Inside Havana’s Fledgling Skateboarding Scene

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Miles Jackson didn’t know it then but the knee injury that ended his days as a college soccer player at University of Michigan was a blessing in disguise. Jackson took up skateboarding afterwards and it was this new hobby coupled with a trip to Havana, Cuba in 2010 that gave birth to non-profit initiative Cuba Skate, a program that hopes to connect Cuba’s skate community with the rest of the world.

“Where we lived at was right by this big plaza and old empty fountain,” says Jackson recalling his time studying cultural anthropology at Casa De Las Americas, “and I was just skating around there one day…and I saw a couple of kids skating and said ‘fuck it, let me go practice my Spanish and say what’s up.’”

He quickly befriended a number of skaters in his neighborhood and soon fell in love with Cuba’s skateboard scene, which has the raw energy of a culture that’s been very underground until recently — partly due to the political climate, and partly due to the difficulty accessing materials. In Havana, a city of two million, there are no skate shops and only one dilapidated skate park. But the kids still come, riding cracked, beat up boards on poorly paved roads with no protective gear to speak of. Skinned elbows and knees are a given; more serious injuries too — a few years ago, it became popular to latch on to the back of city buses, which led to a bunch of fatalities.

Jackson and his girlfriend were humbled by the experience of befriending this community, and wanted to help their new friends after they returned to the US, because the skaters rely on help from foreigners for their skate gear.

“It started as a blog and as a project to help out our homies,” he recalls. Jackson and friends collected donations and gear from friends, skaters, and skate shop owners interested in helping out. “From there, we made it into a non-profit. I’ve been back 10 times.”

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Sending the donations to Cuba isn’t easy. Cuba Skate can’t simply ship boxes of skateboards by mail. Jackson has to carry as much of it by plane as luggage, which is expensive. Hence, his multiple trips to Havana.

Cuba Skate’s current mission is the repair of skatepark El Patinódromo. The park hosts skaters, BMX riders, and many others. The park is in a horrible state of disrepair and is in serious need of renovation. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of political red tape involved in a Washington D.C.-based non-profit sending money and building materials to a country under embargo. Jackson & co. are currently working with a legal team and talking to a few companies about the project with the hope of having all the paperwork from Cuba’s government and the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in the US completed by their next trip to Cuba this coming December.

“I think the best way to do it and to make the biggest splash,” he continues, “not to prove anything to either government, but just to show that skateboarding is a way for our cultures and countries to connect, I think that we want to do it 100% legally and show that there are ways despite the embargo, despite the situation, that we can connect in.”

Visit Cuba Skate’s website for more info.