Marmalade Slam chats to Caro Hernández from Colombia

Samantha Trayhurn

Flying into El Dorado International Airport, Bogotá is a sprawling mass of buildings. From above, it’s easy to see why the skating is so good here. There’s just so much concrete. It’s my second time visiting, and this time I am even more excited. Over the last few years I have been watching new skateparks pop up in the city via friend’s social media posts. Gone are the days of bowls with missing chunks, uneven coping, and concrete that demands you change to softer wheels. In Australia we closed skateparks and sometimes even filled them with sand during the height of the Covid pandemic, but apparently the Colombian officials spent that time constructing Olympic grade facilities. The improvements have inevitably seen the level of skating climb to new heights. Skaters that were already at the top of my ‘gnarly shredder’ list are now doing things that leave my jaw permanently agape.  The bowls are bigger and faster, the rails are higher and longer, and the whole scene is just thriving.

Skating in Colombia definitely imbues me with beginner’s fear all over again. People are so welcoming in skateparks, but everything moves so fast that you need to be on your A-game. Unlike at home where my biggest competitors for a run are two-year olds on scooters, the 'ramp daycare' trend has yet to hit Colombia. The skateparks here are exclusively filled with people who are 100% serious about being there. It’s an electric energy that means if you want a trick, you’ve really got to want it, and if you get it, you better believe everyone there is going to be hyped for you.

While in Bogotá visiting my partner's family, I am so excited to skate with my Colombian friends again. Between sessions, I  manage to squeeze in an interview with Caro Hernández, who most people probably know by her old derby number 986.

You know it’s no secret I am one of your biggest fans. But I actually don’t know when and how you started roller skating? And how long have you been skating in skateparks?

I started roller skating when I was 16 years old. A friend of mine told me about roller derby and as I did my research, I really wanted to do it. So, I got some money that I saved from my Quinces, which is a traditional party here in Colombia. As soon as you turn 15, your family throws you a party and celebrates that you’re becoming a woman.  It’s a fun story! Anyways, the thing is I saved up my money and got my first pair of skates. They were really cheap, but I was so excited. 

My parents were like ‘Oh yeah, we’re pretty sure you’re going to quit in a short time...’ but I stuck with it. I joined my roller derby team Bogotá Bone Breakers that I played with for 8 years, and I met Moon Sun there. She was the one that started seeing CIB and this movement of quad skaters doing ramp skating and she invited me. That was around the end of 2014. So, when we went to the Roller Derby World Cup in Dallas Texas, I got to know Michelle [Estrojen] and Lady Trample without knowing that was going to be my skate path. I’ve been doing it for almost 8 years now, which has been amazing.

Fakie in the dreamy Tercer Milenio small bowl

I always think that skaters from Colombia have such a fierce style. Why do you think that is? How would you describe Colombian roller skate culture? 

I’ve always said this, and I really stand by it: The fact that we have such a hard time getting our gear and affording skate equipment really makes us appreciate what we have and enjoy it on another level. People who skate here are really committed and really put a lot of effort into skating. I see a lot of passion. We are passionate not only for the tricks, but also the experiences that roller skating has given us. Every time we get together it’s huge energy with people going crazy. That’s really powerful, because you see the tribe. I say the ‘ganas,’ like the fire. It might vary between cities because of our social dynamics, but I just see the same in everyone. Since they put skates on, they really want to do it.

What are some of your favourite skateparks in Colombia?

In my city, Bogotá, I have two favourite parks, Fontanar and Tercer Milenio. These two parks are kind of new. When we started skating, we only had access to small and shitty parks. But right now, we have access to good bowls, good street courses, and access most of the time and most of the year (because the weather here might be a little bit rainy, but it’s usually good). Something that I tell my friends since I have been skating in other parks abroad is that these parks have nothing to envy from other parks. They are super good, well built, fast, with good coping, and there’s always someone to skate with. 

In Medellín I really like Viga skatepark which is a really well-built street plaza. Then there’s La Cuatro Sur, which is an iconic skatepark people might have seen – it’s built under a bridge. I also really like Ciudad del Rio which is a small bowl near the museum. With that one, it’s more the vibe of the place. Most people go and skate and then take a beer and talk. The energy between spots across the country is pretty different. When you go to Medellín it’s more like a party and friendship vibe. And when you skate in Bogotá, people are really focused on skating. I appreciate having the opportunity to experience those two things and see the dynamics in the different spots. 

Can you tell me about a favourite skate experience or event in Colombia? What makes it stick in your mind?

The first that comes to mind is the Moxi Tour when Dita and Michelle came to Colombia. The thing that really stays with me is that feeling of being inspired. Saying to myself ‘Ok. This is possible. This is happening right now, and we can accomplish many more things.’ We had 3 days in Bogotá with Dita which was pretty mellow. Then we went to Medellín where Michelle joined us. It was insane. We had two full days of skating. So many people showed up. We had a lot of support from the community. I think that was a door, like, an opening to the skate scene and taking skating in a new direction here.

