Episode 3: Mind the Thigh Gap Transcript

{EB} Welcome to Critically Drinking, today on the podcast we’ve got Samara Pepperell. Now, she is an internationally recognised roller skater in the roller derby and ramp skating communities. She goes by the alter ego Lady Trample when she’s on the track and even if you don’t care about roller skating or roller derby she is well worth a listen. She provides insight and pragmatism that is well beyond her years and really starts to speak about failure and how we can inspire one another and support one another in our passion projects.

So without further ado welcome to Episode three: Mind the Thigh Gap.


With me today is Samara Pepperell, she is an internationally recognised and sponsored athlete in roller derby and ramp skating. She also happens to be the founder of Chicks in Bowls and is an award winning graphic artist so it’s really exciting to have her here with me today. Welcome Samara.

{SP} Hi! Thanks for having me

{EB} It’s kind of exciting to have you here because in the time that I have known you, you’ve actually changed and grown as an entrepreneur. So one of the things I would like to know is: Why do all of the different things? Why does this matter? Why is this exciting to you?


{SP} I think I’ve always been the kind of person that always likes to have several projects on the go. Several things that keep me going. Roller Derby was the first one I got into and instantly fell in love with the sport, the competitive nature of it fitted with me really well.

But then I was introduced to ramp skating and it was an opportunity to kinda cross train as a skater and to have something else that drove me and now the two passions tend to sort of grow each other so I ramp skate to get better at derby and I do derby to get better at ramp skating.

{EB} So it’s not just about derby though. I mean Chicks and Bowls is kind of an international social community. It’s camaraderie, it’s training and coaching. How come it’s so big?

{SP} I think people like the opportunity to step away from the rules and regulations and uniforms of an organised sport and do something a little different, a little bit crazy. Um for me it was, I’d always wanted a reason to enter skate parks and I’d never found something that I could personally ride. Skateboards just ran away from me, and I wasn’t that good on a BMX, and when I found that I could take my roller skates into a skate park it just opened up this world that I had been wanting to enter for so long. And I think for a lot of girls they probably felt the same way, they have always wanted to go into a skate park. It’s a fun environment, and having something that you already know how to use and to be able to take that into a new environment, it’s really exciting.


{EB} Now, when you coach you really focus on coaching newbies to the sport, and that’s unusual, normally coaches want to support elite athletes, why do you love coaching newbies?

{SP} There’s something about seeing the way a person’s face lights up when they try something for the first time. Especially if it’s something that they previously thought was out of reach for them. Uhm, a lot of girls look at a skate park as an unreachable zone for them so being able to take them on something that they might know the basics of and teach them how to pump and teach how to do something that they didn’t think they could do. It makes it more reachable. And I think a lot of us, I know that when I first looked at the sport all I saw was people doing the crazy stuff. The big airs, the crazy spins and flips and having someone break down the basics and showing how accessible it all is, just takes away that barrier, and so once they’ve got the basics on hand, it’s just the next step and a little bit of time and progress.

{EB} I’ve heard you talking a lot and sharing a lot on your different feeds, on Chicks in Bowls dot com, and on Facebook and Instagram. I’ve seen a lot about the bail reel. About how much failure happens. Why is failure something that you focus on so much?


{SP} Uhm, because failure’s really important because it’s so easy to give up before you even try. And if you actually go out and you’re not afraid of falling and fumbling it makes it a lot safer. Uhm and the communities that we create with the Chicks in Bowls Chapters, gives you a safe place to fail. Uhm, you’re within a group of skaters that have all made the same bail that you’ve made. They have made it a hundred times over and they know what it feels like and so they’re there to brush you off and push you back up and help you go at it. And it’s really important to remember that for any time someone’s done something successfully there’s been a whole bail reel that they haven’t shown the world. So I think it’s really important to show them. To show the fumbles that it takes to get to something successful.


{EB} Now, in the business world we often use the nomenclature of Fail Fast of Agile Development and its about how do you get something that’s a Minimum Viable Product, that’s the best you can right now out to the world. Is that how you approach Chicks in Bowls?

{SP} Yeah, but probably with the Fail Often attitude, you might fall a hundred times before you finally succeed with that trick.

{EB} Why do you want women to push their personal boundaries?

{SP} I don’t think there are enough examples of women out in the public eye of them pushing their boundaries. There’s sort of views of the way that women should be and I like breaking those boundaries and I like showing strong, capable women, and giving them something to be passionate and powerful within, and I think roller skating is a really good environment for them to do so.


