“Skating Is Therapy for Me”: How GirlSkate Nairobi Is Empowering Girls Through the Art of Skateboarding


Article by: Amanda Nechesa

Publication date:

I’m always in awe of women who take up space in fields that are traditionally deemed to be male-dominated. It's therefore not a surprise that the first time I heard of GirlSkate Nairobi, I was immediately intrigued. Here was a group of girls and women daring to find their space through skateboarding – a predominantly male sport – like it was as easy as ABC. How did they manage it? 

GirlSkate community (provided)

The answer to that lies in the cross-section between a passion for skateboarding and the brilliant young minds of Jelimo Cheboi and Antoinette “Tonyii” Apondi which recognised the need for a community to foster this passion in girls and women. The brilliant young minds are the dynamic duo behind the creation of the GirlSkate community. 

A creative entrepreneur, a curator and a brand strategist who owns brands such as Garden of JedenJelly Bloom and is part of the The Wellness Circle collective, Jelimo picked up her first skateboard in 2022. 

“I started skating around August 2022,” she says, “A friend of mine lent me his skateboard for a while and I would skate to where other skateboarders were. I thought skateboarding was cool and it’s an action sport. I used to play basketball, an action sport as well, in high school and after high school. So I thought, why not try skateboarding which is almost similar?” 

Gradually, as Jelimo continued skating, her passion grew. But as she continued being in these spaces with other skateboarders, she noticed a huge gap in the skateboarding community. 

“There were girls around, but there was no community for them in skateboarding. I realised then that we needed to create a safe space for the girls who skated. At least then they would be more inclined to show up and have fun together.” 

When she mentioned the idea to Tonyii, a fellow skateboarder and a graphic designer, a graffiti artist, a fine artist and a muralist whose art focuses on the African female body, Tonyii came on board and together, they founded the community that is now known as GirlSkate Nairobi. 

“There are so many girls that want to skate,” Tonyii says, “The purpose of GirlSkate is to create a community here in Nairobi that fills in the gap in society and offers representation for these girls. Girls need to come outside and know that there’s a sport called skateboarding. Because they are girls doesn’t mean that they can’t skateboard.” 

First, you get on a board

Thanks to Jelimo and Tonyii’s vision, the GirlSkate community was actualised in 2023. Because skateboarding as a sport relies majorly on the sharing of videos of people doing different tricks such as the ollie and kickflip, they created an Instagram page where they showcased themselves and other girls in the community having fun with the art of skateboarding. 

These videos on their Instagram page slowly garnered the interest of the online community which later translated to more girls joining the community. What started as a vision of two people eventually became a large community with members who vary from girls as young as ten years old to middle-aged women who want to ignite or re-ignite their passion for the sport. 

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GirlSkate community (provided)

Anyone, but more specifically kids, girls and women with an interest in skating, can join the community. All you need to have is an interest in the sport. Then, you fill out a Google Form available on their Instagram page. Once you join the community, the fun starts. If you are a beginner who has never been on a board before, GirlSkate will provide lessons to improve your skills. The lessons, which are taught by experienced female skaters and happen every month, are charged at a fee of KSh 1500 per session. 

“The first thing we do for someone who has come in, and it's their first time, is create an atmosphere where they feel comfortable that they can skate.” Tonyii elaborates, “Because we deal with people of all ages, we do a background check. We ask if that is your first time handling the board. We also ask how long you have been skating on that board. We inquire if you have a skateboard. And if you do, we ask you to come with it. In short, we do a proper background check before we set up a lesson for anyone.” 

On the other hand, if you are an intermediate or experienced skateboarder with multiple tricks up your sleeve, GirlSkate is a way for you to interact with girls who share a similar interest and become a part of a community that helps you hone your skills. They meet once or twice every week at different spaces that allow skateboarding in Nairobi. During these meet-ups, they learn and teach each other different tricks and most of all, they have fun together. 

