Royal 70 Surf Havana Cuba
A Cuban collective creating opportunities for Cuba's youth with extreme sports, music and art.
This article originally appeared in Huck 15 – The Maya Gabeira Issue from summer 2009. As relations thaw between Cuba and the US, and talk of lifting the blockade is in the air, Huck is thinking about how the blockade has affected young people and how their lives will change if it’s lifted. In this archive piece from summer 2009, we headed to Cuba to uncover the island’s underground surf scene. Cuban surfers are among the most dedicated in the world, risking imprisonment to find materials and relying on donations from foreigners to get boards and leashes. Never mind the blockade. Psssst, psssst…” Eduardo Valdés, head of the Asociación de Surfistas de Cuba, looks uncharacteristically shifty as he peers through a wire fence, trying to attract the attention of a worker at Cuba’s national plastic factory. It’s here that the island’s chairs, tables and packaging are produced and employees, like in every industry in Cuba, supplement their meagre wages by selling the materials of their trade on the black market. Pretending to take a cigarette break, a man sidles up to the fence three metres to the left of Eduardo. Looking in opposite directions, a rapid-fire exchange takes place. “What you want?” “Three bottles of resin.” “45 CUC.” “No way, man. 30.” “40.” “35.” “Wait for me outside the bar around the corner. Give me thirty minutes. I need the money now.” Forty tense minutes later and the worker appears clutching a flimsy plastic bag containing three cylindrical […]
Check out how to create a crude Cuban surfboard in the time it takes The Goons Of Doom to sing ‘Slapper’. It took me about one week to source a small piece of scrap plywood. This is because in Cuba nothing is wasted. Everything is recycled and re-used. The Pleybo is a Cuban surfboard that was, and still is, very common around Cuba’s beaches…
Thanks to Rene Lecour at Amigo Skate Cuba 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. It happened at 23 y G, an intersection in Havana, Cuba. It’s nothing much really. Just a few small benches spread out among scrawny trees that offer scant protection from the sun’s glare. But for one scrawny kid that day some 12 years ago, the humble parcel of land seemed like Eden. At age 13, Fernando Verdecia Maseda finally found some other skaters. Maseda would go on to become one of Cuba’s greatest skaters – but he had to emigrate to Miami to find widespread respect for his skills. Years earlier, Maseda first discovered skateboarding at his next-door neighbor’s house. The enterprising neighbor would let him play a half-hour’s worth of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater for 5 Cuban pesos on a well-worn PlayStation. “In the beginning, I thought that Tony Hawk was just a character,” Maseda said through a translator. “But when I saw the real videos in the game of him, then I wanted to go out and do it.” Soon after, […]
Jamaica has many ties with the island of Cuba. They are neighbours. Fragments of Jamaica’s political past stood beside Castro’s ideology without apology. They fought similar battles against Babylon. Out of Cuba came some of the Rastafarian movement’s greatest figures: Mortimer Planno (Rasta Elder), Rita Marley, and the godfather of Jamaican ska, Lorenzo “Laurel” Aikken. Both islands are rich in Africa’s past and present, from Jamaica’s Rastafarian movement to Cuba’s Yoruba, and so much more. Both islands have been, and still are at the forefront of the green revolution. Both islands have a love affair with Ethiopia and all things African. Cuban president Fidel Castro was quoted in August 1979 by the Associated Press as saying he was frustrated by the lack of enthusiasm from his citizens, who would prefer to volunteer in Ethiopia then their own country. “Hundreds of thousands turn up wanting to go to Ethiopia, or Angola, or wherever. Demonstrating their revolutionary political consciousness in somethings, but when it is required on a daily basis, it fails to appear.” Outside the US, Cuba had the largest number of Marcus Garvey’s UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association) branches. Garvey was a Jamaican political leader, journalist and entrepreneur whose teachings gave rise to the modern Rastafarian movement. The connections could be listed endlessly, but the most important tie of all is that both islands have a small community of grassroots surfers who have bonded over recent years, thanks to Jamaican Icah Wilmot. He travelled to Cuba back in February 2010 to compete against the Cubans in […]
