SXSW Film Review: Skate Dreams [Jessica Edwards, 2022]

I too was about 5 or 6 when I found skateboarding. Of course then it was considered niche and weird. Fast-forward 30 years and little has changed – skateboarding remains dorky and subcultural. I never dove into the community, because academia is in a sense even more dorky, sub-cultural, and hurtful than 1 deck, 2 trucks, and 4 wheels. And I also found snowboarding where with the help of gravity, I can be the bigger masochist.

And just like in academia, women have long been held back and fed token opportunities for which they were expected to be thankful. In the “early days”, prize money was nonexistent for women unlike the sponsorships, endorsements, and PS2 game franchises that followed the male heroes of the board cultures. 2003 was apparently the first year when women were allowed to skateboard competitively in the X Games – in 10am contests without audience. The momentum for women skater communities started to gain traction with the popularization of the internet. That same year blogs hosting skateboarding news grew the reach of the sport and expanded its cultural influence. Fast-forward 19 years, Insta and TikTok blew open the floodgates and so, a phenomenon that first started because suburban Californian kids saw the potential in the dried up round-bottom pools of their parents’ homes now has international resonance. Serving a similar function as the surf clubs in Bangla Surf Girls, there are organizations like Skateistan in Cambodia that imparts life as well as skate lessons to empower girls.

Skate Dreams teaches you about these things. But it also presents its subject through an idealized lens, where skatizens of all classes, young and old, seem only driven by the thirst to connect via tricks and merit. Despite showing a thousand spills, this is a film that never lands a heavy punch. And I’m quite grateful for that. The quote “I ate shit everyday to learn how to Ollie” cements the goal of the film, I think. This film is the showcase for the lifestyle and culture of several pioneering and upcoming women skateboarders, not an emotion-sapping blackhole of hardship to the top.

It is only in the last quarter of the film when such a soul-sucking ogre made its brief appearance. What other sporting party-pooper should we expect but the (Tokyo 2020) Olympics? The IOC would welcome cornhole (not to be confused with cornholing, but perhaps one day) if it came with sponsorships – and women skateboarding has now grown sufficiently for the Olympics to want to sink its fangs into new blood.

I have always admired the self-restraint of surfers/boarders, whose culture inherently grasp that fame and trends are pointlessly transient. Theirs is a solitary pursuit and one to come together if just to admire and learn what is possible – so you can go away and try even harder the next day. Myself, however, tried very hard not to bring in an Avril Lavigne line – but it is just so difficult to resist when mere 96 hours ago I heard that song for the first time in 19 years.

If you are in Austin, Skate Dreams will be playing: March 14, 2:45pm at Rollins Theatre; and March 16, 5:30pm at Alamo South Lamar.

Posted on by Gary in South By Southwest