MBU Skatepark in Neukölln is filled with the sound of tiny wheels gliding across concrete, as skaters roll and snake through the outdoor space. We’re greeted by Sille Tødten and Franziska Datz, the co-founders of Hera, a project that aims to provide a safe space for womxn to “Skate, create, and smile.”
Sille and Franziska, who first met almost a year ago on the corner of MBU, both started skateboarding around three years ago. They were happy to find a new source of empowerment and energy – one that came from finding like-minded womxn in what is traditionally a male-dominated sport. “At that time when I started skating, I didn’t see that many girls in Berlin,” Sille tells us. “I was mostly skating with guys, and then I met Franzi and I was like, ‘Oh you have a board. Sick!’” The pair hit it off and started finding more female, transgender, and non-binary skaters who all shared the desire to be part of an empowering community. Named after the Greek goddess of women, Hera, the group was born, and Sille and Franziska began hosting weekly skate sessions and creative meetups.
Today, Hera is a growing community of womxn who meet and skate regularly. The initiative provides a space for anyone, regardless of their skill level, to join in. Both Sille and Franziska understand that for many people, just showing up can be the first challenge. Sille says, “It can be mega-intimidating to enter a space where you don’t feel invited. When we do the Wednesday skate sessions, the girls have that one invitation that makes a difference.” She adds, “The idea behind Hera was to provide a safe space for womxn to skate and get together without feeling excluded or neglected. You can just be yourself.”
Becoming ROLL Models
Skateistan is an international NGO that uses skateboarding as a tool to empower children and young people between the ages of 5 and 17. Their focus is on groups who are often excluded from sports opportunities, such as girls, children and young people living with disabilities, and those from low-income backgrounds. According to Skakeistan, their aim is to provide safe spaces where children can “have fun, build their skills and confidence, and break down social barriers by making new friends.” To continue breaking down these barriers in skate communities, Skateistan launched the Goodpush Alliance, an initiative that supports skateboarding projects worldwide through online resources, workshops, funding, and more.
When Goodpush announced that it was looking for female skaters to join its ROLL Model Program in February 2020, Sille and Franzi knew they had to sign up. They became mentors and hosted a four-week Hera Summer Camp for girls in Berlin aged between 13 and 18 who wanted to learn to skate. “It was so much fun to encourage the younger girls to get on the board,” says Franzi. “They were fearless! They just started doing it.”
It’s nice to have friends that you can skate with, but with Hera there’s this extra level of support. We’re all growing together.
Although Sille was teaching the girls how to skate, she learned a lot from them, too. At one point, the Hera ROLL Models encouraged the kids to write motivational notes to each other. Sille laughs as she remembers one particularly wise nine-year-old girl who wrote, “Life is hard enough. Don’t make it harder.” She also recalls the note of one clued-in 12-year-old who wrote, “There are no good days without bad days.” By the end of the four weeks, the Hera team scanned all of the notes and artwork made by the girls and curated an exhibition, displayed on the walls of the skatepark.
While we are chatting at the park, a couple of little girls confidently whizz around us on their boards, wearing huge grins on their faces. We comment on how the Berlin skating scene is rapidly changing to include more girls than ever before. And while the Hera womxn are certainly heroes for the younger generation of female skaters, they are also champions among their own peer group. For many of the members, being part of Hera inspires them to get out of their comfort zones, improve their skills, and, most importantly, to have fun! “I’m way more committed and motivated when I’m skating with people who empower me to, like, actually go for it and not just be scared to fall,” says Sille. “We encourage each other and push each other further.”
A Space for Everybody
Sille and Franziska stress that they don’t intend to divide the skate community but rather to carve out a space where womxn feel safe and confident enough to skate in front of, and with, boys and men. “It’s not our goal to create a barrier between boys and girls,” says Franziska. “We encourage everybody to meet, skate, and motivate each other.”
Sille adds, “Guys are not excluded when we have our sessions. They’re still here and they’re chatting with everybody and everybody’s having a beer and having a good time. I’ve always skated with guys, and it makes a big difference for me to suddenly be able to skate with lots of girls. But at the end of the day, we’re just skating with our friends.”
Hera’s positive influence goes beyond Berlin. Many organizations around the world are looking to the female-run non-profit organization as a shining example of a supportive community. Sille tells us that she often gets messages on Instagram from people asking for advice on how to start something similar. “It’s really cool to see other communities getting inspired to create something together,” she says. “I feel like, for human beings, the feeling of being a part of something is everything, and it’s really important to create a space where you can go when you feel lost.”