{EB} Do you see the ability to break boundaries based on age as well. Uhm, I know that there’s the Kids in Bowls brand as well you’re coaching women well into their forties. Do you think there should be an age limitation on this?

{SP} I don’t think there should be an age limitation. Actually yesterday I was out skating with a mother daughter from Canberra. They’ve come over and wanted to skate at a park so I set up a session with them. There’s a thirteen-year-old girl and the mother would have been in her early forties and they were both skating the ramp. And the mom had her success moment when she pumped the ramp and touched the coping and she was just as happy doing that as her daughter was when her daughter was airing over the coping. And so the goals might be a little bit different, but the joy that they got from them was exactly the same and that was really exciting for me. To see them out doing something together and both having their own successes regardless of the fact that one success was smaller than the other.

{EB} Now, you talk a lot about kids and sport and active youth. And you know having that active body image and the healthy body image, why is this important to you?


{SP} There’s a big focus in the media on what a girl’s body should be like and I think it’s focusing on all the wrong things. The right body for you is the body that you feel comfortable in and the body that allows you to do the things that you want to do. So whether that is big or small or strong, whatever that looks like to you, as long as it can do the things that you want to do.

I’ve personally struggled with body image and self confidence for many years going through different disorders and different stages of depression and self deprecation is the way that I normally look at it, but bringing myself down. But having the opportunities to do sports that make me appreciate the strength of my body and I’ve kind of changed my outset about the way that I look at myself. I’m really grateful for having strong thighs that were once upon a time called chunky. Or you know, you kind of turn and look at the insults that used to bring you down and the things that used to upset me about my body are now the things that I’m proud of and the things that I’m thankful for.

{EB} So is this what you talk to when you’re coaching? Do you remind people that you’re not too fat, too skinny, too small, or too tall. Is that part of getting out on the ramp with Lady Trample, your alter ego?

{SP} Absolutely. Embracing the things about your body and using them to your benefit. If you’ve got a cushy butt that’s all the better to fall on.


{EB} And falling is an important part of how this works.

{SP} It really is.

{EB} Now as a business owner what is motivating you to keep going?

{SP} I think with Chicks in Bowls it was such a surprise success story. We started off just for fun and after the page had rapidly grown in interest over the last few years of me just casually running a few social media pages we realised that there was something quite exciting that we could do with it so I sat down with my husband, my mom, and a friend and we sort of looked over the potential that it had. Over the last year since we decided to turn it into a company it’s really developed a lot, to the point where we went to a skating convention and someone described ramp skating as the “Chicks in Bowls”. So we are not only the biggest motivators behind the sport, we’re now sort of seen as the sport in some lights. That is not necessarily the goal. The goal is to see people in skate parks. But when you go to the park now I do see more girls there.

I was even at a park today and saw a roller skated skating next to the park. It wasn’t quite in the park, but it’s about baby steps.


{EB} It’s scary to get in a ramp or in a bowl. How do you break down that fear for people? You’ve gotta be facing fear when you do something harder. How do you make it easier for them?

{SP} The way that I’ve started to break it down is kind of a funny story. Ramp skating never stops getting scary. It really doesn’t. It’s just the truth of it. The second that you stop being afraid of one thing it’s because you’ve conquered that. But the next time you go, you’ll be trying something different, trying something new so it’s going to be scary in that sense. 

You do have to learn to embrace the fear because that’s not going to go away. But every time that you overcome a fear, that fear is now behind you and you’ve achieved that, so there is something to look forward to and know that you can overcome all of these steps and the next time you do it. it might be something bigger but its the same moves that you’re doing, it’s the same tricks; it’s the skills that you have already obtained or that you’re building or that you’re growing it’s just a slightly bigger hurdle.


{EB} So getting comfortable being uncomfortable.

{SP} Yeah, Absolutely. Embrace the fear.

{EB} Embrace the fear!

{SP} Embrace the fear and fail a lot!

{EB} So if we sort of look at it and say We’re going to embrace the fear and take on new challenges, how are you challenging yourself as an athlete right now?

{SP} There’s always things that I am wanting to achieve. I think that the hardest thing for me is realising it’s now my job to skate. And that was quite a strange thing because all of a sudden I went from wanting to go out and skate the ramp and goof around to “Oh, I should actually be developing every time I skate”. So that has been something that I have overcome. But I’m really lucky to have a skate team that I look at and we communicate all the time. We share videos and pics so we always inspire each other, so I have fun things to look forward to and they show me that there’s nothing to be afraid of.

