What it's like to be a woman in a dudes' skateboarding world
I first learned about snowboarding when I was 15 years old, trying the sport for the very first time at a local mountain near where I grew up in Minnesota. I instantly fell in love. I wanted nothing more than to snowboard all the time or watch snowboarding videos when I couldn’t get a ride to the hill.Good friends of mine taught me how to ride, and taught me the ins and outs of brands and the technical jargon when it came to making the boards and accessories. I felt so connected to not only the sport, but the people that were a part of the lifestyle. I felt like I belonged, and I knew I wanted to work in the board sports industry when I grew up. It was a must.
A couple years after I graduated high school, I saw a snowboard/skateboard shop that was opening in a location in my hometown. The outside of the building looked like it should have been located on a beach out in California, a curiosity in my home state. I ended up getting hired part-time there, and worked my way up to being a manager and assistant buyer for the shop. That job marked the beginning of my entrance into “the industry.”
When I started as the newbie at the board shop, I became close with my co-workers and managers (many of whom I am still very good friends with today). They took me under their wings and show me what life was like in the glorified world of board sports. Video premieres in the fall would lead to after-parties in the city, and snowboarding demos would get you face time with regional brand reps, and so on.
The issue I quickly caught on to though, was that women were not always taken seriously. A lot of the time they were looked at as just eye candy” Just cute girls who would drink and party and show up to straighten clothes at the shop during the day.
Thankfully, I met some strong women who were great role models in the industry, who worked their asses off and didn’t take crap from anyone. Those ladies really inspired me to prove anyone wrong who had doubts about females in the snowboarding world. And so, I began changing my ways of going about work. Instead of drinking at after parties or trade shows, I would use that time to network with brands while being sober instead of just following the crowd. There’s a popular stereotype of snowboarders as party animals, as “snow bums” who are just waiting around for the next foot of fresh powder. In my work, I found that serious snowboarders couldn’t be more different than that, and particularly anyone interested in the industry. It’s hard work.
I knew that being a woman in the industry meant that, for whatever reason, it was harder for people to take me seriously. I can’t even count how many times a guy would walk into the shop and avoid asking me a technical question about a snowboard because he assumed he knew more than I did. I have always been that person who responds to somebody telling me I can’t do something by coming back and doing it more and stronger. And that is what I did. I would stay up late studying technical snowboard details, outerwear fabrics, merchandising strategies, and brand history.
I eventually moved on to be head buyer for a different shop. I started getting noticed by brand reps, and would get part-time “side jobs” through female-driven companies like Burton Snowboards. I was the only female at the second shop that I worked at, but luckily I was surrounded by amazing guys who really supported women in the snowboarding industry, and have become great friends of mine ever since. Knowing that I was still not alone while dealing with the gender differences in the board sports industry made me feel even more empowered.
One of the best feelings I have, even to this day, is seeing the look on a guys face when I put grip tape on a skateboard (a very detailed task) and complete it absolutely perfectly. Sometimes their jaw drops. And then I know I helped change one more person’s perspective on girls in the snowboarding and skateboarding world.
Jessie Wade is the Editor-in-Chief at Sº4 Mag and is currently pursuing a degree in Journalism and Geography at a college in Minnesota. She is a secret nerd who loves Harry Potter, Star Wars and Doctor Who, and dreams of walking the trail to Mordor in New Zealand one day. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @jessieannwade.