Jabneel Díaz Rivera
MIAMI, Florida - Anna Robbins has been riding a skateboard for more than 20 years so she was taken aback when she travelled to Cuba in January to discover there are very few girls who skate.
Robbins, attributed this to the lack of access to boards and the macho Caribbean stereotypes that surround the sport of skateboarding. “It’s impossible to buy a skateboard on the Island. Most of the boards are taken over from the U.S. and Canada,” Robbins explained. And because the number of skateboards that can be taken over to Cuba is limited, there is rarely even one left over for the girls.
But that may be about to change as part of the larger shift in U.S.-Cuba relations launched 15 months ago to end half a century of hostility. The new push to normalize relations is due to be cemented March 20 when Barack Obama makes an official two-day visit to the communist-run island, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to set foot in Cuba in 88 years.
As part of the new relationship some of the onerous travel restrictions on both sides of the Straits of Florida have been lifted making it easier for Robbins and her skateboarding friends to lend a helping hand to the island.
Robbins, returned to Havana this week with Miami group Amigo Skate Cuba to offer workshops on skateboarding and yoga at an elementary school. They will also conduct skateboarding competitions for talented local youths to demonstrate their tricks and skills with the boards.
Amigo Skate Cuba founder, René Lecour, has been travelling to Cuba since 2010 to promote skateboarding. “René gave me all his support,” said Robbins, who has a degree in cultural anthropology and is cofounder of a popular Taco restaurant in Miami's Wynwood arts district.
Donated skateboards are usually given to the best male skaters, who then distribute them according to a hierarchical order of the more promising male skaters, which means that the girls are relegated to the last option.
“Despite their desire to skate, this group of girls unfortunately dwindles down to that of the girlfriends of the male skaters, and often they must stay back on the street corners cheering on their skateboarding boyfriends,” she said.
Robbins learned to skate during her college years in Santa Barbara, California, says her mission is to show that skateboarding can also be a form of exercise and transportation, as well as a great way to empower the girls and to have them create new bonds. She also founded Amiga Skate Yoga to help young women deal with the stress that results from being immersed in a male-dominated business world. “Even though it’s not a traditional combination, I realized how yoga and skateboarding complement each other,” she said.
While in Havana in January she spoke with girls of various ages interested in the sport, as young as 5, and going up young adult women in their late 20s. There was one girl in particular who doesn’t just cheer on her skateboarder boyfriend but also takes advantage of the least opportunity to step onto a board to show off her skills.
Ariadna travelled 10 hours by bus from Camagüey to Havana, together with her husband and a group of skateboarders, to meet with the Americans from Amigo Skate Cuba. Anna was already there, where she met this special girl, with whom she officially established the Amiga Skate Yoga movement in Havana.
“When I met her I asked her if she skateboarded and her face immediately lit up in affirmation, followed by the clarification that she was only able to skateboard when one of the boys was taking a break and she had the opportunity to borrow a skateboard,” Robbins recalled.
Ary, as Robbins calls her affectionately, does not have her own skateboard. The young enthusiast seizes every opportunity to borrow a skateboard and indulge her passion.
When Amigo Skate Cuba gave out new boards, Ary was thrilled to get her hands on an old board that one of the boys had discarded.
Her luck was short-lived though, as the new skateboard her husband received needed an important part and he had to compete in an event. “Without thinking twice, Ary cannibalized the part from her own skateboard, which rendered it unusable,” said Robbins.
Ariadna's generosity and apparent joy at being able to help out her husband, moved Robbins. “Her actions led me to give her one of the skateboards I took to Havana for my personal use, and this is the one she has been riding ever since.”
Robbins went a step further and asked Ariadna if she would become Amiga Skate Yoga’s ambassador in Cuba.
The young Cuban woman returned to Camagüey with a new mission: finding more girls who want to learn to skateboard.