By Tim Kelly
Champions of inclusion are rare. A 12-year-old champion of inclusion? Let’s just say the only one we know is pretty special.
Zoe Herishen might not be a teenager yet, but that hasn’t stopped her from working to advance the acceptance of girls in the male-dominated sport of skateboarding.
In fact, Zoe, a sixth-grade student who skates regularly at the Ocean City Skatepark, is a veteran advocate.
The park will play host to Zoe’s “Chica de Mayo” free skating event for girls on Sunday, May 5, from 9 a.m. to 12 noon.
The Ocean City Skatepark is located at 550 Asbury Avenue, next door to the Fire Department Headquarters.
Local skater, surfer and entrepreneur Willie Fannon spoke of Zoe’s talents.
“Zoe is an amazing skater and an amazing girl. Chica de Mayo is another event that is putting our Skatepark at the forefront. This is the kind of thing that can have a real effect on getting more girls into skating.”
For Zoe’s part, the goal was simple.
“I wanted to have an event where all girls would feel welcome,” said Zoe, who became a female skater trailblazer when she picked up the sport at age 8.
“Skating helped my confidence,” Zoe explained. “I want all girls (regardless of ability) to enjoy the sport.”
Skaters from novice to expert will find sisterhood at the event, where even the curious are welcome.
Video of the first Chica de Mayo, in 2016, in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Participants in Ocean City will enter a girls skater haven with a free glitter bar courtesy of Bowfish Studios, “so they can get all glittered up,” Fannon said.
Free healthy snacks will be provided by Bungalow Bowls.
Peace of Wood is donating broken and damaged skateboard decks and art supplies for creating unique painted skater crafts.
Zoe’s mother, Tracey, said Chica de Mayo all began with girls “meet-ups” she would organize.
The girls would have fun together, even if most were riding longboard cruisers and weren’t interested in shortboard trick riding, which is Zoe’s specialty.
“The girls just had a nice time being together and skating,” her mom said. That led to the first Chica de Mayo at a park in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 2016.
About 25 girls showed up. That was followed by the second event in Asbury Park and back to Brooklyn last year, where attendance topped 50 girls.
“We think that we can double that figure in Ocean City,” Tracey said. “To be honest, some of the places Zoe has skated, some of the places we’ve taken her to, are a little bit scary. Ocean City is a warm and inviting atmosphere.”
The girls have organized meet-ups in Ocean City before, and all had a great time, Tracey noted.
The Herishens, who reside in Bergen County, have a second home in Wildwood. Tracey and her husband Ken also have two sons, Zachary, 22, and 14-year-old Tyson.
Tracey and Zoe think nothing of the 45-minute ride to Ocean City, which has become something of a third home.
“We’re here all the time, it seems,” Tracey said.
When Zoe began skating in Ocean City she said, “a few of the boys gave me funny looks at first. When they saw that I was here a lot, and they saw what I could do, they accepted me and supported me.”
If a few of the boys have reservations, the skate park is being handed over for girls-use only on a prime weekend morning, others have volunteered to help coach the beginners and to assist with the event.
“That’s Ocean City. It’s not only the great facilities and clean atmosphere, it’s the welcoming vibe. I’ve never seen anything like this town for an event,” Tracey said. “At other places you are always trying to overcome obstacles. Here, you say that you want to have an event and the town basically says, ‘OK. What can we do to help make it successful?’ You won’t find that anyplace else.”