For Tico skaters the first decade of the 21st century has been a great period of revival for their favorite activity. Skateboarding in Costa Rica is no longer just an extreme sport, it has become part of the global skater culture, complete with distinguished riders, talented photographers chronicling the happenings in the culture, fashion, professional organizations, promoters, and more.
The Evolution of Skater Culture in Costa Rica
Skateboarding in Costa Rica began in earnest in the early 1980s, a few years after the seminal Zephyr Skateboard Team of Southern California redefined the art of riding skateboards and incorporated cultural elements such as music, fashion, art, and attitude. The history of the Z-Boys, as they later became known, and their evolution from a marketing and promotional gimmick for a Santa Monica surf shop was documented in the award-winning Dogtown and Z-Boys documentary film in 2001. Tico skater culture flourished in the 1980s as young riders emulated Z-Boy luminaries like Jay Adams, Stacy Peralta, Tony Alva, and many others. Quite a few of these young hopefuls hurt themselves while emulating the Z-Boys at the old skate park in La Sabana. The 1990s was a period of transition as young Ticos looked up to new heroes like the amazing Tony Hawk and his multiple gold medals accumulated in the ESPN X-Games.
By the end of the 20th century, Tico skaters weren’t content with simply emulating the great skaters who hailed from Southern California (Hawk), Rio de Janeiro (Bob Burnquist) and Florida (Rodney Mullen). It was time to elevate the culture to a national level; to really embrace it by adopting it and making it something they could call their very own. The first step was to link up with the nascent Latin American skate scenes that were far more advanced, such as the ones in Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru. Another important step was to foster a closer collaboration with the surfing scene in Costa Rica, a culture that had already been firmly established. Tico skaters have come to realize that, as an extreme sport, it shares common cultural aspects with BMX riders and other active people who enjoy mountain sports such as mountain biking, whitewater rafting, and orienteering. The following are just two of the fruits of this effort to promote skater culture in Costa Rica:
El Cubo: Costa Rica’s premier skateboarding magazine
American skateboard publication Thrasher recently celebrated 30 years chronicling the impact of skate culture around the world, particularly through its clever utilization of photography. Online magazine El Cubo is the Tico equivalent of Thrasher, and it could give its American counterparts a run for their money in the photography department. The latest issue of El Cubo features jaw-dropping pictorials of Tico skaters pulling death-defying tricks in some of Costa Rica’s urban landmarks. While many Ticos complain about the uneven architecture that dots the equally uneven topographical landscape of the country, skaters know how to take full advantage of it. The combination of jumbled construction and tolerant law enforcement makes parts of Costa Rica a skater’s paradise.
El Cubo isn’t limited to fancy photography; it is also dedicated to covering issues of importance to the skater community, such as finding their place in Costa Rican society. The following is a translated fragment from El Cubo’s current issue that illustrates and sums up the unique ethos of Tico skater culture:
“Every day the number of soldiers fallen in battle increases, as well as the number of people who reap from what they did not sow, and the ranks of those who are not yet gone but all the same forgotten are swelling. Call it destiny or call it a zero-sum game in which some must lose so that others shall win, the losses can be multiple: screwing up a trick, failing at a tournament or failing at life in general. Are any of these valid motives to fall into the black pools of despair?
We (skaters) are happy doing what we enjoy without expecting monetary gain, and here I’m being liberal with the use of the word “doing”, because the proletariat think we don’t do anything.
But there’s always that feeling of envy and disappointment of failing to accomplish significant success within what we enjoy doing. Others have achieved success, why not us? It is this matter that’s often the most important questions that humans ask of themselves: What is life for? Have we come to this astral plain to live or to succeed?
The path of life is what’s important, rather than its destiny, according to American skater Mike Vallely. This shall be the motive and intent behind every effort.”
The next logical step for Tico skateboarding is to reach out to the global community and promote awareness of the local skating culture. San Diego-based Tico skater Alberto Vargas is doing his part in making skaters around the world aware of what’s happening here in Costa Rica. Southern California is the Mecca of skateboard culture, and Vargas is becoming a self-appointed ambassador of Tico skater culture abroad. Here’s a recent video from Vargas that was featured in the website of Transworld Skateboarding, a long-running publication dedicated to covering skater culture around the world: