AP PHOTOS: Cuba skateboarders find new place to rip and roll

February 2, 2018
In this Jan. 11, 2018 photo, people arrive to an abandoned gym recently converted into a space for skateboarders, the day of its inauguration inside the Educational complex Ciudad Libertad, a former military barracks that the late Fidel Castro turned into a school complex after the revolution in Havana, Cuba. Cuba's small but exuberant skateboard movement has carved out a new space for itself, helped by a Cuban-American skate shop owner. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

HAVANA (AP) — Cuba’s small but exuberant skateboard movement has carved out a new space for itself, helped by a Cuban-American skate shop owner.

Using small donations from individuals and a handful of charities, Rene Lecour and a group of Cuban skaters poured concrete bowls and ramps in an abandoned building at Liberty City, a former military base that was converted into an academic center by Fidel Castro after the country’s 1959 revolution.

“It means a lot that spaces like this are created, that it hasn’t remained a hidden urban sport,” said Hector Jorge, a 31-year-old skateboard aficionado.

Lecour, 50, began traveling to Cuba nearly a decade ago and his Amigo Skate Cuba group has become a key element in the small community of foreign skateboard enthusiasts who have tried to supply their Cuban counterparts with boards and other equipment.

“This is a gift for the people,” Lecour said. “We don’t have any political or religious goals. We aren’t selling anything. We came to help.”

For the skate park’s grand opening, Cuban musicians performed short free concerts while young skaters got 60 newly donated skateboards and painted old ones. Participants ranged in age from 8 to 50. The park is getting daily use, and a national convention of Cuban skateboarders is planned for June.

Cuba’s official sports establishment once took a dim view of skaters, but over the past 15 years it has tolerated, and occasionally encouraged, skateboarding. It allowed creation of another, now-deteriorating skate facility at the Metropolitan Park more than a decade ago. But it has no formal federation for the sport and the island has no place to buy skateboards, which would be prohibitively expensive for most Cubans in any case.

Skateboarding apparently began with a handful of people in the 1980s and there are now hundreds of enthusiasts, though the exact number is unclear. They gather at several points around the capital.

“It’s a big family and it doesn’t matter what kind of music you listen to, how you dress, whatever. When everybody’s skating, everybody’s equal,” said Yobel Perez, a 28-year-old skater.