With a pool of around 100 men, women and non-binary people who regularly come to their events, Keep Pushing bridges the gap between beginner skaters and existing skate culture by providing free weekly skate sessions combined with online content and continued support.
These sessions build confidence, progress skills and facilitate the integration of beginner skateboarders into the wider skateboarding community.
“We host events like beginner skate sessions and produce media including a podcast and YouTube channel. Our goal is to create more diversity in skateboarding and to keep people pushing!”
We asked founder Rae Smith to elaborate; what is meant by ‘diversity’, what do you mean by ‘keep pushing’ and why is this important?
“Diversity to us just means that everyone who’s skating is not the same and that as many different groups of people are represented in the skate scene as possible. I remember watching Jeff Grosso talking about how skateboarding was never meant to be all the same – how everyone was never meant to be ‘cookie cutter’ copies of each other. I feel that somewhere along the line this ethos has been a little lost and it would be really cool to explore this idea and take it further.
However, there can be a surprising amount of barriers to diversity within skateboarding. For example, someone said to me a while back that ‘girls don’t want to skate’. This was someone whose daughter is a skater! He told me that if girls wanted to skate, then they’d be out there doing it like his daughter was. He hadn’t grasped the fact that his own daughter probably wouldn’t be skating if he hadn’t introduced her to the skate scene himself; introduced her to other skaters, taught her how to skater, validated her and gave her an ‘in route’.
I knew from my own personal experience that there were women, girls, non-binary people, LGBTQIA+ people and even cis white males who wanted to skate but didn’t know where to begin. Not everyone has a dad who skates – not everyone has a mate who skates – and not everyone identifies with the way the media portrays skaters or the way the ‘average skater’ looks and acts in most London skateparks.
We are sharing a selection of Rae’s artwork throughout this post.
As an intersex woman, with links to the LGBTQIA+ community and the female skate community – and also as someone who had skated with men a lot and is well versed in visiting skateparks alone or as the only girl, and certainly the only intersex person – I feel I’m in a unique position to bridge all these gaps.
The aim was for people of every age, race, gender, sexuality, ability or disability to be able to come to a skatepark at least once a week, dressed as themselves, and see a friendly face; to see someone they know and who will make them feel welcome; someone else who looks ‘different’ to the average skater; who is older, a bit weird; someone else who is learning and looks and feels awkward. So I started saying ‘Hey, I’ll be at this park at this time. Come through!'”
Who or what has been your inspiration behind what you are doing with Keep Pushing?
“Keep Pushing skate sessions were created as a response to some of the female skate events happening around London. Those events often had up to 200 women and girls attending but I noticed that these same women and girls were nowhere to be seen outside of those monthly occasions. This hinders progression for many and, after a year skating, some of them were still learning to kick turn and ollie on the spot. Some people were looking at this and assuming that girls just don’t want to skate. I looked at it and said girls are not being empowered to skate.
So, even though I have only been skating a few years myself, I thought I’d have a go at changing that; not just for girls but for everyone who wants to skate. I’m really, really passionate about people progressing – so if people come to my sessions I expect them to push themselves.
The aim is for people of every age, race, gender, sexuality, ability or disability to be able to come to a skatepark at least once a week, dressed as themselves, and see a friendly face.
I will happily give my time for free to help people skate, although I do expect them to meet me half way and turn up ready to face their fears. They must have their own board as it’s a sign of commitment but if they are really keen but struggling financially, I’ll help them get set up. Ultimately, I think people need to show that they are really into this and want to give it a go, otherwise you just get a lot of people coming along for the novelty of stepping on a board or to grab a picture for IG – which is not what we, nor other skaters, want happening at the parks. We need to be credible and show we mean business.
Because I get to know everyone individually, I soon get to know if people are going through a hard time and need to be treated with compassion rather than pushed too hard. It’s important to get to know people and have a genuine community of support and friendship. Above all, I want to see people progressing and everyone who comes to the sessions comes ready to try something new.
Also, within the short time I have been skating, it has occurred to me that there is not just a lack of diversity amongst people skating but also amongst those who contribute to the ‘skate scene’. For example, there are very few artists, photographers, writers, filmmakers, editors and designers within the skate scene who are female or LGBTQIA+ – so essentially we’re not contributing towards shaping the skate scene that we are trying to be a part of.
This isn’t just about women – there is a massive under-representation of gay men, queer people and minority races working within skate brands and media and helping to shape the media content, board graphics, clothes designs, magazine articles and so on.