Skating is therapy for me

As Jelimo and Tonyii put it, GirlSkate is a place for girls to be just girls in a space that traditionally, society does not see girls occupying. With GirlSkate, the girls in skateboarding laugh, connect, lend a shoulder for their friends to lean on and heck, enjoy themselves while at it. 

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GirlSkate community (provided)

“Skating for me means that I get to do something that is way beyond my comfort zone,” says Bridget, a member of the GirlSkate community, “I wanted to do something different from what I usually did. I was really struggling with my course and career choice and I just wanted a side therapy. Now, I’d say skating is therapy for me. And GirlSkate has really provided a safe space for me because the people there are really friendly. They don’t judge you for anything. I skate in skirts and no one is bothered about it, only outsiders. So yeah, I get the safe space I need with GirlSkate.” 

The vitality of female skateboarding communities 

It is necessary to mention that GirlSkate is one of the few communities worldwide that creates a space for girls in skateboarding to be represented. Another one of these spaces is  Black Girl Skate, a brand and non-profit organisation devoted to creating equity, visibility and safety for skaters who identify as Black, African, or of colour and/or women, differently-abled, or LGBTQ+. 

There is no denying that for decades skateboarding has been predominantly male. However, this is slowly shifting, and it’s thanks to the female skateboarding communities that create that space for all women skaters globally. Because of these initiatives, female skateboarding was officially added as an Olympic sport in 2021 and women can now compete alongside their male counterparts and win prizes. 

In Nairobi, skateboarding only became popularised about a decade ago according to an article by CNN. When people started picking it up, there was a need to create a society for the skaters in Kenya, and that is how the Skateboarding Society of Kenya (SSK) was formed. That was more than ten years ago. Now, with female skateboarders needing representation, GirlSkate became that space for them. Thankfully, SSK also recognises the work they have put in and goes out of their way to appreciate their efforts. 

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GirlSkate community (provided)

“SSK and GirlSkate, we collaborate on a daily. We work together, and we are both just trying to build the skateboarding community into something bigger,” Tonyii says. 

“How we collaborate with SSK is mostly through events,” Jelimo adds. “So when we have events, the members of SSK always come through. They have been a very big help to us because they are assisting us to get into the scene and are pushing for people to know that GirlSkate exists. 

“They have also incorporated more skateboarding contests that now include women. Before there was nothing like that. The contests before were only for male skaters to compete and female skaters to spectate. So now, since we started GirlSkate, every time there’s a contest, there’s the women's category. And when we win, we get awarded with prizes like skateboards and protective gear.” 

The challenges facing skateboarding 

But skateboarding does not come without its challenges. One of the challenges that the community faces is the lack of enough skateboarding parks. Currently, there is only one skateboarding park in Kenya – The Shanglilia Park – which is in a remote area and hence, not safe to go alone, especially for women. The Mall Rooftop helps in terms of location, but as much as it’s accessible, there is a limited time for skating allowed. Another new spot that they have found is Happening Arts, but the location is too small, oftentimes restricting the skaters. 

Apart from the lack of a suitable location, GirlSkate also faces the challenge of not having enough skateboards. One skateboard goes for an average price of KSH 15,000, to KSH 20,000, a stifling amount for young girls and women just starting out. It also doesn’t help that buying a skateboard is not the end. Skateboarding can also be dangerous, with most learners falling and getting injuries. This means you also need to budget for protective gear such as helmets, kneepads and elbow pads – something that GirlSkate also sufficiently lacks. 

So, how can someone assist GirlSkate to continue bringing their vision to life? One way is by subscribing and donating to their Patreon page, where they have different tiers. You can also buy their merchandise including T-shirts, pins and fridge magnets or sign up for the lessons they offer. They plan to use the money they get to buy skateboards and protective gear for the women in the community. 

In a jokingly but serious way, Jelimo and Tonyii also urge anyone who has land or an empty space that they do not use to donate it so that they can build a reliable, accessible and safe skatepark where they can skate freely without inhibitions.

“We need people to start supporting the GirlSkate program,” Tonyii says, “It’s going big, it’s becoming a part of history in Kenya. So, why don’t you help history come alive?”