Shred Queens Fight Skateboard’s Status Quo

New Female Sports Group Wants to Show You That They Can Ride With, and Past, the Boys

  • Paige Krämer Rochefort and Frédérique Luyet watching on as Jade Chretien, drops into the bowl for the first time. Photo Kelsey Litwin

  • Amy Melanson, Heidi Nixon, Devon Phelps and Hannah Sourbeer formed a team called the Shred Queens. Photo Kelsey Litwin

Hannah Sourbeer was bringing a group of teenage boys up Burke Mountain in Vermont, where she taught snowboarding lessons, when she told them that they’d be riding switch, meaning they were expected to lead with their non-dominant foot.

“She’s probably going to be so slow,” she remembers one of the boys complaining.

After she sped ahead, beating them down the hill, Sourbeer recalled the group’s respect level for her changing as they realized that she could hold her own in the typically male-dominated sport.

“It’s this idea that men automatically get this sense of respect, whereas women have to work for it,” said Devon Phelps, one of the four women on the executive team of the Concordia Ski and Snowboard Club. “You have to prove yourself to be respected.”

Phelps and Sourbeer, along with Heidi Nixon and Amy Melanson, were influenced by their unique positions with the CSSC, and used this as leverage to create a community in which females in typically male-run sports could come together. They call themselves the Shred Queens.

“It’s a really male-dominated industry, and even for the ski club itself, this was the first year that there are four women on the exec team,” said Phelps. “It’s the most women we’ve had in a really long time.”

As female skiers and snowboarders, Phelps continued, the gender disparity in the athletic community became overt and they recognized that it was time for a change.

“The industry itself is really sexist so we just thought it’d be cool to provide a community base through events, through different [means],” she said. “We could create these non-intimidating scenarios, so that [women] can push their limits and try stuff that they wouldn’t maybe try.”

As one of their first official events, Shred Queens took over TRH Bar’s skate bowl on Nov. 3, creating a space where women could feel comfortable testing the waters of a sport that others might feel too intimidated to try. The Queens themselves were excited to try their hand—or foot—at it for the first time.

“Even though we don’t skateboard, it’s like who cares?” said Phelps. “Let’s do it, let’s try it. I think it takes away some of the intimidation, as well, for other girls coming to join.”

Melanson agreed, explaining that, for her, being shy tends to hinder her willingness to try new things in front of other people. “We’re going to look stupid, but it doesn’t matter,” she said. Removing the element of intimidation, of being concerned with how they’d be perceived, allows them to push themselves further—to try something scary.

“We wanted to be the backbone,” said Sourbeer, “to give girls an extra push.”

During their inaugural “Sk8 Night,” that extra push came in the form of Paige Krämer Rochefort and Frédérique Luyet’s figurative and literal support. Krämer Rochefort and Luyet—both memebers of Les Vagabonnes, a Montreal-based female skate crew—were quick to hop in the bowl while first time skaters cruised back and forth. On foot or on board, they helped stabilize riders, allowing them to find comfort and develop a feel for gliding around.

“I don’t wanna ride like a guy, I wanna ride like a girl because I think riding like a girl is pretty rad.” — Hannah Sourbeer

Les Vagabonnes taught harder techniques to those who were more advanced, like Jade Chretien who seemed to have a natural talent for the sport that is arguably anything but natural. Krämer Rochefort held Chretien’s hands as she perched her board on the edge of the bowl, preparing to drop in.

Most who took the plunge into the bowl for the first time fell a couple of times, but cheers of encouragement from onlookers lessened the inherent fear of trying something foreign.

One of the big issues, however, the Shred Queens said, lies past that first step of trying a sport for the first time. They explained that it is found in the industry itself being closed off to embracing female athletes as strong competitors in their own right, and not simply as women who excel in their isolated divisions.

“The fact that it’s this huge deal that the first woman was put on the cover of [Transworld Skateboarding magazine] this year,” said Phelps. “That’s pretty shitty,” she explained, despite the fact that there has been a presence of strong female skaters for decades.

Patti McGee balanced upside down on her board on the cover of Life magazine in 1965. There is still a standard that if a woman is good, continued Phelps, it’s because she rides like a dude.

“I don’t wanna ride like a guy,” said Sourbeer. “I wanna ride like a girl because I think riding like a girl is pretty rad.”

This misconception, they say, is so ingrained into the industry that it can be found on the shelves of equipment shops.

“There’s this stereotype that you should just ‘shrink it and pink it’,” said Sourbeer. This comes from the idea that “because women don’t ride as hard […] they don’t need gear that’s going to be as high-quality.”

Frédérique Luyet busts a move. Photo Kelsey Litwin

The concept is of the same vein that other typically genderless products, such as razors, are marketed differently to men and women, nonetheless. Sourbeer explained that there’s this notion that women desire gear in typically feminine colors and patterns, such as pinks, purples and florals. “I can’t believe this is how [the industry] think this is how a whole demographic, a whole gender, operates.”

Phelps added that materials used to construct women’s gear are typically not as durable as those used for men’s boots and jackets. “The idea is she isn’t going to ride as hard, [that] she’s probably just going to buy new boots next year because it’s not in fashion anymore,” she said. “It’s this very superficial idea that women are there to look nice. It’s all that women are here for.”

But, she continued, “How many times have all of us beaten the guys that we ride with down the hill?”

“It’s such a good feeling,” replied Sourbeer.

“There’s literally nothing better,” said Melanson with a laugh.

With more events like their skate night, they hope to show both women and men that there’s room for strong female athletes in the industry, and that it’s never too late to give it a go.

“It’s all about your own empowerment,” said Melanson. “You feel so much better no matter who was watching [you try] or if a guy did it ten times better. Who cares?”

“And having your best buds there with you,” Sourbeer interjected, “is just the cherry on top.”

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