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UK GIRL SKATE RETREAT


The Skate Retreat. Photo by Hilda Quick. Collage by @glorioussport. May 2021

Many of us women, trans, and queer skaters, dream of a place where we can find a supportive community and skate freely, knowing that we won’t be judged. Meet the Skate Retreat, Europe's first luxury skate retreat for women, trans, and non-binary skaters and their allies to learn, connect and grow through skateboarding. They host lessons, workshops, and retreats. Their focus is not just skateboarding but also self-growth and nature connection.


I traveled 3,836 miles from Chicago, Illinois, to the home of the Skate Retreat: Sheffield, England. I could immediately feel that this place was very special. There was a beautiful, optimistic, and calm energy flowing through the air. Owls sang their unique songs, and dragonflies flew around us.


Surrounded by 42 acres of forest and autumn leaves shedding their skin, I sat down on a mini-ramp with Danni Gallacher, Founder of The Skate Retreat & Girl Skate UK, to learn more about their inspiration for starting a skate retreat and what it’s like to be a skater in the UK.


What inspired you to create a skate retreat for women, trans, and non-binary skaters?


I’ve been skating for 15 years and running kids’ skate camps for ten years, maybe 12 years. While that's amazing to be able to do that for the kids, I realized there was such a gap. All of these adults also wanted to have this space that was built for them, made by them.

Danni teaches kids at the skatepark. May 11, 2021 at The Skate Retreat. Photo by Hilda Quick.

Sometimes when you go to a skatepark, there'll be loads of kids or people with abilities that don’t match yours. When you're a beginner, you can feel lost in those spaces. Having a space that's just for you and made for you and an environment built for learning is important, and that helps with progression. It helps build the scene because it makes the place more inclusive and welcoming.

For me, The Skate Retreat is about providing that space for people to feel free enough to learn to skate and feel comfortable, free of judgment, and calm and relaxed. It’s very much centered around relaxation and being present. I think that's a really important mindset to be in when you’re learning to skateboard.


You need to have the space, the time, and the room to be able to learn. That's what makes The Skate Retreat pretty special.

A group of guest skaters. Photo by Hilda Quick

What is the day of the life of a skater at The Skate Retreat?


Skaters would wake up, they'd go and take a little walk around our 42-acre forest. They could take a dip in an open-air bathtub, and our lessons start around 10:00 a.m. We have focused progression sessions which are informal sessions that are tailored to the people.


It’s a holistic way of teaching. We'll build it around the person, and it’s centered around what their expectations are and what their goals are for the day. It's really about having a chat with them and just seeing where they are with skateboarding and working with them to be able to see progress through skateboarding but also progress themselves.

Beginners Skate Getaway Advertisement. Photo by Hilda Quick, 2021

Aside from skateboarding, we do lots of workshops and wellness-based things. We have forest bathing and foraging walks. We have nocturnal wildlife walks where we go for a walk in the forest and get our bat detectors out to watch bats.


It’s really about connecting with the land and just being in nature.

Foraging walks at The Skate Retreat. Photo by Hilda Quick, 2021

How did you find the space?


It was a lot of research to find the space we wanted and also somewhere that allowed us to bring in these skate ramps for skateboarders because many places turned us down. I think the word "skateboarder' can sometimes have negative connotations. So, I left out the skateboarding part when I asked people if we could have their space.

Eventually, I just found the perfect spot, and it's got loads of really cool, quirky glamping huts everywhere. It's just a really lovely space, and it’s cool that the owners allow us to be able to bring in these ramps. We brought in a hot tub and a sauna, making it a welcoming and relaxing place to escape.


Did you see the representation growing up of girl and non-binary skaters in the UK?


Absolutely not. I didn't even know girl skateboarders existed until my friend showed me Alexis Sablone’s section in Wonderful Horrible Life. That was the first ever girl I saw skateboarding. I didn't even believe it was a girl at first until I saw her kickflip across a massive ledge and was like, “Oh my God, this is sick.”

That was the first time I'd ever seen it, you know? I just had to give it a go. I tried, but I didn't know anybody else who skateboarded in the UK. I hadn't heard of anybody. I didn’t stick at it because I didn’t have the motivation. It’s cool skating with your lad friends, but sometimes it’s cool to have someone like you.


It makes you believe, "Yeah, I can do that too," because sometimes you can see people doing crazy stuff, and it seems so far away from where you are at the moment that it almost becomes unattainable. But seeing someone like you makes you think, "Yeah, I can do that too."


When the Internet came about, I started researching and found a girl’s skate jam that just happened to be maybe 40 miles away. So I begged my friends to drive me there, and we drove in a little car. I think I was about 17 at the time. I met maybe six or seven other girl skaters, which spurred me to learn more and go to meet up with them at these events. That little tiny community is really what inspired me to carry it on.

What's it like now to be a non-traditional skater in England? Do you see that there are more women and non-binary skate crews?

