Summer of Love
Is the summer of love making a comeback? We speak to LA skateboarding crew GRLSWIRL whose style may evoke the 70s, but whose values remain timeless
By Sophie Wilson
Photography by Lucy Osinski & Shannon Moss
Sun, sand, surf and skating. In photographs immortalising the golden age of Venice Beach, you can almost hear the sound of the sea and feel the wind in your hair. This sun-drenched ’70s fantasy fits neatly into daydreams of a post-pandemic summer of love. Just ask GRLSWIRL. The women-led skate collective, founded in 2018, is as inspired by the community spirit of the sixties and ’70s as it is by their groovy aesthetic as they empower more women and non-binary people to take up skating.
Anyone who has been to their local skatepark knows that masculine skater culture can seem intimidating, especially for beginners, but GRLSWIRL are working to change this perception. Their community is as much about connecting people and hanging out as it is about learning new tricks. “Skating gives you a sense of identity,” says Lucy Osinski, GRLSWIRL co-founder and CEO. “I’ve seen people who literally have a backpack to their name and they get on a skateboard and it gives them a sense of belonging. No matter where you are or who you’re with, it’s like, ‘I belong because I’m on a skateboard. I’m part of it now,’” she continues, “A skateboard is cool because it’s not like a shirt you buy just to look like you’re part of a scene. This is a thing that will literally make you a part of that culture. That gives people a chance to have these really beautiful, mind-bending, loving moments.”
Last year was very isolating. Covid restrictions left us stuck inside and separated from our communities. We realised the importance of belonging and of community more than ever. Luckily, because skating is an outdoor sport, GRLSWIRL were able to do a few meet ups and the atmosphere was nothing short of euphoric. “People miss being around others,” Lucy says. “I’m envisioning us having this beautiful comeback together. At the meets we’ve had so far, people stayed later than usual. Each person was like, ‘wow, this made me so happy and I needed this.’” There’s a collective hope that people will be more willing to make new connections, hug one another and work together, rather than against each other. This has cultivated the idea that we might have another summer of love. GRLSWIRL have stood for these collective values since their inception. While the collective may be aligned with the ’60s and ’70s, ideologically and aesthetically, it has also brought skating into the 21st century by making the sport more inclusive.
“Skating is a very male-dominated sport so we originally wanted to create a safe space for women,” says co-founder Shannon Moss. “It’s so incredibly important because, especially for marginalised communities, there are so many places where people don’t feel safe.” It’s a move forwards from the masculine culture that dominated Venice Beach’s skating heyday, but while GRLSWIRL are changing attitudes, they still want to pay homage to all the skaters who came before them and document Venice’s rich history of skating. Following the popularity of their retro-design skateboard, they launched a raffle to raise money for Venice Heritage who are building the very first Venice museum. The FlowerSwirl board is the prize. “It’s pretty wild that there’s no museum here,” says Lucy. “Beat poetry and skateboarding, among other things, bloomed out of this place. The idea is to create the first museum to preserve the heritage. It’s mega important for skateboarders to pay homage to that.”
The board itself is designed with flower power in mind. Its swirling prints evoke the freedom and flow of group skating. It certainly tapped into the zeitgeist of fashion and culture’s ’70s revival as we gear up for another summer of love – it was featured in Vogue and soon sold out. However, this retro aesthetic is accidental rather than curated. “It just feels right,” says Shannon, whose love for the ’70s goes back to her childhood when her parents would play music by the Grateful Dead and Creedence Clearwater Revival. “There’s something so pure and classic about that time period, the music and the fashion. There’s a different energy about it. I feel most myself when I’m surrounded by that music and wearing those clothes.”
GRLSWIRL collaborated with illustrator Catie St. Jacques who helped design the board. She says the floral illustration “has a lot to do with feeling free, creative and inspired. I wanted to incorporate movement, flow and having fun. As a designer, I try to let stuff out in a way that brings joy. I definitely get into a flow-type state when I make things.” GRLSWIRL approached Catie at the start of lockdown and she immediately said yes. “It’s super cool and I’m really into what they’re doing,” she adds. “They directed me to use flowers. They liked a lot of the floral elements: it’s in their name, ‘GRLSWIRL,’ so there’s that swoopy, swirly movement.” The design evokes a freedom, a fluidity. Whether you reach that state through skating or creating, it’s a feeling we could all make more room for in our lives.
“People want to feel more joy now,” Catie continues, “doing things that they love to do, being around people they love to be around, even if those people are strangers. Maybe they’ll be less inclined to be judgmental – maybe we can become more understanding. I hope that people can be more compassionate and loving towards each other.”
Peace, love and understanding are at the core of the GRLSWIRL philosophy. It’s easy to see similarities between their community and the hippie culture that defined the summer of love in 1967. They also have a collaborative, DIY sensibility that came in useful when promoting the new board. “It was super collaborative,” says Lucy. “It was the first shoot we art directed. Usually we just shoot and play around, but we booked a location, did the styling and really went all out for it. I think the styling really sold the board. It was a lot of teamwork.”
Something else the GRLSWIRL team all have in common is creativity, which contributes to this free-flowing ethos. For them, it is a natural expression; another part of their flow. “We’re all very creative and that’s something we see within the larger GRLSWIRL community,” says Shannon. “At the same time, there are all sorts of different people who come to our skates and it doesn’t really matter who they are. We see grandmas, mums, five-year-olds. One of us is an engineer. There’s such a variety of people, which is really cool, but I would say most people are intuitively creative.”
GRLSWIRL have worked hard to create an environment where everything is welcomed and accepted – regardless of age, ability or even politics. While the collective is passionate about contributing to community projects and charities – they’ve raised over $20,000 for homeless shelters in Venice – they don’t want anyone to feel excluded. “In this hyper-political world that we’re living in now, we try to make our space apolitical” says Shannon. “We’re a community where anyone can join and feel safe and a part of it.”
It’s been a difficult period for a lot of people but GRLSWIRL are passionate about the healing and liberating power of skating, which is why they want as many people as possible to experience it. Even if you have never been on a board in your life, it’s easy to imagine how carefree it feels to skate along the seafront with your friends, watching the sunset and feeling the wind against your skin. And that feeling is timeless.