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Girl power: New skate camp aims to give girls a space to thrive

“Even though this is just a little program, I think that kind of confidence goes a long way throughout their life. When they feel confident and they can come somewhere and do what they want to do and empower other girls, that carries them through life so differently and it starts with one small thing.”

COCHRANE— Empowering young women in skateboarding, Kayleigh Walton has launched Cochrane’s first all-girls skateboarding club.  

The girls-only Prom Night skateboarding club began last year as a way for girls in the community to meet up and skateboard together. Over the past year, the club has grown and recently launched its first-ever week-long skateboarding camp from Monday (July 19) to Friday (July 23).

Walton said she wanted to give girls in Cochrane a space where they could come out and try something new and not feel self-conscious or intimidated while doing so.

She quickly enlisted the help of her friends Lisa Trann and Sam Stuart of Shredz Skate Shop, to get the program off the ground.

Initially, the weekly drop-in sessions, dubbed “Prom Night,” were meant to be a space for girls to congregate and skateboard together. However, many of the young women who showed up required a bit of encouragement.

“No one really knew how it was going to go,” Walton said. “Last year in July we had our first skate night. There were only about seven girls. Everyone was super intimidated— Everyone was standing by their moms. That’s how it evolved into a coached thing because I had to go out there and grab people and … Get people to different stations and help them out.”

Now, every Tuesday during Prom Night, a handful of coaches come out to help Cochrane’s young women learn the basics of the sport.

Walton said interest in the program grew much more quickly than she expected.

She began advertising Prom Night on social media and throughout the community, and some local organizations got on board with her vision as well.

Shredz Skate Shop began donating a pair of new shoes to the group every Tuesday for a draw to encourage girls to come out, and Panago Pizza donated pizza for the young skateboarders to snack on.

Once the message began spreading, Tuesdays quickly became girl’s night at the Zero Gravity Skatepark.

“The very first one there was about seven girls, and the next one there was about 15 and the one after that there was 20,” she said. “It happened so fast.”

A year later, Prom Night at the Zero Gravity Skatepark regularly attracts 50 girls.

Along with the number of participants, a community began building around the program. Many of the parents began coming out and getting to know one another, and many expressed how excited their daughters were about Prom Night.

At the end of the season Walton held a fundraiser to support the group. She raised enough money to buy skateboards for all of the members, roughly 40 of them, as well as gift certificates to Shredz.

The participants were so enthusiastic they continued holding Prom Night after the season officially ended.

“It was supposed to stop in August, and it went all the way to November because none of the girls would stop— They were relentless,” Walton said.

Walton added her original mission was to empower young girls through skateboarding and she feels as though she has accomplished that goal and taken it so much further.

“This was really about empowering girls through board sports and community,” she said. “It was about creating a community of skateboarders that wanted to empower and encourage each other. They watched us doing that, and now, it’s so cool, you can see the younger girls do that with each other.”

Skateboarding is typically a male-dominated sport, but that is slowly changing, thanks to the efforts of Walton and people like her.

While many young women are interested in the sport, it can be intimidating for a girl to dip her toes in the waters of what can sometimes be a hostile environment.

Siena White, one of the camp’s coaches, has aspirations of turning skateboarding into a career.  

White took a gap year between high school and university to focus on skateboarding, which recently landed her a sponsorship with the Shredz Skate Shop.

She said she was motivated to get involved with the Prom Night Skate Camp by the supportive and encouraging atmosphere set by Walton, and due to some of the barriers she faced while getting into the sport.

“Just seeing girls skate is really inspiring. When I started skating, I was the only girl at the park. It was super hard, but now it’s so normalized,” she said. “People say skateboarding is such a community and stuff, but I’ve definitely encountered problems with guys. It’s definitely different being a girl, but I think it’s changing now, which is good.”

Beginning a new sport that is typically geared toward men can make it hard for women to find their footing and feel a sense of inclusion in the community. Having a space designed exclusively for girls getting into the sport is a big first-step in making them feel included.  

“When you’re starting out it’s totally unfair, because there are way fewer girls than guys, so I do think we deserve a little bit of an exclusive time to ourselves to work on it,” White said. “It can be intimidating. I know that’s the barrier for a lot of people, just going to the skate park and seeing all of these guys, and if you’re a girl it’s hard sometimes. It shouldn’t be, but it is.”

Having been on that side of the fence, White now finds herself in the position of being a support and role model for the young girls attending the camp.

“I would love to do this forever. Hearing some of the girls say they look up to me is crazy and I still can’t believe it, because I was the same a few years ago. I was looking up to girls, but there were none here, it was all through social media,” she said.

Walton said many of the girls who attend the camp, including White, reported almost no girls at the park when they began, but now the ratio has evened out at the Zero Gravity Skatepark.

“It’s almost equal, which is great that we came to this point. It happened so fast,” she said. “It’s good.”

Twelve-year-old Katie said she started skateboarding on her own, and heard about Prom Night from a friend of hers last September.

“I was a little bit shy to go at first, but I did end up going and I think it was a really good thing that Kayleigh started, because it really gives that opportunity to start skateboarding and begin to learn stuff,” she said.

When she began skateboarding, Katie said she faced some discrimination from her male counterparts.

“When a girl starts skateboarding it’s suddenly like ‘oh you’re a poser,” or like, ‘oh you can’t do anything,’ and they [boys] just bring you down,” Katie said. “Bringing a group of girls together— It’s not like any of us would bring each other down."

Jayden, 12, another member of the Prom Night Skateboarding Club, added, “We’re just learning. Boys don’t call other boys posers."

Katie said the club has given her a sense of community and exposed her to new people and new friends.

“I’ve met a lot of people and I’ve gotten to know them and it’s really cool because we share this thing in common and it’s kind of like a little community that we have,” Katie said.

Ten-year-old Yve agreed that she feels like she is a part of a community in the Prom Night Skate Club, noting the coaches in the camp have enriched her learning experience, which is something she hopes to pass on to other girls at the camp.

In fact, Katie, Jayden and Yve, all seem to have taken Walton’s mission to heart, and are eager to pass along the lessons they’ve learned at Prom Night. All three of the young skateboarders expressed interest in coaching and supporting their fellow female athletes.

“They all crush it,” Walton said. “Even though this is just a little program, I think that kind of confidence goes a long way throughout their life. When they feel confident and they can come somewhere and do what they want to do and empower other girls, that carries them through life so differently and it starts with one small thing.”

Walton said she has had such success with the program and support from the community and families who have enrolled their children in it that she wants to keep growing Prom Night into a positive force for girls in the community.

“When they have that [support] they are motivated differently. When it’s their night and their program they feel like they kind of run the park now,” she said. “They feel comfortable, confident and safe in this kind of environment.”

Walton wants to turn Prom Night into an inclusive non-profit society, and hopes to see some of the members get involved in local charities and volunteer opportunities. 

The founding members, Walton, Stuart and Trann are all involved with charitable ventures and volunteer opportunities— Like teaching autistic kids how to skateboard or cutting hair at the Mustard Seed in Calgary. Turning Prom Night into a non-profit organization feels like a natural extension of its mission to build community, Walton said.

“We’re already installing that in these girls, some of the 12-and 13-year-olds from last year, they want to coach, so all of those girls are volunteering this week. They already have that in their minds,” Walton said. “If they’re starting to volunteer their time for this, they’re going to be motivated to volunteer their time for some bigger things that we’re hoping to put on.”

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