Sassy Souls Ep 1: Cyd Eva and Kava Vasquez
Skateboarder and community activist Kava Vasquez is bringing her passion for unification to New York and beyond. Known for championing collective agency, Kava has spent the past decade focusing on how skateboarding can empower women and marginalised people around the world. Her work has taken her to India, Europe, Canada, and South Africa where she connected with Sassy Souls podcast host, Cyd Eva.
In the past year, while settling back in New York, Kava's desire to bring more people together led her to co-found 'Bronx Girls Skate' with her friend, Mel. Their initiative continues to enable hundreds of women and marginalised people to grow in confidence and find friendship through play. Having recently celebrated their first anniversary, we invited Kava onto the show to discuss her experience and philosophy behind community organisation.
Kava was around 12 years old when, in the school playground, she first set foot on a board. However, it wasn't something she took seriously at the time, explaining how "I didn't see people like me who were skateboarding. My parents, being immigrants from the Dominican Republic, definitely framed skateboarding as something that we didn't do." Her interest in skating took a back seat until her senior year when, having been expelled from her school in Connecticut, Kava found herself back in New York. "I became friends with guys who were longboarding, and before you know it, I had my own cruiser and was zipping around town."
It was this move back to the city that led Kava to connect with more Black women who were skateboarding. "A lot of the women I met in that time period ended up being the people I cocreate with [today]" working together to build community events. This was a juxtaposition from the predominantly white, male spaces that Kava went on to find at Universities. "This was a big adjustment. But I always felt skateboarding enabled people from different backgrounds to connect with each other".
I feel it's always been more than just this toy with 4 wheels. It's about where does skateboarding lead you - to spaces, to people, or to places within yourself that you're running away from
Having graduated from University in 2017, Kava was awarded a scholarship designed to fund passion-driven research projects. She decided to study how women are personally and politically empowered through skateboarding around the world. Having started her trip in Europe, Kava went to South Africa and India after feeling like she wasn't asking enough questions. "I wanted to be part of different communities and conversations in the skate space", leading her to eye-opening explorations of women's place within public discourse and sport.
This research informed the direction Kava went on to take when arriving back on her home turf in New York. Using skateboarding as the unifier, Kava set out to empower and support the passions and dreams of fellow women by setting up 'Bronx Girls Skate' with her friend Mel (pictured above). However, she explains that "I have recently had some challenges building these experiences in my community because... in the Bronx, I feel the demographics are quite different." Wanting to approach social change in a way that welcomes everyone, Kava explains how they are having to address difficult dynamics such as gender equality, sexual misconduct, and violent communication.
This reflects the sincerity of Kava's intentions and the responsible approach she takes to creating safe and supportive environments. "If we invest in women, we're investing in everyone at the end of the day. All the genders, all the backgrounds have something to contribute and I want to make sure that doesn't get lost as skateboarding gets more commercialised". This has resulted in Kava and Mel developing their own vocabulary to address harm, and cultivate a culture of neutrality, of respect, and of holding people accountable in rectifying the harm.
If we invest in women, we're investing in everyone at the end of the day. All the genders, all the backgrounds have something to contribute and I want to make sure that doesn't get lost as skateboarding gets more commercialised
For Kava, community building within the Bronx is a multilayered approach that brings many disciplines together. From music to theatre, visual artists to documentary filmmaking, Kava explains how "we want to build Bronx Girls Skate in tandem with a lot of the different community-led initiatives". A part of this is the fundamental importance Kava places on using the initiative to encourage women's careers as well as their love of skating. "How do these women want to grow and what are they interested in? We've connected through skateboarding but who are we on and off our boards". For this, Kava sees collaboration as the answer to fulfilling these aspirations.
This is an ecosystem that we're part of. We are wanting to put one another on the map, to highlight the amazing talent of women in the Bronx and invest in them, in how they want to grow
It is clear that Kava 's approach to fostering community is based on interconnectedness - void of hierarchy and power. She is continually encouraging people to build friendships beyond their own groups, describing how it "helps disrupt that fear that we're socialised to have about each other, that mistrust". With the intention to cultivate unity amongst people, Kava appears to embody this philosophy in every area of her life, including her approach to feminism. "A lot of people hear the word [feminism] and assume it's only for women. They exclude trans folk and men". However, Kava intends to disrupt this segregation, and raise awareness of the inclusivity that must be felt amongst gender, race, and sexuality. With this in mind, she explains how "I definitely think that feminism informs my community organising, especially my belief that feminism is for everyone"
We have the power to shape the change and the culture in more positive ways. We have agency and it's important not to forget that.
When asking Kava about her "sassy" side, she is beautifully honest about her journey to bridging the gap between pleasure, intimacy, and action. "For a long time I thought I was asexual because I didn't quite grasp desire...I spent a lot more time thinking about it in a conceptual way than actually engaging in [recipical] relationships". She explains how her approach is changing the more she opens herself up to other people without expectation.
"I feel I'm tapping into this vulnerability and it's kind of hot! When you're tender and honest and sincere, it opens up room for a totally different type of connection that's more profound". We couldn't agree more, joyfully celebrating the way everyone is able to embody sensuality through their own unique characteristics.
I feel I'm tapping into this vulnerability and its kind of hot! When you're tender and honest and sincere, it opens up room for a totally different type of connection that's more profound
This playful lightness is something Kava is carrying into mulitple areas of her life, including her recent experience of being part of a 'Skate Play'. By bringing theatre into skateboarding, Kava worked with a team to create an outdoor performance based on the book “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” by Richard Bach. Kava explains how there was an unexpected cross-over between both disciplines. "Skateboarding and theatre - people don't always bring those two together... but both of them are about improvisation, being fully present, and having a defused focus." She explains how the act of practicing, crafting performance takes the same kind of resilience.
Ending the conversation on this note reflects Kava's determined characteristics to continue striving for change amongst communities. The agency she intends on bringing to individuals through collective action is something we can't wait to see grow even further.