The other one that stands out is last year’s Vamos A La Playa. That event has a really fun story. One of my friends was like ‘We should go to the beach,’ so we were talking about that with the Hell on Quads crew.  Then it escalated to becoming a really massive event with support from all these different people in the community. We got like 30 sponsors. We were throwing gifts away, making crazy competitions like who’s going to do the best duo trick. It wasn’t that serious, but people were so hyped. And the best thing about it was people travelled from all over the country just to go. Many people hadn’t even seen the Colombian Atlantic coast before, or they’d never seen the sea. It was the perfect excuse for them to travel with their friends, enjoy the beach, and skate. I hope we do that one again this year.

How and when did you learn to speak English? Do you think that English is a barrier that stops some Latin American skaters from receiving opportunities?

When I was around 8 years old, I got into music. I loved music and English. I used to listen to a song, read the lyrics in English, and then see the translation. I would be relating every word to the meaning. If I really loved the song, I was singing it in English, but in my mind, I was recreating what it meant because I knew the meaning in Spanish. I think picking it up that young was easy. I try to learn other languages now but I’m not really that good because I don’t have that kind of motivation. I need to enjoy it, I think.

I think English is a barrier for many skaters in non-English speaking countries. But I have also seen people make their way in this industry without having to speak it. It makes it really hard though. Even for myself, as someone who has decent English, it was hard to make a way and show that we deserve opportunities. There’s a huge community down here of incredibly talented skaters and being able to communicate to company owners in their language has helped make the way for some opportunities.

You’re such a passionate person who dedicates so much time to skating. Can you tell me about some of the organisations you work for, and the kinds of things you do with them?

I do love skating and I don’t know why, but I do love organising stuff too. I feel passionate about making good experiences for other skaters.

I started Hell on Quads with Moon Sun in 2014. Since, we have been doing events, and we have a skate crew of really amazing Colombian skaters. We connected Hell on Quads with S1 helmets which is awesome because getting a pair of good knee pads and a good helmet is really hard. That’s something I am really proud and really happy about having done.

One of my main goals with Hell on Quads was showcasing what Colombia has to bring, and making people fall in love with Colombian skating and the Colombian skate scene itself.

After the Moxi Tour trip, I got to talk to Michelle and luckily, I got the sponsor of Moxi Skates the next year. I have been skating with them since 2018. Following on from joining the team, I wanted Moxi to have more to do with skating here in Latin America because they really love the Latin American passion and what we have to bring to the table. We built the Moxi Latino project which involved supporting different skaters. [1] Speaking again about the language barrier, the goal was making communication easier. So, I would be talking to my friends in Spanish, and after that transmitting all the information to Moxi in English.

I have also been working with S1 for the last 2.5 years. This is a fun story… I’m a sound engineer and I specialise in acoustics, so I was working for an acoustics company, finishing college, doing my thesis and I was about to explode. I had just moved out alone and I remember getting an email from Dan from S1 being like ‘Hey, we’re looking for someone that can manage our S1 Rollerskate account and we want someone that’s already in the team.’ I was like ‘Yeah for sure, I’m super down. I can do it. What do I have to do?’ It was basically managing their Instagram account. So, I started doing this work with them and it was really life changing. I quit my job at the acoustics company and just focused on roller skating and growing the community. My goal with S1 now is putting roller skating in a different place and showcasing that you can still do badass stuff with a helmet and pads on. 

Caro and Slam make a vid in Tercer Milenio for S1's new retro pads. 

Even though I love my job and I wouldn’t change it for the world, I know this is something I struggle with at times – when you work so much with skating, how do you make sure to keep the love alive for yourself and find time for your own skating?

Working in the skate community is like a dream. I feel like I am in a dream. I am really grateful even though I know it comes with extra pressure because people are always looking up to you, and thinking about what you can do for them. Not in a bad way, but it happens. 

At the beginning it was really hard to set the boundaries on what’s work, what’s fun, what I have to do, what I want to do. At the end of the day, it’s still a job. I do have responsibilities even if I do have a bit of freedom with what I do. Sometimes, it’s like a rollercoaster. I used to think ‘Oh now that I am doing this and I work for these companies, I need to get better at skating. I need to improve my image and be more clean.’ Right now, I just let the feelings be, and do what I do.

It took me a long time to feel comfortable with setting the boundaries and accepting that I don’t need to be happy every day that I skate. It’s not going to be like that because life has ups and downs. I focus on not punishing myself for having a bad day, or not progressing, or not advancing in the way I want to. I did feel that pressure. I did feel that I needed to do better. But I am glad I got to set that boundary and say, ‘this is my skate experience, this is something that I’ve got to do for myself and not for others.’

You’ve got such an incredible style. What’s one of your favourite tricks, and something that you’re working on at the moment?

