How Dare you Tell me that I can't?
How one professional skateboarder is giving young women what she never had
Kim Peterson sits on a skateboard amid a sea of faces, rosy and energized from a chilly recess. She's reading a book, her hands holding it open and away from her, so the first-grade class can see the pictures: illustrations of skateboarders flying across the page
As Petersen flips the pages, the story of a boy learning to skateboard in San Francisco unfolds. On one page, he meets all types of people at the skatepark. People of all colors, religions, genders.
Petersen looks to her class and asks them if they know any girls who skateboard.
Through a chorus of resounding “No’s!” a voice pipes up, “Wait, isn’t Kim a girl that skateboards?”
Petersen laughs and nods- yeah, she’s a girl that skateboards.
Her first-graders might not know it, but Petersen is a professional skateboarder who once competed (and won against) the biggest names in women’s skateboarding, like Cara-Beth Burnside, an X-games champion and olympian.
They don’t know that Petersen topped world rankings as a bowl skater in 2005, just before she began teaching in Missoula.
But they do know that Petersen loves skateboarding- and she loves teaching it. She fills her classroom with skateboards, and encourages her students to explore what they can do on a board in weekly “carpet boarding” sessions in the classroom. She drives eight hours across her home state, Montana, to teach kids living on reservations how to use their brand-new skatepark.
They might know that Petersen spent the past five years helping to create a fast-growing organization that provides an opportunity for young women and non-binary people to skate with each other and learn together in a sport traditionally dominated by cis men.
“I think it's important for young girls to follow their passions and interests,” says Petersen.
“And if that is in any way skateboarding, that there should be no reason whatsoever that a young girl would tell themselves, I can't do that. That's not for me.”
Kim Petersen reads My First Skateboard by Karl Watson to her first-grade class during ELA class on Oct. 3, 2019
Kim Petersen introduces herself to girls at a Girls on Shred learn-to-skate clinic at the ramp behind Board of Missoula on Oct. 26, 2019.
Petersen skates in the cradle at Mobash Skatepark in Missoula, Montana on Oct. 18, 2019. Petersen returned from skating professionally in California just as the skatepark finished construction.
Petersen discusses skate line with older girls learning to skate at the Alberton Gorge Skatepark Grand Opening on Sept. 8, 2019. Petersen collaborates with Montana Pool Service, which is helping raise funds and construct skateparks in rural communities across Montana. Petersen the idea is that a skatepark can become a community center, if children are taught to use it properly.
A few of Petersen's first-grade class practice their skateboarding skills during a "carpet boarding" session at the end of the school day on Nov. 14, 2019. Petersen teaches first grade at Sussex School in Missoula. She says the charter school allows for more flexible teaching, which fits her style of instruction better.
(Left) Petersen helps three-year-old Aurora Littleghan push across the flat of the new skatepark in Alberton Gorge on Sept. 8, 2019. Petersen's non-profit, Girls on Shred, attended the park opening and reserved the "street" section of the park for young girls to learn to skate together.
(Above) Girls on Shred clinic attendees practice rocking back and forth on their boards, under Petersen's watchful eye, at an indoor Girls on Shred clinic at Board of Missoula on Oct. 19, 2019.
Petersen and Girls on Shred clinic attendee Ava White explore the possibility of dropping in on the ramp behind Board of Missoula during the indoor clinic on Oct. 19, 2019. Petersen and White decided not to attempt the drop at this session, but didn't rule it out for a later lesson.
A Montana Pool Service skateboard honoring Petersen, known as Krusher, hangs on the wall in Petersen's home in Missoula.
Kim Petersen performs her signature trick- skating over her students during a private lesson- at the Mobash Skatepark on Oct. 25, 2019