Making Onewheel Herstory
Written By Amanda C. Thompson
Inclusion in Board-Sports
Skateboarding. Snowboarding. Onewheeling. It’s fair to say there’s some overlap, and moreover, that these earlier board-sports laid both technical and cultural groundwork for the “revolutionary new board-sport” that is onewheel.
It is also fair to say that women in Onewheel have enjoyed faster acceptance and a larger female community than women in the early years of skateboarding, largely thanks to the influence of badass babes like Patti McGee, Peggy Oki, and Cara Beth Burnside.
But just because we started farther up the mountain then these trailblazing mamas doesn’t mean we’re done climbing. Onewheel is still a heavily male-dominated sport, and thus there is room for both gratitude and further progress to see even better inclusion and representation for women in the latest evolution of board sports.
A Brief "Herstory" of Skateboarding
Skateboarding as we know it was born around 1958. It took six years for a female rider to become a household name. In 1964, Patti McGee clocked in at 47mph during Dick Clark’s World Teen Fair. She then went on tour as the first female professional skateboarder and later graced the cover of Life magazine… though it wasn’t until 1988, more than 20 years later, that a female made it onto the cover of an actual skateboard magazine.
That honor went to Cara Beth Burnside. The magazine was Thrasher. Burnside later became the first woman with her own signature shoe (released by Vans in 1994) and helped found the first female-focused skate company, Hoopla, in 2008. She also fought for female inclusion in the X Games (2003) as well as equal pay for winners (2005).
Onewheeling Women on the Podium
The community-run Floatlife Fest was the first onewheel competition to legitimize female riders with a dedicated bracket, introducing a women’s division in 2018 - only the second year that the event had been held, and despite a very sparse female showing in its first year (less than five women attended). But by 2019, there were enough women to fill out a 16-slot elimination bracket on the dual slalom course at REEB Ranch, in addition to many more who attended just to ride for fun, hang out, and cheer each other on.
Future Motion, makers of Onewheel, hosted the first ever Onewheel race at the 2015 GoPro Mountain Games, but did not introduce a women’s division until 2019, the first year the race was hosted independently of the GoPro Mountain Games.
In 2020, women still had to fight for fair inclusion at Race for the Rail. Future Motion had scaled down the event due to Covid-19 pandemic restrictions and decided not to invite the 2019 female champion Angel Cooper to the exclusive race. Social media was not pleased.
Importantly, Future Motion listened to our criticism (OK, our righteous uproar) and invited not only Angel but also Zoe Thomas, who had placed second in 2019. And in 2021, without any uproar at all, Future Motion (now coordinating competitions as the “Onewheel Racing League,” or “ORL”) once again hosted separate men’s and women’s events, with an equally-divided prize purse between the two.
It took our skateboarding predecessors a full-on boycott to send a similar message to the X Games back in 2005, when they realized male skateboard champions were making 25 times more in prize earnings. We definitely owe those ladies a debt of gratitude!
The Drift Sisterhood
Maybe it’s because we found each other in this extraordinarily male context and need to stick together. Maybe it’s just a microcosm of the unique, family energy of the onewheel community. Whatever the reason, the women of this sport are one of the tightest groups I’ve been a part of at any point in my life. There’s little drama and the rivalries are friendly. Most importantly, we’ve got each other’s backs (see: righteous uproar, Race for the Rail 2020).
Some of us have only ever met online. Others have had the privilege to ride, race, and bond together at festivals, races, and of course, the always sold-out Drift Sisters retreat, now in its third year. The retreat features trail rides, trick clinics, and challenges for every level of rider.
The Drift Sisters retreat is amazing in a completely different way from Floatlife Fest and Race for the Rail. Maybe it’s the lack of competition. Maybe it’s just a safe space to be bad at something, with plenty of support and coaching to improve. The event is driven by this strong feeling of being a team, of one woman’s success being everyone’s success.
There was a time when I thought other women just didn’t like the things I liked. Now, I hang with ladies who share my appetite for adventure. They’re brave. They’re loud. They’re not afraid to fall, get up, and try again. They’re also extremely rare - but, thanks to onewheel, we’ve found each other.
 MasterClass. “Girl Skaters Rise: A Brief History of Women’s Skateboarding.” MasterClass, 8 Nov. 2020, www.masterclass.com/articles/girl-skaters-rise-a-brief-history-of-womens-skateboarding.