Looking back at some legends…
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I met Tomas Crowder a few years ago through working with the Cuban surfers and kids. His passion for supporting Cuba’s extreme sports were a true inspiration and still is today. The following is an interview from back in 2009 with ESPN and Skateboarding legend Chris Nieratko. Cuba Libre Tomas Crowder is an Argentinean filmmaker that garnered critical acclaim for “Surfing Favela,” his 2005 documentary about impoverished Brazilian surfers. It is by a sheer stroke of luck that I met and befriended him. A mutual friend at Red Bull, Peter Jasienski, had been working with Crowder on sponsoring his upcoming documentary, “The Other Ché,” about the Cuban skate scene and its unofficial leader, Ché Alejandro Pando Napoles. Inspired by this documentary about the difficulties confronted trying to skateboard in Cuba, I mentioned to Jasienski that I wanted to go there with some industry heads (The Skatepark of Tampa guys, Tod Swank, Scuba Steve, Zered Bassett, Ron Deily, Rick McCrank, Mike Anderson, Quim Cardona, Bryce Kanights and various wives and girlfriends). Watching the footage, we saw just how difficult it was to get any products into Cuba, let alone skate stuff. In the video, a kid breaks his board and has to nail and glue it back together using a 2-by-4 to hold the pieces in place. The effect of the U.S. embargo on Cuba is sad, most notably its effect on the children of the country. I am not in favor of children suffering for the sins of their fathers. […]

Cuba’s Surfing Underground…
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Cuba’s Surfing Underground Scrappy surf culture survives despite hardship on this communist island What if surfing weren’t quite legal? Suppose you paddle your homemade plywood board—or hand-me-down, if you’re lucky—out to dangerous, crowded, reef breaks off the side of the highway and make it back to the concrete shore unbloodied, only to be greeted by men in uniform who suspect of you of being a spy. What if surfing weren’t quite illegal, either, but your only surf report were your eyes, and your only surf shop were one man’s apartment supplied by occasional donations from abroad? Welcome to Cuba! The New York Times had a fantastic piece yesterday about surf culture in this island nation which neither officially recognizes surfing as a sport, nor has the capitalist infrastructure to create an above-ground market for gear. And official recognition is everything: this communist country calls surfing a “recreation,” according to Michael Scott Moore, author of last year’s Sweetness and Blood, meaning no competition and no passports for surfers. In other words, want to wax your board? Melt a candle. Self-taught surfers like Eduardo Valdes, who runs the apartment “shop” and cofounded surf non-profit Royal 70, help sustain this growing underground community through the sheer force of their passion. Even though Cuba has more than 2,300 miles of coastline, the logistics of doing something relatively simple like transporting your board to a less dangerous spot than Calle 70, Havana’s treacherous break described above, are often prohibitive: “If we could maybe move to the eastern side of the city with […]

A timeless revolucion – Standby Collective
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Standby Collective (Humberto Rodríguez and Elvis Morales) was one of Cuba’s first grassroots, underground, skateboarding and surfing film creators, capturing some of Cuba’s and Havana’s best. Check out Revolucion – Evolution from early 2011, a movie they made with another Havana-based skater and filmmaker who operates under the name YMG Films.     La evolución nunca termina, perseverancia, adaptación, coraje, instintos, supervivencia y autoestima son las cualidades que nos permitirán seguir adelante. Dedicado al skateboarding en Cuba y a todos los que ayudan a la escena skater cubana en el mundo entero. Revolución – Evolution es una coproducción de Standby Collective y YMG Films filmado desde principios del 2011 y estrenado en Cuba en Mayo. En casi 40 min abarca lo mejor de todos los skaters de La Habana y otros extranjeros que han patinado junto a la escena skater de la isla. The evolution never ends, perseverance, adaptation, courage, instincts, survival and self-esteem are the qualities that enable us to move forward. Dedicated to skateboarding in Cuba and all those who help the Cuban skater scene in the world. Revolution – Evolution is a collaboration of Standby Collective and YMG Films filmed from early 2011 and premiered in Cuba in May. In nearly 40 minutes covering the best of all skaters in Havana and other foreigners who have skated with the skate scene of the island. Skaters: Yohani Pérez (Mamerto) / Che A. Pando / Humberto Rodríguez (Bankai) / Raciel Pereda (Raper) / Fernando Verdecia / Yoan Galiana / Reinaldo Vicet (Karem) […]

