Female athletes have been making remarkable inroads in sports thanks to 40 years of Title IX. But in the lawless world of individual sports like surfing, skateboarding, and snowboarding, girls are still fending for themselves in arenas dominated by men … well, some men. But if we’re talking skateboarding, it’s mostly a lot of “stinky, sweaty, disgusting boys.”
Let’s face it: Skateparks aren’t exactly girl-friendly environments. But that will change if Relz Murphy, Sierra Kerr, and Bella Kenworthy have their way. This merry little band of 6-year-old skaters is already turning heads at parks all over Southern California, and their message for the boys is, “We’re here. There’s a lot more coming. Get used to it.”
“They’re incredible,” says Jamie Owens, editor of Transworld Skatboarding magazine. “I’ve seen a handful of talented teenage girls in the park, but never girls this young. They’re the real deal. I have daughters myself, and I was so pumped when I saw this footage I sent it to my wife, because our girls are just getting bit by the skate bug, and this will put them over the top.”
Jason Kenworthy is Bella’s father. As a professional action sports photographer, part of Kenworthy’s job is to judge the talent he’s shooting. He’s been working with the world’s best surfers and skaters for years, and Bella has been accompanying him on the scene since she was a toddler, “So she’s never really been intimidated. Which is probably good and bad,” he laughs. “Last week she wanted to drop into the deep end of a huge pool in Encinitas, which is just nuts. I was pleading, ‘Why? You don’t need to!’ But she insisted. She gets her stubbornness from me, so I don’t stand much of a chance when we argue.” Sure enough, a few minutes later she made the drop.
“She pulled it off like it was nothing,” Kenworthy laughs. “It was great, but I won’t lie, that whole little episode aged me a few years.”
Josh Kerr is Sierra’s father. He also happens to be the eighth-ranked surfer in the world, and became famous in surfing for incorporating high-flying skate-style tricks into his repertoire. Kerr and Kenworthy have worked together for years on opposite sides of the lens. When their daughters came along they both figured they better get them balancing on boards as soon as possible.
“I was putting Sierra on the nose of my longboard when she was tiny,” says Kerr. “That got her comfortable with the board and with speed. By 5 she was riding alone, which was pretty cute and fun then. Now, though, it’s freaking me out. She’s dropping into 11-foot bowls. There are grown men who’ve been skating for years who won’t do that.”
Gary Murphy and his wife, Rebecca, were ecstatic when their daughter Relz took to skating. “We have multiple kids, so organized sports were sucking up all our weekend time a couple years ago,” Murphy explains. “My wife and I wanted to find something we could all do together, so we put them all in skating lessons.”
The Murphys weren’t sure if Relz, their youngest, was going to take to it or not. She had just turned 5. But her balance and coordination were spot on from day one. And of course, at 3 feet, 6 inches then, her low center of gravity didn’t hurt. She’s a lanky 3 feet, 9 inches now.
Inevitably, the girls, who are connected by their age and their like-minded fathers, started hanging out more and pushing each other. Now they’re the ones dictating which parks to invade and which challenges to tackle. And make no mistake, when this little pack of pink helmets rolls onto the scene, people take notice. Even the resident punks step aside.
“To see how fast they’re progressing by pushing each other is amazing,” says Kerr.
Their grand entrances at even the grittiest of parks earned them a crew name: the Pink Helmet Posse. The girls embraced it, and convinced their fathers to help them launch a Pink Helmet Posse line of skateboards for young girls. Their fathers had all the connections to make it happen, so two months ago they did. “And it was their idea to include free video tutorials aimed at young girls,” says Kenworthy. “Our message to other dads with daughters is, look, we’re getting quality family time … You can’t beat that.”
Murphy concurs. “Watching your 6-year-old daughter hit tile in a 13-foot bowl, that is pretty cool. But watching her confidence grow—not just with skating, but in life—that’s even better. If that’s all she ever gets out of skating then we’ve succeeded.”