Skateboarders in Eugene have been able to enjoy some luxuries that put us on the map as a skateboarding town. Although you won’t find it on any of the Tony Hawk Pro Skater video games, skaters in Eugene are able to claim Washington-Jefferson Skatepark + Urban Plaza, America’s largest covered and lit skate park, as their own.
Regardless of the weather or time of day, action abounds under the protective coverage of the Washington-Jefferson Bridge at the WJ Skatepark, which is located near the Whiteaker neighborhood.
Watching skateboarders in motion is both serene and energizing: The way the wheels of their boards glide along the pavement is artistic and athletic, and there’s the needed dexterity and intricacy to pull off tricks.
If you pay close enough attention, though, you’ll notice something else happening at the WJ Skatepark. On any given day, standing out in the crowd of mostly young men, a group of young women are working to establish themselves as an important part of Eugene’s skating community and an inclusive clique in their own right.
Christelle Auzas is one of these women.
Auzas, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Oregon, has been skating for about five years. Before other women recently started skating in Eugene, Auzas says she would rarely see anything but men at Eugene’s skate parks.
“I saw one or two girls a month, probably, and they’d just be traveling through,” she says.
Auzas says she noticed a group of women starting to frequent WJ Skatepark around October 2018. She created a texting group to encourage girls to keep coming to the park at the same time and, from there, a flourishing and excited group of skater girls began to emerge.
They are the “Girls of WJ” — and they even have an Instagram to prove it (@squirrelsofwj).
Grace Diaz, a 21-year-old junior at the University of Oregon, is one of the self-proclaimed Girls of WJ. She has been skating for about two years and, in the past, has experienced isolation at the park, too.
“I started coming here by myself, and I was always the only girl at the park,” Diaz says. “I would skate with pepper spray on.”
Since more women have started heading to the skate park, people’s experiences have changed.
“I feel like when we first all came out here to start skating, everyone was like, ‘Whoa, there’s a group of girls,’” says Tessa Winger, another member of the collective.
Now, she says, it’s not such a big deal.
Karika Lepik is also a relatively new skater. She really values the role of representation, saying how important it is to be able to see other women at the skatepark.
“It’s nice to see a group of people that represent your identity, because then you realize that you’re capable of doing that, too,” she says. “I feel like when there aren’t any women skating, you don’t recognize that you could have territory there, too.”
Tactics Boardshop, a skate shop about a block away from WJ Skatepark, has taken notice of the need for representation in Eugene’s skate community, making it a priority to hire more women to help on the sales floor.
“If a lady saw more ladies skating, they’d be more inclined to skate,” says Kelsea Heisser, a new sales floor associate at Tactics.
The Girls of WJ plan to continue encouraging new recruits. They think that an official women’s skating night in Eugene would be a great message to the community to show girls that they can come out and skate, even if they are new to the sport.
“Like every Thursday, or once a month, or something like that,” Auzas says. “Because then more girls will want to come, will have the opportunity. No girls want to come to the park by themselves.”