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Daredevil Divas in Action

September 15, 1999|ROSE APODACA-JONES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Blood gleams on contestant No. 45's left shoulder and knee and stigmata-like from the palms of both hands after a slam onto the hot, gravelly blacktop. But Heidi Fitzgerald couldn't think of a better way to spend her 26th birthday than at the Vans All Girl Skate Jam last Sunday in San Diego.

That's right, no boys allowed. Well, only to watch. And to judge and emcee. Skateboard legend Tony Alva co-hosted the event, declaring that "this is the future of skateboarding."

Action sports photographer Patty Segovia thought so, too, as her interest increasingly turned toward documenting women skateboarders. The 30-year-old founded the Jam in 1997 and, the following year, launched a Web site (http://www.allgirlskatejam.com) to promote competition and confidence in the sport among girls and women. It has since grown from an annual event to three times a year--with major corporate sponsors and $5,000 in cash prizes.

The next Vans All Girl Skate Jam is scheduled for Nov. 14 during the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing in Haleiwa, Hawaii. At Sunday's Jam, about 100 contestants as young as 11 kick-flipped, grinded and caught air. Even 55-year-old Gale Webb, known as the "skateboard mom," did a few runs for fun. Skaters flew in from as far away as New York, Brazil and Japan not only to vie for a trophy or the cash prizes; they came, as Michaela Kellner, 12, of Lake Forest, said, "to get inspired and to show support."

Kellner showed up at last year's Jam just to watch. This time, she attended with her parents, testing her ramp-riding skills during the amateur rounds. Seeing the other girls, she said, is helpful because the girls in her neighborhood are negative about her skating. "I love this because we can see other girls skate, exchange ideas and hang out."

Her neighbors better get with the program. These daredevil divas are among the females who account for about 25% of the estimated 6.75 million U.S. skateboarders, according to 1996 statistics from American Sports Data. Of course, with the rise in the sport's popularity in general (the industry reports a 20% boost in equipment sales in 1998 and an unprecedented boom in skate parks internationally) and the arrival of the All Girl Skate Jam, girls are fast showing their power. Albeit one that's not so much pretty in pink as pretty 'n' punk.

They charged a 13-foot-high Masonite ramp and a street course bookended by two 5-foot ramps in amateur and professional heats. The uneven blacktop proved more a menace than a challenge. But the threat of road burn didn't deter even the least experienced among them.

Girls have been skateboarding since the sport's beginnings about 35 years ago. Their style has become more aggressive and extreme, just like the guys. Many sport tattoos and excessive piercings, even bald pates. But there are some things evidently that biology can't change. Most young women riders over the age of 20 fiercely refuse to reveal their age.

"NYB--none of your business," they snap.

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