How DENCITY is providing a safe space for women and queer skaters in Nigeria
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While skateboarding may have been a dominant subculture in the U.S. for decades, in Nigeria and much of Africa it’s still on a very slow ascent to the mainstream. With pioneer skateboarding communities like WAFFLESNCREAM paving the way and helping to launch the first-ever skate park in Lagos just several years ago, Nigerians are gradually being incorporated into skate culture and other subcultures within the alternative urban scene.
Along with motocross, rollerblading, and similar extreme sports, though, still skateboarding often receives a bad rap for being too “rough.” So when a group of women and nonbinary people band together to skate, it especially carries a very important weight, and sends a message to witnesses.
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DENCITY, a Nigerian, women-led skateboarding collective does just this — effectively trying to break down the notions tied to a sport that many believe exists just for men. Because women, trans, and nonbinary people have often received the short end of the stick when it comes to sports, DENCITY feels particularly refreshing. While there are several cis-men-only skate crews in the country, DENCITY exists to provide a safe space for many skaters who harbor the same desires to learn or enjoy the sport with like-minded individuals.[Photo by DENCITY]
Escapism is also a strong motivator for members, who have much to deal with under Nigeria’s traditionalist ethos. Nigeria has continued to make headlines for treatment of members of the LGBTQ+ community, who can face up to 14 years of jail time if caught in sexual acts. More so, women are often brought up to follow a particular life pattern, with words like “modesty” and “submission” imbibed into everyday lingo, and often subject to varying degrees of harassment. Because deviating from the norm is heavily frowned upon for women and queer, people, sometimes to the point of extreme measures being taken, now more than ever choosing your own family is important.
Right at the heart of the crew is its founder, 26-year old Blessing Ewoma. When Blessing founded DENCITY in 2021, she was deliberate about creating a community she could call home. But in a country like hers, which still houses misogynistic mindsets and warped views on gender stereotypes, she knew it wouldn’t be an easy feat to accomplish. Thankfully, on a fateful day in 2019, she watched Crystal Moselle’s 2018 teen drama Skate Kitchen, about a group of young women skaters in New York City and starring a real-life skate crew. It felt like the universe was confirming what she’d always felt: that she was born to skate, and with other girls too.
“When I watched Skate Kitchen, I was already in love with skateboarding, but everyone around me had told me it was a sport for guys alone. Seeing Black girls skating on television motivated me to seek out a community of my own.”
Blessing had just moved to Nigeria’s capital city Lagos from the slower-paced Cross River State when she watched the film, and being as determined as ever, made her way to the National Stadium in search of women skaters. She may not have found anyone there immediately, but eventually connected with several at Street Souk, West Africa’s first streetwear convention. After the pandemic disrupted her hopes to skate with them in 2020, in a twist of fate, her burgeoning dreams of community eventually led her to take action and pioneer what she’d longed for for years.
“If I can’t find a community, I can build one,” she said to herself during the pandemic, and build one she did.[Photo by DENCITY]
At DENCITY, skating is all about family and freedom, and their strong bond has held up ever since the collective’s formation in 2021, and as more members join, they are welcomed with open arms. Right now, upwards of 90 members make up the crew online, with physical meetups commanding 10 to 30 members at a time. They travel all over the country in an effort to make new friends and grow the collective, introducing women from different regions to skateboarding. They also recently concluded a national tour in 2022, which involved organizing skate sessions and expanding the community.
“I feel like it’s going to be our thing now. Every year, we want to have a national tour and continue to introduce people to the world of skating and grow the community to involve even more skaters from states we haven’t been to yet. On WhatsApp, we have a group where we relay information and keep each other up to date on whatever’s happening next.” she said.
However, with the topic of skateboarding bordering on taboo in a country like Nigeria, Blessing expected there’d be some difficulty along the way. “Sometimes I have to win over the parents’ of some of our skaters, simply because it’s not something they understand and they need to feel like their kids are safe. There’s also the backlash from bystanders on the road, who have told us several times that skating is not a sport for girls,” she says.
Members of DENCITY are not surprised with the naysayers. It’s unfortunately what they’ve come to expect whenever they’re out in public with their boards. From random strangers telling them to “go and find husbands,” or, “go back to school,” there’s not much they haven’t heard before. Worse yet, some believe that their love for skating is a tactic to get men to notice them.
Despite it all, the members are pushing on strong. They’ve taken things up a notch by creating merchandise, which they hope to keep selling in an effort to ease their own personal financial burdens, and reap financial rewards for doing what they love. But by far the biggest motivation is the community, the friendship, and the camaraderie shared between them.
“When we first started, I would often plead with my friends to come out to skate. But now, just seeing the way many girls are enthusiastic about skating fills me up,” Blessing says.
At this point, the only way is up for this inspirational group of badass skaters, who are solidifying themselves as one of Nigeria’s alternative collectives to celebrate. Lagos’ skateboarding scene just got a whole lot cooler because of DENCITY, and they would be more than happy to help you pick out your first board and teach you a couple tricks.
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