That trick that I’ve been looking at that I wanted to get for months and I see someone I know do it and it makes it more accessible so the fear sort of it gets less and less.


{EB} So, accessible is a really important thing. Seeing progression in anything you do. Now when you are trying to create new products, and new merch, why is this important to you in terms of accessibility?


{SP} Because skating is fun. And fun matters. But the reason that we are trying to get products out that make the sport more accessible is because there isn’t really anything on the market designed for ramp skating. There’s things that you can turn into products for ramp skating and you can go and see someone to get something custom, but there’s nothing out there that’s actually that’s a universal product. A lot of skaters are using the wrong gear or they just don’t have the know how, so one of the things we’re trying to do is provide information around the sport as a whole and the equipment that’s required and why it’s required. But also develop products that make the sport more accessible.

The sliders have two benefits. They not only make it easier to drop in and stall, but then you can also slide so they are a beginner/intermediate product.

They make the easy things more accessible and then they make the fun more advanced moves accessible as well and that’s the same with the grind trucks. So they give you more stability because you’ve got more points touching the ground basically, but they also open up a world of new tricks and allow you to grind. So our focus is on making products that really offer two levels.


{EB} So when you launched the web shop. You had three t-shirt and today you have actual engineered product development and you’ve launched a couple of truly engineered skate products. How is this helping you progress as a business owner and a designer?

{SP} These areas were all very new to me. I’m very lucky that my husband has had a big history in skateboarding. He’s been a skateboarder since he was a little grom and he’s also been roller skating for the last four years alongside me. We work together whenever we develop something and we test stuff out. We send stuff out to the skate team. We test stuff out, we figure out what we actually want to get from it, what it should look like. What are the parameters of how we want this product to be used. The most important part has been creating things that are universal. There’s often products made specifically for a company and works with this plate and this plate only, or this boot in this environment and the key thing to us has been creating products that reach more than just one base. So that not everyone has to go out and buy new things to use them. They just work.


{EB} So you are on a quest to be universally accessible.

{SP} Yes!

{EB} Now, what are you doing next? What ground breaking things are coming from Chicks in Bowls?

{SP} We are really focusing on trying to grow the sport. So I don’t think that there’s anything. I mean roller skating has been around a long time and so has the sport. So the sport as such is not ground breaking, but what we are trying to do is make it accessible and grow communities that make it more accessible. The next thing we are looking to do is a local tour in New Zealand as well as another international tour either in the United States or in Europe. We’re trying get out to the groups that are really pushing the sport and trying to help them grow within their communities as well as grow the larger skater community.

{EB} You’re often photographed on roller skates. You’ve been a roller girl model in a bunch of different applications and you see pieced in the feed with hash tag Pretty Gnarly and I think that this is really interesting because you are sort of advocating for being super girly at the same time as being kind of bad ass. So what exactly does that mean to you?


{SP} I think the whole idea around Pretty Gnarly is that it is trying to change the meaning of the word pretty. So I mean girls grow up and they are told that they want to be pretty and that they should be beautiful, and that kind of ends up being the end of the sentence. To me it needs to be so much more than that. They should be Pretty Strong. Or Pretty Athletic, or Pretty Gnarly. And gnarly I don’t this is a word that is associated with women in a positive way. I wanna change that so that it’s something that is like “Wow, that girls gnarly. She’s really shredding”. All that skate lingo out there I think it needs to be used towards women a lot more. Pretty gnarly is a huge compliment to me.


{EB} If we were to talk about who you want to see in skate parks tomorrow. Is it, you know guys, is it girls, you mentioned that the skate park environment is traditionally very male focused. Uhm, who do you want to skate with?

{SP} I wanna skate with everyone. Chicks in Bowls is about girls because there’s not really a market out there for girls, but it’s really everyone. I love going to the skate parks and skating with guys, with girls, with kids, with all the people.

All the people. That’s a really nice way to call it.

Adults. I think is what I meant.

{EB} You can invite grandparents out. I’m sure. Some of them probably had some really good times in the seventies on skates.

{SP} The point that I am trying to get as it that it’s about creating a safe place for everyone to skate and so it really doesn’t matter if you are male or female. As long as you are out there and willing to give it a go, but the next generation of kids are really where it’s at. There’s nothing better than seeing a young girl out into the skate parks. Because that’s a really fun place to be.


