When Atita Verghese was 19, she fell in love with skateboarding, even though she didn’t (yet) have her own board. The Goa native was an intrepid adventurer into the male-dominated sport, and would travel every day to her local skatepark to “wait for the guys to get tired and take their boards and try to skate,” she says in a talk at TEDxPESITBSC.
Eventually she joined a crew — Holystoked in Bangalore — became India’s first professional female skateboarder and began to dedicate herself to getting more girls to skate. Skateboarding, she says, not only gets girls into athletics, but also teaches perseverance, teamwork, confidence, balance, coordination and endurance, “things that can help women grow stronger mentally and physically,” she says. “I can’t help but want to create a [place] where girls and women can feel validated and grow in a positive environment that they helped create,” she says.
She launched Girl Skate India — an initiative to teach girls how to skate, promote gender equality in skating and highlight up-and-coming female skaters in India. Girl Skate India works with Holystoked to host classes for young girls and aims to make skateparks welcoming to all skaters.
Verghese knows that starting out as a female skater in India isn’t easy, as she’s faced her fair share of harassment for not being one of the guys. She worries that traditional values are scaring women off from the sport, “[because] they are seen as losing respect by being outside like a boy,” she says. “[Many girls] have to fight too hard to become involved. It takes much more effort to get and keep girls involved in sports.”
But push-back hasn’t stopped Verghese or Girl Skate India from continuing to encourage women and girls in India to skate. In 2015, she organized an all-female skateboarding tour of the country, which brought together 12 female skateboarders to travel to different areas of India, build ramps and skateparks and give local girls workshops.
“What we saw on that journey was incredible,” Verghese says. “You would never think of a bus full of girls in India building skateparks and skateboarding … The looks on the locals’ faces was really empowering.”
“[A skatepark] is a magical place that accepts anybody regardless of gender, race, class,” she says. “Skateboarding — to me — is an expression of individuality and realizing your strengths and weaknesses, all while having loads of fun and freedom … I realized my potential and strengths through skateboarding in and that’s why I want to share it with the other girls of the world.”
To learn more, watch Verghese’s whole talk below: