Our recent Edward HOPPER collection proudly raised sponsorship for the incredible work of Cuba Skate, a social-skate NGO from Havana. Their latest initiative, an all-recycled plastic skatepark, is beginning. We had to know more.
Miles Jackson founded Cuba Skate in 2010, after he fell in love with the country while studying abroad in Havana. Supplies were limited to non-existent due to the embargo, but Miles built a tight-knit family of skaters and with each visit he would bring back more gear. Soon programs grew, with a mission to support the evolution of skateboarding in Cuba, build local communities and international connections, and cultivate youth through sport. We spoke to Miles about the newest development at Cuba Skate – a skatepark, unlike any other.
Hey Miles, thanks for talking to us. We’ve recently sealed a sponsorship with Cuba Skate and THE SKATEROOM. But tell us, why is the recycled plastic initiative the best route for giving the Cuba Skate community their skatepark?
Since day one, Cuba Skate has strived to build an official skatepark in Cuba, and that’ll require partnerships with the right companies and with the cooperation and compliance of the Cuban and American governments. Our hope is that in building a proper park, the space will provide an environment to nurture and catalyze the next generation of skaters in Cuba. Having a safe space is a big element, and equally so, having onlookers and community members witness skaters thrive will lead to more acceptance and support of the culture.
But you went recycled plastic, rather than, say, wood or concrete?
The recycled plastic skatepark is a perfect example of skateboarders solving problems and creating innovative solutions. Cuba is a beautiful island surrounded by the ocean, and the underbelly of the country is home to flora, fauna, and marine biology that exists nowhere else in the world. Being able to champion environmental sustainability is something that we all care about as humans, and it’s really just icing on the cake that we get to make a skatepark at the same time
So you actually collect the plastic yourself from the cities and beaches nearby?
Years ago, we embarked on clean up programs at city plazas to demonstrate our care and love for public spaces. After visiting a warehouse in 2018 that housed recycled plastic picnic tables, benches and other skate-able items, the lightbulb clicked and we got right to work. We received a grant from the VF Foundation and really hit the ground running. Then the pandemic hit and that slowed progress, but in early 2021 we were able to fully relaunch our clean ups.
Our current focus is collecting as much waste as possible. In collaboration with the right sustainability partners, we are exploring the best methods to create ramps, fun boxes, jump ramps, rails, stair sets, etc. to make a complete, modular indoor park.
And how has the response been from the local community?
The project has given economic opportunities to our staff and participants, and manifested the stewardship and leadership of Cuba’s skateboarders. I think for non-skaters who are still unsure about the sport and culture, building this park will portray skateboarding’s unique ability to combine culture, community, art, and creativity. Members of the community who have gotten to know skaters, who have seen our DIY park or our woodshed, are all inspired by the desire, effort, and resourcefulness of our team.
Can you give us a rundown of how this project will happen, from beginning to end?
Our staff travel to the local rivers and beaches surrounding Havana, collect plastic waste, and drop it off at a local warehouse. The plastics are sorted and separated, plastic bottles, bottle caps, etc. and from there are sent to a cooperative space in Matanzas where the items are shredded. The next step is creating plastic lumbers, which are then assembled into a variety of items.
We’re about 3 years into the project already, and still just getting started. Our goal is to collect 10+ tons of plastic waste every year until 2025, and each year we’ll build new skate-able, recycled plastic obstacles. A small bench or picnic table is surprisingly heavy, and generally consists of a few hundred pounds of plastic.
In 2023, we will begin making molds for ramps and other obstacles, not just picnic tables and benches. All the items are currently housed at Estudio 50, a magical mirror warehouse that’s been repurposed into a production studio. Our colleagues there are helping us identify the right warehouse space to build out the full recycled park in 2023-2024.
What does Cuba Skate bring to the scene in Cuba, more generally?
Our motto is that “we’re giving Cubans the tools to skate through life.” In general, we provide support and opportunities. Access to materials and resources that help our staff pursue sustainability and longevity for skateboarding on the island.
In 2010, we focused on skateboarding resources — boards, trucks, wheels, etc. and as time went on, we realized there wasn’t longevity to our work once the skateboards broke. That’s when we launched our cooperative woodshed to recycle and manufacture skateboards.
Now, in addition to materials, we bring tools and resources for the woodshed, for ongoing builds and renovations at our DIY park, cameras — thanks to Go Pro! — lenses, rolls of film, etc.,
We bring support and opportunities for the greater Cuban skate community. Our volunteers and ambassadors range from professional skaters to woodworkers, photographers, students, and builders, and they engage with our Cuban staff and participants the cultural exchange is mutually beneficial.
I don’t think these milestones could be achieved in other sports or cultures, there’s something really special embedded into skateboarding. We are sincerely grateful to all of our donors and supporters, and continuously amazed by skaters in Cuba. They literally make the most out of the least, and that inspires our staff and our Board in the US to constantly elevate our organization.
How will this collaboration with THE SKATEROOM empower Cuba Skate and this project?
The partnership will be a tremendous help to our organization and our ongoing efforts to build the recycled plastic skatepark. We’ve worked with TSR in the past and love their approach to the intersection of art, skate, and community. Partnerships and collaboration are essential to achieving aspirational goals, and we’re thrilled to have renewed commitment and support from TSR.
The financial contribution is outstanding, but I love that TSR is equally focused on spreading the word and helping us build awareness about our programs. Throughout our partnership dating back to 2018, TSR has shared our work with a global audience and continues to believe in our work. That’s something that money can’t buy, and our entire organization is extremely grateful for.
We’re stoked too. And we are excited to see this project flourish under your guidance, Miles. Thank you.