Sk8 4 Life: An interview with Mayaan Levi, founder of Jerusalem Skater Girls

Written by
Elie Bleier

Skateboarding has always been on the edge of mainstream sports, but with the 2020 Olympics hosting its first ever competition, the skater community is set for a bright spotlight. An interview with Mayaan Levi, founder of Jerusalem Skater Girls, on how the local landscape is shifting and the next generation of insane little skate monsters 

In Israel, the local skate scene is on the pickup, with brand new skate parks opening up left and right and skaters hoping to vie for a spot on the national team. Israeli girls are also becoming part of the tribe with the first ever women’s competition held four years ago. We met up with Mayaan Levi, 27, co-creator of JSG (Jerusalem Skater Girls), a group that bolsters the Israeli female skate community, to talk about hosting that first competition and more. Arriving on a little cruiser, decked out in JSG gear, a Tel Aviv tan and positive vibes, Mayaan is the perfect person to get Israeli girls on board(s) – and skating into the future.

What’s your background?

I started skateboarding when I was 16 years old with some of my best friends. They wanted to be “cool”. I found a toy skateboard that was just lying around my house. I went with them and fell in love! They all quit after three months.

Mayaan Levi © Johnny Benchimol

Paula, my JSG co-creator, moved to our school from Panama. Her Hebrew wasn’t that good, but I invited her to the skate park and she really liked it, feeling as though she found her place in Israel. We would skate every day, and became part of the local scene. At some point, we realized we were the only girls skating. It’s not that we were anti-guys. Actually, the guys were our friends. It’s that there wasn’t any encouragement or competitions or sponsorship for us. We felt kind of alone. So one day, when we were about 16 years old, I told Paula that we should form a group of skater girls. And she said: What? We’re just two people. How can we make a group for two?! But in the end, she agreed. We made a logo and stickers, and when girls came to the skate park we would distribute them. But it wasn’t super official. We weren’t recruiting or anything. We were just encouraging girls that already skated.

It was only after my post-army trip, where I met this awesome group called Skate ChicAr - Skate Chicas Argentinas - that I realized the power of such a community. We realized that we needed much more than just a FB page. So in 2016, we decided to host a competition. We brought DJs, judges, a lot of volunteers and someone to record it all. It was funded from our own budget. And it actually worked! It was so awesome to see a competition held for girls for the first time. There was a section for guys, but we focused on the girls. And our recent competition was one of the biggest in Israel, partnering with the Jerusalem Municipality, WeSkate, and even Nike.

Why did you include guys?

At that time, there were only about 10 girls that wanted to compete. And it’s not like we wanted to exclude guys. We just wanted to include girls. Also, a big focus of ours was to make it equal pay. Even at the time we knew this was an obvious component. Now, we see other competitions, even in Israel, which include girls but don’t include equal pay. We are working to convince others to make this happen. Like, if Paula and I can create an equal pay competition, why can’t a large organization? They have excuses: “oh, we don’t have a budget for that”. It’s not a budget thing. It’s a mindset thing.

Why do you think there is still unequal pay?

I think it’s what the media shows. For example, the Women’s World Cup wasn’t live on TV. You could only watch online. Also, people say the level isn’t equal, and if people aren’t entertained as much then they shouldn’t have to pay as much. But if you won’t invest, how do you expect improvement?

© Asaf Etzion

Even if there’s a difference in the skill level or in physiology, there’s no difference in the passion or effort.

Exactly. We invest all our time and passion into it, not only the same but maybe even more than boys. And still we need to show that we need to be at their level just to get the same amount of money. The basic way to change it, I think, is in the education. We don’t encourage girls to skate from a young age. The basic way to change is through this, as well as equal media exposure. This is what will pave the way to equal pay. There are a lot of components to it.

What do you guys do in-between competitions?

We skate anywhere and anytime. Obviously, the weekends are the most free, so we’ll meet on Fridays and Saturdays. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, there are sessions in both that are spontaneous. It can be a simple text in our WhatsApp group: “Hey guys, 7pm at Galitz, who’s in?”

Recently we started open girls sessions in Tel Aviv once a month, in collaboration with HaRampa Skate Club. We invite not just group members, but those that want to try skating, providing gear and guiding them. Come, I promise you’ll have fun!

What is the Israeli perception of skating, and of girls in it?

They think it’s cool and nice, but they don’t take it seriously. They think it’s for kids. Maybe once it gets to the Olympics people will perceive it as important, extreme sport and will encourage it. But mostly they think it’s just for fun. But for me, it’s not just cool or just for fun. If you just do it to be cool, you’re not going to continue. It’s hard work, a lot of falls, and even breaks. We want to show skating in a more professional light. As for girls, even though they think it’s for kids, most parents won’t buy their girls a skateboard. They think: “Oh, my girl, I don’t want her to get hurt”. Come on. We want to change this perception. We see young girls that have only been skating for a few years becoming better than us! If you encourage it from a young age, they can become insane little skate monsters. The next generation is going to be crazy. 

What’s the worst fall you’ve seen?

Whenever Paula falls, it’s pretty funny. She has an afro, and when she skated in the pool one time she took a turn, slipped and fell on her head. But her hair is kind of a huge pillow that protects her. I was like “Oh my god, are you ok?!” and she just points to her hair “yeah, I’ve got this!”

© David doh doh Rosen

Can you talk about the diversity of your group?

Sure, there are members of JSG that are religious and secular, Arab and Jewish, etc. But the diversity I want to talk about isn’t what the media wants to hear about. It’s the age diversity. Our very last session, a mom asked at what age kids can start. I said “I don’t know, 5?!” She said “I have a 3.5 year old, is that ok?” And it was! She came and started learning to skate. I guess that if you can walk, you can skate. Also, we have the mom of one of the girls who started taking lessons and skating. So we have ages - all the way from 3 to 50. That’s really insane. Every age can connect and have fun skating.

So the skate world sounds very inclusive and accepting.

Totally. And that’s kind of why I don’t want to talk just about Arab and Jewish inclusivity. The media takes this part and acts like that’s all we do, as if we bring peace to the Middle East. No! It’s like, ok, if it happens on the way, good job. But for us, it just doesn’t matter what you are, your background, race or age. You’re good as long as you come skate.

What’s the future for JSG?

Our dream is to make it a social business. We want to keep doing events, competitions, tours, maybe go abroad. We also want to get to Japan for the Olympics. And of course we want to grow the community and our brand, which sells jewelry and gear, the profit of which partly goes to promoting women in skateboarding. Also check out their monthly open sessions

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