Part 3 of 3: Boards For Bro's in Cuba
Friday, May 01, 2009
Photos and Captions by Rob Meronek
Day 5 – The Reason We Went
I don’t recall exactly how the idea came about, but between Chris Nieratko talking to us at SPoT and others in the industry, we all just came together in agreement that we should bring the struggling skateboarding community in Cuba some much needed skateboarding equipment. The emails and ideas probably started flying to and from about four or five months prior to the actual trip. It just seemed like a crazy idea at first, but once Nieratko starting sending over flight itineraries, the reality hit…we were going to Cuba. When it was said and done, here was our crew:
- Tomas Crowder – God of our trip. If you had a question, Tomas had an answer
- Chris Nieratko – main motivator and responsible for making the trip happen
- Chris Nieratko – pregnant wife of Chris brought her unborn baby to Cuba
- Quim Cardona – quoted as saying, “Less money equals more heart”
- Bryce Kanights – legendary photographer
- Donna Kanights – Bryce’s wife along for the experience
- Zered Bassett – ATV with a great attitude
- Jenna – Dr. Z’s girl, a hairdresser from NYC
- Barak Wiser – SPoT buyer and Boards for Bro’s co-founder
- Rob Meronek – always down for a trip…anywhere
- Mike Anderson – new kid on the block is easy going and fun to be around
- Scuba Steve – eS TM and filmer and receiver of sunburns
- Ron Deily – don’t let the happy-go-luck persona fool you. This kid is smart
- Rick McCrank – vegan, straight-edge, veteran pro that has seen and done it all
- Tod Swank – owner of Tum Yeto that is pro-active in giving back
- Felipe – owner of four shops in Columbia and “found” David Gonzales
- Jenna Becker – my lovely fiancé that is always down for an adventure
- Ryan Clements – that’s me. I’m just grateful for my opportunities
Upon arrival, the kids were mellow. The local organizers held a very short contest at 2pm with about a dozen locals taking part. There was no PA system, so subsequently no announcing or even music being played. That’s just how it is down there. You make do with what you have. The winners received special prize packs that we put together for them that consisted of a complete, a pair of shoes, a set of wheels with bearings, and a couple other things. Needless to say, they were beyond hyped.
Immediately following the contest, Quim, Mike, Ron, Zered, and Rick put on a demo that had the kids going completely nuts. Quim’s double kickflip to Mike’s fs blunt to Ron’s bs smith to tailslide to Zered’s ollie over the huge gap to Rick’s massive display of maneuvers kept the kids screaming for nearly an hour.
Finally it was time to give out the product. Che had an idea of how he wanted to do it. He wanted to keep it organized, which was fine with us because we were there for him. He would call out a name and when that person came up we’d give them a complete. With only about 40 of them, that went rather quickly, so we resorted to giving out decks to the rest of the names on the list. The crowd was getting more and more rowdy and Che said to me, “Look over there. He’s a government official…the guy in the green.” I asked, “What does that green uniform mean?” Che responded, “They are the worst – the top of the government.”
My guess is that the official was simply wondering what all of the commotion was about, but then again, I’m a naïve American that doesn’t have to deal with that type of stuff. At this point kids were literally climbing up the ramp trying to grab stuff out of the boxes as Che attempted to maintain some sort of control. Compared to what we’re used to, it wasn’t really that far out of control. However, not having a microphone and unable to speak the language really changes things. I just remained cool and guarded the product as Che continued to give it out for about 30 minutes. We really did have a lot of stuff – hopefully all of the skateboarders got something.
