The Diplomat-Skaters of Havana

A study abroad stint in Havana turned out to be more than what University of Michigan students Miles Jackson and Lauren Bradley bargained for. The connections they made with members of the local skate community in Cuba had a lasting effect on them, especially after witnessing the resourcefulness of the skaters who lacked a skate shop and a safe place for their activities. Upon their return home, Jackson and Bradley decided to do something to help Cuban youth grow their skate community. Hence, Cuba Skate was born. The Washington, D.C.-based organization has since evolved into a sports diplomacy outfit, encouraging cultural exchanges and donating skateboards and gear to Cuban youth.

Now, before going on, it should be said that this isn’t some conspiracy to persuade readers to rock Castro shirts like we all wear Bob Marley shirts (so no need to put us on some watch list). There won’t be any political statements made, though at Inity Weekly, we’re all for progress (50-year-old grudges are so yesterday). It’s actually something bigger that that. It’s more like, “hey, we’re all human, we want peace, we don’t like to hold grudges (especially those we were born into), the youth is the future, and it’s freaking skateboarding, for goodness sake.” So relax!

We want you to know about Cuba Skate because it’s a unique organization led by people whose hearts are in the right place. Ultimately, we believe that the organization will accomplish more in the realm of meaningful diplomacy than any of the political debating, finger pointing and policy drafting that is about to take place. As Cuba Skate’s Executive Director, Miles Jackson puts it, “Skateboarding is apolitical. We’ll leave the political stuff to the politicians.”

Cuba Skate is planning several visits to the island nation in 2015, as well as events to raise awareness and money to continue their efforts. They distribute skate gear from individual donors and skate companies like Vans, offering workshops facilitated by a roster of notable pro skaters and Cuba Skate staff. This year, Jackson hopes to realize the commencement of the planned revitalization of Havana’s dilapidated El Patinodromo skate park.

With all of that said, here’s what you should know in relation to Cuba Skate:

There’s no such thing as an overnight success.

The press Cuba Skate has received brought much needed awareness to the skate community in Cuba. Now more than ever, Jackson encounters people expressing their desires to accompany the Cuba Skate crew to the country. Despite notoriety, and what seems to have been an overnight success, the Cuba Skate crew is still digging through the proverbial trenches. Mind you, the U.S.-Cuba embargo is still in place, so the organization has to jump through hoops to raise money and they have to seek permissions to visit and operate in Cuba.

In addition, because they’re a U.S. organization working in Cuba, they’re not allowed to open a bank account to handle their operating expenses. That’s expected to change in time, however, it remains as a story of a true grassroots small business overcoming obstacles, fueled by dedication, friendship and a shared passion. 

You should give a damn about the Cuban youth.

Why should you care about Cuba’s youth population, let alone Cuba’s skateboarding community? You may be thinking, “Hell, we have our own problems here in the States.” Sure, that’s true. However, Jackson emphasizes the uniqueness of Cuba and that the 50+ year-old embargo created a major obstacle to progress, especially for those who were born in Cuba during the “special period” in the 1990s (the Cuban version of the Great Depression). “They’re not asking to go pro or to be seen on TV,” Jackson explains. “They’re just skating because they really love it, and it’s so cool how skateboarding represents the resourcefulness, beauty and ruggedness, and the myriad of talent and energy that Cuba has. They’re really good kids, they want to grow skateboarding, and they’re [like] the first generation of skaters. They’re a talented group of kids that deserve a shot.”

They leave behind more than just skate gear.

Various life skills are a component of the program that Jackson and Cuba Skate staff emphasize during visits to Cuba. Skateboarding isn’t a highly regarded sport in Cuba, and skaters are often stereotyped as troublemakers. So, to show the Cuban community that skaters are good citizens, Jackson leaves it up to the skaters to carry out community service projects initiated by Cuba Skate. Keeping in mind that he’s still an American in Cuba, he acknowledges that the “life skills” they pass on must be adjusted to ways to life in Cuba. “My goal is to plant a seed and help nurture them and grow however they see fit.” He explains. “They are very resilient. Skaters are so unique - to do a trick, you have to get up and fall down like a hundred times. So, they’re very good about looking at life in a positive way.”

They host Art On Deck, a unique art exhibition and fundraiser, with several exhibits planned throughout the U.S. and Cuba this year.

Art On Deck showings feature hand-painted and graphically designed skate decks, made available for silent auction. The skate decks are designed by artists hailing from places such as D.C., New York, California, Cuba and other parts of Latin America. The events are complemented by DJ sets and screenings of Cuba Skate's current projects. As a matter of fact, their last exhibit was in Miami during the week of Art Basel. Now, how badass is that?

You don’t have to feel like a sellout to be a diplomat.

There are many ways you can assist Miles, the Cuba Skate staff, and skaters in Cuba. Here are some spiffy suggestions:

  • Donate! Visit and make a donation through their website. Let’s make the revitalization of El Patinodromo skate park happen!

  • Check out an Art on Deck exhibit in a town near you. 

  • Spread the word! Word of mouth is wonderful and great, and it is encouraged, by all means. We'll let you in on a little secret: There’s also this little thing called social media that has proven to be an amazing way to raise awareness on just about anything. Follow Cuba Skate on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Vimeo. Share their pages, share their videos, and spread the love!

When in doubt, contact Cuba Skate directly. If you’re able to catch Executive Director, Miles Jackson, we can guarantee that you’ll be left with his contagious enthusiasm for Cuba and Cuba’s skateboarding community. Now how’s that for diplomacy?