Armed with knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards, and a helmet, Steele made her way to a small local skate park, mom in tow.
“I dragged my board to the top of a little ramp, hopped on and just sailed down without fear,” says Steele, laughing at the memory. “I managed to make it all the way down the ramp before hitting a patch of gravel and going flying through the air. The board stopped and my body kept going.”
At the time though, Steele didn’t think it was very funny. Taking a look down at her scraped skin, Steele grabbed her board and told her mom it was time to go.
Ready for a summer of skating with the girls🤘🏼🖤Posted by Shred Sirens - Girls Skate Night on Monday, April 29, 2019
If you watch Steele on a board today, it’s hard to envision her ever giving up. She skates with confidence and ease, looking light as a feather as she tackles challenging tricks with grace. Her journey back to the hobby wasn’t a linear one, but she says she wouldn’t change it for the world.
By the time Steele was ready to forgive the board’s betrayal, she was around 12. While spending time at Undercurrent Youth Centre, Steele found herself in the Centre’s gym, surrounded by a community of skateboarders. The exciting atmosphere reignited her interest in the sport, outweighing her intimidation. She was ready to give it another shot.
Four passionate women
Luckily for Steele, a visiting youth worker named Laura Bronson was spending time in Cape Breton, working at the centre. An experienced skateboarder herself, Bronson took Steele under her wing, teaching her the basics and providing mentorship in the largely male-dominated pastime. Sadly, Bronson’s term came to an end and she had to say goodbye to the island, along with Steele.
“When Laura left, things got much more difficult for me,” says Steele. “Watching a woman skate is a lot different than watching a man skate. When it’s a woman, you can literally say ‘that could be me if I work hard enough.’ You can see yourself in your mentor. Of course, there were guys who would try to teach me and keep me involved but when it came down to it, I just felt like I was in the way.”
Without an older girl to show her the ropes, Steele found herself drifting away from the skate community. Until, that was, around eight years later, when she became one of the founding members of Shred Sirens, an all-girls skate program in Cape Breton.
As an adult, Steele was still spending a considerable amount of time volunteering and working at the centre. When she heard rumblings of an idea for a girls’ skate program, she knew she wanted to be involved. A trial evening was arranged which resulted in Steele, along with Bailee Kennedy, Tessa Poirier, and Jill Ellsworth hosting the first all-female skate night in Cape Breton.
“From that night on, I knew we had to bring this program to life,” says Steele. “We had four passionate women who wanted to empower other girls in our community to find their place in the skate industry.”
After experimentation with names and logos, as well as helping hands from Undercurrent owner Dave Sawler, and skate instructor Adam MacKenzie, the Shred Sirens were born.
Skating a full circle
Now, as they near their one-year anniversary, the Shred Sirens run a free girls-only skate night every week, averaging 12 to 15 girls per session. Ages range from seven to 47 with new faces coming out each week to try it in the safe and welcoming environment.
“Before Shred Sirens many of us had never met,” says Steele. “Having a space of our own has allowed us to create a family of girls who encourage and build each other up. We don’t have to be alone anymore.”
For Steele, the program has made her skate-story come full circle, as she now takes on the role of mentor and teacher.
“I’m being the person that little Bree needed,” says Steele. “Building relationships and teaching other girls has been the highlight of this experience and I’m so proud of our program.”
Steele says the program came into her life at the perfect time, while she was struggling to find something that was uniquely hers.
“People have things that they’re interested in that they can put their energy into and I was lacking that,” she says. “I have so much passion to give and I wanted something so badly to devote it to.”
Shred Sirens provided that outlet and now Steele spends her Sundays sharing that passion with other women and forcing the community to challenge old ways of thinking.
Not only do the girls gather each Sunday to practise their skills at the indoor park, they have now become confident enough to visit local skateparks together as a group, something that was uncommon in the past. “It’s so much fun to skate with a big group of girls; we might even be making the guys feel a little intimidated for once,” jokes Steele.
The key message Steele wants others to take away from her story is to do what you enjoy, no matter what people say. “I know it’s hard for girls and women to find their place in activities that have always been run by men, but that attitude needs to change,” she says. “Get out there and crush those gender stereotypes. Doing what you love can have a huge impact on your self-esteem.”
To those interested in skateboarding, her message is simple: “Get on that board and just try. You’re going to be bad,” says Steele. “But do it badly until you learn how to do it well. It’s never too late to learn!”
How to ollie:
Getting into position: Start with your back foot on the tail of the board and your front foot near the centre. Bend your knees slightly.
Pop: Slam your back foot down into the ground, lifting the front of your board into the air.
Flick: Quickly slide your front foot up toward the nose of the board.
Even Out: At this point if you slammed down hard enough while flicking your foot, your board will be in the air momentarily. Shift your weight to even out the board in the air.
Land: Land with your feet over the bolts on each side of your board so that your balance is centred.