The New Roll Model

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Ever since the advent of skateboarding in the 1960s and '70s, the sport has been identified with daredevil adolescent boys. But the face of the game is changing. Look closelyunder that helmet might be your daughter, sister or even mother. There were 1.9 million women skateboarders last year, according to the National Sporting Goods Association, an increase of more than 25% since 1999. And studies by research firm Board-Trac found that in 2002, 26% of all skateboarders were female, up from just 7.5% in 2001. Skateboard manufacturers are catering to the new rollers. Elements is releasing a new signature skateboard deck with Vanessa Torres, who was crowned Female Skateboarder of the Year at the 2004 Transworld Skateboarding Awards. Core brands DVS, Sole Technology and Vans are ramping up their collections of women's skate shoes and clothes, joining the already girl-centric Curly Grrlz and Rookie.

Action-sports photographer and skater Patty Segovia, 32, who had to use boys' gear when she started skating in dry backyard pools as a teen, says the corporate interest is helping the sport grow and makes women feel more welcome. "If girls don't have clothing and equipment designed for them, it just adds to the sense that they don't belong," she says. Such discord is often enhanced by skeptical male skaters. "Skating with guys can be intimidating," says Segovia. "I still get heckled in skate parks." This occurs even when she is skating with championship skateboarder (and Olympic snowboarder) Cara-Beth Burnside, left.

Segovia founded the All Girl Skate Jam in 1997 as a way to recognize female skateboarders. "It was like we dropped a bomb on the skating world, which was mostly male" and somewhat hostile, she says. The competition has helped legitimize the place of women in the sport with its inclusive philosophy, reflected in its motto "All ages, all abilities, all girls." The first year the contest attracted just five female skateboarders. At the most recent event there were more than 100.

And it's not just teen and pre-tween girls taking up the sport. Women approaching middle age are the latest converts — like Barb Odanaka, 41, author of the biographical kids' book Skateboard Mom and a founder of the International Society of Skateboarding Moms. At her skate camps in San Diego, Segovia says, she sees women 14 to 40 perfect their techniques with a program of yoga, skateboarding lessons and surfing. "Mothers come with their daughters now. It's about women of all ages reaching their dreams."