Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
For Dr Indigo Willing, that volition saw her take up skateboarding at age 41 and just recently, co-present at the International Stoke Sessions Conference on Surfing and Skateboarding in San Diego USA for which Tony Hawke was keynote.
Bringing new ideas center-stage, Dr Willing, who is a Research Fellow with Griffith University’s Centre for Social and Cultural Research, is also carving up assumptions about skateboarding in a new book out this month.
“The conference was designed to look at sport and society, how to better look out for each other, care for the environment as our sport grows and highlight the often-marginalised voices that can really make a difference in those discussions,” Dr Willing said.
The panels included Skateboarding and Change-Making: Women and Non-Binary Skaters in the Olympics and National Competitions, Industry and Community as well as Grey Spaces: Skateboarding in the Anthropocene which interrogated the impact of skateboarding on the environment and opportunities to promote sustainable practise.
Drawing on research from her co-authored book ‘Skateboarding, Power and Change’ with Anthony Pappalardo, now available worldwide, Dr Willing is driving conversations around representation and empowerment to reflect an ‘ethical turn’ in skateboarding.
The book features the voices of 42 diverse industry change-makers covering critical themes of race, gender, sexuality, colonialism, consent, creative innovation and equity in subcultures such as skateboarding.
Dr Willing’s panel, co-chaired with Pappalardo, focused on amplifying opportunities for women and nonbinary people, with addresses from the world’s leading woman skateboarding agent Yullin Oliver as well as former Olympic skateboarder Amelia Brodka, The Skatepark Project Fellow L Brew and multidisciplinary Dine Navajo artist Di’orr Greenwood.
“Women and non-binary people have rarely had exposure in the sport or sponsorship deals, but hopefully the Olympics is changing this,” Dr Willing said.
“Most of the professional skateboarders who identify as women or nonbinary must work full-time but still compete and get judged at a professional standard, whilst a lot of men have been able to build careers from different sponsorships.
“We need to enable equitable opportunities for younger skaters to do what they love full-time, especially at that elite level, because the cost of an airfare to get to a competition doesn’t care what gender you are.”
Dr Willing draws on Yullin Oliver’s message that women often undervalue what they’re worth or are undervalued for what they’re worth.
“Even in terms of just turning up to a gig, people will say ‘you don’t skate as well as the men’, and all kinds of sexist things that need to be challenged,” she said.
“We owe it to young kids, and anybody that wants to get involved and might not fit the stereotypical skater mould, to create really safe, really positive environments for them.”
One arm of Dr Willing’s research involves listening and sharing marginalised perspectives, having recently led a project on diversity, equity and inclusion for Skate Australia with Dr Adele Pavlidis and Professor Simone Fullagar from Griffith’s Sport and Gender Equity Hub.
Through consultation, they learned there was often “a lack of accessible spaces, no lighting, no public toilets, intimidating elements and how skate parks are not always welcoming in their design.”
“From the findings we are able to stress that architects need to be asking: are there only huge 12 foot ramps or do we have infrastructure to accommodate beginners, people of different ages and abilities?” Dr Willing said.
“Similarly, in a conference discussion, someone said ‘you’ve got to build for speed’, and my response is you don’t always need speed, sometimes you just need creativity and imagination.
“If we have little girls in one of our workshops, they draw a flower and want to skate a flower, why don’t we design a little flower garden for them to skate and make it fun for them, whilst experienced skateboarders could skate those elements in a highly creative way too.”
Alongside international skate researchers and fellow skating academic at Grifith University Dr Benjamin Duester, Dr Willing has also been developing the ‘SSHRED’ project which considers solutions to make skating more sustainable.
“Researching environmental design, we’re looking at better ways to go about manufacturing and infrastructure in the lead up to what will hopefully be a cleaner and greener 2032 games.”
“We’re looking at everything from the uniforms and shoes that athletes wear to the way stadiums are constructed and the afterlife of built concrete which will inform policymakers and construction companies well ahead of the Olympics.”
Dr Willing said there is immense value in Griffith researchers adding their voices to these international conversations, especially with Australia’s reputation as a “sporty, outdoor-loving nation.”
Adding an extensive resume, including co-founder of We Skate QLD and the award-winning sexual violence prevention skate project Consent is Rad, Dr Willing will join the advisory board of the internationally recognised non-profit Skateistan mid-year, whose work on skateboarding and education won a documentary Academy Award in 2020.
Follow Dr Willing on instagram for skating videos and announcements.