The skateboarders of Cuba are carving their way to official recognition of the sport - GulfToday

The skateboarders of Cuba are carving their way to official recognition of the sport

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Without a federation, coaches or adequate spaces, it is impossible for Cuban skaters to compete in the qualifying tournaments for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Yamil Lage/AFP.

Rigoberto Diaz

Cuban skateboarder Ariel Gomez and many others like him are hoping for a much brighter future for their sport.

After years in the shadows, with neither means nor official recognition, the skateboarders are hoping that skateboarding will finally be accepted at home when it becomes an Olympic event in Tokyo next year.

"In 2020, skateboard is going to the Olympics in Japan and that is motivating us to find ways to improve and perhaps it will encourage the government to take a little more interest in us," says 28-year-old Gomez, who trains in the homemade skatepark of Ciudad Libertad, in the west of Havana. 

Gifts from abroad

This non-recognition brings other obstacles, notably the cost. In a country where the average monthly salary is around $50 (Dhs184), there is no shop to buy skateboard material while prices can be high on the black market — a skateboard costs between $50 and $100 (Dhs367).

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With donated funds, the skateboarders built a skatepark inside one of the buildings of Ciudad Libertad, the former military barracks that the Fidel Castro revolution turned into a school in 1959. Yamil Lage/AFP. 

"We had to make our own skateboards," says Pando, a 46-year-old tattoo artist. "For the wheels we had to be a bit inventive, work out how you could fashion them from, say, the blades of a Russian food mixer." 

His message got through to the global skateboarding community and skateboarders began to arrive from South America, Europe and the US. Since then everything has worked on donations. "We even received financial aid," says Gomez.

Olympic dream

That money has paid for the construction of a skatepark in an abandoned building in Ciudad Libertad, a former military garrison converted into a school after the Castro revolution of 1959. "We found this area abandoned, filled with rubbish," says Ariel. "We cleaned it up and started to build our own skateboard park."

On the smooth granite floor, skaters ride at high speed, using ramps, ledges and concrete obstacles to practice jumps and tricks. It is a homemade park which for the moment is tolerated by the authorities. But it is a different story elsewhere.

A tag on one of the walls of the skatepark illustrates the mood: "F*** police," it reads in big red letters. "We aren't allowed to skate in the road," says 19-year-old Paul Ortega. "They arrest us, take us to the police station and fine us."

Meanwhile, skateboard devotees in Cuba are hoping that the Tokyo Olympic will change a few minds, that the authorities in Cuba will recognise it as a sport and that one day they will be able to compete for their country.

Agence France-Presse