“It’s like, come on, skate!” — Danni Gallagher, Girl Skate Uk
BY Jennifer Lee O'Brien
Danni Gallagher’s cat, Penny, was sitting upright on a skateboard. We had come to Danni’s home in Sheffield to talk about Girl Skate UK, and here was her cat, on a skateboard, in the kitchen.
Penny stared at us. It seemed like she was saying: ‘So? What else did you expect?’
What we expected, now, was for Penny to put one small, black paw to the floor and start rolling across the room; not unlike a video of a skateboarding bulldog we’d seen on YouTube. Instead, she sat there, eyeing us up; the new, strange people in her house, who were likely to be comparing her to some dopey bulldog that had learned one viral-worthy trick.
“They say black cats are the least likely to get adopted,” says Danni. “But Penny is so lovely! I can’t imagine why.”
It was a drizzly day in Sheffield; the kind that that keeps cats — and skateboards — indoors. We had entered the house through Danni’s backyard, where pots of leafless plants in winter hibernation soaked up the afternoon rain. Inside, a tremendous Swiss cheese plant watched its sleepy, drenched outdoor friends. We mentioned to Danni that we’d been trying to grow a Swiss cheese plant of our own.
“You’ll have to send me a photo!” she said.
In her living room full of plants and prints, the TV was on with the volume turned low. The house was cosy and warm. Danni sat on the couch with her feet curled underneath her; it felt like being at a best friend’s house. Afterwards, when we thought about who it could be, we realised it was all of the best friends ever.
Here we are, sitting on the couch, talking about her cats and where to get the best indoor plants, and work and feminism, and travel and the Spice Girls, and we might as well crack open a few beers or something because, man, this feels like friendship.
One minute, Danni’s talking about achieving parity for girl skaters (“You can’t pretend that it is equal”) and about Skateistan, an initiative to educate girls in Afghanistan, Cambodia and South Africa (“Now, in Afghanistan, there’s just as many girl skaters as there are boy skaters!”). And then, all of a sudden, she’s talking about landing a trick and using words like ‘stoked’ and ‘rad’ and it sounds in no way affected.
And she’s throwing this exuberant, badass sort of energy right at us like it’s some kind of atmospheric friendship bracelet.
“We’ll be celebrating our third birthday this month!” says Danni, when we ask her about Girl Skate UK, a blog and Instagram account for girl skaters in the UK. “We’re doing a skate jam in Leicester for that; it’ll be a really big party.”
Danni’s been hanging around skate parks since long before she started Girl Skate UK; since back when she was a teenager, back when she didn’t skate.
“I was friends with a group of lads that skated,” she says. “I had a little bit of balance or whatever, but I couldn’t do any tricks, I couldn’t go far and I didn’t feel comfortable.”
On her twentieth birthday, some friends bought her a skateboard of her own. That summer, instead of hanging out on the grass, chatting and drinking, Danni decided to get on that board and give it a go.
“It didn’t take that long to pick it up,” she says. “But then, with skateboarding you’re always learning, you’re always progressing. There’s still so many things that I want to try and learn how to do.”
The idea for Girl Skate UK came a while after, when she had moved from Kent to Sheffield. She’d been writing for a website called skatergirl.co.uk.
“It was a really good site,” she says. “But then they started to branch out and do BMX websites; I think they did a roller skating one, too.” Danni says that with the shift in focus away from stories about girl skaters around the world, skatergirl.co.uk lost their “target skateboard audience.”
“I think the girls felt like, when you’re a skateboarder, you’re a skateboarder,” she adds.
Danni’s idea for Girl Skate UK was closer to an online calendar than the online community and events that exist today. She just wanted a place where people could see what other girl skaters were up to. “Like all the jams and events that were going on,” she says. “Not that there were many then, to be honest.”
On March 2nd, 2014, Danni published her first post on the Girl Skate UK website. It was titled, ‘Hello!’, and mostly consisted of a promise for more content, future news and updates.