Keep Pushing has a podcast and YouTube channel that aims, over time, to help change this and to shine a light on, and give opportunities to, a more diverse range of people. We don’t want to segregate ourselves from the skate scene and although we’re making things ourselves at the moment, we are hopeful that, eventually, it will all merge together and be a beautiful mixed up melting pot of creativity and diversity and love.”
What events have you held so far and what have you got planned for the future?
“So far we have been able to hold weekly beginner sessions at different outdoor skateparks around London. We’ve been to Vicky Park, Crystal Palace, Meanwhile Gardens, Clissolds, Mile End, Cantelowes and we also hit street spots too! The goal is to get people confident skating different parks so that they feel comfortable to go there again outside of the sessions. And it’s working! The hope is to meet often and as regularly as other commitments allow us.
All of our beginners have formed friendships and now skate together outside of the sessions and we love to see them posting photos and videos of their progression when they go back to these parks on different days. It’s amazing how quickly people are progressing and how fast this is translating into the emergence of a more diverse skate scene.
Our monthly beginners session at The Yellow Bowl in Selfridges is run by Ross and Bryce who have been so helpful and supportive towards us that we can’t thank them enough – their teaching skills and advice make these sessions amongst our most popular and we see so much progression from people who attend.
As well as this, we’ve hosted art fairs shining a light on a diverse range of skater artists including Jeremy Jones, Lou Salasca, Eloise Dorr, Sara Prinsloo and Jack Pearce as well as running workshops such as zine making and board designing.
There are plans for a lot more art fairs, exhibitions and workshops to empower people to do things like make their own zines, build their own ramps and more! We will try to support them as they learn new skills and create new things. That is the meaning of true empowerment – continued support and community – and everyone in the skate community can contribute to this endeavour.”
What makes what you are doing different to other skate organisations?
“The focus is not really on how we are different to other organisations – we just do what we do and keep focussed on that. We love what everyone does and we support it all!”
Do you have any sponsors / supporters?
“As mentioned, we have received a lot of support from Ross and Bryce and The Bowl, Selfridges. We’ve also both worked with SkatePal as volunteers in the West Bank and as part of the recent fundraising exhibition as well as interviewing Charlie the founder of SkatePal for our podcast.
However, at present we don’t have any official sponsors or connections. I am a member of Nefarious Skate Crew and between us we have links to Girl Skate UK, Long Live Southbank, Camp VC Crew, Brixtons Baddest Skate Shop, Repro Print, Skateism, SkatePal, Grey Skate Mag, Doyenne Skateboards, Three Amigos Skateshop, The Yellow Bowl Selfridges, Sibling Non-binary Crew and Slam City Skateshop.
We’re currently applying to brands and organisations for support but it is quite a long and difficult process so watch this space – and if anyone’s interested in getting in touch to support us then please do!”
You have recently returned from Vietnam? Was that skate related? What did you do there?
“Oh, that is a story in itself, haha! I had a lot of personal issues to deal with. I hadn’t accepted myself for who I was – I had been told my whole life that I was supposed to lie about being intersex and pretend to be a ‘normal’ woman. I had also struggled to find my ‘place’ in life and in society. I’m a weird person in so many ways and I’ve had a very strange life. I’m intersex, I have emotional issues and, although I have lots of unusual skills, I lack some basic life skills.
When I got the opportunity to move to Vietnam and teach art I jumped at the chance to get away and just have some time to face myself and work on myself. To come to terms with myself and prove that even though I’m not a ‘normal’ person I still have something to offer.
During my time, there I spent nearly all my free time painting and skating. I started running skate workshops and art workshops outside of the school I was teaching at. When I wasn’t painting or skating I largely isolated myself. I was facing my demons and I guess I still am. Turns out they’re not so scary when you face them – they actually just want to help!
Being in Vietnam taught me to skate alone, and gave me breathing space to figure myself out. When I came back, I knew what I wanted to do without even realising it. Keep Pushing just kind of happened naturally, I guess. I found who I am and I found my calling. I didn’t set out to do this, but once I started being true to myself, it just kind of happened.”
We would like to thank Rae for sharing her story and for what she is doing for the skate community and all who have a desire to skate!
Contact : firstname.lastname@example.org
LooksLikeRae – online art store
All images belong to Keep Pushing Podcast/Rae Smith