As the global fascination with Cuba has reached a fever-pitch over the last couple of years, outside observers have slowly begun to move past the familiar clichés of poverty, politics, and Santería. In their place, many have discovered the island’s unique youth scene, which has sprung up organically from a mix of isolation and distant contact with global pop-culture. Along the way, soccer fanatics, underground electronic music artists, and tattoo enthusiasts have all begun to replace the tired images of cigar-smoking rumberos or rugged revolutionaries in our collective imagination.
Then, of course, there are the skateboarders, who have been a favorite topic of international media since an organization called Amigo Skate started a donation program back in 2010. However, the roots of Cuba’s skate culture go back much further to the 1980s, when a couple of Russian soldiers left behind their skateboards before heading back home. Since then, the scene has evolved considerably, and has recently begun to attract a dedicated crew of female skaters who shred the streets of Havana from 23 y M down to the Malecón.
Directed by Amberly Alene Ellis, the new documentary Hermanas en Ruedas gives a space to the young women who are beginning to lay claim to a sport that still exists outside of Cuba’s official athletic culture. That means boards are nearly impossible to come by, and the few skateparks that exist in the country are neglected and in disrepair. As we see in the trailer, Hermanas en Ruedas features five young women who explain how they found the sport and reflect on the unique challenges facing women skaters as their numbers grow.
The documentary’s style is straightforward and at times a bit rough around the edges. It’s also not clear how deep the film goes into the gender dynamics present in both skateboarding and Cuban culture at large. Still, as we are treated to street scenes of skaters in their natural element cruising across Havana, we are reminded of the universal pleasure of putting four wheels to asphalt.