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Inaugural competition carves new inclusive space for skateboarders

Seventy-five skaters took part in The Ambush — an all-women, girls, trans, non-binary, and gender expansive event — at Woodlands Skatepark on Saturday.

Over the screech of sliding boards on steel rails and the rumble of around 300 (give or take, but not at the same time) small wheels on cement, Katelyn Holleley tells the story of how she got into skateboarding.

“My dad skateboards, so we had a lot of skateboards at the house and then I just decided to skateboard,” she said.

The nine-year-old was one of 75 skaters who came out to participate in the all-women, girls, trans, non-binary, and gender expansive The Ambush event at Woodlands Skatepark on Saturday.

The inaugural The Ambush was hosted by the Edmonton and area Tigers Skate Club on Sept. 24.

Holleley has been a member of the Tigers Skate Club for about a year, and this was her first time competing. The young Edmontonian said she came to the St. Albert event because she just likes to skateboard.

Rosey Kulba, an organizer and founding member of the Tigers Skate Club, said she hopes the event will continue “year after year.”

“[We hope to make The Ambush] a tradition here, either in St. Albert or [at] different locations around,” she said.

Kulba said the event sold out in 13 days, and included registrations from people from the ages of four to 59.

The Ambush was capped at 75 participants because Woodlands is a smaller park and organizers wanted participants to have enough space to skate, said Kulba.

“We chose St. Albert because we love the facilities,” she said.

Kulba started skateboarding at the age of 41. She would have started much younger, but said there weren’t the resources or supports in place when she was 10.

“It became a dream of mine,” she said.

Her husband eventually taught her to skate.

“When I actually tried it, and I could push and glide on a skateboard, I was so proud of myself. Just to learn the basic skills of rolling around a skate park — and that's all you have to do is have fun rolling around. It doesn't have to be extreme. And you don't have to do tricks,” she said.

The Tigers Skate Club was founded in 2019 by Kulba and Denise Biziaev in 2019 to create a community for women and girls to skateboard with.

The club started with around 10 to 15 members but grew to around 75 to 100 members this year. They meet on a weekly to bi-weekly schedule at various parks around Edmonton.

Marlene Hielema is a founding member of 100% Skate Club in Calgary. The eight-year-old Calgary club was an inspiration for the creation of the Tigers Skate Club.

The Calgary resident was also the oldest registrant at The Ambush at 59.

Hielema started skating when she was a teen, but she quit when it went out of style and then restarted at age 50.

It was intimidating for Hielema to hit the skate parks at first, “but with girls, with a crew, it's much easier and much more fun — it's more camaraderie. Now, having said that, I'm of the age now where I'm not intimidated by teenage boys anymore,” she said.

Hielema said she finds it easy to go to a skate park by herself now, but in the beginning, even going into the skate shop was difficult.

“Are they going to think it's for my kids? I was treated very well from the get-go … I went back to that skate shop many times because I was treated so well and [they] never blinked an eye, like, ‘Oh, here's this 50-year-old buying a longboard,’” she said.

Hielema recommends any older individuals who would like to start to wear protective padding on their hips and everywhere else.

"I've wrecked both shoulders. Even just tore my meniscus a week ago, so I almost didn't even make it [here]. You get injured. That's the advice: You will get injured. Start slow. Don't worry about competing with these little kids," she said.

“Now if you started younger, you will pick it up again, like me. It just felt natural to step back on a skateboard,” said Hielema.

Kulba also said it was intimidating to just get out and start skating.

“It seems like there's a lot of skilled people there, or you don't see yourself represented when you pull up. There's only people who identify as a he or him at the skate park — you don't see yourself! It's nice to come to a place where there's lots of people represented, and you feel comfortable and welcome,” she said.

Kulba said she recommends those interested in skateboarding find a group or community that feels comfortable and safe.

“It comes with practice ... just taking your own space and learning that you belong here. Everyone deserves to skateboard because it's so fantastic — emotionally, spiritually, physically, mentally, it has so many benefits for any human,” she said.