The Pirates of Sweetness and Blood…
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A few years ago I befriended an author named Michael Scott Moore who was writing a book about how surfing spread from Hawaii and California to the rest of the world. For Sweetness and Blood Michael approached me, and Eduardo in Havana, as he wanted to include a history of surfing in Cuba. Today I thought about Michael and wondered why I hadn’t heard from him in a while. After all, we had regularly kept each other updated, him on his book and me with what was happening with surfing in Cuba. On searching for a current address for Michael I found out why his contact with me came to an end. On January 6, 2012 Michael was kidnapped by Somalian pirates while conducting research for a book on the subject. Michael is still being held today and it seems, after a little online research, has been forgotten by the US government.   Our thoughts are with you Michael…    

‘The Time is Now’ – Burning Spear & Joel Harper
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Royal 70 and Cuba’s small surfing family, over the years, have been blessed with some amazing support. This has included writer, musician and teacher Joel Harper and his book All the way to the Ocean. All the way to the Ocean came to life after Joel had an epiphany while riding home on his bicycle one day. He noticed the effect pollution in the storm drains was having in his community. He realised he needed to do something meaningful with his talents to help change the way people interacted with their environment. Joel’s vision became a reality with his popular children’s book and social anthem, All the Way to the Ocean in 2006. Today, Joel is working with his partners at Mediatavern to take his idea to the next level, and tell his story in an even more powerful way. Animation. Check out this snippet from the amazing track by Joel and leading Rastafarian/reggae artist Burning Spear featured in the upcoming movie based on Joel’s book.     www.allthewaytotheocean.com The Time is Now – Burning Spear & Joel Harper Purchase The Time is Now here | iTunes                    

Warner surfboards sticks it to Cuba..
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In the words of surfing’s big-wave legend Koby Abberton: “Brett Warner’s the best surfboard shaper around.” In the words of Royal 70 and the Cuban surfers: “Brett at Warner Surfboards is a f*#king legend.” Why? This Sydney-based surfboard shaper has just donated the 10 boards pictured above to the surfers and kids in Cuba without a second thought, and has also threatened to throw a few more their way. That gets 10 more kids in Cuba into the water surfing and enjoying something so many of us take for granted. Check them out at www.warnersurfboards.com and support an industry legend that is still shaping amazing boards by hand, like all true artists do.            

Friendship through punk rock…
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Solidarity Rock: The Oral History of Arrabio and the DIY Punk Rock Movement in Cuba.   For years, Cuban punk-rockers bought and sold records illegally. Some musicians were repressed and their shows banned. Now attitudes have changed largely due to the work of William Garcia one of the original Cuban punk rockers. William’s music, work through the Cuban cultural ministry and relationship with Edmonton based Music Promoter and Filmmaker Drew McIntosh was the cornerstone to create Solidarity Rock. This artist run organization works to partner musicians, artists and creative people in Cuba, Canada and beyond. Since 2008, Solidarity Rock has been helping build the Cuban alternative arts scene; overcoming political, social and economic barriers while doing so.   On Thursday, October 25, 2012 The Oral History Centre held a public interview with Solidarity Rock organizers William Garcia and Drew McIntosh. The talk was moderated by OHC Audio Technician Kent Davies. The following video contains excerpts of that interview.     http://www.oralhistorycentre.ca

Havana’s lefts…
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One of Havana’s left-handers being enjoyed by one of Havana’s local surf and skate freaks Humberto…   Footage by Standby Collective, La Habana, Cuba

Will the real terrorist please stand up?
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Will the real terrorist please stand up? by Saul Landau “Will the real terrorist please stand up” chronicles half a century of hostile US-Cuba relations by telling the story of the “the Cuban five”, intelligence agents sent to penetrate Cuban exile terrorist groups in Miami and now serving long prison sentences. The film highlights decades of assassinations and sabotage at first backed then ignored by the very government that launched a “war against terrorism.” In the film, viewers see leading terrorists, now in their 80s, recounting their deeds, and Cuban state security officials explaining why they infiltrated agents into violent Miami exile groups. The film, featuring Danny Glover and 84 year old Fidel Castro in key scenes, raises and tries to answer the question: what did Cuba do to deserve such hostile treatment? It traces key events from the Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missile Crisis, through multiple assassination attempts on Fidel Castro’s life. This documentary reveals a story of violence that also echoed on the streets of Washington DC, New York and especially Miami where Cuban American critics of the bombers and shooters also wound up dead.   A must watch…   Please check out these sites and support Cuba’s innocent heroes http://realterrorist.wordpress.com http://www.freethefive.org http://cubanfive.ca

