empowering young girls through skateboarding in south africa

Meet Kelly Murray, the South African skateboarder behind Skateistan, who’s building a community of female skaters and inspiring more girls to get on board.

by Tish Weinstock
18 January 2017, 9:17pm

The skateboarding scene for girls in South Africa is currently thriving. Pioneering this movement is skateboarder and advocate, Kelly Murray, who has been putting the wheels in motion to create a solid female skate community on the continent.

Not only has she succeeded in shining a spotlight on the women's skate scene worldwide, by participating in global competitions and skating amongst the world's best, she also works as the Programs Officer for Skateistan, a non-profit organisation that aims to empower girls through skateboarding and education. 

She has been part of it since it launched in Johannesburg in 2014 and went on to open an official Skate School there last August. Her work organising and managing the girls-only sessions, within the charity's programs, has directly impacted participation levels and, more importantly, confidence levels. In order to inspire more girls to get on board, Kelly has developed a role model scheme, where older female skaters are invited to mentor the younger generation, as a means of building a stronger community. We caught up with Kelly to find out how it's all going.

Back when you started skateboarding, there weren't many girls getting on boards, how did you get into it?
When I was really young my cousins asked for skateboards for Christmas and I got given one too. So we all started skating. They gave up, but I carried on. I got better than them, I think that's why they stopped! I was very sporty anyway but when I found skateboarding, my friends in the area were all on boards or bmx's so we'd get together at the top of the street and hang out. It was our form of transport to each other's houses.

How did it evolve?
A skatepark opened up close to where I lived and a local guy who went there started a little skate company and he wanted to put me on his team. From there I got really excited about skating. I could get free t-shirts! But it was more than that; I just wanted to skate all the time, every day, after school, at weekends.

In the crew you skated with were they many girls?
Not at all. None. If I saw another girl at the skatepark I'd get really excited, but then they would only be there to watch their boyfriends. I never thought it was weird to be the only girl; the friends I skated with would always look out for me. But they would say, 'yo you're so good for a girl'. I was always reminded that I was different from them; and that they saw me as different. They would never want me to beat them in a game of skate, because I was a girl!

Read: Skateboarding is not just for girls!

Did you find the 'good for a girl' term derogatory?
A part of me was upset about it, but really I knew they said it because I was good. I was better than them, and I would say that to them!

How did you get involved with Skateistan?
I had a local board sponsor and when Skateistan first came through Johannesburg the guy who managed the team asked me to meet up with them. I hadn't heard of Skateistan when he then told me about it, but I did some research and thought it was amazing, So I went to meet the team and straight away I knew I wanted to be part of it.

What was it about Skateistan that drew you in?
It was the fact it was improving kids' lives directly and it caught my eye that its focus was girls. I had been trying for so long to build something and encourage more female participation; so I felt this was the way to get girls excited about skateboarding and to build a community of girl skaters here in South Africa.

Read: Amazing images from inside Ethopia's skate scene.

In the beginning Skateistan was just running Outreach sessions to engage with local kids. I read the blog you wrote about 42 girls turning up to a session early last year. How did that come about?
In the beginning we were running mixed sessions, and the girls would come but just hang around and watch. So we brainstormed as a team to talk about how to get them more involved and we thought it would work better to do girls-only sessions. We would skate with them, to encourage them to try and show them small tricks. After a short time, lots of girls were coming along to these girls-only sessions. They loved the fact they could skate and the boys weren't allowed to (they just had to watch). It grew from there.

How much did girls seeing other girls skate have an impact on this?
It's was important for us to find more female role models for the younger students so we were encouraging the older girls to become Youth Leaders. They would come to the skatepark to help with sessions, and then started joining in and they love it now. I also run a session on a Saturday, after the kids program, for all girls to come skate in the park and try it out. It really has given lots more girls the opportunity to get on boards. By watching other girls skate, they can find the potential in themselves and realise it's there!

Read: She was a skater girl - sharing the stories, styles and tricks of the female skate scene in London.

How does it feel to be a role model?
It's awesome that something I am passionate about I can pass on to other girls to also be passionate about too. It motivates me and I am pushed by the potential to inspire more girls!

Since the Skate School officially opened six months ago it's amazing to see lots of girls skating. How has it been there?
We have the most fun in the girls-only sessions at the Skate School which we do twice a week. They have grown so much. We see the same regular faces coming to the sessions each week and improving their skating and confidence. One girl, who comes to all the sessions is dropping in on the huge quarter, it's at least twice her height! We have older girls coming along now too. It's great for the younger girls to see older girls learning. Such a motivator!

What's next for you?
I want to keep building girls skating here in South Africa, increasing participation and growing the scene. It still needs a lot of work - there are so many new girls skating or wanting to get involved. I hope it keeps going and gets bigger, that's one of my plans to figure a way to grow that out of Skateistan. I think that you see more girls on skateboards and then more girls will be up for trying.

Kelly Murray is Programs Officer at Skateistan South Africa. You can support the amazing work they do empowering youth through skateboarding and education at here. Follow the girls skate scene in South Africa on Instagram @girlscanskate_sa and @kelly_murray0.


Text Tish Weinstock

South Africa
female skateboarders
kelly murray