Like any other girl of her age, Atita Verghese had thought of going to college after she finished school in 2012. But she also deeply felt that there was something missing in her school education. Always different from other students at schools, Atita didn’t like the monotonous teaching methods adopted at her school and wanted to learn something new before getting back to her studies.
It helped that her family couldn’t afford college immediately and she took a year off after school. It was then that she discovered skateboarding.
“I was seen as a failure at school. I never liked it, but I always loved to learn. In our country, schools don’t understand the needs of individual children and do not help open our young, powerful minds to the highest potential,” she says.
Atita got her first skateboard from the HolyStoked Collective in Bengaluru and skateboarding introduced her to a completely different world. She started travelling, exploring the world and trying out new things.
She realised that she was learning much more about the world now than she was learning at school. She knew that she had found her mission – to encourage more girls to take up skateboarding.
“My mother is an acid attack survivor. She was attacked because she liked to wear western clothes in her small town. Was that a mistake? I don’t think so. It was self-expression.”
In 2013, together with the HolyStoked Collective, Atita and her friends built a skate park in Bengaluru and they began teaching skateboarding to underprivileged children.
They also helped them with English and Math, and taught photography skills. The team received support from a German NGO to build many similar skate parks across the country.
Atita started Girl Skate India, which is an online community to encourage girls and women to start skateboarding and to help build a large community of female skateboarders in India. Atita and her friends at the HolyStoked Collective have helped build 10 skate parks in different locations in India and five abroad. At the skate park near Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu, international skateboarding legend Tony Hawk recently photographed a six-year old girl happily skating. He posted the picture on Facebook, where it became an instant hit.
In December 2015, Atita and the Girl Skate India team organised India’s first all-girls skateboarding tour, covering four locations in India – Bengaluru, Goa, Kovalam (Tamil Nadu) and Hampi (Karnataka). Atita brought together 12 female skateboarders from nine different countries and they travelled in a bus to the different locations, spreading the message of skateboarding and also helping to build another skate park in Bengaluru. The team made a video of the tour, which was screened at Berkeley, California recently (watch the official teaser here).
Atita’s dream is to make skateboarding in India a movement as big as Skateistan, which started in Afghanistan and has now also spread to Cambodia and South Africa. 40% of Skateistan’s skateboard enthusiasts are girls and 60% come from underprivileged backgrounds.
“Skateboarding is an activity, a sport, a culture, a lifestyle and a family. Skateboarding is a lot like life – if you fall, then you need to get back up. And you need to keep pushing.”