By Samantha Silva
Boyle Heights Beat
Candice Avendaño began skateboarding to impress a boyfriend.
“He was a skater. I guess I wanted to have more in common, so I started skating,” says the 17-year-old Boyle Heights resident. “But after a while, I realized that skating is really fun, and I really wanted to get into it, so I started skating.”
She bought her first skateboard without her parents’ permission. “I told my parents I was going to buy shoes online, but I ended up buying shoes and a skateboard. They were pissed,” she recalls.
Petite, with bright, fire-red hair and dressed in pop-punk style, Avendaño can frequently be seen at Mariachi Plaza and other spots in Boyle Heights, landing an ollie or doing more of the tricks she has mastered. She is one of just a few girls who are part of a growing skateboarding scene in Boyle Heights.
While girls are often expected to play with dolls, enjoy shopping and experiment with hairstyles, girls like Avendaño are changing the rules. The world of skating is evolving, and a sport that used to attract mostly boys is taking a turn, as more girls are developing their skating skills. In Boyle Heights, with a Latino dominant culture, some girls, like Avendaño, are challenging traditions by going against the norm.
“My dad would tell me, ‘You’re a girl. What are you doing? You’re not supposed to be skating. You’re supposed to be riding a bike or walking,’” says Avendaño. “I was like, ‘No, I don’t want to do that. That’s so dumb. I don’t want to be like everyone else.’ So I just kept skating.”
In Kimberly Barrera’s case, the negative reaction came from her mother, while her father is very supportive. The 15-year-old loves skating and constantly reminds her peers on social media by sharing videos of her tricks. She already has her mind set on going pro.
Usually dressed in oversized Dickies and wearing Vans shoes, Barrera says her old-school skater style gets different reactions from the boys with whom she skates. “Some guys think it’s cool and stuff, but then some only think it’s for guys, and they call me stuff like tomboy,” she says.
Skating is growing in popularity in Boyle Heights, a community with skating facilities at two of its city-run parks, Hazard and Hollenbeck, as well as in nearby Belvedere in East Los Angeles. Retailers like the Mainline Skate Shop and The Garage, which recently opened near Mariachi Plaza, provide local skaters with gear, information and other resources. But males dominate the scene.
That doesn’t deter Ilse Gutiérrez, a 20-year old Long Beach resident who loves to return to her old Boyle Heights neighborhood to skate at Hollenbeck Park.
“I like to skate here because it’s calm, and the guys treat me well,” she says.
Some males are still surprised when they see female skaters. “When they see a girl skating, it’s like they’ve never seen it before they go crazy,” says Avendaño. “Guys really dig girls that skate, too,” she says. “They will hit you up. It’s nice. You gain confidence, and you have more friends.”
Sixteen-year old skater Joe Guillen agrees. He says girl skaters are “awesome,” and he doesn’t feel he has to give his female peers any special preference. “No, why would I?” he asks. “If you’re gonna skate, you’re going to get the same respect as everyone else.”
Another local skater, 15-year-old Junior Durán, was raised to respect women. “Girls who skate, to me, it’s attractive. It’s pretty cool that you have both sexes doing stuff that they have in common. No beef, no fighting. It’s cool.”
Avendaño has perfected tricks like the ollie, which involves lifting the board up with just her feet as a tool, and a shove-it, which is spinning the board at 180 degrees without the board ever touching the ground. She is now working on mastering a kickflip, which is even harder because it requires spinning the board 360 degrees.
All of these tricks involve a lot of practice and could result in injuries. But Avedano is extra careful so as not to break any bones, since she plays several musical instruments, including piano, drums, guitar and bass trumpet.
“Music is first always,” she says.
Skaters like Avendaño and Barrera now have role models like professional skateboarder Leticia Bufoni, a Brazilian superstar who has ranked as the world’s number one female skateboarder for four years in a row and was nominated for an Espy award. Bufoni, who started skating at age 9, empowers young women to go out and do something they love.
And girl skaters also get plenty of support from The Garage, which helps locals do well in school and follow their dreams of going pro. The retailer funds a program called “Sk8 4 Educate,” modeled after high school athletic programs. It allows any local skater to join the team and take skating lessons, as long as he or she keeps a 2.5 minimum GPA.
“It’s an extreme sport, but it shouldn’t just be for males,” says Eric Díaz, an employee at The Garage. “It could be for anyone of all ages. Gender doesn’t matter.”
Díaz believes that anyone should be allowed to do anything they have a passion for. “There really isn’t a difference. We all ride the same type of boards,” he says.
And that’s alright by Barrera, who says she has a passion for skating and is determined to go farther in the sport.
“I just keep skating, and I don’t care what people think,” she says. “I love skateboarding.”
Samantha Silva is a student journalist with Boyle Heights Beat.
Photos above: Candice Avendaño shows off a trick. Photos by Ernesto Orozco.