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Cat Power

The Real Wild Kittens and the rise of Whistler’s women’s skate scene

A run-down ladies skate event in Ucluelet, B.C., a mini-ramp in the backyard of their Whistler house and a desire to bring something positive to a world that hadn’t seen much good news in quite some time: That’s all it took for Juliette Pelchat to become the spark that ignited the booming girls skate scene in Whistler.

“There was a lot of things going on in the world at that time,” says Juliette thinking back to summer 2020 when she and her sister Amalia brought the first Ladies Skate event to the Whistler Skate Park.

“COVID-19 was a big thing, and everybody was pretty down about that and Black Lives Matter. So we were like, ‘OK, we have to bring something good to the skate park, or something good in this world in these tough times,’ so we decided to host our first event,” she says. 

That first event saw only a handful of girls show up, but the Pelchats stuck with it and the following week more than 30 girls came out, showing there was a demand for a place girls could feel comfortable skating in Whistler. 

As the events quickly became a success, parents started asking Juliette, 16, and Amalia, 13, (Jubes and Billie as they are affectionately known) if they would babysit their kids at the skate park, to which the girls responded, “We don’t do babysitting, but we do private lessons.”

After launching the private lessons, they saw firsthand the appetite for girls’ skating here and decided to start a camp, which sold out with a dozen first-time skaters signed up. 

Soon enough, Juliette and Amalia were running weekly Ladies Skate events, private lessons and multi-day kids’ camps, and the Real Wild Kittens (RWK), how the group is known in town today, was born.

However, the origins of the Real Wild Kittens stretches back even farther. In fact, at the group’s inception, skateboarding wasn’t even on the radar. 

Growing up the daughters of legendary backcountry snowboarder JF Pelchat, their dad’s friends started calling Juliette and Amalia the “Wild Kittens,” a play on the name of his infamous snowboard crew, the Wildcats. 

And as they continued to follow in their father’s footsteps, and their passion for snowboarding grew, the name stuck and soon there were four girls—Maggie Crompton, Irie Smith and the Pelchats— known as the Real Wild Kittens tearing up the slopes of Whistler Blackcomb and sharing their tricks and shenanigans on the group’s Instagram page.

Fast-forward a few years and Juliette is now one of the best young snowboarders in the country, if not the world, so it comes as a bit of a surprise that it was skateboarding that really solidified the Read Wild Kittens name—and brand—and brought the newly formed company to where it is today.

“I would have never thought that we would have built something like a brand out of RWK if we hadn’t started skateboarding,” says Juliette.

“And I don’t even know if we would have started anything in snowboarding either. I think that we already had the social media platform and resources to start a girl’s initiative with RWK, [so] it was just convenient for us to use Real Wild Kittens and then it just mixed together.”

Despite it not being her main sport, who else but the bubbly, upbeat, mature-beyond-her-years, world-class athlete that is Juliette Pelchat, could handle being the driving force behind the rise of women’s skateboarding in Whistler, all while being described by some as the “future of women’s snowboarding?” 

That’s a label not just anybody can wear, and one that comes with plenty of pressure and expectations. But for Juliette, it’s exactly what she signed up for.

“I don’t really see it as a pressure, I just see it as goals that I want to attain for myself. I don’t really let other people’s expectations get into my head. I really just try and focus on what makes me happy,” she says. “Let’s say at one point I feel like I’m not doing it for myself, I think I’ll want to stop. But I’m really just doing everything for myself. 

“I snowboard for me. I skateboard for me. I don’t try to see it as pressure, I try to see it as drive, or people pushing me to get where I want to be.”

When she’s not travelling for snowboard training or at her family’s favourite getaway spot in Ucluelet, Juliette can be found on most summer days cruising around the Whistler Skate Park and giving tips to any young girls who happen to be there—even when she’s not officially running a camp.

But she didn’t get to this point overnight. 