{EB} Now, do you see this as healthy lifestyle or healthy body image or ego. What is the value for a little girl or a little boy to get out in the skate park and hit the ramps?

{SP} I definitely think that there’s a generation that are focused on social media and they are focused on growing that. So getting kids out into the skate parks, even if they filming it. They are filming it doing something positive rather than just sitting around and taking selfies. They are out taking video of them skating the ramp. I know that if I had kids I would much rather see them out videoing their friends and themselves doing something and kind of pushing their own boundaries and growing their confidence in a positive way rather than being too concerned with the way that people look at the way they just take photos of themselves and focus on that kind of self absorption.

{EB} So you want kids that are active and badass?

{SP} And proud of it!

{EB} Excellent! I mean it’s something for all of us to look forward to. Now when we start to think about the process of creating a business and creating a brand. You’ve got a really great foundation because you come from a marketing and design background. How is that changing the way you approach being a business owner?

{SP} I’ve become more structured. When I was freelancing for myself I was a little bit kind of more exciting and experimental and I would kind of work on the projects and just kind of see where they ended up. Now that it’s my own company and we’ve got deadlines and bills need to be paid and things need to be done I’ve definitely become more structures in the way that we do things. So I’ve got lots of plans for the way that social media’s going to work and what are our goals and where are we going to achieve them and sort of. Definitely focusing on being more organised and processes. Which is not something I would think I would ever say.

{EB} Well I mean part of failure is learning new ways to do things. So, you know it takes only so many times of doing the same thing manually to think that maybe you can automate it.


{SP} Uhm hum

{EB} But, when we look at growing a business or trying to create awareness you’re really talking to a millennial generation and a digital native. These guys have never really not had a cell phone. Most of the kids that are liking posts have had a phone or smart technology since they were two or three years old. Is there anything that makes you more engaging than other brands?

{SP} I have the advantage of I got my first phone at thirteen, so I’m not too far off them. But what I think we are try and do is just share stuff that is relatable. We share people learning, we share people succeeding we share them failing. We show every step of the growth that it takes to succeed as a skater. We get a lot of flack for it too. We get a lot of people saying “why are you showing this person just dropping in? Why aren’t you sharing my gnarly post. Why are you sharing so many girls?” Uhm, and I mean that’s what the page is about. It’s about promoting women who are doing something in sport and we promote men too. But, it’s about sharing people that are pushing their boundaries. So sometimes the post of the girl just dropping in for the first time is as exciting as the person who is doing a 540 for the hundredth time.

{EB} Does that sort of Chick of the Day mentality remind you where you came from?

{SP} Absolutely. Once upon a time I was the girl that was just rolling on the bottom of the ramp and had all of these dreams about the things I wanted to do. And I’ve still got a long way to go to get to the skater that I want to be, but having successes along the way and being proud of the achievements and showing that there’s actually progress.

You start of pumping inside the ramp and then you get to dropping in, and then you build up to airing out and you build onto the tricks and actually showing people that it exists and it’s ok to be in any of these stages is really, really important to us.


{EB} Now you’ve coached internationally and competed internationally for the last few years. What have you learned that is different when you get out of New Zealand and into another community?

{SP} To be honest, in the skate community, it’s not that different. People are really welcoming. It was a really awesome example when we went on the skate tour and we stayed with people we have never met before. Chapter managers who opened their homes and hearts to us. The skate community internationally is actually a really welcoming and caring and nurturing place. You might come across the odd bad egg that wants the park to themselves or has a different view as to the future of the sport, but that’s ok. I mean everyone’s got opinions.

We’ve all got a lot of them in fact.

I found that most people were really just hyped about an opportunity to be involved with the growth of the sport.

{EB} So does that make you more proud to be engaged with it because it does meet the values of the business that you’ve created and what you are trying to do socially?

{SP} Going on this tour and realising the people that we were actually involved with and realising that they had such a passion and such big hearts and such a massive drive to grow this sport was huge to us.

Meeting these people and you know, you kind of talk to them over the internet. A lot of the Chapter Managers you have conversations with, but you don’t really know what this person is like in the real world. It was the same with the skate team. When you meet them in person and they are everything that they said they were and more. That they would give their heart and soul to see this sport success or d to see others succeed along side it. It was truly eye opening and it was just exciting.

{EB} Is there anywhere that you feel that you aren’t doing what you want to do with Chicks in Bowls?

