Atita Verghese first stepped on a skateboard when she was only 19, and she’s been unstoppable ever since. Back in 2012, there were no more then 10 skateboarders in India, with practically no female skateboarders. Through her determination, Verghese co-built 4 skateparks and a few skate spots in India. The now 27 year old has become the face of skateboarding for girls in India.
She has taught many newbies, and has played a crucial role in bringing this unknown, underground sport out in the open. In 2018, she became the first Indian skateboarding athlete to join American skateboarding brand Vans’ team of athletes. Since 2015, Atita Verghese has been running an online platform called Girl Skate India, which holds workshops for girls and women on skateboarding. She has taught in Bengaluru as well as in Janwar, where she faced many challenges of bringing this male dominated, unknown sport to females.
“In Janwar, we had to convince and beg parents to send their girls to the skate park” says Atita Verghese
“In Bengaluru, parents send their girls to skate parks easily but they may not want them to stay outside for long hours. And without practice, they can’t make progress in the sport,” Verghese told moneycontrol.
“In Bengaluru, parents send their girls to skate parks easily but they may not want them to stay outside for long hours. And without practice, they can’t make progress in the sport,” said Verghese. “On the other hand, in Janwar, we had to go door-to-door to convince, actually beg, the parents to send their girls to the skate park, which is just down the road in their own village,” she says, talking about her struggles to bring this sport to light in India.
“Male members were a big obstacle. ‘Who will make rotis?’ they would ask us. But we did not take ‘no’ for an answer and managed to get 40 girls to play in the skate park for two hours.” A few parents followed and stood at the edge of the park, watching their girls, “even the shy ones”, go down the slope on a plank of wood and fly in the air with abandon.”
In 2015, she had gone to the Kovalam skate club, to teach young girls, as a part of India’s first all female skateboarding tour. “They were smiling ear-to-ear. It was hard to stop them,” she fondly remembers. Two of the girls, who were a part of the fishing community, who came to this club are now national level gold medal winners. They even got a feature in the newly released movie, Skater Girl, says their coach, Vineeth Vijayan.
“You are not the first one to ask me if I know about this film,” she says about Skater Girl
Skater Girl, a newly released film on Netflix, follows the life of a young village girl in Rajasthan, who discovers skateboarding, and overcomes many challenges in order to compete in a national tournament. Skater Girl is India’s first skateboarding feature film.
Skater Girl is not about her life, says Verghese, but “I am doing a cameo in the film alongside other skateboarders from India,” she says. This movie spreads light on the 3000-4000 skateboarders who are a part of this community.
“I am happy as long as I am on some board,” says the skater star
Verghese has not competed in a tournament for over 9 years, due to unfortunate circumstances. “When I started out, skateboarding wasn’t even a thing in India. So I never thought of being a contest skater. I am into this for the joy of it and I want to develop the skateboarding scene,” Verghese says. “I would like to organise more skateboarding workshops, and for free. But either the cities and towns don’t have skate parks, or they are expensive to rent, which I can’t afford without sponsorship,”
She goes on to say that India does not have the infrastructure like some other Asian countries, making it difficult for India to compete at the Olympics, where skateboarding is making its debut this year at the Tokyo Olympics.
The Covid 19 pandemic has also put a wrench in their plans, with India not being able to send its athletes for Olympic qualifiers. “Around 120 skateboarders from nine to 26 years of age had come, but then the second wave had started peaking and flights were called off.” said coach Vijayan. “The ratio of boys to girls was 60:40 at the 2018 national level games. This year, it was 70:30.” he adds on a positive note.
“I want girls to believe in themselves,” Verghese says
“You can do it all by yourself. You need to be physically and mentally present in the moment to execute a trick. And when that happens, it makes you confident. Confidence is a valuable skill set to have in anything. Nobody will serve that to you on a platter,” Verghese says.
But for this to take off, India needs to invest in sports infrastructure at the school level and drive more gender-neutral programs. Above all, “we need to have more female coaches to train with and look up to as role models.”
Atita Verghese is one such inspiring player and coach.