Just like with so many other young girls trying to start skateboarding at a young age (13 in Juliette’s case), it was incredibly tough for her to be accepted by the guys, or even just to skate at the same time as them without being too nervous because there weren’t other girls around.

Luckily for Juliette and Amalia, they were raised by a mom who taught them to fight for their place in this male-dominated world all while encouraging and inspiring them to follow their passions, whatever they might be.

And it didn’t take long before that came full circle and Juliette and Amalia started inspiring their mom in return.

“I just think, even more than just the skateboarding thing, I did it, I’m raising teenage girls that are just shining, and I can’t believe that I have the raddest kids out there,” says Kristy La Mantia, Juliette and Amalia’s mother.

“And they inspire me. These girls know there are obstacles in their way, but they know they can overcome them, and they know that the power of the community is better than the power of one.

“I can’t even tell you how proud I am. They took something and they just flew with it, and they thrive with it. This is just a total proud mom moment, for sure.”

Juliette and Amalia’s fight unfortunately isn’t a new one. Ever since the inception of modern-day skateboarding dating back to 1970’s California, where Stacy Peralta, Tony Alva and Jay Adams, otherwise known as the Z-Boys from Dogtown (Venice Beach, Calif.), put skateboarding on the map, the sport has been dominated by males. From magazines to skate films, shoes, boards, video games and everything in between, the sport revolved and was marketed almost exclusively to men. 

And it’s been that way forever, at every level, even to this day, according to Team Canada skateboarder Maddy Balt, whose one hope for the sport over the coming years is to see more opportunity for women.

“We need to see more women in magazines,” she says.  “I’ll go to a store and pick up a magazine and even just flip through it to even see if a woman is inside. I don’t want to have to do that. I just want to know that there are dope women skating in that magazine.”

Balt, who started skateboarding at eight years old when she saw her friends’ older brothers doing it, was a natural from the get-go, and started to become good, fast.

But it was that same skill, and the fact there were no other girls skating in her hometown of Brooklin, Ont., that almost led her to giving up on the sport altogether. 

Once Balt grew to become better than the boys, many of whom out-aged her by several years, it didn’t take long before they “kicked her to the curb.”

“It all came down to this big game of Skate where I beat the boys,” Balt says about the classic game where you go trick-for-trick until you have a winner. “And they just had enough of this little girl. After that I just completely stopped skating; I didn’t even want to skate on my own anymore.”

After years of waning interest, Balt got back into the sport when the one and only girl she had ever met through skating asked her to go down to Toronto with her for a girl’s skateboarding meet-up. 

Two days before the event, Balt got on her board for the first time in years to shake off the rust before driving down into the city.

“I pulled up and there was like 20 girls at this skatepark, and I was so shocked,” she says. “It was honestly so insane. And after that I found my passion for skateboarding again and I’ve found these amazing women that I’ve been skating with, and it’s been all that I’ve done ever since.”

From there, Balt was convinced by her newfound community to join them

in entering a skateboard competition. That one led to another, which led to another and soon she was not only winning competitions but being invited to international events—and eventually to join the national team. 

You might think being a Team Canada skateboarder would exempt her from the funny looks and hurtful comments made by men, but that’s not the case.

To this day, Balt says she still feels the glare from men when she’s riding down the street or will be made uncomfortable by comments when she’s out practising. 

“I’ll be skating down the sidewalk and somebody sees me and they say, ‘Oh, do a kickflip’ because they assume that I can’t. And then when I do, I put them in their place a little bit,” she says. “Or I’ll be at the park trying a new trick that I have never landed, and a guy will come up to me and be like, ‘You’re on Team Canada and you can’t even do that? Why are you even bothering skating these contests?’ and it makes me feel super unwelcome, which is not cool.”

Despite there still being a long way to go in the sport, Balt believes that things are finally starting to change, especially with all the young talented girls making waves, like Britain’s 13-year-old phenom Sky Brown, Brazil’s Rayssa Leal, 13, or Canada’s Fay DeFazio Ebert, 11, who are stealing the show at major events like the X Games and Olympics.

