Hollywood star Julia Roberts, who was raised by Baptist and Catholic parents, converted to Hinduism when filming the 2010 movie Eat, Pray, Love, a story about eating in Italy, praying in India and finding love in Indonesia. In the view of Sydney-based artist Sabella D’Souza, who is part of an Indian diaspora, Roberts represents white privilege co-opting brown spirituality.
In the artist’s video montage Julia & I, 2018, D’Souza stands in for Roberts in famous roles such as the aforementioned movie adaptation of the white US author Elizabeth Gilbert’s travel pilgrimage memoir, as well as Pretty Woman, Notting Hill and Erin Brockovich, aiming to entertain as much as draw attention to Roberts as a colonial conduit.
Aimee Massie owns two different skateboards for competing in two different styles: one board for Street, another for Park. The Newcastle-born sportswoman, wearing a green woollen beanie, holds up her Street board, lighter in weight for higher “pop” and tricks, designed to leap onto handrails and stairs. “It’s got a gun,” she laughs, pointing to the board’s fluorescent orange assault rifle design. “It’s not the best.”
The other board is not with her today as she sits in a Sydney cafe over a ham bagel and coffee breakfast, but that one is a little bit wider with wheels slightly bigger for speed; more functional for Park bowl skating and “fun” obstacles known as spines and hips.
That board displays the phrase “Like a girl”: a United States artist created the design and offered it as a prize on Instagram, and Massie won this object of her desire.
“I thought that would be a perfect way to express myself,” says the 26-year-old, who is among 20 Australian skateboarders, half of whom are women, heading to the Dew Tour in Long Beach, California, this month to join more than 300 skateboarders at the top of their game competing in men and women’s individual Skate and Park qualification rounds for Tokyo 2020, the first time skateboarding will be included in the Olympics.
I tell Massie that actor Rachel Griffiths’ upcoming feature directorial debut is a biopic about 2015 Melbourne Cup-winning jockey Michelle Payne titled Ride Like a Girl. “Oh cool,” says Massie, who works at the Basement Skate shop in inner-city Redfern and teaches kids to skate in her spare time.
What does riding like a girl mean to her? “I don’t know; I haven’t really thought about it. I mean, I’m not one of those people that ‘genderises’ things. I’m trying to show other girls that you can do it, and I’m trying to be a role model for females. But I feel we’re all equal and can all do this and get along.”
Massie is the only Australian woman selected to compete in both the Street and Park events at the Long Beach Olympic qualifier. World skateboarding rankings upheld by international governing body World Skate will determine eligibility, but Massie, who recently took first place in the Street competition at the 2019 Queen of Concrete event held in inner-western Sydney, is nonplussed at the uncertain obstacles ahead.
“This year they’re kind of practising the qualifications for next year,” she says. “It’s weird. You don’t really get told much about the process. I feel like they don’t know what’s going on. This is like trial and error, maybe, to see how they’re going to run it.”
Massie moved south to Sydney for love, from the Gold Coast where she was raised, late last year. Her partner, Luke Meena, was running administration at another skateboard shop, though he doesn’t skateboard himself: “He’s into cars. He’s got a ’61 Chevy Impala.”
Growing up at Burleigh Heads, Massie surfed a lot as a kid, encouraged by her surfer father, Scott. Massie also became a fierce BMX competitor. “I was little and scrawny and it was hard for me to jump a bike,” she recalls. At 10, she almost broke her jaw, she says, trying to clear a double hump on a dirt track, smashing her face into the handlebars and then the ground.
Unperturbed, Massie began looking for bigger challenges. At 12, while competing in a local BMX competition, she spied a skateboarding contest. No one had entered the female division, so Massie grabbed a friend’s board, entered and won. “I was instantly hooked.”
Yet her skateboarding male friends refused to teach her any more about the sport, telling Massie to “stick to BMX” because “girls don’t skateboard”. For the next couple of months, Massie silently observed their every movement in the skate park – hips, feet, how they balanced – and when they “racked off” she would jump in and skate alone.
Eventually game enough to show her doubters what she had learnt, they accepted her: “After that, it was five years of just me versus guys.”
It’s Saturday night at the Cutaway, a cavernous underground space at Sydney’s Barangaroo. Seven of the regular cast of eight young adult male and female skateboarders from a new sport-theatre show in the making, SKATE, are giving a public rehearsal on a big white skateboard bowl and steep ramp, onto and above which flashy animated projections of waterfalls and geometric shapes pop with colour and rhythm.
Just as the Olympics herald a new seriousness to their craft, the era of this sport as performance art has dawned. An audience of a couple of hundred people, including many children fixated on the action, are seated mostly with headphones on, zoning in as two female non-skateboarding percussionists help flesh out the music of the skateboarders’ tricks and turns.
Australian arts and social change company Big hART hopes to make an international touring show of SKATE, with more of these Transitions events to be held on June 8 and 22 and July 6 and 20. Wearing microphones attached to their shoes, the skateboarders drum with sticks in sync with the percussionists. They thump their boards down on platforms also wired for sound, creating a bass effect.
Massie is among the cast, smiling and in her element as she jumps on her assault rifle Street board. She says the audience goes into a trance, as though they are a part of the show. “The projections are just so unbelievable. You’ve probably seen stuff like it at Vivid [the Sydney light festival show], but to add skateboarding – there are moments when it’s really dark and we’re doing massive airs [aerials], creating this danger zone. It’s something you’ve never seen before.”
Big hART believes skateboarders make cities safer places, while Massie agrees, adding there should be more liberalism for skateboarders in public spaces. “People need to be more open to it. We’re just trying to do something fun. Walking on the street you see the perfect [set of] five stair[s] and think, ‘My god, look how perfect that is’; you just want to skate it.”
Equity too has been hard fought through Massie’s teens and 20s. “Girls never had age divisions,” she recalls. “Guys had age divisions and then opens. The open guys would get prize money, and the open females wouldn’t. About seven years ago they started doing prize money, but it was never equal. Two or three years ago they finally started making the prize money equal.”
Did she band together with other female competitors to fight the sexism? “All of us girls stuck together and created our own contest. We got different companies to fund it – I think it was called Not Another Female Contest – with $1000 prize money involved. I won the contest, and it was the first time I won money.”
That shocks me given it’s the 21st century, I tell her. “Does it really, though? Gender equality [in sport] has only just started getting real this year, I think. It’s good now that it is finally changing. It’s a really hard topic for me to talk about, because I feel like guys feel we don’t try hard enough.”
Her future? “Maybe when I hit 30, that’s when you start [slowing down]. Depends on your body. Even now, at 26, they’ll call me a veteran in the competitions, just because of the young girls. There are so many young females now that are really good.”
With Tokyo 2020 just over a year away, this “veteran” will still be right in her prime.
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