Yeah, 100%. It’s flipped 180 now. You go to a skate park now, and there's always at least one girl at a skatepark now. It makes me happy because you'd never see a girl at a skatepark when I was learning to skateboard. It was quite an intimidating place. But now you see loads of girls, and many groups have popped up. I think this kind of movement and little revolution is starting to take off now. I think it’s really exciting.

Polaroid Photos are taken from a Skate Retreat, Spring 2021

Do you ever collaborate with any of the other skate crews?


I started a campaign a couple of years ago because there were few girl crews and the ones around were disjointed from the rest of the scene. We didn't know about each other. We couldn't give each other support because we didn't know about their events.


So, I started this Connect Campaign a couple of years ago for Girl Skate UK, and that was really about encouraging people to either start an Instagram page for their girl’s skate group or, if they didn't have one locally, give them information and the foundation to get their group going. We went from ten, maybe even less than that, girl’s groups in the country to over 60 in the year we were running that campaign.


The goal was to have a girl’s group in every single city. We've got one in every county, and we’re still working on the cities. But to see it grow from, you know, five or ten groups to over 60 and probably way more than that now. I haven't done a count-up in over a year, but you can see it growing. When all of these girls are connected, speaking to each other, getting excited about events, and getting inspired by each other, it just grows and grows. It's a snowball effect. It’s an important thing to be able to do.

The Connect Campaign from Girl Skate UK

It's never just about one person. You have to have the support of everybody, and everybody has to get involved for things to happen. So, while one person might get the inspiration to start something, it relies on the entire community to make it happen.


What do you do in the winter in the UK? Are there indoor parks?

We have quite a few indoor parks in the UK, and they're all supportive. Almost every indoor park has a dedicated female or minority gender session, either once a week or once a month. A couple of years ago, Girl Skate UK was campaigning to get these girl sessions in every park. We’re stoked because there are girl sessions in pretty much every single county.


When it’s winter or if it’s raining, which in the UK is all the time (Danni giggles), we have somewhere to go. I think you notice a difference in the places that haven't got indoor spaces, indoor parks, or even the groups dedicated to the girl skaters because they don't have anywhere to go, they don't have anywhere to practice. When it gets dark at 4:00 p.m., many women don't feel safe to check a car park and skate in the dark. You know what I mean?

It’s about accessibility. I think that's what's important about having these sessions in indoor spaces as well as just outdoor spaces as well.

What is unique about skating in the UK?

Skating in the UK is fairly unique because we have pretty shit street spots since everywhere is cobbled. When you go to America or Barcelona or Australia, you notice a difference because you have all these wide flat spaces, paths, and places to skate. Whereas in England, lots of the roads are very narrow, they're very tight, there are curbs everywhere, everywhere’s cobbled.

These factors are challenging in street skateboarding. That's why in the UK, we have fewer female street skateboarders than we do in transition skateboarders. Females generally (I’ll stereotype a little bit), but because I've seen this first hand, generally steered towards transition, bowl skating, and mini-ramp skating, and I'm one of those as well. I think that it’s a factor of the environment. I think having support in any environment can make you flourish and progress.


So, it's not just because the streets are cobbled. There's a whole societal part of that, but that is one factor. We have pretty shit street spots here, and they’re challenging to skate. That’s why a lot of really sick street skaters come from England because they go to America, and they’re like, this is a piece of piss (a piece of cake). Whereas some U.S. skaters will come here, and they’re like, your skate spots are hard. I think that little difficult factor weighs a bit, but obviously, that's not the only reason there are fewer street skaters in England.

That's very interesting. How has the skate retreat impacted others, provided a safe space, and impacted the community?

We have lots of guests who travel all the way from London just to come to skate on my tiny skate ramp, which I think is insane. But, most of my guests come from London, and it got so popular that one of the ladies who was in charge of regenerating and redesigning Hackney Bumps Skatepark in London took measurements for my ramp because it was so talked about. Then they went and built a concrete one down in Hackney Bumps. You can skate my little ramp down in London, in Hackney, which I think is insane.

So, it must have had a bit of an impact because it's now been immortalized in concrete 200 miles away, which is mental.

Daniella, a skater at The Skate Retreat, grinds on a rail, October 2021

There are plenty of places that offer skate lessons but few that offer skate lessons solely for adults, but they still exist. The Skate Retreats are unique because we combine adult learning methods with greenspace learning, which is not done in skateboarding.

What I mean by "green space" learning is that it's scientifically proven that you can take in more information when exercising and learning in green spaces. You can exercise for longer, for harder. Your stamina increases, and your mental health improves because you are happier. It boosts your mood. it helps you to sleep.

Just being outside, being around trees, and being around nature helps you learn. Generally, when you have your skate lesson training, you’re taught lesson planning and how to coach kids.


My skate lessons are different from regular skate lessons. I'm taking adult methods of learning and combining that with skateboarding, but also bringing in the green space element. The trio together makes this place unique.

It's not thought about. Skateparks are generally quite sterile places. You're confined in your four walls. There’s not much decoration. Everything is gray or brown. While skateparks are built for purpose, they're not built for progression or learning.