At this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, five of the six medal winners on the girl’s side of the sport were under 17. 

And with more and more girl-centric skate groups like the Real Wild Kittens popping up around the globe, the recipe is in place for a huge surge of women skateboarders in the near future, many getting their start in small communities just like we are seeing in Whistler.

“I think that the Real Wild Kittens have probably affected [the women’s skateboarding boom] in a good way. One girl goes and has a good time, and she wants to bring all of her friends. it’s just a natural flow of young blood coming in,” says Balt.

“I go to the Whistler Skate Park pretty much every day and there’s almost not a day that I go that I don’t see a new a girl there trying skating and it’s really incredible to see groups of young girls skating around with their friends. That’s something that I’ve never witnessed before until here. It almost makes me a little bit jealous.”

The Kittens achieved its original goal of giving girls in the community a safe place to learn to skate, but with Juliette’s inherent drive, she wanted to take it farther. Soon the private lessons and summer camps turned into a legitimate business called Real Wild Kittens Holdings Inc., quite the feat for someone who is still three months away from her 17th birthday. 

“Just owning Real Wild Kittens and doing this, they have learned how to do a payroll and learned how to do a mini-budget. They have schedules and they have Instagram and marketing, they are reaching out to sponsors,” says La Mantia. “[Juliette] has so much business and leadership qualities. [She] knows how to run a business at 16. [Her and Amalia] are learning so much, it’s crazy.”

But even though RWK has become a legitimate business, it’s not unusual for La Mantia to get people asking her what the girls are doing with their hard-earned money, and whether it all goes toward charity, which can often rub Juliette the wrong way.

“I don’t think they understand. I want parents to know that they are not paying for their kids to skateboard. They are paying for their kids to participate and be part of a girls’ community and learn a new sport, a new skill,” says Juliette, who puts a lot of the money they make back into the RWK in the form of insurance, hiring coaches as well as stickers, shirts and other prizes that they give away to the girls.

“And it goes beyond skateboarding: how to encourage each other, park etiquette, and if you fall, get back up and try again, because falling is part of the sport.”

No matter who you are, trying to balance running a business, snowboard training, finishing high school with good grades and still having time for some sort of a social life is a tall task. 

And when it all starts to get to be too much, Juliette can take solace in the fact that she’s got her sister to fall back on for support.

“I’m super stoked to be doing it with my sister and I’m stoked that we are sharing the same passions, which is really awesome,” she says. “I’m just super stoked on what we’ve started, and it makes us feel great. We’re giving back and we love it.”

However, running a business with family isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. And as is often the case between siblings, there are times where they can get on each other’s nerves. For the highly competitive Juliette, a big example of that came last year when she realized Amalia had become a better skateboarder than her. 

“I was travelling for snowboarding and every time that I was [away], she was getting better than me. I’d always be looking on Instagram and she’s posting something and I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ At the start it really made me kind of bummed on myself, and I didn’t want to skateboard that much so I kind of stopped trying last year,” says Juliette.

“But this year it actually lit a fire under me to get better, and I’ve actually improved a lot more this year, even if I’m still not quite as good as her. We kind of feed off each other and we’ve learned how to ride with each other more this year with the competitiveness—but in a good way, in a positive way.”

For Amalia, having that feather in her cap by overtaking her sister, who she says is “so good at everything,” is a huge boost to her confidence, especially when facing down the nerve-wracking position of having to take over the camps as soon as next year when Juliette will potentially be out of the country to snowboard for most of the summer. 

But just like her older sister, Amalia is up for any challenge that comes her way.

“I think [taking over the camps] is actually fine. I’m excited for it. My sister is obviously still going to be doing everything behind the scenes and she’ll be helping me. I just need to be here and take charge and it’s good for me to take charge, I need to do that, I feel like,” she says. 