Certainly, my favourite trick is sliding. I love sliding. It feels really good. I love making up crazy lines with a bunch of tricks and making them look flowy. More than focusing on working on new tricks, I like working on making my skating look effortless. I like putting attention into the details. Like, is this slide long enough? Is this jump good enough? Can I do this better? If this line looks good, can I make it better? I think creating lines is my favourite hobby. And besides that, I really want to get back into grinding. I am building a new setup with wide trucks. I’ve been using narrow trucks and my goal last year was doing crazy grinds without wide trucks, so right now when I switch back, it’s going to be easier. I want to explore that and also get more into street skating. I’ve been going out with some blading friends and it’s a whole different world. I want to get better at that. That’s a goal for this year. 

 

 Flowing in Fontanar Del Rio 

What would you like to see for the future of the skate community in Colombia?

I think the skate community in Colombia is growing so fast, it’s really so hard to keep the pace. I just really want to see all the people who are putting their heart and time and effort into creating stuff for the community with genuine passion and real interest in seeing it grow, achieve what they want. I think Colombia is slowly putting itself on the map. I wish that more people would get to know all of the Colombian talent and acknowledge that there is a bunch of talented people having a hard time with acquiring gear. I’d like to see more representation. More support. More growing. Not necessarily from outside brands, but from all of the local brands to keep growing and evolving and creating a local industry that is strong enough to keep supporting the people here.

Another thing I’d really like to see is more people travelling from abroad and getting to know Colombia – overcoming this stigma of all the bad things Colombia represents worldwide because of social media, what we see on the news, or the ignorance that is really in all of us. I think we have so much to offer. I love Colombian culture. I love how nice people are here.

I have already seen this materialising slowly this year. I am super stoked because I have different friends out of nowhere be like ‘Hey, now that we are allowed to travel, I would love to go to Colombia. Can I visit you? I want to go to Bogotá and skate with you all.’ And that’s so mind blowing. I am super stoked for that. That was one of my goals for a long time. To make people fall in love with skating here, and to make people feel the urge to come. In this way skaters here will get to see some skating from abroad without having to make the extreme effort to travel. Seeing people from abroad is definitely something that locals look up to. Like ‘Ok so they are coming from the other side of the world just to visit Colombia. So, what we have here is good.’ That will inspire new generations to keep showcasing their talent and keep enjoying what they do and where they live.

Who are some local Colombian skaters that you really admire? Who should people be following?

For sure Moon Sun, she’s been my friend for a long time and my skate partner. I’ve seen her progress. She’s just wild. She does anything she sets herself to do. She’s super rad and I think one of the best skaters I’ve seen in action.

Alejandra from Medellín. She’s one of those friends who’s really committed to doing things and loves rails. Which for me is amazing because I hate rails so watching her do them and make them look easy is really inspiring. She’s also just an energy bomb.

Marea from Manizales is an amazing, super fierce, really hardcore skater. She sets the bar super high. She’s the first girl I saw landing a 720 here in Colombia on quad skates. She’s right now living in Porto Alegre in Brazil, so I am really excited to see what she’s going to accomplish there.

Other skaters from Medellín I really like: Juanjo, he has a background in inline skating but he’s really pushing quad skating. Crazy grinds on rails, vertical skating, flat spins. He’s unstoppable. Kari is super dedicated to skating. Clean tricks. Awesome style. She really pushes herself and those around her to make tricks the best possible, so skating with her is amazing for me. Belica is kind of new in skating. She’s doing really good stuff and is putting a lot of style into her skating which is really nice to see.

Belanx is another skater from Bogotá. Watching people create on skates is what’s most fun for me, and she really enjoys doing that, so I love watching her style develop.

To close, what’s your personal skate dream for this year?

I think it will be taking the chances given to me and making them the best I can. I am now able to do all these things I always dreamed of doing. I’m going to be joining the Moxi Camp (West) as a visiting coach for the very first time this year. I don’t know if you believe in this but that’s something that I visualised myself doing. Something that I really aimed for and dreamt of. That’s one of the biggest goals I had and it’s materialising, so I am just so excited.

Going to the Quad Cup as well was something that I had to push a little bit for through S1, and it’s happening. I’m going to have a great crew to share the booth at the vendor section and amazing skaters. Connecting again with my friends there is also going to be a dream come true.

I think it all comes down to travelling a lot and getting to collect more experiences with skating. I think that’s my biggest dream. At the same time, I want to put together something that might help others in the skate community, even if its small. I just want to use the privileges I have to support other people because I know it’s really hard to get support and to make stuff happen in Latin America.

I would like to make a big South American meet up. I would love to see Colombia welcome many talented people from all over South America - just gathering all these amazing people in a big skate party. That’s a big dream and I hope it happens.   

I try to dream but I also try to keep my dreams a little bit quiet and to myself. Here we say that when you speak about dreams, they won’t happen. So, let’s see if this all happens. It would be lovely.

 Big air at Fontanar del Rio 

[1] Priscila and Yorely from Mexico, Barbara from Chile, Cecilia from Argentina, and Marea, Luisa, Valeria and Carolina from Colombia.


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