How The First Indian Female Pro Skateboarder Is Starting A Revolution

In a society where walking alone can result in a girl being assaulted, riding a skateboard could mean jeopardizing your life.

Atita Verghese is not the type of girl who’ll let anything stop her, no matter what she’s doing. She began her skating career in a creative and feisty way – by scraping together enough money to get the bus back and forth to the skatepark and borrowing the boys’ boards when they got tired. This was the baby steps into something big for Atita. In collaboration with Holystoked, she toured around India to build skateparks in the villages and start Girl Skate India – an organization that exists to teach and encourage boys and girls to pursue skating for themselves and find liberation and independence in the sport.

In a society where wearing what you want to or being alone justifies attacks, being a girl on a skateboard could mean jeopardizing your life. We talked with Atita about how skateboarding can help empower and improve the lives of girls in India and learned all about her Girl Skate India Tour.

 

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Photo by Virginia Fernandes

Girls Are Awesome: Girl Skate India is incredible. Tell us a little bit about how it started.

Atita Verghese: When I noticed the skate scene growing bigger here, there were hardly any girls involved and that got me wondering why. I wanted to make it visible that there were girls skateboarding in India, even though the numbers could be counted on one hand at the time.  I started talking parents into getting their girls into skateboarding and taking the movement online. It’s still in it’s formative stages and there’s a lot to look forward to. Anyone who would consider themselves an Indian girl who skates is Girl Skate India – there isn’t a movement without the community.

How did you first get into skateboarding and how has it changed your life?

It was towards the end of my last year in high school and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with life.  I couldn’t afford university and I just bummed around the park for hours learning to kick turn and it wasn’t until I went to west coast Goa to surf that i then fell in love with life again. When i moved back to the city I super inspired by the movement of DIY skate spot building and crews like Holystokes, 2er, and Germany and I knew that I wanted to learn to surf concrete as well. I had no clue that we were at the beginning of our building journey.

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Photo by Virginia Fernandes

Why do you think it’s important to have a crew exclusively for girls?

Because something magical happens when women with a common cause work together and girls who skate care more about female skateboarding than anyone else. We have to be the ones changing things by coming together and focusing on our strengths. It makes it more exciting and easier to relate to for other girls to join in as well. It also helps to deconstruct the notion that it’s a boys thing when in reality, the newness of the skate scene in India should help towards a more equal stance for all skaters.

You started Girl Skate India in a country where the gender gap is significantly big. Wow did you tackle the criticism and obstacles that you came your way?

If space and convenience isn’t an issue then society and tradition can be. The lesser privileged girls really take the blow with this, because skateboarding in public could mean jeopardizing their dignity as a woman in an Indian society. They’re not allowed outside after puberty and people are definitely not okay with females riding around the streets on their own. So there has to be a constant mentoring on this, which is a financial and physical challenge.

I think we also need more time to integrate this into the society and find active members who are open towards working on starting a more solid scene and raising the bar for female skateboarders.

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Photo by Virginia Fernandes

In your Ted Talk you mention how common oppression towards women is in India. How do you think skateboarding could help to improve this situation? 

Anyone who skates knows how much confidence, strength and dedication you develop on your journey and how it’s easily applicable to your everyday life. Skateboarding has made me a much stronger person and I feel invincible towards any oppression when I’m on my board. It also changes peoples minds about what’s expected of a girl when they see female shredders tearing up a place. It gives you a sense of dignity and respect that cannot be taken away from you and the harder you skate, the more that feeling grows. All these things make it an ideal platform to release energy positively, actively meditate and have fun. It’s a perfect tool for girls in India to be confident and grow.

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Photo by Filip Jedraszak

You’re an inspiration to a lot of girls. Who was your inspiration?

My mother has and always will be my biggest inspiration, just for all the things she’s had to fight as an Indian woman in a generation of severe sexism. I am in general inspired by people who meet resistance, continue to fight in the meekest situations and still come through it with a smile on their face.

When I started skateboarding I would say that Girl Skate Network/ Mahfia skate videos were more of an inspiration than Transworld/Thrasher. I could relate and understand body movements more when I watched female skateboarders in comparison to these crazy pro’s doing tricks I didn’t understand. 

In my everyday life I always find myself inspired by my local crew, Holystoked Collective. The boys never fail to inspire and I grew up skating with them, so it’s euphoric every time we do a session together!

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Photo by Sonia Ziegler

You were on a skate tour across India with 11 other great women from all around the world with Skate Girl India – how did that come about?

Talking with shredders Lisa Jacob and Louisa Menke on their last trip to India, we came up with ideas on how to promote the scene here. One of the ideas was a bus tour with international skaters who shared a passion about changing the skate industry for the better. 

I was finally in a place where I could take three months out to plan it all. We started by sending out online invitations for girl skaters to join us and 11 rad girls showed up. We set out to shred, build and teach and also had a skate yoga guide from Tel Aviv to keep us intact for those crazy 15 days on the road.

Where do you see Girl Skate India in five years?

I’m not really sure where we’ll be in a year, it’s all been so unplanned so it’s hard to say. I’m leaning more towards all girl workshops and skate days and I would really like to see the younger ones joining in on the teaching. Right now there’s about a handful of adults, but its the kids that are going to make things more exciting.

I’ve also noticed the rawness and lack of fear that the below poverty line children have towards skateboarding, so it would be super cool to direct more power towards creating a growth for these girls as well. Some of them live in such toxic environments that it could save lives.

What would you say to anyone who’s been thinking about trying out skateboarding?

Don’t give up and always have fun. Being passionate about something will give you a reason to get up and keep going even at the worst of times.

Thank you Atita, and keep up the important and inspiring work!