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“Skate Dreams” Is a Compelling Glimpse into the Underseen History of Women’s Skateboarding (SXSW ‘22 Review)

Image courtesy of Film First

Skate Dreams is the first feature length documentary about women’s skateboarding and crafts a fascinating tableau of the lesser seen side of the sport. I realized I’ve seen tons of skate docs about the men of the sport from Dogtown and Z-Boys to Minding the Gap. The skate videos I’ve seen over the years are overwhelmingly male, and the Tony Hawk Pro Skater series of video games took 8 installments to add a second woman to the roster. Even the narrative films like Lords of Dogtown and Paranoid Park are overwhelmingly masculine. It’s a fertile ground for unseen storytelling.

A huge part of the success of any retrospective documentary is the quality of the talking heads. Director Jessica Edwards (Mavis!) has managed to find a compelling array of skaters who can help paint a dynamic portrait of the last forty plus years of women’s skateboarding. Edwards makes the fascinating structural choice to use each of the four primary woman covered as an avatar for a different element of women’s skateboarding.

Image courtesy of Film First

Mimi Knoop is the face of the evolution of women’s skateboarding from the fringe to the X-Games main stage all the way to the Olympics. She serves as the exemplar for women who were forced to confront the gatekeeping of a male dominated sport. Knoop is, for me, the film’s most compelling story. She’s the woman on the front lines each step of the way as women seek equal treatment in everything from competition purses to TV coverage.

Chansangva “Tin” Kouv signifies the growth of skating overseas. The film tracks her growth from the first female student in her native Cambodia’s Skateistan school to her current role as General Manager. Nicole Hause serves as a picture of the evolution of skateboarding from “extreme sports” into the mainstream. She is drawn into the pursuit of a spot on the first ever Olympics skateboarding team – her focus shifts from the joy of skating to the competitive elements.. Finally, there’s Nora Vasconcellos who largely helps depict the artistry of skateboarding.

The film is light and enjoyable in tone. The editing is crisp and keeps a propulsive rhythm across a number of stories. The use of skate footage throughout helps to effectively showcase not only the athletic skill of the women, but also the creativity that goes into the sport. I think it’s easy to oversimplify the “people who skate” into two categories: the countercultural element that sees skating as a thumb to the eye of authority and the outcasts who want to find a place around someone similar. Skate Dreams is intimately focused on the later group.

Image courtesy of Film First

It’s hardly damning criticism when my biggest complaint about the film is that it left me wanting more. The film spends just a few short minutes on the potential boycott of the 2005 X-Games led by Knoop and fellow skateboarding forerunner Cara-Beth Burnside. Faced with unconscionable pay disparities, TV air time gaps, and no control over how their side of the sport would be presented the women led a near walkout of the sport’s crown jewel event. The incident forced ESPN to make concessions to its female extreme sports athletes. That story alone feels like it should have its own 30 for 30 documentary. I think there’s so much more to the story of the tension between the creativity of skateboarding and the rigid structures of the Olympics than we get here. Nicole Hause’s story is a fascinating portrait on how an athlete must adjust to life after a severe injury. It seems like Jessica Edwards has found her way into a series of documentaries I would sure like to see.

Nevertheless, this is an extremely strong documentary that serves as a fascinating introduction to the sadly unseen world of women’s skateboarding.

Image courtesy of Film First

Skate Dreams premiered at SXSW ‘22 on March 11, 2022