Her second post, on March 6th, was an introduction to Lois Pendlebury, a UK skater and member of the Route One Skateboarding team.
‘Lois Pendlebury has been on the scene for what seems like forever and it’s safe to say that she is one of the best female skaters this country has to offer, a proper mini ripper who skates hard & fast and ALWAYS with a smile on her face.’
This set the tone for what Danni wanted to do; introduce girl skaters to each other, shout about new events and inspire more girls to get on a board.
“I started an Instagram page and it just started racking up followers quite organically,” she says. “When I realised it was a niche thing I started to do an event or two to just see how it went. And it just really kicked off.”
Girls have always been skating. Of course they have! But for a long time their representation — in media, for sponsorship deals, even in the skatepark — has felt like a bit of an afterthought. That is, if it’s there at all.
In 2000, then five-time winner of the All Girls Skate Championships Elissa Steamer was interviewed about the release of Tony Hawk’s 2000 Pro Skater Playstation game, in which she’s a character. ‘What makes you unique?’ the interviewer asked. ‘I am the only girl in the game,’ she replied.
Things have changed since 2000, but not nearly enough. Like, Avril Lavigne has married and divorced two Grammy-nominated artists since Let Go was released. And Danni still gets Sk8er Boi sung at her in the park.
“A few years back it felt like a rare thing to see girls skateboarding,” she says. “You’d go to the park and people would stare at you, because you were a novelty. I think there’s still that image, that stereotype, that just makes you think, ‘Oh, it’s not for girls. So I shouldn’t try.’
“I’ll be at the skate park and there will be a girl just standing there, biting her nails, like, wanting to get involved, but not wanting to get in the way. It’s like, come on, skate!
“I think that’s why the girls sessions are quite important, because it gives the space for girls just to go and practice, and not have to worry.”
Part of Danni’s aim for Girl Skate UK was to post about girl sessions in skate parks around the UK, but with her team of volunteers they’ve hosted some of their own. The point is to offer space for girls, but also to help parks realise that they’ve got a client-base to cater to.
“Once we do a few sessions we let the parks take it over themselves,” says Danni. “Parks are quite reluctant to give away a few hours,
or a whole night to something they don’t know is going to get any interest. But once you’ve got twenty girls coming to a session, they start to do it more and more.”
“You know,” she adds, “I don’t really like the idea of girls-only nights; the idea that you can’t come because you’re a boy. At the same time, if these spaces aren’t available, then some of these girls haven’t got the confidence to start. They’re not going to be joining in, and it’s not going to be equal numbers.
“It’s annoying though. You’ll advertise it and you’ll get people commenting on Instagram and saying, ‘where’s the boys-only night?’
She laughs. “It’s like, that’s every night.”
In August 2016, the Olympic committee introduced five new sports to the Tokyo 2020 games, including baseball/softball, karate, sport climbing, surfboarding and skateboarding.
“I can only imagine the profile of women skateboarders is really going to rise after that,” says Danni. “It’s an equality thing, isn’t it? They’ve got to have a girls event. And it’s international; the Olympics is broadcast everywhere.”
You can kick, push and coast just about anywhere you like, as long as there’s decent weather and a bit of smooth traction underneath your board.
When Danni’s not managing a coffee shop, or hosting Girl Skate sessions, or running skating camps with her partner, skateboarder Mark Baines, she’s skating around the world.
“We’ve got so many friends in countries all over the places,” she says. “Like Sweden, Spain, Canada.
“Skateboarding is such a tight knit community. I think once you’ve got a common interest it’s just so easy to be friends. You meet somebody in another country and they’re like: come visit! Come stay! So you just go on holiday, stay with them, and you meet more people.”
Later, as Danni is feeding Penny treats on the skateboard, we ask her if she thinks skate culture is really changing to accommodate girls.
“I was at the skate park last night, and normally there would just be me and my friend, but there were five other girls there,” she replies. “That’s loads for a regular night; you never would have seen that before.”
Originally published in The City Talking: Sport.