This Chicana Started A Collective For Girl Skaters To Confidently Take Up Space In Los Angeles
For Leti Lomeli, skating always provided her with sisterhood. Playing roller derby for nearly a decade in Phoenix, Arizona, the team contact sport was a community of mostly Latina girls who had each other’s backs and were always bigging one another up. So when the Chicana moved to Los Angeles in her 20s, she was surprised to find that skating was predominantly the realm of white male bros, far from the inviting space she knew and loved. To survive in the new unfamiliar city busting with opportunity, she started the LA chapter of Chicks in Bowls (CIB), an international group building inclusive skatepark communities and experiences.
“It’s more of a structure to get people there, to get more variety and diversity in the skatepark and take up space,” Lomeli, 28, told FIERCE.
After dedicating so much of her life to derby, Lomeli didn’t want to commit herself to the sport as she had in the past. Moving to California to focus on her graduate degree and career, she wanted to enjoy her lifelong hobby without team responsibilities. She hoped it would be fun. But when the transplant first visited a skatepark, her excitement immediately swiveled to insecurity. Alone in a park filled with overweening men, she scurried back to her car, feeling unwelcome in an environment that usually felt like home.
“It was all guys, all skateboards, no quad skates. It was so intimidating to be there by myself. I felt like such a weenie. I left. I didn’t feel comfortable,” she said.
Hoping to never relive that moment of unease again, Lomeli began searching for diverse skate spaces in LA. She didn’t find one, but she did discover a larger network that would ultimately allow her to create the community she was hungry for: Chicks in Bowls. Founded in 2012 by New Zealand derby skater-graphic designer-entrepreneur Lady Trample, CIB creates and promotes mostly-girl, but open to all genders, roller skate crews around the world. With more than 300 chapters across the globe, the space brings seasoned skaters together with newbies in an environment where they can feel safe, comfortable and excited to do what they love.
While there was already a CIB group in Long Beach, Calif., Lomeli made her case to Lady Trample on why the sizeable and diverse city of Los Angeles needed its own crew, too. In 2016, Chicks in Bowls LA was born, with Lomeli at its helm. She eagerly began organizing meet-ups, which she’d promote on social media. As she anticipated, there was a lot of enthusiasm for the collective she was creating. During any given event, a group of about 30 women skaters took over bowls, confidently entering spaces enmass where they otherwise felt excluded from.
“We just wanted to take up space and own it. We wanted to let them know, we are going to be here, and you’re going to be OK with it. We are going to do what people come to the skatepark for,” she said.
During meet-ups, some women took the opportunity to skate freely while others taught newcomers the basics. Regardless of why the girls came, though, Lomeli wanted them to leave feeling one way: welcomed, not like she did the first time she hit an LA skatepark.
But even among a group of powerful girls, creating an environment where everyone feels safe and secure isn’t always easy.
“It’s mostly the feeling of intimidation that comes with being surrounded by testosterone and eyes. They might not say anything, but it’s just a big deal to go in there and take up that space. There are certain instances when they do say something or it does get physical, though,” she said.
On one occasion, a male skater, who she says wasn’t practicing proper park etiquette, crashed into her. He then blamed her and wrongfully told her she wasn’t allowed to have roller skates in the bowl. During another event, there was a drunk male skater loudly taunting some of the women in her group. Lomeli put a stop to the jeers.
“For new girls entering a park and seeing this, it’s scary,” she said. “But having other women there, watching them stand their ground, it shows you, ‘I can do this, too.’”
Lomeli, who has since stepped down from her role as president of CIB LA to focus on her career as an applied behavior analyst and explore other recreational passions, says she started the group for selfish reasons: to create the community she felt she needed. However, through that, she was able to organize a collective that extended far beyond her and would excel even without her leadership.
While the former roller derby player, who has replaced her skates for dance shoes in recent months, may no longer be active in the scene she helped create in Los Angeles, her message, especially for Latinas, remains the same: be bold about your greatness.
“Because we are women and Latinas, we are told to be humble, be quiet, don’t make daring statements. Fuck that! Make your accomplishments known. Be loud and proud about them. Confidently take up space,” she said.
This story was done in collaboration with the The Gnar Gnar Honeys.