It's been more than half a century since some California surfers who couldn't find a wave slapped a wooden board onto a set of skate wheels and took off down the pavement.  Since then, skateboarding has become a hugely popular pastime and competitive sport for millions of young people across the United States and the world over. 

It's a sport that has long been dominated by young men. But at East Side Community High School in New York City, young women, too, are learning to experience the thrills and spills of skateboarding and the empowering bond of skater culture throught a one-of-a-kind class.

"Well, since, we got skateboarding in school, before I didn't really know how to skateboard or anything, so when I came here I learned a lot," says student Jade Fellows. "And I started thinking about it outside of school, so I got a skateboard."

Billy Rohan, a professional skateboarder by trade, teaches the class.

"This program came about through a group called Open Road of New York. It's a nonprofit organization that I work for," Rohan explains. "We started an after-school program here at the park.  And the school saw the amount of kids that were here and wanted to expand the program to possibly doing a class in the high school."

The class teaches the fundamentals of skateboarding and also inspires the girls to continue improving their skills.

"The first time I stepped on the skateboard, I fell, and I thought, 'I'm going to get back up and try again,'" says student Michelle Whitaker.  "And now I'm skateboarding fast. And Billy was really proud of me 'cause I did that. 'Cause I learned how to skateboard... in the matter of two weeks."

"I noticed that the girls in the class, that when they first started, they couldn't stand on the board or do anything. It was their very first time ever skating," Rohan says. "To now, where I've actually seen some of them buy their own skateboards to bring after school. And that's kinda cool to see, 'cause it's not just for guys. Anybody can do it as long as you're having fun with it."

"There's so many sports out there that they say are only for boys," says Jade Fellows. "But girls, they can play in any sport. And when people hear skateboarding, they think it's a boy sport, but we're not boys and we're here skating." 

Assistant Principal Tom Mullen has also noticed a change in the girls and boys of the class - and not just skateboarding skills.

"I've seen the kids feeling better about themselves. A lot more confidence. I think it's because they tried something new. They practiced at it. They feel themselves getting better at it. And that builds confidence."

The students are taught to balance and to get back up again, no matter how hard you fall.

"I've seen a lot of the kids that I've never seen before coming after school and skating the ramps that we bring out. They start to kinda have this mentality that now they belong to a group," Rohan says. "Whereas before, they kinda didn't feel like they were part of anything.  And then they started the skate class and saw how many kids were here after school.  And if they just showed up, it didn't matter if they were good or not good at it, if they were just there. They felt like they were part of something."

Tyriq Holloway generated interest for the class by writing a petition. He has also found his passion for the sport.

"It just kept me busy. Because if I don't land something, I want to land it. So whenever I have free time, I'm skating," says Holloway. "And that's it. I just like to skate now.  School's first, but after school during lunchtime I get to skate. So I'm happy."

After school, the park is open for Rohan, his students and other skateboarders in New York City as a hassle-free place to practice. This has created an environment where many can reap the benefits of the program and shows how important it is to help others reach new heights.

Having a proactive role model has helped the students to value discipline and taught them that through skateboarding, they can break many boundaries in their lives.

"We have opportunity to do things, so that's why I'm taking it," says Michelle Whitaker. "So I can try something new, and I'm a girl, and a lot of girls don't do this. I really learned a lot by skateboarding."

Holloway concurs: "Anything is possible. Anything. You can get anything.You just gotta work for it."