Decades of documenting US skateboard culture from a woman’s perspective

Decades of documenting US skateboard culture from a woman’s perspective

In her new book, Fulfill the Dream, photographer Magdalena Wosinska reflects on her journey through skate culture from the 90s to present day.

One day in 1995, when Magdalena Wosinska was 12 years old, she approached the group of skater boys at her Arizona school. Her family had moved from Katowice in Poland to the USA only a few years before, and since then, she had struggled to acclimatise to her new desert surroundings.

“When you’re an eight-year-old kid and you’re super comfortable at home and you get to America, you’re like: ‘What the fuck is this? I don’t understand what language you guys are speaking, your clothes are weird, everyone is weird,’” Wosinska recalls. “That culture shock I think irked me for the rest of my life because kids are mean, they bully you if you eat different food and you don’t speak English so it’s not easy to fit in.”

That day though, she was determined to change the narrative. With short spiky hair, and clutching a skateboard that her father recently bought her, she said to the boys “look, I’m one of you guys, let’s be friends”, before pushing off on the board and almost as quickly ending up splayed across the floor. They didn’t want to be her friend, and she was resigned to going to the skatepark on her own and teaching herself how to do ollies in her cul-de-sac.

“I saw the skater kids being their own little group of misfits, and so I was like ‘let me jump in and connect with these people because they feel like outsiders too so maybe I can be an outsider with them,” she says. “But the thing is they were all dudes and I was a girl so I was still an outsider in a group of outsiders.”

Two years later, Wosinska bought her first camera, a compact Nikon F5, which soon became her window to friendship groups and skate scenes. “I would walk into a new scene, and it was terrifying to walk into a house party or someone’s backyard with a mini ramp, even though it seemed cool. But I’d always have my camera with me and it was like a kind of shield, an armour – it gives me reason to be here.”

Before she knew it, Wosinska moved from documenting her friends at the local skatepark to pro-skaters on editorial shoots across the USA, striking up friendships and shooting sport legends like Chad Muska, Erik Ellington, Austyn Gillette, Ed Templeton and many more. Now, she reflects on her journey, and digs out hundreds of photographs from her archive and presents them in her new photobook Fulfill the Dream.

It's a wide-ranging look at skateboard culture from the late ‘90s to the present day from a woman’s perspective. Throughout its pages, the pictures showcase the many sides of life as a skater – there’s carefully framed, professional shots from magazine shoots placed next to candid shots of friends drinking, partying and just generally hanging out.

But on top of the ollies and kickflips, the book goes deep into Wosinska’s personal story. Weaving text throughout the photographs, she reveals in granular, occasionally disquieting detail the ups and downs she faced as a migrant, a teenager trying to find her place, and then a woman navigating a male dominated world.

Her story is one of rebellion and resilience. “I mean it was our version of [hit TV show] Euphoria,” she says of her younger years, with a laugh. “Just without cell phones – everybody did drugs, we went to raves, we robbed houses, we were drinking, we were shoplifting. It was fucking gnarly, until I got caught robbing a house and then had to pick up trash on the side of the freeway in 110 degree weather because I was about to go to juvie, but in Arizona there wasn’t a lot going on so you made the most of what you could.”

Ultimately, Fulfill the Dream is Wosinska’s way of closing a chapter. Now aged 40, she’s still finding new ways to express herself. “The minute I stepped into America it was like I needed to be seen and heard, and had to be strong,” she says. “And that’s an immigration thing that probably naturally put me into a very male-dominated world of skateboarding. I skated from 12 to 20, then aged 20 to 30 played guitar in a metal band, then 30 to 40 I was directing commercials and shooting motorcycles for ad jobs – I was always choosing these male roles.

“And now I’m 40, I don’t fucking give a fuck, I don’t want to improve myself anymore,” she continues. “I just want to be a girl, so the book was like ‘that was me as a boy’, now, let me be a woman for the first time in my life.”

Fulfill the Dream by Magdelena Wosinska is published by Homecoming Gallery.

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