By AMANDA VALENTOVIC
For Montclair Local
Saturdays are for the girls. At least they are at Montclair’s Rand Park tennis courts, at 157 North Fullerton Ave., for a couple of hours.
One of the courts, which was outfitted with ramps and rails this summer for the township’s growing skateboarding community, has been hosting Boardroom Skate from 10 a.m. to noon since August. The skating collective that was made “for the girls by the girls” was started by Montclair High School senior Olivia Karny after she attended an all-girls skate session that had no female instructors earlier this year.
“All of the instructors were guys,” Karny said. “We got mad, because there were no girl instructors at the girls session.”
So Karny decided to create the thing that she wanted to exist herself. She came up with a name, designed a flier and recruited two friends, Sophie Chapman and August DeBord, to help spread the word. Three months into its existence, Boardroom Skate is hosting about 40 girls per week at the skate park. Some are beginners, some are experienced; all are there to help each other skate.
The name is a nod to a business boardroom, the skateboard in the logo serving as a table.
In their logo, Karny said, “She’s at the head of the table wearing a tie because it’s what a man would usually be wearing. And when we meet up to skate, it’s like a boardroom meeting.”
Karny herself has been skating for less than a year. But she’s been watching skateboarders for a while, and finally borrowed a board from a neighbor to try it out. After three months, she figured out how to ollie — kick the tail down while jumping to make the board hop into the air. The problem, she realized, was that she was learning alone.
“I would skate in a park by myself, and it was so boring,” she said. “I figured there must be other girls who were feeling that way, and I wanted to get them here as soon as possible.”
Karny believes there are just as many women who want to skate as men.
“But they don’t, and I think it stems from when girls hit puberty and lose their confidence,” she said.
A SKATING COMMUNITY
If there are boys on the ramps on Saturday mornings, Karny will politely kick them out until the afternoon. As long as you don’t identify as male, you can skate with Boardroom. Non-binary people are specified on each flier announcing the time and place.
Tracy Santorasci’s son and daughter both skate, and her 10-year-old daughter won’t go to the skate park unless there are other girls there.
“She loves the all-girls skate,” Santorasci said. “I think it’s not as intimidating for her. Other times, there are also older people here, and that’s intimidating, too.”
Most of the skaters who go to the Boardroom sessions are children and teenagers, but Karny said there are a couple of older women who have given skating a shot. No experience is necessary, no matter how old the person strapping on a helmet is.
Sara Drappi’s daughter Lily, 10, is a novice who rolled into the park for the first time because of Boardroom.
“She had never skated before this,” said Drappi, a Verona resident who heard about the group on Facebook. “We borrowed a skateboard from a friend and said, ‘Give it a shot.’”
Lily Drappi said she likes skating at the park. Her house’s driveway isn’t smooth enough, so she needed somewhere to go.
“It’s being around girls of all shapes, sizes, colors and backgrounds that all have this thing in common,” Sara Drappi said. “Some have been doing it for a while, and that helps. They’re all here to relax and enjoy it.”
Karny and the other more experienced skaters teach the newcomers how to navigate the rails. As the months have gone on and the sessions have become a regular occurrence, they’ve begun teaching each other. Parents don’t usually skate; instead, they watch from the sidelines and help where they can.
“When dads come with their daughters, it’s one of the best feelings I get,” Karny said. “The fact that everyone can enjoy it makes me the happiest.”
NOW AND FUTURE
Skateboarding has been growing in Montclair and across the world; before the 2020 Olympics were postponed as a result of the pandemic, skaters were going to compete for medals in Tokyo.
The pandemic has made group activities tricky. It kept skaters at home until the summer, when statewide stay-at-home orders were lifted. Even now, the skate sessions don’t look quite like what they would in a time without COVID-19. Everyone has to wear a mask and stay as safe as possible. The fact that they can skate at all is a win.
“It’s definitely something people need,” Karny said. “There’s only so much art you can make in your room before you go insane. We need an outlet.”
Karny has been working with Skate Essex, a county nonprofit that promotes skateboarding. She and Boardroom Skate teamed up with the Montclair Mutual Aid Fund this past Saturday to collect feminine hygiene products for donation. Eventually, she wants to expand out of Montclair.
“I want to get it as big as it can be,” she said. “A lot of skate brands will sell clothes to girls, but who’s hosting events? We can do a lot more of that. What if other places had Boardroom? I hope we can instill that in other communities.”
But the original intention, no matter how far Boardroom skates out of Montclair, remains the same.
“The goal is not to get the guys out,” Karny said. “It’s to get the girls in.”