By Ryan Pangilinan
Northwest Asian Weekly
Donning a gray sweater and sitting behind a laptop, Nancy Chang blends in with most of the other API faces that are taking up residency in a non-descript café in the University Village. Yet, for a person with a rather mild-mannered demeanor, Chang can probably kickflip better than most of the students pacing the coffee shop in their oversized UW hoodies.
Chang is one of the directors (Fleur Larsen is the other) for Skate Like a Girl, a nonprofit organization that brings together girls and young women who share skateboarding as a common interest. Her involvement with the organization has brought her to the attention of cosmetic giant, L’Oreal Paris, who has nominated her for its National Women of Worth program.
But for the 28-year-old Renton native and Skagit Valley transplant, things haven’t always been welcoming.
“I think [skateboarding] is a form of dialogue and conversation for guys, but it’s taken as more of a threatening, posturing thing for girls or women,” said Chang.
Chang discovered skateboarding at the age of 13 while living in Skagit Valley. Since then, her involvement and desire to organize a viable (and marginalized) group within a subculture is something that’s based around her own opinion of what’s lacking in the sport.
“The reason why girls don’t skate a lot is because it’s not being modeled by older women in a way that tennis or swimming and ballet is,” she said. “Growing up, skateboarding was fun, and it had an element that wasn’t competitive. It was an identity where you could say, ‘Oh yeah, I skateboard.’”
For Chang, the challenge of taking on a social identifier that is typically tied to suburban teenage boys and punk rock kids had more to do with the fact that she was not only a young woman, but an Asian American as well. “Growing up, not being a part of a predominant Asian culture, I think with skateboarding, it was easy to cling to … because if I’m going to be marginalized, I might as well have fun.
“Asian families, I think, send mixed messages to their daughters,” Chang continued. “‘Oh, we want you to look nice, but not too slutty’ or ‘Don’t put too much make up on,’ but at the same time, it’s like ‘Don’t do these types of sports because it’s too masculine.’ With all those different identity issues going on, [skateboarding culture] just made sense. You can dress androgynously.”
Skateboarding led Chang to the DIY (do it yourself) punk culture, which allowed her to build the necessary leadership skills that has taken her to organizations such as the long-running teen center and music venue, the Old Firehouse in Redmond and her current gig at Skate Like a Girl.
“There’s power in numbers and seeing different women and girls from all ages, all abilities, all shapes and sizes, and all skating at the same time, it really detracts from [negative attention],” said Chang.
Negativity associated with gender-bending in a predominantly male sport was put to the test last summer when Skate Like a Girl sponsored a tour, which included a stop at a competition in Winnipeg with some of the tour’s participants placing.
“For the girls and the guys [on the tour], it’s changing their perspectives of what skating looks like,” said Chang.
While Chang has spent a considerable amount of time breaking barriers and shaking the status quo, she has still found it within herself to participate in traditional female-oriented activities. She is also a former Miss Chinese Seattle, Miss Seafair and Miss San Francisco.
Still, with such a diverse — though mostly energetic and revolutionary — palate, Nancy Chang takes to heart the idea of bringing people together, learning from each other, then continue to further their accomplishments, which also happens to be part of Skate Like a Girl’s goal.
“Skate Like a Girl is about being all inclusive,” said Chang. “What type of community can we make stronger because of that? People are coming in, learning our model and being able to take it and integrate it in whatever communities they’re coming from whether it’s ethnic ones, class ones, sports or our culture.” ♦
Ryan Pangilinan can be reached at email@example.com.