The first Longboard magazine I ever saw was at Hopkin Skate shop in my hometown Sydney, Australia 6 years ago. I was shopping for my very first longboard when I noticed a magazine flipped open on the checkout counter.

With image after image of famous glossy longboarders, I couldn’t get through the magazine quick enough. With each page turn growing my newfound passion, it didn’t dawn on me I was only looking at images of men.  I wondered… Where are all the women?

Alas! There was one: A 20-something year-old blonde wearing nothing but a black string thong. I unfolded the rest of the centerfold to finally reveal a longboard in the picture. The girl was straddling it as she held her bare breasts, glossy as ever.

Burned into my brain, this image would resurface just about every time I picked up my skateboard, enrolled in a race, or even looked into a mirror.

Was this how the World saw us?

“Here it is!” Said Lee, holding up my newly assembled longboard. “Did you need any shoes as well?” I nodded and smiled. Lee smiled back as she lead me to a wall of display shoes. They were all Men’s with shelves stretching from floor to ceiling. “Sorry love, they don’t make sizes for women…You could try Children’s?”

A dear friend once told me that 80% of skateboarding is confidence and 20% is coordination and skill. Over my 6 years of skateboarding, I realized he was absolutely right. Sometimes, I wondered if this was the reason it took me two years to learn how to powerslide.

Hearing comments like, “Skater girls have bad skin…” or “Pretty girls can’t skate” were always hard to digest, especially at events where only three other women made the turnout.

When I first started skating, I didn’t realize how much of what I looked like would impact me belonging to the sport. This became even clearer in later experiences of racing against sexist riders. In one instance, I was publicly shamed at the finish line by a male competitor who shouted, “I let you win because I felt sorry for you!”

In another instance, I was booed off the racetrack by a jealous participant who didn’t like the fact my boyfriend was an onlooker. Funny how before I introduced them, he was nothing but smiles and “likes” on my Instagram account.

It was experiences like these that reminded me I was playing in a man’s world.

I thought went out of style in my mother’s generation….

However, whether smiling in victory or crying in embarrassment, my passion for the sport outweighed the misery of feeling isolated. I decided to keep skating. When it rained and other girls pulled out of events, I wore extra bulky knee pads and kept skating. When I had painful period cramps during skate sessions with the boys, I took Midol and kept skating.

Like walking on a tightrope, my challenge as a female skateboarder became tuning out the background noise in order to keep my balance. In time, I came to realize that how I dealt with getting back up after a fall was more important than staying on board.

Keeping my balance became easier to do the more I focused on the joy of what I was doing and the less I thought back to the image of the half-nude girl straddling the skateboard in that magazine. Over time, the community I found myself part of became my second family. And, to my surprise, the experiences we shared together began to outnumber the negative ones.

Since then, I’ve been blessed to collaborate in sponsorships with three skateboard companies and tour Europe, Australia, and North America. I’ve even had the opportunity to be one of the Australian voices for Longboard Girl’s Crew, a Worldwide organization which has empowered women to feel included and valued in the sport.

Today, I am so proud to have been part of the exponential growth of women in longboarding. Since 2012, women’s participation in the sport has more than tripled.

In the end, it really didn’t matter if I lost or won a competition, how much or how little makeup I wore, or whether or not I was single. What mattered was the choice I made from the start: Putting down the magazine in exchange for a beautiful new longboard.

Ashley Ward is a freelance writer and skateboarder.

More of her adventures can be found in her travel blog, Life on Board.

Ashley is also featured in Redscope’s minidocumentary, Unbound 3.0, where she tells more about her experience being a female in a male dominated sport.