{SP} I mean there’s always areas for progress, we’re looking at implementing more ways to support the chapters. Everything is just sort of fluid. We have made decisions and developed as it’s come and ideas have come and gone as we’ve grown, but the Chapters are the lifeblood of Chicks in Bowls and they are why it all started. So creating more facilities to support them and more event to help them grow is really important. But it’s a learning progress and we are doing what we can.


{EB} Now, there’s a couple hundred chapters globally. What’s the goal number?

{SP} There’s no goal number as such, I mean ideally. The goal number is a Chapter in every region. A region is a very vague area because the world is so huge and there are areas that have masses of skaters and there are areas that have less. There was that report that came out recently that per person New Zealand has the most roller derby leagues in the entire world. So in theory we should have the most chapters because we have got the most skaters. But it really depends if there’s demand. If there are people that want to skate we want to have a Chapter there and that is what we are working towards.

{EB} So how do people get involved?

{SP} Chapter managers simply message us through Facebook, Instagram, or via email on our website. So that when they get in touch they let us know what region they’re in and we send them the code of conduct which is basically rules to make sure that they are creating an inclusive and open environment to grow the sport.

{EB} So, rule this kind of goes back to the processes. Did you learn this by doing something wrong in the initial stages?

{SP} No, we actually came up with the idea of having rules. A friend of mine Sugar Hit used to be involved with a group called the Longboard Girls Crew and they had chapters as well so she showed us what their rule set was and it was all about just creating open environments that welcome everyone regardless of background, religion, race, and sex. And it’s just a safe community. So we worked out what we wanted to represent within that and sent them out.

{EB} Now, with each Chapter you’ve got different personalities, you’ve got different climates. Are you seeing any Chapter’s that are break outs?

{SP} By breakouts do you mean successful?

{EB} Doing something different, doing something exciting…

{SP} Oh, absolutely. the SoCal Chapter. I think it was one of our earlier Chapters that got set up and they tend to have about 40 skaters at each meet up which is huge. So the average meet-up number for a Chapter is between 5-15 so having 40 skaters show up at some of their meet ups is just absolutely insane. They were taking over skate parks and that’s really exciting.

We also have the UK Chapter. Which is the first Chapter that we have had that covers a whole area. And what they do is they have a UK Chapter and then they have all of the Chapters within the UK and they work together to put on larger meet ups and that’s been quite exciting. So I’ve been talking to them quite a bit to figure out what works.

Because, for so much of it, we’re from New Zealand, we don’t know what the area is like. We don’t know what the weather is like. We can’t plan events for them. So having someone that is in the area, that knows the skate scene. They know the skate parks, they can make connections with the local communities to help grow the sport, that’s really important.

And we do everything we can to support them by helping them out with giveaways and poster design and we promote their events and we promote them as skaters as well. and just try and give them as much as we can to help them grow.

{EB} If you could offer advice to somebody trying to do all of the things, what would the advice you would give somebody who’s going to become an athlete and an entrepreneur and a product designer and all of the sixty-four things that live on your resume today. What advice would you give?

{SP} Find something that you’re really passionate about. That’s the most important thing. Roller skating for me is my passion. Whether that’s on the track for flat track for roller derby or whether that is in the transitions of a ramp or a bowl I am really passionate and I really enjoy everything I do with it. It’s the same with the design and the product design and actually building the company, the whole idea encompasses my passions and excitement and brings me joy, so if you are going to venture into putting all of that time and energy and potentially money into something like that, make sure that you’ve got the power to drive it.


{EB} So, you’ve become quite successful, quite fast in this business. What’s going to happen when you fail?

{SP} Get back up. Try again. I think that’s the most important thing with failure. It’s that failure is not the end of a sentence, it’s just a hiccup in the road. It might be a big hiccup and it might be a small one, and you might get some rink rash. But if you don’t try and dust it off and get back out there, you’re gonna sit on the ground and sulk and nobody likes that.

{EB} Nobody wants to sulk

{SP} Nobody likes a sulker

{EB} Well, thank you so much for being here with me today and telling us a little bit about your experience. It’s certainly impressive. I know that I can’t imagine my twenty-four-year-old self having accomplished the things that you have. But we look forward to seeing what happens next with Chicks in Bowls and Lady Trample on the track.

{SP} Thanks, I’m excited too.

{EB} Erin Burrell for Critically Drinking

{SP} Samara Pepperell