Defending Street League Skateboarding champion Nyjah Huston found himself at the center of a gender-driven controversy this week when he was quoted in Thrasher Magazine saying, "Some girls can skate but I personally believe that skateboarding is not for girls at all. Not one bit."
Huston, who declined to comment for this story, backpedaled quickly and by Monday afternoon had posted an apology on Twitter.
"I want to apologize for the remarks I made in Thrasher about female skateboarders," he wrote. "What I meant was that skateboarding is a gnarly sport, in general, and as someone who knows the wrath of the concrete all too well, I don't like the thought of girls (like my little sister) getting hurt. My words were an inaccurate reflection of who I am; more importantly, they were disrespectful and I genuinely regret them."
X Games Barcelona Women's Skateboard Park bronze medalist Julz Lynn took to Facebook over the weekend to publicly call Huston out for his comments, encouraging her peers around the world to share photos of themselves skating to prove him wrong.
"What if some girl reads that and doesn't wanna skate because of it, because she looked up to Nyjah?" asked Lynn, an X Games competitor since 2008. "That puts everything we've worked on in skateboarding back. Like, 'Who are you to say who can and can't skate?' Everyone can skate if they want. We all need to be together and standing up for what we love. One love. Skateboarding."
Lynn has spent much of her time in the past 10 years encouraging young girls to skate, teaching women's skate clinics, skating in all-female contests and working for female-based companies to continue to evolve women's skateboarding. Women have also been involved in skateboarding since the beginning of the sport. Wendy Bearer Bull, a 1960s-era skater and 1970s-era skater Laura Thornhill Caswell, the first female skater with a signature model board, were both inducted into the Skateboarding Hall of Fame this year.
But comments such as Huston's were merely par for the course for at least one woman skater. "It doesn't bother me personally," said Mimi Knoop, an X Games competitor since 2003. "I mean, if that kind of comment bothered me, I would have stopped skateboarding 15 years ago."
Knoop co-founded The Alliance with X Games gold medalist Cara-Beth Burnside to advocate for women in skateboarding and other action sports and was instrumental in bringing the Women's Skateboard Park event to X Games this year.
"What bothers me most about it is that there are younger girls out there who maybe don't have the same perspective I have," Knoop said. "I know Alana Smith really looks up to Nyjah and I know it probably broke her heart to read that."
Knoop's takeaway is to not worry about what other people say. If you like to do something you should go and do it.
"If anything, those kinds of comments should be motivating rather than dispiriting: go out there and show them different," she said.
The flap over Huston's comments notwithstanding, Knoop says 2013 has been a big year for women's skateboarding at the X Games and otherwise. Women's Skateboard Park debuted last month in Barcelona, with Lizzie Armanto, Smith (the youngest medalist in X Games history at age 12), and Lynn taking the top spots. The Women's Skateboard Street competition in Foz do Iguaçu was held on the same Street League Skateboarding course Huston won on, with Brazilian skater Leticia Bufoni taking the gold ahead of Lacey Baker and Jessica Florencio. Bufoni also won gold in the judged portion of the debut of the X Games Real Women video competition last month.
"Unfortunately, I think these kind of comments have always been there and will always be there, but the important thing is there's so much momentum now, so many more girls skating, so many more opportunities, and so many new girls ripping," Knoop says. "It's just awesome that it's at that point. It feels like the tides are turning."