I’ve been a skateboarding aficionado since my early teen years. Ever since I caught the skateboarding bug I’ve been unable to shake it off. For me, few experiences rival the freedom of cruising down the street on a skateboard or the satisfaction of finally landing a trick after many hours or sometimes weeks of attempts.
Growing up in Australia and the United States, obtaining skateboard decks, wheels, and other supplies was never difficult. The toughest challenge to obtaining a new skateboard centered on convincing my parents to shell out, in those days, about $100 for a new setup. Since skateboard shops were not as prevalent in the 1990s as they are now, and because the Internet was in its infancy we often relied on mail order catalogues to supply our constant demand for new decks, wheels, trucks and bearings. In 2015, with skateboarding’s continued popularity on the rise and the accompanying massive online marketplace of products, obtaining skateboarding supplies is as easy as a mouse click away.
Now, depending on how you want to look at it, let’s fast forward or flash back to 2015 Cuba. Several years ago I began to hear rumblings of a nascent, yet growing Cuban skateboarding scene. As a skateboarder of Cuban descent, I needed to find out more. What my research uncovered was a young, budding community that continues to grow and inspire despite facing challenges unknown to skateboarding aficionados in most parts of the world.
In Cuba, there are no skateboard stores. For years, Cuban skateboarders have had to rely on the kindness of travelers for their skateboarding equipment. Such travelers, noting the scarcity and unavailability of skateboarding supplies, would leave their skateboard with their new Cuban friends. When that skateboard broke, became water logged, or was lost, the Cuban skater would have no means of obtaining a new board. There are no sponsorship deals for skateboarding or magazine covers as a reward for landing a trick for Cuban skaters. Foreign skateboarding magazines and videos are scarce and Cuban skateboarders are forced to push the boundaries of their skateboarding limits through their own creativity, imagination and desire. Since skateboarding is not recognized as an official sport by the Cuban authorities, the only existing skatepark in Cuba is falling apart and in dire conditions. Skateboarding is done, as us Americans would say, simply for the love of the game.
Skateboarding is a global family. Language, cultural, and social barriers are broken down everyday throughout the world thanks to the power of a plywood board and four wheels. Therefore, it is of no surprise that American skateboarders have been a key part of rescuing the Cuban skate scene. Organizations such as Washington DC based Cuba Skate and Miami’s Amigo Skate have been instrumental in providing much needed skateboard supplies, clothing, media, and support to their proverbial brothers 90 miles away.
Thanks to American support for skateboarding, Cuban skaters are catching up fast with the rest of the world. Both Cuba Skate and Amigo Skate provide much needed skateboarding supplies to Cuban skaters. Representatives from these organizations are also helping to revitalize and rebuild Cuba’s one and only skateboarding park. In May of this year, along with his usual care package of skateboards and clothing, Cuba Skate’s Miles Jackson brought a very special treat with him. American pro-skater and Converse team rider Tom Remmillard joined the Cuba Skate team, and not only skated some of Havana’s top spots, but for a week he too became a part of Cuba’s skateboarding family; a family hungry to catch up to the rest of the world.
As a people, Cubans have been known to excel at sports. Cuban baseball players are an integral part of the U.S. Major League and Cuban boxers are among the top ranked amateurs in the world. Skateboarding is no different. Despite limited resources and support, the best Cuban skateboarders can match or rival their counterparts abroad in tenacity, creativity, and sheer passion for the sport. Accordingly, Cuba Skate is also working hard not only to improve Cuba’s skateboard culture, but also to expose the world to Cuban skateboarding. Much like U.S. professional companies release videos of their best skaters performing their best tricks, Cuba Skate has been compiling hours of footage it hopes to release in a similar format. Such footage is even more impressive given the conditions in which talent has been able to blossom.
For the moment, the continued growth of Cuban skateboarding is heavily reliant on the work of outside organizations. Without the supplies, aid, and hope provided by organizations like Cuba Skate, its hard to imagine the community’s continued growth and vibrancy. Yet, one thing is clear: as long as there exists even just one Cuban skateboarder, there will always be someone there to provide help. After all, that’s brotherhood.