“There’s a bit of nerves, obviously, because sometimes there’s problems and [Juliette] always knows how to solve them and I’ll just need to get into it. But I feel like after I do it for a bit, I’ll get into the groove and then it will be a bit easier, but still a bit [nerve-wracking].”

Despite Juliette’s potentially scarce involvement in the actual coaching and running of the camps moving forward, the Real Wild Kittens aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, Juliette’s got big plans for the future of the Kittens, perhaps even as big as her goal of being the “best female snowboarder in the world.”

“I have a huge vision for it. I can see the skateboard aspect of it growing to other parts of Canada. I also wanted to start making actual clothing to sell and stuff like that. I would like to create a website,” says Juliette while envisioning all the ways she sees the Kittens growing in the future, including getting involved in social issues like the environmental movement and the protests at Fairy Creek.

“I see a lot of stuff happening in the future, I’d also like to make skate decks; that would be sick, Real Wild Kittens skate decks. I don’t know, just making more products that we could give away and share with the girls.”

Even if things don’t shake out quite the way she envisions it, while she admits it would be disappointing, Juliette would still be happy knowing that she has inspired a whole new generation of shredders in Whistler.

“It’s hard for me to describe the feeling that you get from all of it. It’s just obviously positive and really rewarding in a way, just to see that they are all feeding off each other and you had something to do with that and you were a part of that is really sick. It just makes me really stoked; stoked and happy is the main feeling,” says Juliette.

“But I feel like I would still be kind of bummed if we didn’t evolve more, because I know that we can make a bigger difference in female sports, I know that. And I see it evolving in the future maybe even outside of skateboarding.”

A prime example of that new generation of skaters are Indi and Ally Hickman, who started skating last year at eight and 10 years old, respectively, and are already dropping in on the nine-foot ramp at the skate park thanks to the confidence Juliette, Amalia and the Real Wild Kittens have instilled in them.

“We look up to them because they teach us a lot and we love hanging out with them and being around them,” says Indi. “They always teach us some really cool tricks and we love to skate, and we’ve gotten much more confident doing all our tricks and they push us a lot and they get us to the level that we can do more tricks and it keeps going on.” 

Now with summer, and the Kittens skateboard camps, wrapping up, Juliette can start to shift focus to all the other things in her life like snowboarding and finishing school on the honour roll. And she can finally take a break from the Real Wild Kittens’ busy summer schedule while she dives headfirst into her even busier fall and winter schedule and tries to figure out what she wants to do after high school—aside from continuing to grow the Real Wild Kittens, of course.

“I can see the brand evolving a lot. Once I find a vision in snowboarding, I really want to share my passion in [that] as well, I just got to find something to intertwine it,” Juliette says. “But yeah, just [being] girls-oriented and changing the male dominance in sport, I think that’s the main vision.”

As I walk up to the skate park on a crisp September afternoon with my own skateboard in hand, inspired by the badass girls of the Real Wild Kittens to take up the sport, it’s easy to see how Juliette’s vision has already begun to take shape. Among the approximately 20 guys skating the park, there is a handful of girls right beside them, dropping in and tearing up the park with no signs of fear whatsoever. Even just three years ago, that’s not something you’d ever see. But now, it’s just part of the norm in Whistler. 

 

Changing the narrative 

The Real Wild Kittens are just one example of a fast-growing international women’s movement that has similar girls skate groups cropping up all around the world like GirlSwirl in California, Nefarious Skate Crew in London, Skate Kitchen in Brooklyn and New Zealand-based Waa Hine Skate and Grind Girls.

And nearly all of them have eerily similar origin stories as the Real Wild Kittens. 

Bailey Te Maipi, founder of Waa Hine Skate—named after the Maori words for “time” and “women”—started skateboarding at just six years old but quit a few years later after not having any other girls to skate with. But like others with similar stories, it was finally finding other girls that re-ignited Te Maipi’s passion. 

And after working and coaching at a company called On Board Skate during university—with Grind Girl’s founder Jasmine Tenheuval—Te Maipi branched off to start her own girls’ skate group.

