With skateboarding making it’s debut in the 2018 Asian Games, Cambodia’s top female skater, Kov Chan Sangva aims to use the platform to break gender boundaries and inspire girls to get on skateboards
Text Hannah Bailey
“Girls are not often able to do sports because society thinks it is not necessary for them,” says Kov Chan Sangva when asked about skateboarding in Phnom Penh. “But my mum didn’t have any objections to me skating – my parents are a bit different from other parents.”
In the skateboarding world, which is associated with heavy male participation worldwide, Cambodia’s top female skateboarder cuts a particularly maternal figure. As a staff member at non-profit Skateistan, an organisation providing free sport and education programmes to disadvantaged youth, she helps girls pick up skateboarding and realise their potential through the sport.
“I have become a role model to show people that girls can skate,” she says. “I wanted to change the opinion of the community that girls couldn’t do things. I’ve always tried to show Cambodia, and even the world, that women can do anything!”
With skateboarding making its debut at the upcoming Asian Games, Kov might be able to do just that. As one of Cambodia’s strongest skaters, she hopes to be nominated to represent her country come August, which would make her one of a handful of female Cambodian athletes to compete internationally. Kov has yet to hear if she will compete at the Games, but she has been confirmed as a representative for a skateboarding presentation at the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires in October.
Kov’s story has inspired a new generation of young women to take up the sport, with female crews slowly filling up the capital’s few skateboarding areas over the past three years.
“Before I started, I didn’t know what skateboarding was – and I didn’t see people doing it, especially girls,” says Kov. “When we compare the past to now, it’s totally different, because female participation has increased. I see more and more girls [skating] now.”
The influential 26-year-old skateboarder picked up the sport just six years ago, after her interest in the sport led her to take free lessons at Skateistan. There, she observed how the boys in the class looked down on girls’ abilities to perform tricks.
“I wanted to change their mind!” she says. “I tried to put myself deeper into skateboarding, to practise it and learn it, because I wanted to show them girls could do anything they could – and do it better.” Today, she regularly beats the boys at games of S.K.A.T.E. (a trick contest between two skateboarders), and has even skated with American personalities Tony Hawk, Mimi Knoop and Neftalie Williams.
At work, she acts as a role model for Skateistan’s students, especially girls – who comprise half the student body. Many come from low-income families or live with disabilities. “Phnom Penh is a small city with a lot of people and many street kids. It remains one of the poorest countries in Asia,” Kov says. “Skating helped me to get far away from bad situations. I have a lot of friends through it. And I’m going to use it as a tool to empower the world.”
For other stories from this issue, see Asian Geographic Issue 131, 2018