Blessing Ewona may not have been born on a board, but she’s definitely born to be on a board. Blessing treats the board like she treats most things in her life: with relentless work and a mindset determined to overcome anything. Unlike most other forms of relentless work though, there is genuine enjoyment with skating that she can’t seem to find anywhere else. “It’s hard to describe to people who don’t skate”, she told FEMME MAG, “People don’t really understand why we do it, injure ourselves and get back up and go again. It just makes you feel free… like you’re flying.”
Blessing first started skating in 2020, not too long after moving to Lagos. She needed a change of scenery, to see if there was more to life than Calabar where she grew up, and Lagos has always sold itself as the place where everything happens. “I was looking around like…am I going to be here forever? Is this life? You just work and then meet some man, and marry and have kids and that’s it? God forbid”. As most people soon find out though, Lagos is also the kind of city that chews you up and spits you out in a heartbeat. It’s easy to get lost in all the lights, the chaos–everything is always moving here. “I felt kind of lost when I first got here. I went to the stadium to clear my head, just think about what I wanted to do next, and I was watching a skater. I was probably staring too hard because he noticed me looking and he asked me if I wanted to try.” She did. And once she got on the board, something clicked for her–this was where she was meant to be.
“I skated almost every day. I just wanted to get better, I didn’t really care about tricks…with skating you have to start small. You learn to balance, you learn to push, and then the next thing and the next thing…it takes time”. She was dedicated though, practicing alone at first, and then finding a group of other skaters to roll with. She was often the only girl in these spaces, but she didn’t really care at first, and she definitely didn’t want to be a token. “I don’t see myself as a “girl skater”. I’m just a girl who skates. I don’t like it when people make the girl thing a big deal…”
Soon enough though, she did start to feel the absence of other girls, and in typical Blessing Ewona fashion, when presented with a problem (a distinct lack of girls and the gays on board…) her first instinct was to work to solve it. She started to think seriously about how she could cultivate a community of girls and queer people in Nigeria who would support each other through the skating journey. She knew they were out there, she saw the responses she was getting for the skate clips she posted on Instagram, the comments from young women who loved what she was doing, who expressed a desire to skate but didn’t seem to know where to start. She’d encourage them to come out and skate with her.
That was how I met Blessing. First, I interviewed her for an article (it was kind of a moment–a cultural reset one could say…), and then I met up with her afterward to skate. I’d been a casual skater for a couple of years, always down to get on a board when presented with one, but I never really felt confident about it. I’d get self-conscious, stiff, feeling like a newbie even though I’d done it all before. I’d noticed though, that I didn’t really feel like that when I skated with other queer women–there was something about the way we encouraged each other. There was a lack of judgment, a willingness to meet each other wherever we were at. That’s what skating with Blessing felt like, she’s good at pushing you to pick yourself back up when you don’t land a trick just right, hyping you up when you do. Another girl pulled up to join us, and even though she started off shaky, by the end of the day she was visibly more comfortable on a board.
That’s the power of community support, it gives you the confidence to do things you never imagined you’d be able to do. As we walked together to get our rides home later in the day, we mused about the idea of more girls joining us, of being a part of an actual crew. At the time it seemed a little wild, but for Blessing, a seed was planted in her mind and that seed sprouted to what we now know as Dencity— a community of skaters across Nigeria creating a safe space for girls and queer people to learn and grow together.
Since April of this year, Dencity — a name inspired by Blessing’s own middle name, Eden — has been holding skate sessions every Saturday in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt. Blessing is based in Lagos, so she’s been holding Dencity sessions over at National Stadium–which is where most skaters, rollerbladers and BMX bikers in Lagos come together to roll freely. Skaters in Abuja meet in a couple of places, but mainly at their own National Stadium, and in Port Harcourt, the girls get together at Uniport Arena on Wednesdays and the Pleasure Park parking lot on Thursdays.
Most of us try to find some time to skate throughout the week, but the Dencity group chat on WhatsApp keeps us connected–we tell each other what days we’re skating, where we’ll be and for how long, and then we link up with each other when things line upright. Saturday skate sessions are kind of sacred, though–turnout tends to fluctuate (because life…) but if you come often enough it’s the same people. Like Fikayo (22), a Dencity member from Abuja who had always wanted to be a skater, but didn’t quite see herself represented in the media about skate culture. “It felt like an impossible dream because I live in Nigeria and skateboarding is almost completely inaccessible–it’s hard to get boards, and there’s a complete lack of infrastructure…but the second I stepped on a board I felt glorious, powerful…unstoppable,” she said. “It’s one of the best things to happen to me–it’s hard to feel welcome into the skating community when you’re not a straight man. There’s a lot of casual misogyny and condescending attitudes to people who aren’t men. When I saw that first poster for a girls’ skate meetup, I knew I had to be there.”
Every new girl that joins Dencity or even just expresses a desire to get on a board represent the future of skating in Lagos: it shows that young girls are interested in exploring these scenes that have historically been male-dominated and considered too “Western” to partake in, that they’re not scared to challenge the gendered expectations of a country like Nigeria. It’s a good sign of that and times are changing.
Since establishing Dencity, Blessing has been blown away by the positive response–both from people at home, and from skaters from around the world. “There’s a woman in Brazil, she’s been skating since the 90’s, she hit me up on Instagram to say that she really loves what we’re doing…that was one of the moments for me where I was like, ‘woah, something is actually happening here’. For people in other countries to be paying attention to a group of girls skating in Nigeria…it’s really motivating”. And then there’s the cosign from pages like Black Girls Skate, an Instagram dedicated to highlighting black girls in a global skating scene that tends to lean more white, and male. “When they followed the page, I was so excited…I’ve been following them for a while, and to see them repost our clips and know that they’re actually paying attention. That felt really good.”
Obviously, there are some challenges too. Mostly with getting people to come out and keep coming out. “There are lots of girls who say they’re interested, but for whatever reason, they just don’t show up, or they show up once and you never see them again”. It’s important to Blessing that Dencity is an actual community, that people are actually dedicated to doing the work that comes with that–supporting each other, practicing their skating, pushing themselves. “I don’t want to be the only one getting the spotlight when people talk about girls skating in Lagos. I don’t care about that stuff, I want more of us to have the opportunities to show that there are more of us…”.
One issue that stops people from showing up is a lack of boards–a lot of people want to skate, but they don’t have the gear. Dencity has been able to secure a few boards–with the help of people like Slawn (a Nigerian visual artist with a distinct style and a penchant for getting people to punch each other in the face just to get their hands on a piece, which I personally think is iconic and insane…) and 9EN (a Lagos based skate crew), who saw what Dencity was doing and provided a couple of boards to help out the cause. There’s always a need for gear though, and one of Blessing’s long-term goals is to make sure most of the girls have boards. That, and to foster more of that community feel. “I can’t talk about all of it,” she says, “but I have some ideas for events that we can have, just little fun things where people can get to know each other. Not just in Lagos, everywhere we have girls skating in Nigeria I want them to have a community. That’s what this is all for–to make sure everyone has the support they need. If I can provide that, then I feel like I’ve done what I’m meant to do.”