“One time we were a big group of kids skating on the smooth floor in front of the Havana Libre,” Pando said. “The hotel security and the cops came running out.”
“It was difficult because we were misunderstood by most people,” added Pando, who was named after revolutionary commander Ernesto “Che” Guevara. “They used to kick us out everywhere.”
Attitudes have largely done a 180 ollie, to borrow the term for a popular aerial maneuver, and today a small but thriving urban tribe of pierced youths prowls Havana’s streets, looking to have fun and, just maybe, land the perfect trick.
Familiarity has come through high-profile visits by professional skateboarders and brands such as Red Bull; a brief partnership with a local cigarette company that helped build a skate ramp, and a series of semi-sanctioned or at least tolerated trick competitions. A program documenting skaters’ lives even aired on state television, the official arbiter of all things acceptable.
“It’s on the TV, so it’s going to be OK,” Pando said.
At first glance Cuba’s skaters look like they could be from anywhere. They pass around videos of their tricks set to thumping hip-hop soundtracks. They seize on fashion trends from imported magazines and video clips, accessories such as baggy shorts, wallet chains, nose rings and hats worn askew.
There’s no formal organization or leadership. They just meet casually at homes before skating off in a pack to whatever park, plaza, fountain or monument offers challenging features like ramps, steps, benches or holes to jump.
Recently a friend of the community opened his home to what may have been Cuba’s first art and photography show dedicated to skateboarding. Painted on one wall was a crucified Jesus silhouette nailed to a neon cross of interlocking skateboards. Dozens showed up to hang out, joke around and sip rum.
That’s not to say life still can’t be a little bit gnarly for skateboarders in Cuba.
In this Communist-run country where government salaries average around $20 a month, few can afford skateboards that can cost north of $100. In fact, there’s not a single store here that sells boards or supplies.
“You could have a skate shop here but it would be like a museum,” said Miles Jackson, a 25-year-old from Washington, D.C. “You can look, but nobody can buy anything.”
Jackson is co-founder of Cuba Skate, one of a handful of foreign nonprofits that import donated equipment for Cuban skaters.
Article source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/skateboard-subculture-thrives-in-havana-where-replacing-a-broken-board-is-a-constant-concern/2013/08/06/bda1e29a-febd-11e2-8294-0ee5075b840d_story.html