Havana’s skateboard subculture…
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HAVANA – Some call Che Pando the godfather of Havana’s skateboarding scene, and the 40-year-old tattoo artist can still recall how tough things were in the 1980s when he and a handful of other pioneers first started shredding in public squares. Like listening to rock music in the 1960s, interest in such a uniquely American import marked the young skaters as socially suspicious, and sometimes for rough treatment by police and arrest, though their experiences were perhaps not all that different from confrontations between U.S. skaters and civic authorities concerned about the destruction of public property. “One time we were a big group of kids skating on the smooth floor in front of the Havana Libre,” Pando said. “The hotel security and the cops came running out.” “It was difficult because we were misunderstood by most people,” added Pando, who was named after revolutionary commander Ernesto “Che” Guevara. “They used to kick us out everywhere.” Attitudes have largely done a 180 ollie, to borrow the term for a popular aerial manoeuvr, and today a small but thriving urban tribe of pierced youths prowls Havana’s streets, looking to have fun and, just maybe, land the perfect trick. Familiarity has come through high-profile visits by professional skateboarders and brands such as Red Bull; a brief partnership with a local cigarette company that helped build a skate ramp, and a series of semi-sanctioned or at least tolerated trick competitions. A program documenting skaters’ lives even aired on state television, the official arbiter of […]

Surfing with the Enemy…
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Surfing With The Enemy is a documentary about a small group of surfers from Havana struggling to establish a niche for their sport in Cuba’s restrictive society. Guided by Eduardo Valdes, one of the country’s only shapers and the founder of the Havana Surf Association, two filmmakers from Venice Beach travel across the island to the notorious Guantanamo province, home to the country’s best waves. Searching for surf along this controversial coast, they discover a forbidden paradise just miles from the American border, and learn what it means to be a surfer and a citizen of modern-day Cuba. The film is narrated by actor Lance Henriksen (Aliens, The X Files), produced by Venice the Menace and presented by Polaris Global Media.

A step forward…
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Cuba will increase salaries and benefits in its sports sector, a decision adopted by the Council of Ministers as a necessary step, despite the difficulties that the country is undergoing which have been worsened by the current world economic crisis. According to the Granma newspaper, this measure has as its essential objective an improvement in current salaries for personnel connected to sports and will come into force in January, 2014, although in the case of baseball, it will be implemented when the National Series begins in November, 2013. New steps will be taken in coming months to improve this sector, generate income sources, seek quality and rigor in competitions, increase salaries gradually and guarantee that everybody receives what they deserve, according to the work they perform, Granma said. A high-performance athlete is one that is entirely devoted to practicing a specific sports discipline and his/her income depends on the results attained. In the case of work abroad, participation in the main yearly competitions held in Cuba would be taken into consideration, the newspaper says. Monthly payments in CUC, “foreign currency or convertible pesos, currently received by active and retired coaches, for medals won” and other payments in CUP (the Cuban peso, national currency) will be added. Granma also says that this way, retribution based on the socialist principle: “from each according to his/her capability and to each according to his/her work,” will reach its highest expression after competitive results, as agreed to at the 5th Conference of the Cuban Communist […]

A portrait of Cuban Skaters…
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Ostensibly a film about skateboarding in Cuba, Revolution on Wheels uses the Cuban skate scene as a vehicle to examine the attitudes and feelings that Cuban youth have towards their country. The 12-minute film profiles two Cuban skaters with a wide variety of views. Miguel is an 18-year-old who recently dropped out of high school to skate full time. He feels that there is no future for youth in Cuba and wants to go to school in the United States. Roberto, on the other hand, has made a future for himself in Cuba. After filming skate videos of his friends on a second hand camera, the 20-year-old managed to get a job as an editor for a Cuban TV station. Guiding us through these two adolescents’ stories is Cuban skateboarding pioneer Che Pando. The 39-year-old runs a black market tattoo parlor in Havana and acts as a mentor to younger skaters. For him, skateboarding has made life bearable during Cuba’s rough times, stating, “Skateboarding is freedom. It’s the freedom to do what the fuck you want, when you want it, in a country where no one can do that.”     A film by Matt Sezer    

Like the Revolution…some things never die
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Like the Revolution…Some things never die. “I will always remember the drive from the airport to Havana. The cars passing by, the people dancing in the streets, the Che billboards, and all this in the sunset light”  – Ozzie Wright (Sipping Jetstreams) On leaving Cuba, Ozzie left his board with the Cuban surfers. Many years have passed and the board still lives on in Havana. Now stored in Cuba’s national aquarium it is used by local kids who do not have boards of their own to surf.

“Hold a true friend with both hands.”
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Chantelle “Channy” McCoy is a Sydney Northern Beaches surfer, graphic artist and freak, who is about to give her heart and soul to South and Central America. On her travels, Channy will be heading to Cuba to spend some time with Havana’s Cubanitas, a few bottles of Havana Club and a handful of Cohibas. Cuba is visited a lot by both pro and amateur male surfers, so it’s about time Havana’s small community of female surfers are blessed with support from the likes of Channy. Check out what goes on in Channy’s head by checking out her Tumblr at www.http://wheat-barrel.tumblr.com