The Gizzy skateboarding scene is getting plenty of buzz these days, after unveiling a brand new world class skatepark and playing host to the Skateboard Nationals earlier this month. But spend a little time at the skate park and what really stands out is the welcoming, inclusive community that gathers there. Roll through on a Sunday arvo and you’ll find women of all ages skating and cheering each other on. That’s thanks to the efforts of local group Surely Skate, who popped up on the scene a few years ago and have made an impressive impact on women’s skateboarding both locally and nationally.
While many of the original team have since moved away from Gisborne, there was a reunion of sorts at the recent Skateboard Nationals. During a break in competition, Surely crew members Tessa, Sophee, Emilie, Morgan, Myah and Krystal graciously agreed to an impromptu interview, some of them coming straight in from competing in the Women’s street skate section.
They were (and some still are) teens when they started skateboarding and building the community. Sisters Soph and Tessa admit they were first attracted to skate fashion, but didn’t want to just wear the clothes and be posers. They started longboarding and then started to go to the skate park, but rarely saw other girls there. “It was really intimidating to go there alone.”
In the male-dominated environment, it was easy to spot a female skater, and any time they spotted another girl, they would invite her to skate with them and not have to skate alone. Myah remembers that she was longboarding to the beach when Soph and Tessa first intercepted her and encouraged her to skate with them. Surely, as in “surely come for a skate?” stuck as the group’s name after Morgan started spray painting it on her boards.
Their gatherings evolved organically and started to take the form of regular Sunday sessions designed to encourage more girls to get on a board by minimising the fear and intimidation around learning to skate. Surely Skate is all about creating an inclusive, welcoming and safe environment for all. They are female identifying but make it clear that “anyone can come skate with us.”
Sunday sessions are completely free and the girls volunteer the time they spend teaching and encouraging others. These sessions really are for everyone, from absolute beginners to skaters working on advanced tricks. On a typical Sunday, Surely skaters do everything from holding a girl’s hands while she practices dropping into a bowl, to giving tips on nailing a kickflip. “We are just pumped to see other girls. New little kids have been coming lately, that’s been epic.” Once they even had a nan join in.
Every week is different, with some sessions seeing up to 20 people. “People come and go, and that’s skating - there are no rules. You don’t have to show up every week.” That sense of not knowing what to expect, and seeing progression in the community of skaters, keeps them motivated. “It’s so rewarding, it gives us purpose.” Myah adds, “knowing that parents and kids think of us as safe people is amazing. It’s special to feel their trust that if they fall we’ll catch them.”
Also motivating is appreciating the impact they’ve made. Before Surely, the vibe was very different. In the early days Morgan braved the skatepark by herself a lot, and recalls “there was a lot of harassment, like ‘you shouldn’t be here.’ Now with our group, the dynamic has totally changed. We have this big community and we know everyone.“ That recognition came with dedication. “We persisted and showed that we’re not going anywhere.”
The persistence inherent in skateboarding is a big part of what attracts the Surely crew to the sport. “When you see a skater land something you know they've been through some stuff. Every trick has taken hours and hours and hours of practice, and literal blood, sweat, and tears. Sometimes you feel so frustrated you want to throw your board across the park. But then you get the trick and it’s one of the best feelings in the world.”
For new skaters, that can be a rude awakening. “We have to tell them, ‘you’re not going to get a trick on the first try. You’ve got to be patient and think positive.’ It’s a battle.” The girls note if it were easy, it would be far less rewarding, and that is something that translates to life far beyond the skate park.
“Kids these days are used to getting things right away, and they’ll give up. These are life lessons, that you have to work for what you want, and nothing is going to get handed to you.” They giggle at this, “we sound so wise, lol.” And indeed they are.
Beyond the weekly skate sessions, Soph took the lead on organizing a Surely Skate competition in Gisborne. The comp received massive support from all over the country, with skaters traveling from afar to take part, and it’s now an annual event. The last one had the highest turnout of women across in NZ history. Unsurprisingly it had a huge female turnout, but just like their Sunday sessions, the comp is meant for everyone and for all levels. One year they even had a 4 year-old girl compete by going around with her dad. The girls reckon that the event’s popularity is about the community, not the competition.
Since Surely is not an official organisation, it’s been a challenge to get the funding needed for such a big event. The skaters emphasise that they owe much of their success to local support and sponsors, like Sequence Surf Shop, and describe owner Blair Stewart as “an absolute legend.” And they say they wouldn’t be here without the guidance of Shane Kingsbeer, the skate park project manager and member of Tairawhiti Adventure Trust. “Shane is our rock. He needs more credit!”
From the time Shane met the girls at the skatepark, he has noticed the impact of their positivity. “The atmosphere is so different now. They’ve truly shifted the culture at the skate park in a positive direction and that’s a massive asset in our region.” Shane grew up skating here, and the scene then was far from welcoming. “You had to be able to do things when you showed up and until then you got grief.” Now he enjoys seeing the shift in mindset, “it’s all about support, not about level.”
For co-founder Tessa, there’s still work to be done. “Women's skateboarding in New Zealand is definitely on the right trajectory. But it’s still male-dominated and our goal is to overcome that.”
With such enthusiastic mentors available, why not give skateboarding a go? Join the weekly Surely Sunday sessions (from 1pm) and spread the word to keep the group growing. And if you’d like to offer financial support, they’re seeking funds to help host the next Surely Skate competition on January 21, 2023 and to enable them to travel to compete and run workshops outside of Gizzy and across Aotearoa. Go to givealittle.co.nz/cause/surely-shred-2023 to learn more and donate.
Story by Victoria Williams