“I was at [university] and really found a passion for teaching girls to skateboard,” she says. “I just wanted to create an environment for girls where they were able to see other girls doing it and that it wasn’t an abnormal thing to see other girls at the skate park and just encouraging and empowering other women to give it a go.”

For her and Tenheuval, who both describe themselves as introverted, running these groups has not only given a whole new generation of girls a place to skate but has also done wonders for growing their own confidence.

“I was definitely a shy kid so I was never brave enough to go to the skate park, especially alone. But now I don’t mind so much because I’ve grown my confidence skating, and going with the other girls it’s less intimidating,” says Tenheuval.

“And it’s really grown my confidence outside of skating, too. It’s grown me and my friends closer. It’s just really cool to see girls getting involved. Skating has even got me into doing a leadership program at the moment, too. I never would have done that if it wasn’t for skating.”

Despite its founding members facing similar barriers to enter the sport as other groups around the globe, Brooklyn’s Skate Kitchen didn’t form with the same mission at top of mind—they simply loved skating together. 

“That’s the thing, we never actually had a goal. We just really wanted to stick together, we wanted to have fun among each other and feel comfortable because at the time it was really uncomfortable to skate alone especially if you were a girl around a lot of guys,” says Dede Lovelace, one of the co-founders of Skate Kitchen and the star of the HBO series Betty. 

“So we all knew what that felt like and the fact that we were able to come together, skate and just enjoy each other’s company so organically, we wanted to just really keep that going. There was never any intentions of like creating a skate group and making it this whole movement. It just kind of became that, which is really nice.”

Skate Kitchen, got its start when two of the girls, Rachelle Vinberg and Nina Moran, were spotted on the subway with their skateboards by film director Crystal Moselle who was inspired to make a short film. So Moran reached out to Lovelace, who then called some of her friends, and they all got together to shoot That One Day. 

After that, the girls, most of whom had just graduated high school, decided to continue hanging out and skating together. They started an Instagram page and called themselves Skate Kitchen, a play on the often-used derogatory comment seen by Vinberg on YouTube skate videos that would tell women to go back to the kitchen.

From there, the girls in Skate Kitchen kept in contact with Moselle and eventually got back together to do a feature film named after their group.

“We did the feature film [Skate Kitchen] and then HBO showed interest in the movie and Crystal was like, ‘What do you guys think about doing a show?’ So it kind of just became this snowball effect,” says Lovelace about the how they all ended up starring in HBO’s Betty. “We just kept working with each other, we enjoyed working with each other, and we wanted to tell this story, especially because skateboarding has had such a major impact on all of us, so we just kept it going.” 

But despite the different reasons for starting their group, the confidence and sense of community that Skate Kitchen instilled was the same for Te Maipi, Tenheuval, the Pelchat sisters and nearly all the young girls who became a part of these groups. 

And with that confidence came a building momentum that has seen the sport blossom in their hometowns. 

“Oh my goodness, I see so many girls skating and we just keep seeing more and more girls every year and it just keeps growing and growing,” says Lovelace. “And now there’s queer skaters and non-binary and just a lot of different people that you didn’t really see in the beginning. So it’s changed tremendously and not just here in New York.”

Moving forward, Skate Kitchen, Grind Girls, Waa Hine Skate and the Real Wild Kittens are all working towards the same goal: not only growing the women’s side of the sport but seeing themselves represented in the culture as well.  

“Hopefully we get more support from major brands and stuff like that. I know that much more women are becoming pro, which is awesome and so hopefully that sees more growth in the women’s skateboarding space not only on a board but off a board as well, like videography, photography and owning skate shops,” says Te Maipi.

“I think everyone around the world is now seeing skating in a different way, and seeing those girls at the Olympics is going to change so many people’s minds about what girls can do on a skateboard and that they are not just at skate parks to find a boyfriend. So I just hope that that narrative changes.”