No Comply Coven is the witchy all-girl skate crew making boys in Johannesburg cry.
Okay, not really. They’re witchy, but they’re not making boys cry. Rather, their dedication to the simple sport of skateboarding has solicited everything from insults to rape threats. Why? Well, because they’re a bunch of girls on skateboards. It really sounds bizarre, that someone would threaten another with physical violence for skateboarding as if skateboarding doesn’t inflict enough violence by virtue of its nature. But there’s something about a woman on a skateboard that threatens the traditional masculinity of the sport, still rife in 2018.
When compiling this, I had a flashback to a Vice article from 2009 in which a straight man attempted to “make-over” a professional female skateboarder. The article is invasive and downright violent, and one would assume that nearly 10 years later a mentality like this would have dissolved along with the debate of Vampires vs Werewolves and Harry Potter tattoos. Alas, men are still telling the No Comply Coven to f*ck off from skate parks, even after hours.
The No Comply Coven started when Alicia Van Zyl, the group’s founder, turned 30 in August 2017. She’d been skating on and off all her life and decided that it was time to get back on the board. The gang got together in September, and by October had grown to 18 members strong, skating together 3 times a week. That was before the rain. All the women have day jobs, so skating after hours is their only option, and Johannesburg’s summer afternoon showers consistently got in the way of their sessions. Down to one skate a week, they were confined to underground parking lots due to the lack of availability of indoor skate parks in the city.
The crew initially formulated as an initiative to skate for good. That meant things like donating blood as a group and distributing essential items to people in need while skating the streets of Johannesburg. It didn’t take long, however, before the powers that be (yup, patriarchy) brought them down. “Every time I’d post about a ladies session, guys would make the most effed up comments. Everything from ‘fuck off’ and ‘girls can’t skate’ to rape jokes and threats. It’s something a lot of the girls (including myself) have experienced when showing up at a park alone, but I never thought a group session would also elicit reactions like this,” says Alicia. Now, they focus on encouraging and empowering women to have the confidence to skate wherever, whenever.
Alicia also commented on why she named the crew a Coven, and she explained that she’s inspired by the way fictional witches (like Terry Pratchett’s Granny Weatherwax from the Discworld) do things that they’re not supposed to do, or that no one thinks they can do. It’s a common theme adopted by femme-centric skate crews, take New York’s Brujas for example, and before, them the Skate Witches of the 80s – punks who pushed boys off their boards and stole them. “Also,” says Alicia, “skating is totally like magic. You have a plank on wheels and not only do you ride around on it, but you can do tricks with it and fly through the air like a witch on her broom. Really, we should be asking ourselves if all skaters aren’t witches.”
The ladies sessions themselves have been met with a lot of resistance from some of the park locals. Organised after-hours, when parks would be closed anyway, the women are still harassed by guys who think they’re stealing their park time and telling them to skate elsewhere. Alicia highlights that the biggest problem, in her opinion, is that the nice guys are too nice to be vocal about the bullshit to the always-very-vocal-shitheads. “You know that famous saying, ‘the only thing necessary for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing’? That’s true AF. Even though these dudes have our backs in person, when guys attack us on social media, it often becomes a battle of the sexes because no guys are willing to stand with us against these d*ckholes.” That’s why the women unite on a front because they’re strong in their numbers. Even so, their numbers are minute within the landscape of South African skateboarding. That’s what makes this crew so pertinent; they are non-exclusive, so anyone can join and when you skate with them once, you’re part of the Coven. The challenge is to create a safe space where everyone can skate.
In spite of the resistance, skaters of all levels are welcome, which means whether you’ve been turning tricks or you’re a fresh grom, you have a place at No Comply. The first session is always the most intimidating, but if you keep it up you won’t be a noob for long. There’s tons of support from the crew, and there are good guys around who keep the others in check. Among the crew is the prominent Kelly Murray, one of the better skaters in the country. A coach for Skateistan, a movement which empowers young girls on skateboards, Kelly’s helped many of the women hone their skills on the board and is one to watch out for in local and international skate competitions.
Regardless of the challenges, the No Comply Coven has faced, they’re still shredding as often as they can. They’re at the Skate Emporium on Tuesdays, and YBF on Thursdays, but have dreams to one day open a multi-purpose indoor skate park of their own. A “coworking space, retail space, exhibition / live event space and tattoo parlour that fosters women in the creative industry and teaches young girls to skate but also that they can kill it in any industry.” They plan to host events to fund this space, and possibly launch a clothing line, so if anyone reading this has a ton of money they’re looking to invest, get in touch and make some dreams come true. If anyone reading this happens to be a woman wanting to get on a board, just rock up or contact them on Instagram. They strongly highlight that gear is not lame. “I’d much rather wear gear and be able to skate after a gnarly slam than “look cool” without gear and be off my board for six weeks while my bones heal. Not skating is lame. Gear is not lame,” says Alicia.
Groups like this are helping to shift the patriarchal landscape in their own way, by empowering one another and helping to develop skills among fellow women. The more women we see skating, the less we’ll think of it as a “dude’s thing”. So grab some wheels and go play. The bruises will be totally worth it.
*All images sourced from FNC Facebook page