San Diego’s GRLSWIRL – Sarah Carletto and Jay Cardoza demand a space for the queer skating community

San Diego’s GRLSWIRL – Sarah Carletto and Jay Cardoza demand a space for the queer skating community

My first skateboard arrived after my family endured the first months of blaring Avril Lavigne and black clothes accompanied by an attitude later identified as depression. Holding the blue grip tape and appraising the jumbled graphics sent a rebellious heat through my gut, even if my parents were funding that rebellion.

I tripped over the board on my way to school and tentatively pushed along the neighborhood, but I smiled and laughed for the first time in a while. A block away from school two boys in my class tore by me on skateboards. One botched an ollie while the other cackled and sneered at me from behind his glossy black hair. Everytime I tried to improve, a boy would laugh at me. Disheartened, I buried my board in the garage. Even so, the shame of giving up didn’t outweigh the shame of ostracization.

Straight white men dominate the skateboarding world. Gatekeeping pervades the culture of skateparks, streets and alleyways. As a non-binary lesbian, I could never find a niche to join in the community. Years later as a college student in San Diego, I saw skateboarders all over the city and the campus, but I still couldn’t find queer womxn on skateboards.

A year ago the announcement of the coronavirus pandemic spurred a spontaneous project – I made my own skateboard deck, an old school cruiser. As soon as I bought the wheels and trucks, I came across the Instagram page @grlswirl which was dedicated to providing a space for womxn to skate together. It felt meant to be. I felt ready to try something new, and ready to shed my insecurities and anxieties about how I would look learning to skateboard.

GRLSWIRL is a grassroots organization led by womxn with the goal of fostering an inclusive and revolutionary community for womxn skaters. GRLSWIRL is the brainchild of Lucy Osinski and her skateboarding adventures on the California boardwalk. She would grab other skating girls and ask them to skate with her; thus the group originated in 2018 with nine co-founders who met on the boardwalk and have since expanded to almost 150K Instagram followers. They have chapters in Los Angeles, New York and San Diego, with plans to expand internationally in Brazil and France. San Diego’s GRLSWIRL chapter leaders Sarah Carletto and her partner Jay Cardoza have pushed the organization to move beyond sisterhood to include the non-binary and LGBTQ+ community.

San Diego’s GRLSWIRL

Brazilian-born Carletto gives me a bright greeting over the phone. As the San Diego chapter co-leader, she manages the GRLSWIRL San Diego Instagram, which is flooded with pictures of Carletto smiling and executing stylish drop-knee turns beside Cardoza. In her mind, San Diego is the perfect place for a GRLSWIRL chapter.

“Honestly that was the number one city request,” she says. “You have no idea. So many people message [GRLSWIRL] everyday asking to open chapters in their cities. But they said there’s no place like San Diego. Because, you know that’s what San Diego is. It breathes and it lives surf and skate.”

Of course, it’s a no-brainer that a grassroots group led by queer womxn would find a welcome home in a sunny city full of laid back leftists.

Carletto and Cardoza joined the organization just before quarantine. “It was kind of perfect timing because people were all getting out of their comfort zone,” says Carletto. “Nobody wanted to just be at home. People started skateboarding. I feel like [quarantine] is a time where people want to step into their power, but you have to have the right tools and have people to look up to or be there with.”

Despite the difficulty of organizing meetups during a pandemic, they are trying to lay down roots in Ocean Beach. “The skatepark is a known park, and that’s where we learned,” Carletto says. “When I think about community I think about the OB skatepark because everybody is so open here. In OB people understand that skateboarding is community … And they embrace us as part of that community. There’s also Barrio Logan. It’s a Latino neighborhood, and I’m Latina and from Brazil. Just being Latin, you already are welcoming, and family and community are the base of our culture. So there are some great inclusive skateparks there, too.”

What is it about skateboarding that draws such a diverse group of people to the sport?

“Skateboarding is rebellion,” Carletto says. “And if you’re rebelling you feel like you’ve been mistreated and you don’t have a place for you. As long as you’re willing to do the work and make those connections, then skateboarding will be a community for you. As a girl, I’ve felt like I couldn’t be a part of [the skateboarding community] in the past. And that’s why GRLSWIRL is so important to me. We can all relate because we’ve all had to learn, we’ve all been beginners. Sometimes skateboarding can feel like it’s individualist and all about gatekeeping, but when you go with a group it feels totally different.”

GRLSWIRL San Diego especially has attracted a diverse community, specifically members of the queer non-binary community. Maybe it’s the location, but I think it has to do with Carletto and Cardoza’s leadership.

“Jay specifically doesn’t appear like a girl,” Carletto points out. “She’s still going through her identity process and figuring out her gender. The reason ours is so inclusive is because of us. It’s because we demand inclusivity as part of the queer community. It’s not to take away from the original mission. It’s just to add onto. It can just be a space where everyone can be included,” Carletto says.

You can follow Carletto and Cardoza and all their GRLSWIRL adventures on their respective Instagrams @sarahrewellc and @jaycardoza23.

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