Skate culture has always been ripe for coming-of-age stories. The link between teen angst and a beat-up skateboard defined by the escapism of the sport. Nineteen eighty nine’s Gleaming the Cube, 2005’s Lords of Dogtown, and both 2018’s mid90’s and Minding the Gap, a documentary all exemplify skateboarders’ desire to throw caution to the wind in pursuit of thrills in the form of ollies, grinds, and heelflips; they’re fearless against gravity, and The Man.
They’re also all about dudes.
For a sport built on nonconformity, the pop culture perception of skateboarding has remained stagnant for far too long, right up until Crystal Moselle spotlighted a diverse group of female skaters. Now, in their third project together, Moselle is once again blending fact and fiction in HBO’s new series Betty. A spiritual sequel of sorts to Skate Kitchen, her starring many of the same skaters, Betty follows a group of real-skaters-turned-friends-turned-actors (Dede Lovelace as Janay, Ajani Russell as Indigo, Moonbear as Honeybear, Rachelle Vinberg as Camille, and Nina Moran as Kirt) who go against the laws of physics, sidewalk etiquette, and the idea that skateboarding is a boy’s sport.
Moselle, who wrote and directed Skate Kitchen and directed Betty, didn’t plan on creating a skateboarding universe, but there was clearly a thirst for stories about female skaters. Significantly, stories are inspired by real skate park scenarios, and real life coming-of-age experiences, as experienced by the cast, who contributed to the writer’s room. “The deal is that they would come in as consultants so they all came in the writers,” Moselle told Refinery29 over the phone. “I was in Los Angeles with a group of writers and we brought the girls out and they would give us clues to their personal situations in life and then we kind of bounced off from there. I wanted to feel familiar to them and I [wanted] to put them in funny, awkward situations where they'd have to deal with that as well.”
The title Betty is an example of one of those situations. Derived from a diss of sorts, it wasn’t Moselle’s first idea, or second, or third — but it was the best, and a natural fit. “We came up with like a million different names and nothing felt right,” she said. “And then I called up my friend William Strobeck who does all the Supreme videos and I was like, ‘I can't figure it out.’ And he's like, ‘Betty,’ right away.”
“Betty” was a popular term used in the 1980s as slang for a pretty young woman, often paired with “surf” ahead of it, referring to the groups of girls who’d hang around on the beach, and later the skate park as a “skate betty.” But, as Mental Floss writes, lexicon master Jonathon Green gives the term “betty” its roots in 1970, stemming from The Flintstone’s character Betty Ruble. Cher in Clueless, played by Alicia Silverstone, also iconically once mused, “Wasn't my Mom a total betty?”
“It's a word that's been used in a positive and negative way,” said Moselle. “It used to only be used for surfers. Then it kind of transformed into like a girl who hangs out with skaters and surfers. Back in the day we called them ‘pro hoes,’ so we're reclaiming that word. Like, ‘Oh, you’re going to call me a skate betty? Then, let’s skate.’”
The idea of reclaiming betty goes back to the cast’s early Skate Kitchen days, before they met Moselle, when they were just a collective of athletes and artists making skate videos on YouTube. They noticed a lot of dudes would hop in the comment section and tell the girl skaters to go back into the kitchen, so they did: the Skate Kitchen, a social media account to connect to other girl skaters. (Another potential title was See You Next Tuesday, but it didn’t make the cut — but maybe there’s a spin-off Skate Kitchen account there, just saying.)
Throughout this process of creating first a MiuMiu campaign, then critically-acclaimed film, and now highly-anticipated series, the cast has literally grown up together. Moselle’s taken on the role of mentor, and at times protector. “I've known them for four years and we've been part of each other's lives,” she said. “I've really seen them grow up, but it's almost like I've become less protective over them because they are young women now. When I first met them, I remember Rochelle and Dede had a job in Los Angeles and I brought them to the airport. They didn't know how to go to the airport on their own. But now Rochelle traveled to Taiwan on her own. I trust them. I think they're really good girls. They have good hearts.”
There’s no sector of the world that isn’t affected and informed by microaggressions and sexism. For skateboarding, it’s not that guys who skate are bad people, it’s just that you don’t see guys apologizing for cutting off another skater’s ollie, or for losing their board during a complicated trick. In fact, the betty lifestyle is less about what’s going on with the wannabe Tony Hawkes out there (he is, by the way, a fan of the film and upcoming series), and more about uplifting other bettys.“I want to stop fighting the patriarchy, and just start helping the matriarchy,” Kirt says exasperatedly in one episode. She’s right. It often feels like occupying space at the park is a privilege rather than a right for these women. But it all starts to change, thanks to a few outspoken bettys.
Betty airs Fridays at 11 PM EST on HBO.