Exactly three years ago this week, Rolling Stone published a piece detailing the extent four guys went through to flee the gang violence surrounding them in El Salvador. The four men crossed thousands of miles north to the U.S. with skateboards as their main form of transportation.
Known as the four skaters, or patinetos, Kelvin, Rene, Kevin and Eliseo all told writer Levi Vonk their harrowing stories of how they had formed a brotherhood through skating, one they were willing to trust while migrating north undocumented.
Vonk talked to NPR’s Latino USA about how he was living in Mexico at the time as a Fulbright Scholar and encountered these four skaters whizzing by on their boards. He was at a migrant rights’ march at the time in Oaxaca.
“They wanted to go to LA because it’s the land of skaters and glitz, and they heard it had jobs, and they heard it had good skating,” Vonk told Latino USA.
Kelvin was the oldest of the group, 27 at the time, while the other skaters were all 20. Skateboarding had allowed for the four skaters to escape the pressures of living under gripping violence, but it was also a risk that surrounded them on the streets.
“It’s discouraged by the gangs who run the areas. It’s discouraged because they see it as a threat to their power within the neighborhoods,” Vonk said.
“For many of the skaters that’s what it was all about—was actively choosing a life that isn’t about violence,” Vonk added. “That isn’t about extorting others, it isn’t about harming others.”
My feature piece in @RollingStone is out today about some of the raddest dudes I have met during my research – four Salvadorans on a mission to skate 2000 miles to the US. They are seriously awesome. Link in my bio. #rollingstone #skaters #journalism #elsalvador #mexico #migrants #skateboarding
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The four friends had had enough with the gang violence when several local skaters ended up in the hospital in March of 2015. They grabbed the little money they had, a change of clothes and started their journey north from El Salvador in the dead of night, skating 350 miles to the southern tip of Guatemala. It took them about a week to make it from San Salvador to the southern tip of Mexico, according to Rolling Stone. They slept in church shelters or on the street, and receiving free food from other skaters.
“That’s how we break borders with skating,” Kelvin told Rolling Stone. “We can connect with other guys practicing our sport.”
Kelvin also said local Mexican skaters protected them and invited them to party with them, and that they had ‘nothing but love for their Mexican brothers.’
Once the four skaters made it to Mexico, Kevin and Eliseo were apprehended in Mexico City by immigration officials and put back on a plane to El Salvador.
I have a radio piece out today with @LatinoUSA on the patinetos. I'm so happy to be working with them. Or as my idol J. Cole said the first time he was on National Public Radio, "Mama I'm on NPR!" Link in my bio. #skateboarding #Latino #LatinoUSA #podcasts #NPR
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The remaining guys took buses north through Mexico with the little money their families sent along. They managed to make it to the U.S. border, but the easy part of the journey wasn’t over yet.
Vonk wrote the two skaters got their skateboards taken away by coyotes, but they were able to cross into the U.S. with their help.
The article ends with Rene and Kelvin waiting it out at a coyote’s house and a follow-up piece was never written leaving the story unfinished.
In the NPR interview, audiences were told a little bit more about the whereabouts of the four skaters at that time: Eliseo and Kevin were trying to make it north again, Kelvin was at a coyote’s house in Texas and Rene had been detained at the Rio Grande Detention Center.
“When skateboarding started, they broke the rules because they were prohibited from skating,” Kelvin told Rolling Stone. “There are some that still think that skating is bad. But it’s better to be on a skateboard, breaking barriers, breaking the law because, in reality, the world shouldn’t have borders.”
Read the full Rolling Stone article here.