HOW TO: Build A Surf and Skate Community
Photo of Kristen (L), Photo of Nico (R) by Alexandra Uzik
The story of Nico Klimek and Kristen Miller's friendship is a meet-cute for the digital age. Their Instagram feeds, both showcasing a love of skateboarding in New York City, brought the two women together in a search of something more: building a community for women through both skating and surfing. Not long after, the duo started Ladies on Board, a group for women who wanted to hit the pavement and the waves with a crew. They have also been involved in all-female retreats for surfing, skating, and yoga, and soon, Kristen will be bringing GRLSWIRL to the streets of NYC.
Learn how Nico and Kristen started their own surf and skate groups in NYC, and how you can get your own community off the ground and into the water.
The crew from one of Nico and Kristen's meet-ups
When did you start surfing? Tell us about your surf community.
Nico: I think my first time trying surfing I was about 12, but I was only at the shore for about a week every summer. I really got into surfing when I was in college, and now I am at the beach almost every weekend in the summer.
Being a surfer and snowboarder, I started dabbling in skate and started out longboarding when I moved to Brooklyn. It wasn't until recently that I got a board for parks. To me, parks are the most intimidating environment. There are all these amazing skaters there doing their thing, and it's predominantly male-dominated. The female skate community is what really gave me the courage to go to the park. There is something about having a support system there that just makes everything more enjoyable and less intimidating.
Kristen: I never had any other girls to skate with until House of Vans started doing these private sessions for girls only. The events were sponsored by The Skate Kitchen – a local New York all-girls skate crew, and they were SO inspiring. They helped me learn to drop in, and the courage and power they gave, not only me, but every other girl there was so beyond incredible and addicting.
From there, I made a few friends and skated with them, but it took me another couple of months to form my core group of friends in the skateboarding world. Skateboarding can be a really competitive and stressful environment, and I found my family after putting the work in. I started hitting up people on Instagram that I saw lived in Brooklyn and asked them if they wanted to go skating, which is actually how I met Nico – who has hosted an all-girls Yoga Skate and Surf Retreat. I started surfing a few years ago because my friend Ashley's boyfriend hand-makes surfboards, and I just had to have one. I've been introduced to their friends and we now have a cute group we go with in the summertime!
Nico during a surf trip, photo by London Harmon
How did you get the idea for you surf+skate group? How do you turn an idea into a reality?
Nico: It's a really casual and organic creation. I was teaching yoga this summer at Solfire BK, and as the weather got chillier, I asked if I could use the space to host meet-ups, and they were super supportive. From there, I just got the word out through Instagram – basically saying that any girl boarder (skate, surf, snow) should come to Solfire BK for this meet-up, so we can meet one another and connect locally. There were no boards or boarding involved, just hanging out, sharing some laughs and the beginning of building the foundation.Kristen: I've always had a passion for getting girls together on boards. In such a male-dominated space, I really believe it’s up to US to create space for ourselves. My friend Lucy, founder of GRLSWIRL in Venice, CA was a huge part of what inspired me to find more girls in Brooklyn. Then I met Nico because Lucy reposted one of her skateboarding photos, and the rest was history. We became friends and Nico had the idea to start Ladies on Board. We're currently in talks with GRLSWIRL about starting a New York SWIRL group so stay tuned.
I would say to start your own. You gotta be out and doing it as often as you can be. Arrange skate or surf meet-ups every week. If you can do more, do more. AND start a group chat with everyone you meet to keep everyone connected as a community.
Kristen enlightened by the bowl
How do you find people to join in? Specifically, how do you reach out to them?
Nico: Instagram is such an amazing tool and so is word of mouth. I think every single lady that came to the initial meet-up heard about the event either through an Instagram post or a friend.
Kristen: I meet people everywhere – from Instagram to the skatepark. I usually smile at any other girl I see out skating or surfing, and sometimes those smiles spark conversation. I like physical human connection the most. Trust yourself! You can do it!
How do you keep people coming back to the group?
Nico: It's more about keeping people involved. It's really challenging because putting something together takes time, so when no one shows up it can be a letdown. It's important to remember that people are busy, so it's often hard to find a time that works for everyone. Our group takes a lot of involvement from everyone. Any girl can write a message and say she heard about an event or wants to go skate.
Kristen: MAKE SPACE. The most important thing you can do that everyone craves – including myself – is create the SPACE for someone to do what they want to do. This isn't just physical space, but a feeling of acceptance and belonging in that community you're building. There will be people who come once and never return, and that's OK! But most of the time, people will come back because what you're doing is fucking awesome.
Photo of Kristen (L), Photo of Nico (R) by Hannah Obst
What are some specific ideas that are important to bring to a surf community?
Nico: Surfing is about having fun. It's crazy how much a day of surfing can shift from one person out in the water acting like a jerk. We have to remember that everyone is a beginner once and surfing is not easy to learn. If someone drops in on you or cuts you off and they're obviously new, cut them a break!
Kirsten: Be open-minded. You might not get along with every single person. But when you connect with people who really want to be there, it is a magical, life-long-friend-making kind of feeling that never fades. Being empowered by others who love the same things you do is a wonderful feeling, don't forget that we're all here to have fun and do what we love.
How do we start our own surf or skate group? Can you give us some pointers?
Pointer 1: Reach out!
Ask questions, make friends, find your tribe. Don't be scared to make the first move. If you see a girl on her skateboard or carrying a surfboard, go introduce yourself and say hello :)
Pointer 2: Go to events.
People put a lot of time and effort to create meet-ups and get-togethers, so if you know of one and you're available, go! Find groups like Ladies on Board, GRLSWIRL, Quell Skateboarding, and others that inspire you every day to get on board, connect with your community, and make friends!
POINTER 3: Make things happen.
You want to go skate? You want to go to the beach for the day? Let your community know. You'll be pleasantly surprised by how many ladies want to tag along.
Pointer 4: COMMIT TO IT.
A lot of the work I do is set up times and places for people to meet up. If people can come, GREAT. If they can't come, then I still go out and skate/surf. And more often than not, I meet new people to join the group.
Anything else to expect once it's up and running?
Nico: It's more about putting feelers out and finding those friends that are always down to surf. I think the easiest thing to do is be friendly. I always wear a waterproof watch when I am surfing, and I make sure everyone can see it because surfers always need to know the time but forget to wear a watch... So I get asked for the time a lot. It's a great conversation starter.
Kristen: Get ready to smile, have fun, be silly, fall down a lot, and create memories and friends that'll last forever.