I started skateboarding in a sari at 43. Then I went viral on TikTok. – Maclean’s

© Copyright 2023 St. Joseph Communications.
“If I can inspire somebody to try something unconventional and have fun doing it, then I’m living the dream”
Oorbee Roy
Photograph by Chantal Garcia)
I started skateboarding after decades of watching my husband blow off steam in the skatepark after work. I’ve always found his hobby cool, but I never considered joining him—I thought I’d probably fall flat on my face and make a fool of myself.
Five years ago, my son and daughter, who were then five and seven, started skateboarding with their dad. We would go to the skatepark as a family, and I would stand by the halfpipes watching them and thinking: I don’t want to be on the sidelines for the rest of my life.
I think I surprised my husband when I told him I wanted to skate with the family. It’s not that I don’t like trying new things—I did a lot of weightlifting when I was younger and was a bit of an adrenalin junkie. But I lost that adventurous spirit when I became an adult. After graduating high school in New Jersey, I got my computer science degree, moved to New York and got a job on Wall Street. Work became my life. In 2007, I moved to Toronto, and spent most of my thirties building and running a home furnishing and baby clothing business. After I had kids, I felt like there was no time for me to try new things.
That changed once both my kids started school. I was craving a new challenge, and skateboarding fit the bill. So, at 43, I signed up for an adult skateboarding class. The first few months were terrifying and filled with bruises and puzzled stares from onlookers. There weren’t a lot of women skating even back then, and even fewer moms, so people didn’t know what to think of me. My husband was worried I’d fall and hurt myself, and people who didn’t skateboard would watch me, perplexed, as I padded up.
After a year of practice, I emerged not only as a cool mom, but also a competent skateboarder. I became a transition skater, which means I ride down big bowls at the skatepark, as opposed to doing street tricks like flips and grinds (those are too hard on the ankles).
(Photograph by Chantal Garcia)
A year into this journey, in 2018, I started posting skateboarding videos on Instagram for my family and friends, but the account never really took off. In February 2021, during one of our many lockdowns, a friend told me I should start posting videos on TikTok to reach a younger audience. I felt like, more than ever, people needed a source of joy in their lives, so I started the TikTok account @auntyskates and posted my videos there.
My friend was right. I quickly went viral, gaining 100,000 followers in my first four months. My first video was a simple demonstration of a rock to fakie trick, and it garnered almost 5,000 views. From there, I got creative: I would prop my camera up and film myself doing 360 spins on progressively larger bowls. I began recording short vlogs sharing skating tips, updates on my progress, how skating had changed my life and more.
One day, I had an idea to make a video that captured my two loves: my Bengali heritage and skateboarding. My kids and I went to Ashbridges, a park with a seven-foot bowl close to my East Toronto neighbourhood. I put on a purple sari, and they filmed me as I cleared the bowl. My gold and purple sari blew in the wind behind me like a long cape and I felt like I was flying. The video went viral and put me on the map: it’s reached almost one million views. I noticed that I gained a lot of followers from India and it was so wonderful to connect with more South Asians (and really, people of all ethnicities). Some people thanked me for making it okay to follow your dreams without worrying about what others will think.
(Photograph by Chantal Garcia)
The channel kept growing, and my life became surreal. The Today show called and wanted me on as a guest to talk about my videos. My family and I were invited to The Adam Project movie premiere last March, and I interviewed Ryan Reynolds. People started telling me they loved the channel. I’ve heard girls and teenagers say I make them feel confident, people in their 20s say they’re relieved that being an adult doesn’t mean you have to be boring, and 40-year-olds say that my videos have inspired them to take up old and new hobbies. I couldn’t believe any of it was happening—all I did was share my story. It blew my mind that there was an audience for a middle-aged mom like me. One day, I was driving through Toronto with my daughter when she pointed out that my face was on one of the BMO billboards. I was so shocked that I nearly drove off the highway.
A few months after starting the channel, I began making a living as a content creator, using my background in business to help me monetize my new passion. TikTok doesn’t pay me directly: their creator fund, the pool of money they pay to popular users, isn’t yet available to Canadians. But TikTok personnel have connected me with brands like Neutrogena, BestBuy and Cheerios for marketing campaigns. The amount I earn per campaign varies depending on whether the brand wants to post my content on their own channels, wants exclusivity, or wants to put ad dollars behind it. Lately, I’ve also been doing speaking engagements and teaching women how to skateboard. In 2022, my first year as a content creator, I made $70,000. With business sense and savvy, you can make a six-figure salary as a content creator.
But the real reason I’ve thrown myself headfirst into this new livelihood is because the entire pursuit brings me so much joy. A year and a half ago, I started sharing my passion with others, teaching a group of parents and working professionals (who are mostly women) in Toronto how to skateboard. It feels so special. If I can inspire somebody to try something unconventional and have fun doing it, then I’m living the dream.
(Photograph by Rebecca Tisdale Marcias)
Since starting my TikTok channel, I’m often asked if my kids are embarrassed of me. So far, the answer is no: they think having a viral skateboarding mom is cool. They’ve hardly known anything else, so for them, seeing a 48-year-old South Asian mom in a sari cruise down a seven-foot bowl is normal. And I’m glad it’s that way: I want my daughter to grow up with the image of a South Asian woman who can laugh and be goofy and have fun. I’ve also been asked if I wish I’d learned to skateboard when I was younger, but I’m just glad I started at all. As we get older, I think we forget how to play or do things just because they’re fun.
I want to hold on to that spirit for as long as I can and I’m already thinking of content ideas for 2023. I’m wondering if we should take this on the road. Imagine seeing a mom skateboarding at Venice Beach with her kids, her sari floating in the wind behind her—probably falling down a few times, but hopefully still making people smile.
As Told To Alex Cyr 
© Copyright 2023 St. Joseph Communications.


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