The beginner’s journey to learning differs from somebody who can already skate and is trying to progress. Skateparks are probably their best environment because all the obstacles are built for a purpose. But here and when people are learning, they're not generally fussed about what it is they’re skateboarding. It’s getting out of your head to be able to do the things that you want to do. And I think that's sometimes forgotten about in skate lessons. I'm trying to bring all of that together at The Skate Retreat.

How has your upbringing made you the person and skater you are today?

I'm from a massive family, so I have three brothers and three sisters. I'm the middle child. 'I've lost count of how many nieces and nephews I have. Once it got to 16, I lost count; maybe 17 or 18 now, but I've got a huge family.


I've always been the weird one. I've always been the one that's been into the "weird" stuff, I guess I say "weird," but you know, the rock music and the stuff the rest of my family wasn't [into]. I think skateboarders are misfits. Lots of people who feel they don't fit into other sports and other groups find their place in skateboarding sometimes because the people are a bit different.


Having such a big family and trying to find my place in the world and the feeling I didn't fit in with the rest of my family or whatever. I don't know. Skateboarding seemed a cool thing to try, and I just got into it. Having that kind of focus to do something is important.


I felt lost before I found skateboarding, you know, doing loads of drugs that weekend with your mates. I was at uni, but I was probably not taking it seriously. But when I started skateboarding, I was like, "I don’t want to feel like shit on the weekend. I want to feel good. I want to go skateboarding. So, I’m not going to go out, and I’m not going to do whatever. I'm just going to go skate the next day and feel good."


Having that focus to do something made me find my way a little bit, and having that community aspect is part of it as well. Meeting other people on your wavelength, you’re doing the same sort of stuff, going on trips together, doing all this cool stuff, and it is like having your own family as well.

A second family = The Skate Retreat. November 2, 2021

That’s what I love about the Girl Skate UK community because I feel before that, there wasn't a central hub or a central place for the girl skaters to connect and talk to each other and find out when the skate jams were happening.

Girl Skate UK Started in 2004 to end gender disparity in skateboarding

Building Girl Skate UK nearly nine years ago made everything else sit into place a little better. I had things to do. I had jams to organize, and it was quite full on. That governed my life for a little bit. I love The Skate Retreat as well because it's a little break from that, and it's taken this community aspect, but it's also building something new at the same time. That's what excites me. I feel I’ve almost done my job with the girl’s skate stuff now. What I had in mind has happened, and there is an amazing community now; it's almost the direction that needs to change a bit. That’s where I feel I'm going with The Skate Retreat a little bit more.

The journey is always evolving, isn't it? You never really know and take things as they go, and the paths form.

What’s the future of The Skate Retreat?


I was running skate camps for kids for quite some time. And it's like, Oh, I miss that, but I don't miss that because it's quite hectic. I miss being able to get away and having skateboarding as the sole thing to do, but there wasn't anything around for me to go to or to do. I wanted to have a getaway to go, chill out with other skaters, and skateboarding as the main thing to do, but there are other things. So, why don't I just make one?

It was the same for the Girl Skate Uk. I was like, I want this girl skate community. There isn't one. I'll make one.

I built The Skate Retreat as a place I would want to visit, and if I want to visit, other people would also want to visit. I don't know where I want it to go. Still, I know that I just want to be able to do more of them and be able to offer them to more people because, at the moment, where I am, it's an amazing space. Still, it's a bit expensive, and that kind of cuts out some of the people who maybe want to come along because it's not as accessible.


I want to design more skate retreats, offer them at different price points all around the country, and make them as accessible as possible for people just to get into skateboarding and learn to skate in this lovely environment.


What piece of advice would you tell your younger self?


Don’t give a shit what other people think, you know? I think that kind of put me off skating for a long time because I was like, what are people going to think of me? I think I got a stupid comment from a boy down the street, and it put me off skateboarding for a long time.

BTS of the staff at the roundhouse kitchen at The Skate Retreat. February 26, 2021

It's hard to say this to somebody who cares what other people think, but it doesn't matter. Just do what makes you happy, and things will work out.

 

Bridget Johnson (she/her) is an award-winning Chicago-based Writer/Director who started her production company, Dare to Dream Productions, at only seventeen years old. They specialize in creating thought-provoking and inclusive films that inspire audiences to follow their dreams and ask life's biggest questions. Currently, she is working on her first feature film, Breaking the Barrier chronicling a group of non-traditional skaters designing and building Chicago's first non-traditional public mobile skatepark during the global pandemic. Her films have been shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art and the AMC Theater in Times Square. In her free time, you can catch her skating down Chicago streets, reading tarot at a cafe, or visiting haunted houses for a script and praying not to get possessed. Join her adventures on her Instagram.


Additional Information


Check out the full TALKABOUTIT Episode Youtube or Spotify


All Photography by Hilda Quick.

Other Platform: Girl Skate UK Website


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