Skateboarding has been used as a form of inclusion for teens and young adults to express their individuality. It keeps them active and allows them to form a tribe of like-minded individuals who can converse on the latest skate tricks and develop an artistic identity outside the conventional norms of society. Cuba is known around the world for the strict government and austerity that permeates the island. But a small group of young adults are taking their boards to the street to give themselves, and others, hope.
That sentiment extends to the marble-lined strip of Paseo del Prado in Havana, the main strip for skaters to practice stunts in the city.
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Che Alejandro Pando, a tattoo artist and veteran of the skateboarding scene in Cuba, told the Havana Times, “With the boredom we have in this country, if you give a kid a skateboard and he goes for it, you are giving him something healthy to do, instead of hanging on to the outside of buses or drinking out and about.”
Skateboarding has given young people something positive to do in a country where good news is rare.
Teens are using skateboarding as an active, healthy lifestyle choice, and skater girls and women are using it additionally as a way to empower themselves. Although women on the island do have a certain degree of equal rights, the typical expectation is to be revered as a wife, mother and sister—not to go and dare to be anything they want to be.
With a board in hand, some Cuban women are seeing it as their metaphorical form of a spear and shield.
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“I do totally have this sensation of being different just for having a passion,” Belkis López Correa told the Miami New Times. “Like I’m fighting so hard to do something I love.”
López Correa endured stares, questions from her parents and scraped knees all to do the sport that she loves.
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Regardless of who is on the board, skateboarders in Cuba are wary of authorities and are conscientious that they are not seen as a recognized sport by the country’s National Institute of Sport, Physical Education, and Recreation (INDER) for fear of being regulated by bureaucratic red tape. Some skaters have reported having their boards confiscated, being slapped with fines or even getting arrested.
Getting a board confiscated is often a literal derailment for skaters, since boards are hard to come by on the island.
Some non-governmental organizations such as Amigo Skate and Cuba Skate (both coincidentally started in the same year) have been providing skateboards and equipment for Cuban skateboarders since 2010.
The skateboarding community in Cuba continues to grow and offers necessary hope.
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Amigo Skate’s website says “the primary focus of our mission in Cuba has been to facilitate the tools and skills needed for Havana’s at-risk youth to foster a world where creativity has no limits.” Now the organization is working on expanding past Havana and bringing the support of the organization to eight other cities on the island that have a thriving skateboarding culture.
And there is no shortage of organizations facilitating the growth of this sport.
Cuba Skate also began in 2010 when two University of Michigan alums who had studied abroad in Cuba and made close ties with local skateboarders decided to keep that connection going. What emerged was a NGO to “establish sustainability for the island’s skateboarding communities.”
Skateboarding has a short history in Cuba, coming to the island just 40 to 50 years ago.
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According to the Miami New Times article, skateboarding was first introduced in Cuba by Soviet soldiers, doctors and students who brought skateboards to the island in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Kids around Havana soon started making their own makeshift skateboards. By the ‘90s, skateboards were smuggled in thanks to travelers or those who worked abroad. Then in the 2000s, skateboarding culture started growing in the city. Havana even received donated ramps from Red Bull to build the Patinodromo, one of the only skate parks in the city.
Skateboarding still has a long way to go in Havana, since it is still seen as a ‘rogue activity’ due to its unofficial status as a sport and its ties to American NGOs and partnerships. Yet, the young men and women skating up and down the cities of Cuba are giving the country’s youth something to look forward to.