a significant increase in opportunities for women's skateboarding at a competitive high-performance level. Especially with the inclusion of skateboarding in the Olympics there has been an increase the visibility and recognition, leading to increased investment and support for both men's and women's skateboarding. It has helped to break down barriers and create new opportunities for female skaters. Prior to the Olympics, women's skateboarding was often overlooked and underfunded compared to men's skateboarding. However, with the increased visibility and recognition provided by the Olympics, we are seeing more companies and organizations are investing in women's skateboarding and providing more opportunities for female skaters.
Additionally, the Olympics have helped to create a more level playing field for women's
skateboarding by providing equal opportunities and recognition for female skaters. This
has helped to promote gender equality and encourage more young women to pursue
skateboarding as a serious sport.
Overall, I feel the inclusion of women's skateboarding in the Olympics has been a
positive development for skating and has helped to create new opportunities and break
down barriers for female skaters at a competitive high-performance level.
Q: What are your goals for Female Boarder Collective over the next few years?
A: When the FBC started, the goal was to have one other Female/2SLGBTQIA+
person come learn to skate with us; we now have over 130. In the next couple of
months, the focus will be on getting our other programs such as filming, photography, graphic design, etc up and running. As well, the FBC will also continue to gain clarity and understanding of the barriers facing females and the 2SLGBTQIA+ community in participation and retention in skateboarding. We are dedicated to focusing on and adopting new approaches and practices to ensure we are following best practices to support
What I am really stoked on, is this last summer, after watching the youth that
attended our mixed gender summer skateboard camps, my perspective has
changed on where we might be headed. What I saw was the younger generation
when they are skating, they see each other as skateboarders and not by gender.
I think this is so sick because it means that maybe in the next who knows 10
years or so there will no longer be a need for our program. Ultimately, I think that
would be amazing to see, skateboarding with no barriers to participation!
To find out more about Female Boarder Collective, check out the links below:
Photos provided by Female Boarder Collective.