Miles Jackson from Cuba Skate has to be one of the hardest working guys I know. He never f#@king gives up and this is why he is one of the most amazing guys in the international skateboarding community. This time he has teamed up with the legends from YMG Films to create some amazing footage with Cuba’s street-skating freaks. Check out this preview of their work…
“I had my fears about landing in Havana with a surfboard. The things aren’t illegal, per se, but the Cuban government—until its recent moves to make traveling out of the country simpler for Cubans—had been sensitive about any flotation devices that could aid would-be defectors. And there was that 2011 report in state-run media that the CIA tried to bring in surveillance equipment disguised as surfboards in a fake surfing contest.” – Alexa Van Sickle, roadsandkingdoms.com Check out this honest and amazing look into the lives of Cuba’s small surfing community and the struggles they face just to get into the water. Surfing The Embargo – Alexa Van Sickle
“You cannot stop the waves, but you can learn to surf” – Jon Kabat-Zinn This may not be one of the worlds greatest surfboards but it is one of Cuba’s first hand-shaped glass surfboards. Shaped with recycled foam from old freezers/refrigerators with a cheese grater, this board was then finished with glass and resin sourced on Cuba’s black market from boat builders in Havana. A first step for Cuba’s surf culture and future in true Cuban style.
Black Market Collective is the latest initiative from Royal 70 and Havanasurf. More than 50 years of US sanctions on the island of Cuba have forced Cubans to create and survive by a black market system through which basic necessities (limited by sanctions) are traded and purchased. This not only benefits citizens but also the nation’s government. Black Market Collective works in a similar way on an international scale, not bound by US sanctions within or outside Cuba’s borders. It is a network of passionate people with the same goal: to help surfing grow on the island and to get more kids in the water by sourcing and donating much-needed surfing equipment and educational tools. Music by The Cuban Cowboys http://www.cubancowboys.com
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 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 […]
Three minutes in Cuba is a trailer for the Cuba-Chapter of an upcoming surfer’s documentary. Here is there visual teaser. Check it out… We´ve missed out on tobacco manufacturing, rum distilleries and Buena Vista Social Clubs. But we´ve found Habanas surfers, skaters, bmx riders, graffiti- and tattoo artists and soulfood-mamas. We joined them for the last 7 weeks and documented their subcultural lifestyle: the struggle in a communist system, broken skateboards, a lot of police, illegal innercity surf, abandoned russian buildings, unofficial tattoo parlours, selfmade gasoline based graffiti paint, and much more. Take a first look! “Salt and Silver – A culinary Surftrip” Follow Cozy and Jo on their search for perfect waves and meals through Central- and South America. www.saltandsilver.net
This story appears in ESPN The Magazine’s Feb. 17 Cuba Issue. NOT LONG AGO, surfers in Havana had to fashion boards out of plywood desks stolen from classrooms. Today they surf on fiberglass boards left behind by tourists and donated by pros. They buy wet suits on the black market. Economic changes are crashing into Cuban life like waves onto the rocks at the beach on Calle 70, one of Havana’s top surf spots. Small businesses are opening. A law that took effect in January eases restrictions on the sale of new and used cars — albeit at massive markups. Cuba won’t be mistaken for a free market any time soon, but it sits at the precipice of a new path. And Cuba’s small community of skaters, surfers and BMXers sits at the precipice of the precipice. They have made an imported culture their own. They ride Frankenbikes, assembled piece by piece over years, and skate with no aspiration for sponsorship or fame. To the international media, they’ve become both a metaphor for Cuba’s gradual opening — “Not even the Castros can keep out kickflips!” — and a symbol of its continued isolation: There are still more skaters than skateboards in Havana. But after spending five days on Havana’s action-sports scene, it’s tough to attach much political motive to its athletes. Five minutes into my first conversation with a lanky brown-haired skater named Raciel, who wears fake diamond earrings and has red kiss marks tatted up and down his torso, […]
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…
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
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.