The Long Read: Sophie Mercedes Köchert

Skateboarding has always been a magical thing to a lot of people. The movement, the culture, the feeling of being in the moment, and the draw of being connected to something together with a group of people. It doesn’t only attract persons that skate, it attracts a lot of other humans too. The type of people that it attracts has changed over time & since skateboarding has grown it has become more acceptable to practice and live the lifestyle. But there was a time not that long ago (which probably still exists in some countries) that skateboarding drew outcasts of all ages and walks of life and threw them together in a melting pot to become a band of brothers and sisters so to speak. Today we host a piece by Sophie Mercedes Köchert who shot the emerging womens scene in Vienna all while talking about her own journey with skateboarding. So step into the ’90s.

I was born in 1988, grew up at a lake in Austria called Traunsee, the only girl in a 4 headed-gang with one big brother and two cousins. Being a part of this family or crew was sometimes tough and wild, but also totally empowering. By the age of eleven my mum, brother and I moved to the south of England for two years, to a little town called Plymouth. There, I was bullied at school, I encountered a lot of hostility which turned into multiple confrontations. The first year I didn’t make any friends, the kids didn’t even call me by my own name. They used mean words to make me feel that I was different. There was a park close by to where we lived, named „freedom-field“ by going there I got in touch with the local skaters and punks.

It was there where I first got in contact with a group of kids. We started hanging out and skating all day. The kids, being of different ages and backgrounds, were skipping school. They didn’t care where I was from and instead had fun trying to learn some German. One day a guy gave me his old skateboard as a present. He knew I had no idea where to get my own. That was one of the best days I had ever had. Ever since then, I carried this block of wood to school, every day, and I also took it everywhere else I went. I felt secure and slowly the kids in school became more interested in me. I was the only girl back then that would skate. Slowly the school kids stopped calling me names and I even made a few good friends amongst them. Most of those friends were way older than me and thus not interested in those daily school-fights. The only thing that mattered to my friends and me was „freedom-field“: skating and hanging out. What else is there to do? Most of my new friends didn’t want to go home, many of them would get beaten up by their parents. If they actually cared at all if their children came home.

I saw many tricky family-situations and learned that for many people swearing was the only way they knew how to communicate. Skateboarding calmed my friends down, and the scene around it created one’s own family without all those additional troubles. The two years passed and my family and I moved back to Austria. I went to school in Vienna, to which I stopped going by the age of 17. I worked as a snowboard instructor to earn my own money. Traveled and worked for a few years across Europe, but one thing remained always the same: My first contact in each city was the skate-scene. It is an open-minded, creative scene that has been continuously attracting me as it felt natural without forcing anything. The unspoken closeness between its members has up until this day, fascinated me to the fullest. It’s just magical: people who skate connect instantly and are happy and open to share ideas and mindsets. You might take it for granted but this is something rare to find. The love through and for skateboarding will stay the same, it still plays a big role in my life.

I made many friends all across the world through skateboarding! And most importantly, I remember how it made me feel: Welcomed and accepted! It is art, it is meditation and it is rebellion – it is a rough and gentle feeling at once, it is not a secret that these days girls are in the mix, rocking at the skatepark and in the streets. Our presence has increased immensely over the past years, which is so good and fun and definitely a hugely positive development! One year ago, during the first lockdown, I moved back to Vienna. Having a lot of time off, I focused on my new homepage and tried to spend as much time as possible with my dog outdoors. while walking around it the city with my camera I automatically started to take pictures of people skating. Soon I realized that there is so little focus on all these cool girls who ride here in my city. Observing, I shot one roll of film after another. I took as many photographs as I could, at first I considered it a game. I checked out all the skateparks in Vienna and again made, great friends. I met fun, sweet people. I know what it feels like wanting to keep up with the „big ones“ and how scary it can be to be the only girl on the field. A big thank you to all the amazing female skaters out there. Thank you to the great female crews I met at Vienna ́s skate parks, for listening to each other, and also for being patient with my analog equipment.