Girl Gangs

Growing up in small town Ontario meant that I didn’t have many like-minded girls to hang with, as I was a fierce tomboy from a young age. I had two big brothers, and I wanted to do everything that they did. We lived on a dead end street and every day after school and throughout the summer holidays there was a mob of kids, mainly boys that would play street hockey or capture-the-flag or snow castle-building until our mom’s yelling would finally draw us home for dinner or bed time. It was an idyllic setting since the street backed onto the Niagara Escarpment, which offered us a forest to build forts in and a hill to go sledding on.

My best friend, Mike and I had many adventures, and even caused the neighbourhood alarm when we went missing for a day since we were so immersed in playing in the woods. The neighbours rallied and went searching for us, but discovered we weren’t far afield. Another time, one of the boys stated that I wasn’t allowed to play street hockey because I was a girl! I’m not sure where I acquired the lingo, but I quickly accused him of being a chauvinist, sexist pig and sent him running home crying, at the age of 5. Our mothers spoke on the phone not long after to resolve the issue. At school I would join Mike and the boys on the soccer field, and just didn’t have time for the more passive activities of the girls such as skipping, gossiping, and hop scotch.

In the 1980s, my brothers were some of the first to bring snowboarding into popularity in our region. I was learning to snowboard at age 11, and revelled in the coolness of being a snowboarder. By my late teens I was skateboarding and had one other female friend named Kate to rip around with. There were so few women snowboarding and skateboarding that the competitions I entered sometimes only had three or four participants. It was fun to feel unique, but I also wondered how amazing it would be to have friends who loved the same activities.

I moved to Vancouver at age 18, and that’s where my dreams started to come true – to be part of a girl gang! I was going to Simon Fraser University and at the bottom of the hill a new skatepark was built called Confederation Park around 1997. That’s where I met a crew of girls learning to skate – Michelle, Michele, Laura, Katie, Cory, Tracey, Char, Hana, Nugget, Carrie and Maya. The park had some oddly designed street obstacles, terrible asphalt, and the weirdest bowl that only served a “launch out” purpose. It also served kids who liked to smash bottles and start fires in the bottom of the bowl, so everyday we had to clean it out or else eat shit, which I did one horrible session. And yet, I knew it was a good summer when my hands and elbows were covered in scabs, with the exception of having a heal bruise for months from a different skate accident.

We loved the park and spent hours there everyday practising or just lurking with friends. It wasn’t an official “gang,” but we definitely motivated each other and had some fun terrorizing the downtown core as a mob. When Slam City Jam came to Vancouver, we rallied for a girls’ category and most of us competed and got to skate against Elissa Steamer in 1998, which was so exciting! We also started connecting with female skateboarders south of the border, like the girls behind the Villa Villa Cola zine – Lori D., Lisa, Faye, Van, Nicole and Tiffany. It was a really exciting time since the level of skill by girl skaters was beginning to boom, and we realized that we were not alone.

This belief that girls had a subculture within a subculture motivated me when I moved to Montreal early in the new millennium. I had one connection named Louise who had competed at Slam City Jam, and when I arrived in Quebec she introduced me to Mathilde, Amy, Erika, Gaby, Aida, Anne-Sophie, Brigitte, Julie, Marie-France and Margaux. We started hanging out, organizing outings like bombing the Mont Royal hill and cruising around the city to find interesting street spots.

We decided to call ourselves the Skirtboarders. It felt amazing to be in a gang, as we would rip through traffic in a jam, turning heads and provoking a variety of responses from cheers to outrage. I ended up writing my Masters thesis about my times with the Skirtboarders, and the films, zines and websites we made to pass the time during the bitterly cold winters. In a way, even though we had this horrible weather to contend with, the crew was more solid and motivated than the scene on the west coast. The thesis is called, “Female Skateboarders and their Negotiation of Space and Identity.” I was soon invited to academic conferences and remember getting a standing ovation at a Women’s Studies conference, after showcasing some videos and photos of our activities, and the audience declared this was third wave feminism in action!Dan Mathieu 2003

I don’t believe that any of the Skirtboarders were out to make a feminist declaration, as we were simply enjoying eachother’s company and having fun. But, we did feel entitled to space for skating and a certain amount of respect for participating in a male-dominated activity. It felt good to push boundaries and people’s comfort levels of what was acceptable for a young woman.

I eventually returned to Vancouver, to find work considering my limited ability to speak French and my limited ability to tolerate brutal Canadian winters. Again, my connection to skateboarding brought me in contact with some awesome ladies. In my thesis, I had quoted Rhianon Bader who created one of the early websites for female skaters called “Skate of Mind,” and she had conducted some interviews with my favourite skater – Jessie Van. Rhianon had just moved to Vancouver from Calgary, and I invited her to play soccer in Strathcona for the weekly “Sunday Soccer” scramble. Essentially, it was a mob of skaters, punks and drunks running around in the sunshine playing pick-up soccer. Not long after we were skating together, and then we got apartments in a house in Mount Pleasant across the hall from each other. We were pretty much roommates, but with our own kitchens and space, which meant none of the typical roommate drama.2006

One afternoon we were skating the Antisocial ramp and met Erika. Erika had moved to Vancouver with her boyfriend from Lethbridge, and had a motorcycle. As well, the manager of Antisocial – my old friend Michelle from the days at Confederation Park had a motorcycle. It was the ideal way to access all of the new skateparks popping up in the suburbs surrounding the city.

Within a few weeks of meeting Erika, both Rhianon and I had tracked down beat-up Hondas to learn on. It was agony because my motorcycle wasn’t running and needed some love, and I had to watch as Rhianon made progress. And then, after a new battery, oil change, new spark plugs and fresh gasoline my Honda kicked over! I had been practising in my mind how to change gears and pull in the clutch, so I simply got on the bike and rode down the alley. I cruised around the round-about, down the street and back up the alley, and could see my friends running down the alley where I had disappeared, assuming that I had stalled the bike somewhere, or worse. It felt pretty good to return to Point A, without stalling. We progressed really quickly and all got our motorcycle licenses that year, since I would come home and discover that Rhianon had gone out to UBC and into fourth gear, and I had to do the same!2007

I was instantly hooked on motorcycles, and so was Rhianon. It was so fun to have a friend to learn with. Erika’s boyfriend was part of a crew called the Night Fighters Motorcycle Club, so we declared that we would make our own MC! And that’s when the Majestic Unicorn Motorcycle Club was born, along with Erika’s friend Marcy, in 2007. It was initially a kind of joke, but with our cheesy unicorn patches our notoriety grew.

We went to Disaster Daze at a pub on Main street (before it went to the Sunshine Coast), and everyone wanted to know what MUMC stood for. I don’t think we expected people to be so fascinated with the thought of a group of girls riding motorbikes, but it led to a few interviews and some fans. We eventually recruited Emily and went on lots of roadtrips together.Jon West 2008

Nowadays, the MUMC still exists with a few new recruits and our garage is the focal point of where we meet up and learn motorcycle maintenance. The members of the garage are called Dirtymoto, which hosts regular tutorials and parties! I feel very grateful to all these amazing women I’ve met over the years, for their energy, motivation and passion. It’s tricky nowadays, since full-time work takes up a lot of time, but I’m excited to report that an epic reunion is in the works in Greece with Erika, Rhianon and Michelle, and any friend who is willing to make the trek. Girl gangs unite!
Jon West 2008

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