Pushing for Self-Love
For Sille, skateboarding has changed her life. It has allowed her to travel and meet people all over the world – and she’s met some of her best friends through skating. But skateboarding is particularly helpful when she’s having a rough day. “One day I was feeling really disconnected with myself, but I went skating with my roommate and I almost started crying with happiness because I learned a new trick,” she tells us. “It’s like meditation. You don’t have to think about anything else. These small victories give you so much confidence, and you can apply the same mindset to all areas of your life.”
Franzi also uses skating as a way to reconnect with herself. “Just this morning I was feeling a little tired and didn’t feel like I could skate, but then I got on the board and started pushing and was like ‘Oh! Skateboarding is great!’” she says with a smile. “It’s like that every time you get on the board.”
As we skate around the park, we meet some of the other Hera members who share how the initiative has helped improve their confidence and shape their lifestyle. We chatted with Jocelyn Ricard and Paula Sagredo, who first met each other through Hera and have been hanging out ever since. Both womxn moved to Berlin in September 2020 and are relatively new to skating. “Skateboarding allowed me to meet so many cool girls when I first arrived here,” Jocelyn tells us. “It can be kind of intimidating to skate in a park full of boys, but with the girls, we all support each other.” For Paula, Hera also provided a space where she feels at home. “When I found Hera, I felt like I had immediate community,” she says. “I felt nothing but support from everyone. I feel like I can absolutely be myself, skate, and have a great time.”
Skating has so much to do with your identity. It’s important that you feel comfortable and embraced.
Skate and Create
The Hera womxn don’t just skate together, they create together too. “Most of the skaters that we know are either designers or artists. I feel like creativity goes hand in hand with skateboarding, especially in Berlin,” says Sille. “We’re all doing our own creative thing, so we thought, ‘Why not collaborate?’” Hera’s creative workshops are an integral part of what the initiative is all about. From drawing to writing poetry together, the workshop activities inspire the members to not only make art, but also think freely. “It’s so meditative,” says Franzi. “Sometimes, two or three hours can pass by without anyone saying anything. Then someone will have a really thoughtful question and we will all talk intensively for ten minutes.” Sille adds, “It’s a really interesting way to get to know each other.”
One of the Hera members, Paula Umaña, makes the Hera zines, a printed publication that showcases all of the art made during the creative workshops. She’s been skateboarding for around one year, and she’s been a Hera member from the beginning. “For me, Hera is like my family,” she says. “When I first arrived in Berlin I didn’t have anyone, but now I have a safe space where I feel supported.”
We also spoke with Fia Anam while admiring her funghi-patterned grip tape. She’s been skateboarding for around seven years. “I came to the second art workshop and it very quickly became a community I wanted to be a part of,” she recalls. “It’s nice to have friends that you can skate with, but with Hera there’s this extra level of support. We’re all growing together.” Fia tells us that she’s seen girls go from skating on flat ground to being able to ‘rock to fakie’ on a ramp, which means rolling up to the lip of the ramp, pushing the front truck over it, stalling, then rolling down the ramp backwards – pretty impressive. “It’s been such a nice journey to share together,” says Fia. “And it’s been so great to meet other girls who are also doing their own creative thing. “It’s been really motivating, both to get better at skating, and for creativity, too.”
We also spoke with Marcos Chuchu from Brazil, who’s been skating for around ten years. She’s been joining the Hera group since the summer, making skate videos of the crew. “It’s been a blessing to experience a new kind of energy,” she says. “Skating is usually so macho, but with the girls it feels safer and more supportive.” She continues, “Skating has so much to do with your identity. It’s important that you feel comfortable and embraced.” Chuchu grew up skating with boys, but never felt like she had a role model that she could identify with. “I’m so happy there’s now a space for women, queer people, and non-binary people,” she says as she looks around the park. “Look at this. This is beautiful.”
The Future of Hera
Hera has been continually evolving since its inception, but 2020 has been a difficult year for growth. The pandemic has brought rules and restrictions that ban large group gatherings, which flies in the face of what Hera is all about. However, the womxn behind it have still managed to grow a beautiful community that safely spends time enjoying the simplicity of just being outside. Skateboarding has been a daily necessity for many who simply need to escape from the reality of COVID-19.
When we spoke to Hera, Berlin was in yet another lockdown and Hera’s skate sessions and art workshops were indefinitely on hold. During the downtime, Sille tells us that they are working on ‘Hera Home Videos’, a video project that will profile the individual Hera members. “We want to motivate people during the Berlin winter,” she says. “We want to use Hera as a platform to showcase the great things the gxrls are doing.”
This time will pass, and life will return to normal, perhaps even better than before. As we chat with Sille and Franziska, they talk about their plans for the future. “I’m really excited for next year when coronavirus is under control,” says Sille. “Right now it’s very quiet, but we will definitely be doing more workshops and meetups soon.”
Follow Hera on Instagram for information about meetups, workshops, and events