Do Women’s Groups Make It Easier to Achieve Inclusivity Across the Board?

grl swirl
Courtesy of Jianca Lazarus

The anticipation of trying something new can sometimes be more powerful than the action itself. As a self-aware species, we build up massive mental structures in our minds when it comes to attempting a new activity, talking to a stranger, or anything that has to do with stepping off the proverbial cliff and into the unknown.

Women in action sports (or those that aspire to be in action sports) may know this in a more acute sense than our brothers and sisters involved in different communities. The mental barrier to entry when it comes to any action sport can be incredibly intimidating.

GRL SWIRL
Jessica Whitehead

That’s why the growing movement in the last decade of women taking it upon themselves to create and foster communities where it’s okay to dive into skateboarding, surfing, snowboarding, and the like, has been so refreshing to see. After all, who better to create experiences and events for women than the ladies who conquered marginalization themselves?

The latest iteration in the liberation of women in action sports is GRL SWIRL. Started just under two years ago by eight women who craved community and sisterhood, the movement has grown far beyond its Venice, California borders and has broadened into a worldwide phenomenon.

GRL SWIRL
Jessica Whitehead

In July, GRL SWIRL partnered with Changing Tides Foundation to bring the ethos of community and camaraderie to life. Their first event, Untamed Daughters, was a small affair, with 50 women included in the invite-only day. Gathering together on the beach near the infamous Venice Skate Park, we surfed, skated, cleaned up the beach and capped off the day with an after party.

GRL SWIRL
Jessica Whitehead

The sense of camaraderie in the water, on the sand and in the skate park was palpable from the get go. By the end of the day, bonds had been formed, excitement had been cultivated, and many of us headed home that night eagerly looking forward to the next gathering.

While the first Untamed Daughters event was intimate, the women of GRL SWIRL and Changing Tides Foundation plan to expand their event series to a yearly affair that welcomes the general public to join.

GRL SWIRL
Jianca Lazarus

The goal of GRL SWIRL is simple in statement but profound in execution: to bring women together and give them a safe space to go after their passions; to step on a board, fall in love with it, and never step off again; to share that indescribable feeling of stoke that comes from catching a wave, to carving a bowl, to finding peace in meditative practices.

We need to carve out safe places for ourselves to try the sports that have captured our imaginations for years. As women, we know the power of community in so many aspects of our lives – why not the outdoors? Many of us have felt the power that comes from being encouraged in the face of fear. That’s what these women-led groups are about. It’s not about being exclusive, or closing ourselves off to other genders or groups. It’s about creating harmony in the chaos. It’s about extending a hand in the moment you know you would need it.

GRL SWIRL
Jessica Whitehead

One of the founders of GRL SWIRL, Tobi Ann, points out that although the roots of their group are in empowering women, they didn’t form GRL SWIRL in response to a lack of support from men.

“One thing that is really important for me to share is that we preach empowerment and support from each other … but we never feel like the men don’t want us there,” Ann tells ASN. “There’s no resistance from men to have women in the skate community, and if anything, the support is insane. When we go to the skate park, I used to be terrified to go, and having the girls there to help me initially get in is what is amazing about GRL SWIRL, but once we’re there, the skate community in general is extremely supportive. We want to make it clear we’re not saying the guys aren’t letting us. If anything, they’re super supportive.”

GRL SWIRL
Jianca Lazarus

The barrier to entry many of us have felt in the past may have been the perceived barrier – the fear that a particular group or sport won’t accept us. GRL SWIRL is on a mission to get rid of that fear, by bringing women together to create spaces of opportunity.

GRL SWIRL
Jessica Whitehead

And that’s exactly what Untamed Daughters was all about: Women creating and encouraging a community where falling down is okay. Getting scraped up is part of the process. We all miscalculate, take a wrong turn, or face a learning curve, but having a hand (or 50) to help us up when we’re down is what keeps us coming back for more. Our trials pave the way for future women’s triumphs.

If you are interested in learning more, or joining one of GRL SWIRL’s bi-weekly meet-ups, check out their website.

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