Photo essay: GRLSWIRL skateboarders go big with inclusion, inspiration and philanthropy

Emily Kimball, an actor in Los Angeles, skates at Venice Skate Park during "Untamed Daughters," an all-day event held in July filled with surfing, skating and yoga hosted by GRLSWIRL and Changing Tides Foundation. Allison Zaucha

Six days after Myriah Marquez moved to Southern California from the Texas-Louisiana border, she caught wind of a woman named Lucy Osinski that was organizing an all-female skate meetup at Venice Skate Park. It was February 2018, and Marquez was living out of her car under the Los Angeles skies. But she had her board, so Marquez skated out to join the crew. After that meetup, the GRLSWIRL concept was born from a flurry of text messages. It became this safe space for local women who wanted to skate. It became home for Marquez.

The organization's mission is to "bring inclusivity and inspiration to women around the world, to conquer their fears and unite as a revolutionary skate sisterhood." And GRLSWIRL has successfully done that. In less than two years, the nine co-founders have built a sustainable business and global community.

The organization has earned a supportive international community and has more than 70,000 followers on Instagram. The only requirement to join is to be a woman who skateboards. The organization isn't for pros, it doesn't participate in or structure itself for formal skate competitions. (Skateboarding Hall of Fame inductee Laura Thornhill Caswell is an active supporter of the group and comes out to events.)

"GRLSWIRL is a sisterhood," says co-founder Sarah Tobi (known as Tobi Ann). "Our support for each other, our friendship and our bond has helped us in our personal lives."

This past February, GRLSWIRL sent a crew to migrant shelters in Tijuana, Mexico. The women brought trunks filled to the brim with new skateboards and essentials to donate. Their goal was to give back and teach migrant children the basics of skateboarding.

"We started GRLSWIRL and wanted to do charity work," Ann said. "We had [something] bigger picture to share, and that's when we started the skate mentorship programs."

The growth of GRLSWIRL hasn't been by luck; the savvy skaters approach the organization with a strategic plan to build a sisterhood and viable business around women skating. New women show up at every biweekly skate night. Osinski estimates that the local chapter has grown to more 300 women. GRLSWIRL's latest New York chapter (which has its own Instagram, @GRLSWIRLNewYork) launched in July 2019 and has an estimated 40 members. The San Diego chapter is set to launch in the near future. By the end of 2020, GRLSWIRL plans to have chapters in 10 cities throughout the world.

There's a special energy at GRLSWIRL events. Sure, on the surface, the founders look like social media influencers who occasionally sell skateboards and other merch; but their mission is much deeper. Philanthropic and community-focused values steer this group in each decision they make, whether it be to partner with local nonprofits for mentorship programs or with local businesses for events. And at the heart of the organization, GRLSWIRL is about acceptance and creating a safe space for women to skate.