Cuba skateboarders find new place to rip and roll

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.

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. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

“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.”

In this Jan. 11, 2018 photo, a skater practices inside an abandoned gym that was converted into a recreational 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. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

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.

In this Jan. 11, 2018 photo, a young model and a member of the lighting crew use as their backdrop an abandoned gym that was converted into space for skateboarders, the day of the space's 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. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

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.

In this Jan. 11, 2018 photo, a skater trains inside an abandoned gym that was converted into a recreational 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. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

In this Jan. 11, 2018 photo, Canadian skater Chris Dyer paints a skateboard inside an abandoned gym that was converted into a recreational 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. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

In this Jan. 11, 2018 photo, a skater rolls by as others rest inside an abandoned gym that was converted into a recreational 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, as the sun sets in Havana, Cuba. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

In this Jan. 11, 2018 photo, a skater jumps during the inauguration of a new recreational space for skateboarders, created in an abandoned gym at 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. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

In this Jan. 11, 2018 photo, a skater carries a new Cuban flag motiffed skateboard, donated by Humanity Stoked, during the inauguration of a new recreational space for skateboarders, created out of an abandoned gym at 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. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

In this Jan. 11, 2018 photo, skaters gather for the inauguration of a new recreational space for skateboarders, created in an abandoned gym at 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. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

In this Jan. 11, 2018 photo, skaters gather for the inauguration of a new recreational space for skateboarders, created in an abandoned gym at 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. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

In this Jan. 11, 2018 photo, an artist decorates the floor with a mural during the inauguration of a new recreational space for skateboarders, created in an abandoned gym at 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. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

In this Jan. 11, 2018 photo, a skater jumps a ramp during the inauguration of a new recreational space for skateboarders, created in an abandoned gym at 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. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

In this Jan. 11, 2018 photo, a young girl carries her Cuba flag motif skateboard to the inauguration ceremony of a new recreational space for skateboarders, created in an abandoned gym at 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. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)


Text from the AP news story, AP PHOTOS: Cuba skateboarders find new place to rip and roll, by Ramon Espinosa.