Amigo Skate Activists Try to Save Cuban Skateboarding With Smuggled Boards, Government Lobbying
Cuban state media recently announced new customs restrictions on the amount of items allowed in the country through commercial travel. While the government says that the new rule is intended to cut down on a growing black market that undermines recent economic reforms, many fear unintended consequences. For example, the fledging Cuban skateboarding scene relies on skateboards and gear brought in from the outside world. Skaters on the island feel that the new rule may change their way of life. This is the second of a two part series on skateboarding in Cuba and its direct Miami connection.
Photo by Chris Miller
For most Cuban skaters, a broken board means months of boredom. Unlike in America, where you can roll into the nearest skate shop to replace your gear, skaters in Cuba rely on outside support to keep up the supply of boards and equipment, which break often.
Enter Miami-based Amigo Skate.
Now a group of roughly 20, the organization essentially smuggles boards and equipment into the country. They rely on donations and are led by a former hip-hop DJ and self described, "vagabond," Rene Lecour.
Born in New York City, Lecour was raised with stories about the way Cuba used to be. After his parents split up, Lecour moved with his mother around the Deep South before spending some time in the Atlanta area. At school, he was an outcast, drawn to the edgy world of skateboarding and hip-hop, and one of the few non-blond haired kids around. "They thought I was Italian or something," Lecour said.
He ended up in Miami in the early 1990s and worked as a DJ in local clubs, winning Best DJ from New Times in 1999.
As he became more engrossed in American culture, Cuba faded farther from his dreams. "It just never crossed my mind to go to Cuba," said Lecour, who now manages skate parks for Miami-Dade County.
In 2009, his wife, son, and friend went with him on a trip to see skateboarders in Cuba. It was a graduation present to his son, who had done extensive research about people like Che Pando and Fernando Verdecia Maseda online.
"We spent 24 hours a day with the skaters," Lecour said. He also befriended Pando, bonding over their similar age and shared passion for skating.
After about of week of travel and skating, the group returned back to Miami. But Lecour and the rest were hooked. They wanted to do something to help the kids who love to skate.
"They're in prison," Lecour said. "And it's really hard for any type of person who needs to express themselves."