On an unseasonably warm Sunday afternoon, the outside concourse of Melbourne Museum is a skating haven: every ledge, slope and stair occupied with a skater attempting to land a trick. Despite its association with non-conformity and radical ideals, most of us understand skateboarding as being synonymous with and dominated by men. But on that Sunday it was women, not men, who were the majority.
This is all in part thanks to Estelle Landy and Tobi Stanley, founders of all-girl Melbourne skate crew DNL. The pair met less than six months ago, but they bonded quickly over a shared frustration: why weren’t there any groups of women skating together? With that in mind they went about forming their own crew.
They set up a Facebook group, which quickly spread through word-of-mouth. At first Estelle and Tobi thought they might be able to gather five or six girls to skate with, but since starting DNL only four months ago, the crew has expanded to 30-plus members. Scanning the skaters outside Melbourne Museum, where the women meet up every Sunday (amongst other street spots during the week), Estelle told me, “Often now that there’s more girls here than boys, the dynamic has changed completely.”
The name is an abbreviation of Did Not Land, a riff on skaters’ aversion to posting pictures or videos where they don’t successfully land tricks. “The running joke was that we couldn’t land anything,” explains Tobi.
It’s also an apt summation of the group’s ethos. For these women, being part of DNL is not about being the greatest or most skilled skater, but instead about fostering community, supporting one another, and having fun. “Who cares if we don’t land?” says Estelle, “we still skate.”
The group has an open-door policy: anyone can turn up, skate and be a part of the crew, regardless of experience or age. “We get so many girls who have always wanted to skate, but never had the community to do it… That have had skateboards sitting in their bedrooms for five years, or women in their 30s who are like, ‘I wanna skate’. It’s cool,” says Estelle.
While the crew vary in age and skill, they all seem to share an experience of previously feeling disenfranchised by skateboarding. Many had stories of picking up the sport, before giving up because they felt alienated as women. “You just feel intimidated because you’re the only one,” says Tobi.
At the moment the collective is trying to get even more female skaters involved by putting on events with the local YMCA and Skate Melbourne. At Riverslide Park in September they put on their first skate park event ‘Girls Don’t Skate.’ Of the attendees, 17-year old DNL member Millie Landewee says, “They’ve always wanted to [skate], but now they finally have the opportunity and the space to be like ‘I feel comfortable skating’.”
Observing the crew, what’s immediately striking is the intense bond and sense of camaraderie they share with one another. The girls laugh, muck around, and cheer each other on. In the latest video uploaded to the group’s Instagram, one member successfully lands her first ever kick flip. Almost immediately, the DNL girls rush over and embrace her in a big, long group hug.
The members are unabashedly earnest about extolling the virtues of the sport, and telling me how important DNL has been to their wellbeing, especially amongst the younger members in the group. Millie says that before she started skating, she felt “trapped in her house.” Now, she says, she can “go out and just feel good.”
“My mentality used to be so different, but now I have this big group of supportive women and my mental health has been so much better. All the girls are so lovely and supportive. It’s such a positive environment to just be yourself and be active,” she says.
“You’re constantly learning something new, and making progress, and that feels so good,” adds 17-year old member, Arcadia Callow.
They’re also incredibly resilient—the girls routinely fall off their boards, but as quickly as they fall, they get back up again, laughing all the while.
They share their bruises, scars, and cuts with me with pride. Charlotte Frimpong, 17, readily rolls up her dickies to expose her big, fleshy, indented scar—the result of a failed attempt at a ‘nosedive’. “It was just like completely white for ten minutes before it started bleeding!” she says, smiling.
This resilient attitude has spilled over to their lives outside of skateboarding too. “If you fail, you just try and try again. You keep on trying until you get it right. And that’s a good way to look at life,” says Estelle.
“Kick-flips almost broke me”, recalls Tobi, laughing. “I was like ‘I’m never going to be able to do it, it’s just not possible’. But I pushed through it, and kept pushing, and now I can do them. It makes you feel like you can achieve anything if you try hard enough.”