Meet the Australian turning the world’s skate parks into safer, inclusive spaces.
Kirby Clark never really went for organised sports when she was a kid. The self-proclaimed ‘drama nerd’ was too angsty, too rebellious and too into punk music for things that required team collaboration like netball, basketball and footy. That same spirit led Kirby to skateboarding.
Skating opened up Kirby’s world. “As skaters, we see that there's form beyond the function of what things were originally designed for,” Kirby says from their Melbourne home. “[When I started] everything turned into a playground; a curb or a rail was something that I could skate. My entire perspective changed.
”Kirby also loved the social aspect, and how skateboarding attracted different types of people who were all tied together by a few common threads: they were adventurous, open to taking risks and – more often than not – a little bit rebellious. In fact, skating is how Kirby met most of their friends. When she travels, it’s always with her board. “I go and find a skate spot, and that’s how I meet people,” she says.
In 2015, after reaching a crossroads with work and life, Kirby decided to combine three of their spheres of influence to give back to the community: what she was professionally trained in (design), what she was good at (connecting people with what they need), and what she loved (skating). And Decks for Change was born.
Decks for Change is an organisation that hosts events and sells skateboard artwork to fundraise for the creation of skate parks in areas that lack the infrastructure to create them for themselves. To date, Decks For Change has supported builds in Nepal and Iraqi Kurdistan, with a new park underway in Timor-Leste. And Kirby is thrilled to see that most skaters coming to the parks are girls and young women. “Traditionally, you wouldn't see many women and girls at skate parks in Australia, because we've learned that this is for the boys. It's a male-dominated space,” Kirby says. “But in these new areas, where they've never seen a skate park before, it's for everyone.”
Along with creating safe, welcoming spaces for women and non-men, Kirby’s aim is to design and build sustainable and regenerative skate parks – though they acknowledge this is a huge challenge for the broader skateboarding community. “Concrete is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the construction industry. And skate parks are made of solid concrete,” she says. “We’re looking at the way that we build parks, the materials that we use, and making sure that what's included in the park gives back to the environment and to the community, rather than taking or creating emissions.
”One of Kirby’s proudest moments through developing these parks is seeing first-hand how girls, women and non-binary folk are redefining the skate park. “In the western world of skateboarding, there's a lot of gatekeeping and ownership. You’ve got to wear your clothes a certain way, or call tricks by their proper names,” Kirby says. “But in these areas where skateboarding is relatively new, there are no rules. You can create it in any way that you want.”
For Kirby and the Decks for Change team, inclusivity and safety is at the heart of what they do. “First and foremost, all kids have a right to play, whatever form that takes,” she says. “Play is extremely important to having ownership over your world.”
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