Hera hopes to create a space for womxn to feel safe and empowered to skate. We recently caught up with its co-founders to check in on what’s happened since the launch of the passion project turned NGO.
The Choice Is Yoursby Black Sheep plays from an anonymous JBL speaker on a corner bench at the MBU Skatepark in Berlin’s Neukölln district. Along with the 90s hip-hop beats bumping, there is a pulsating energy throughout the park, as board decks and wheels slap the concrete, and positive affirmations and encouragements circulate among the mix of skaters gliding about. It’s a mid-summer Thursday evening; and even though the Hera project usually meets on Wednesdays, Sille Tødten is at the edge of the park, greeting and welcoming a handful of womxn coming over to her for the weekly Hera Skate sessions.
Sille, along with her best friend, Franziska Datz, are the co-founders of the Hera project, a Berlin-based initiative aimed at forging a space for womxn to feel safe and comfortable skating, creating, and smiling, as written on their Instagram’s bio. We recently caught up with the Hera team on what has happened in the short time their empowerment project has taken off in Germany’s capital city and what is yet to come.
The idea behind Hera was simple enough: an opportunity to give all womxn a safe space to skate – and create – together without feeling excluded, neglected or overwhelmed. “The womxn’s skate community in general, in Berlin, is there, and it’s getting more active – but we needed a space where we could find each other. Berlin’s larger skate community is huge, and it’s beautiful, but if you’re new to skateboarding, it can be hard to find yourself in a comfortable and empowering environment,” Sille says.
When she moved from Denmark to Berlin three years ago, Sille found that the community around her was surprisingly diverse, inspiring and expressive, one where everyone was encouraged and motivated to experiment and express themselves. But she and Franziska understood this is often far from the norm. The difficulty Sille’s referring to comes specifically from womxn feeling a general lack of support when they start skating, due to the notoriously male-dominated nature of the sport and its culture.
For both co-founders, the main motivating force behind starting Hera — named after the Greek goddess of women — was to ensure that same empowerment and community in the Berlin scene that they were lucky enough to be exposed to from the very beginning. “We want connection. Not everybody shows up [to our sessions] every time, but [they] know that they have a space and an invitation. For some womxn, that initial invitation makes such a big difference because they feel that someone wants them [to be there], and they’re not entering someone else’s space,” Sille says.
This connection, they say, is not solely reserved for womxn who skate, but is also essential to cultivate in collaboration with their male counterparts. “Womxn want to create their own safe spaces within the male-dominated space, in order to actually skateboard. It’s important to understand that womxn sessions and initiatives [like Hera] are not about divid[ing] the community into male and female,” but rather about helping to facilitate a space where womxn can “find the push of confidence to skate in front of tons of men,” says Joana Fongern, skater, founder of streetwear brand Nayf and Wavey, and one of Hera’s volunteer ROLL Models.
“It’s important for us not to be an organization that divides up the existing skate community. That’s why our skate sessions take place: to unite everyBODY,” the co-founders add.
Support From Many Corners
When the Heras come together in the local park every Wednesday, male skaters are there too. However, the guys aren’t hanging back or staring at the womxn; instead — naturally — they’re skating alongside them.
Because they know how hard it is when you start, they’ve been there before — [and because of that], they’re so supportive of what we’re doing.
The Hera project has not only received support from Neukölln’s existing skate community — even from families and businesses in the surrounding area — but also from other local initiatives, collaborators and international organizations. Among these is Skateistan, a non-profit that uses skateboarding and other educational programs in Afghanistan, Cambodia and South Africa as a tools to empower children between the ages of 5-17. According to their website, 50% of Skateistan’s students are girls.
One of Skateistan’s goals is aimed at “break[ing] down barriers created by differences in gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic states – issues common within the communities that Skateistan works in,” echoes Adele Guinaudie, a former intern at the non-profit. Skateistan also supports and shares knowledge among social skateboarding projects worldwide, hoping to make a larger global impact.
To help achieve this, Skateistan started The Goodpush Alliance, which offers training and advice to grassroots skateboarding projects through online resources, workshops, support calls, funding and more. Last August, over 30 different skate projects were in attendance at The Goodpush’s first meeting held in Copenhagen. The momentum from this initial success has enabled the initiative to hold even more events and webinars ever since, both in the real world and online.
Empowering Physically and Digitally
Enter Hera. When The Goodpush announced that they were looking for role models in the skate community to join their ROLL Model Program, Sille, Franzi, (and of course their burgeoning community of skateboarding womxn), knew they had to step in and showcase their leadership efforts. “We immediately knew that this would be the chance for us to learn and receive the support [we needed] to begin the journey with Hera,” says Sille.
This guidance and support came at an opportune time as the co-founders were continuing to build their community while amplifying their main goal: encouraging Berlin’s womxn to go beyond their limits and challenge themselves positively through the sport.
And not just that: Sille says one of the main reasons the project grew was not solely based on a love for the practice, but for creativity, expression, and finding spaces where these paths intersect, especially considering the myriad of artistic scenes that are thriving in Berlin.
We’re so many creative womxn surrounded by each other and we’re all kind of doing our own thing, which is great. But why not combine it and make something beautiful together?
With inspiration from the webinars that The Goodpush encourages, and events like Pushing Boarders, Hera has also taken to hosting a range of other creative activities for its community members, offering another space that highlights collaboration and creativity. Its namesake: HerArt.
“At the end of each workshop, all the artwork, [videos, conversation, etc.] is collected and scanned into a digital library which gives everybody access to the raw material. From this, the creative process can continue beyond the Hera Workshop,” the co-founders say.
Merging in-person events with online spaces means the work that Hera does in “real life” can continue to grow and develop even after the womxn head home for the evening. This means Hera’s platform and goals are able to reach a digital community, and can be experienced far beyond the local park during the Wednesday skate sessions.
Never Getting Easier, Just Getting Better
In the three months since its inception, Hera has been “overwhelmed” by positivity and encouragement, along with optimism over its future possibilities. Sille and Franzi’s commitment to what they’ve deem their “sun” project has introduced many womxn to the world of skating. At the same time, they’ve been working to spread the word that the sport, in an ideal, co-existing world, is not about nailing tricks or being able to show off skills — but about the fun, the people, and the connections being formed. It’s about feeling comfortable with getting out of one’s comfort zone, while building those necessary outlets of “mutual exchange, support and inspiration,” Franzi adds.
The co-founders are striving to create a “home feeling” in whatever they do, be it at the skatepark, a workshop or elsewhere. Considering its project leaders found a home within each other, it was only natural for them to want to open those doors for others to do and feel the same.
“As humans, the feeling of being part of something is everything, right? That’s the feeling we want to share through Hera,” continues Sille. “This space you can join if you feel lost – if it’s within the skate scene, in your creative processes or just in life. A space where we can build strong connections and creative collaborations, where we can inspire and motivate each other. That’s Hera.”
For four weeks, starting on August 25th, Hera’s first ever skate camp will welcome 20 young womxn from ages 13-18 to join 4 skate sessions, 4 creative workshops, 2 talks and 1 exhibition where the co-founders and their ROLL Model volunteers will be showcasing everything they have learned from each other since starting the initiative. For more information, visit their newest website heraskate.comor check out their Instagram for further details.