Che finally called it, concerned that we were garnering too much attention. So we threw the rest of the product under the ramp as one of Che’s boys hailed a cab to get it out of there. Che went with the product back to his home where he could hand it out to the skaters that really needed it, as the product toss/giveaway had some non-skaters in there that just wanted something (anything) for free. He also told me, “I’m going to send some product to the skaters in the east. They need it more than us there.” I can’t even really picture anyone needing product more than those kids that day…
As the crowd dispersed and we were settling into our cab rides back to the hotel, Mrs. Nieratko said to Jenna and me, “I saw this boy that doesn’t even have a shirt on and didn’t get any product.” I was like, “Find him and I’ll give him my board.” She pointed him out, we walked up to him, and I handed him my board and motioned him to go. He smiled and ran away, not really even knowing what to do with it. I watched all of the kids playing with their new stuff, talking to friends, and just taking in the excitement and sense of hope that was reinforced that warm, windy afternoon.
When I got into the cab, I found out that Barak and Rob gave their boards away, too. Quim, joining in, opened up the van door and gave his complete away as well. I must admit that I’ve never given away my own skateboard before. It was nearly a scary feeling, but knew I had more skateboarding product accessible to me on Monday morning back at SPoT than the entire country of Cuba has in their possession at any given time.
We then made a pit stop at a car and motorcycle show. I knew that my trip was complete when I saw two Harley Davidson’s, or course they were models prior to 1962. It was time to go home to Tampa. We walked the streets a bit more, grabbed some food, and headed back to the hotel to decompress and chill together one last night before leaving.
We were advised to get to the airport three hours early. We got there 2.5 hours prior to the departure of our flight, which would be by far more than enough time in the US. The line was really, really long and they had only one person checking in the passengers in economy class. Nearly two hours later we got checked in and got our tickets. The next step was to pay your airport tax, which is about $25 USD. Every passenger must do it. It’s the Cuban way of making some extra loot off of tourists.
Going through Immigration was a walk in the park…only a couple of questions and we were free to pass into the terminal. The flight back to Panama was about 2.5 hours, and to say that going through Customs and Immigration in Panama was easy, well, that’s a bit of an understatement. The only concern left was getting back into the States.
The layover was long, about three hours, and then the flight to MIA was just about three hours, too. We got off the plane in Miami and had to wait in the huge line to get through Immigration. It took about 45 minutes to talk to an Agent. He posed a few questions. “Where did you travel?” “What did you bring home?” You know. The usual. We gave the right answers, Jenna started a short conversation with him, and we grabbed our bags and were having a beer in the bar before you knew it.
I will admit that I was pretty damn nervous with anticipation on what was going to be the outcome of our entry back into the USA. But all worked out well. I like to think that when your heart is in the right place that things will all work out for the better.
As a final note, I’m a proud American…very proud to say that I am from the United States of America. We don’t do everything right and I’m sure as a country that we piss a lot of people off, but this is yet another experience where on the flight home I couldn’t wait to get my feet back on American soil. However, people are people. And more specifically, skateboarders are skateboarders. We love skateboarding, travel, and above all we value our family and friendships. It takes all kinds to be a part of this world and I know that I’m blessed by the opportunities that have befallen upon me in my short 35 years on this earth.
I’m going to leave you with a random list of things that they DO NOT have in Cuba:
- Trash – the place is really clean
- Paint – the vast majority of the buildings have not been painted for 50 years
- Washrags – not the biggest deal in the world, but the hotel did not have them
- Smoking bans – smoke ‘em if you got ‘em…any time, anywhere
- Pollution regulations – behind some cars you felt like you were inhaling a cigar
- Billboards – not only do they not have billboards, but there is relatively no advertising of anything, anywhere whatsoever
- Pressure washers – therefore giving everything that “needs to be cleaned” look
- Dog catchers – there are wild dogs running in packs all over
- Homeless people – it’s relatively impossible to be homeless in Cuba. Each person is “issued” a home. The only way to be on the streets is if you’re such a drunk that your family kicks you out
Footage: Boards For Bro's Cuba
Skater Profile: Quim Cardona
Skater Profile: Ron Deily
Skater Profile: Rick McCrank
Skater Profile: Quim Cardona
Skater Profile: Mike Anderson
Skater Profile: Officer Doofy