San José International Airport. Around six in the morning. “Nice rims,” I’m saying to the dreadlocked taxi driver as he is lifting my suitcase into the back of his tuned Japanese sportster. The sun is blasting with the self-evidence of a civil servant job and no more than 500 meters away from the airport, we’re already stuck in the rush-hour mess of metal boxes. I’ve learned my first two lessons about Costa Rica pretty quick: the sun rises and goes down at six all year – hence the boys are motivated to get going early in the morning to get as much done as possible – and you have to deal with that kind of traffic. We will spend a lot of time in it. Even the driving skills of my host, the filmer Francisco Saco, who sees lanes as a well-meant advice rather than normative limits and who zigzags his Hybrid SUV through every little gap that opened up a split second ago, honking like a madman, aren’t really helping us much. Nonetheless, it’s imperative to travel by car. Pushing from spot to spot? Forget it. Almost as fun as learning how to scratch on a cheese grater. There seems to be a ban on imports of smooth asphalt and marble slabs. Welcome to Crusty Rica!
The country has bonded with America early on and started to import goods and lifestyle accordingly. Let it be surfing (yeah, although they have the best beaches here, they didn’t come up with it themselves) or later on skateboarding in the '70s. However, it did take till the mid '90s for the Chepesent crew to appear as an organization to open up the first indoor skatepark in Costa Rica. Yes, indoor – because during the rainy season, you better have a roof over your head. Even if the rainy weather isn’t comparable to the European winter breaks, a shelter like this is really useful. But outdoor skateparks have blossomed everywhere as well. There are 92 by now – and almost all of them are shitty, as the locals complain. The responsible politicians mostly hire planners who have no idea about skateboarding and the results of that are possibly well known all around the world. Just over the past couple of years, skaters were able to take matters into their own hands in order to build better parks. The government welcomes initiatives like these because they see skateboarding as a good way to keep the youth away from drugs (although they still don’t give the support that would be needed). Skating is pretty popular here in general.
"It’s weird in Costa Rica cause so many non-skaters wear skate brands."
With welcoming understatement, he doesn’t think that he refurbished the scene from the bottom up, but the skaters let him sense the emotional value of his doings. They still want to see their photos printed, and Stand By is one of the few print projects in Latin America that focus on skateboarding (well, actually the numbers aren’t really that much higher in Europe). The consumer behavior has changed. Francisco thinks that there hasn’t ever been a big collector scene in Costa Rica, almost no skate nerds, no tradition of full-length videos. “That is why the Costa Rican audience is perfectly designed for this Instagram form of consuming skateboarding.” However, he still has managed to expose the scene to a wide audience with his Hi-8 videos – recently by making probably the best Costa Rican skate video so far called Canasta. Also younger skaters, like Kevin Mejia, appreciate it even though they’ve fully internalized the new consumer habits. “You watch skateboarding on your phone all the time, but I don’t think it influences me that much. What I really like to do is to sit down on the toilet and read a physical magazine.” Kevin has the last part in Canasta and his skating breathes new life into the scene.
Daniel Chacon – Ollie
While the dominant influence has kept on coming from the American West Coast for years – which explains why still to this day no one hesitates to get on a 13 stair handrail or to fly down a terrifying double set – brands like Magenta, Palace, or Polar are considered inspiring examples nowadays. People focus more and more on running local brands. Kevin, for example, produces shirts with his own artworks as a hobby and started Vagabond together with Miguel Castro. And the Columbia-born, half-Dutch Dani Vuurmans contributes to the vivid scene by running Solowood Skateboards. From a simple video, the brand evolved in 2009 and has turned into the biggest board company among the four existing ones within the country. Of course, he can’t survive off of it, but next to working as an architect, he’s pretty busy just running it. Still many kids only know about US brands, which is why he’d like to let his company grow in order to offer the scene something that is rooted in Costa Rica. Solowood has slowly started to outgrow the country’s frontiers or rather the ones of Latin America. He guesses that no Latin American company has ever made it outside of the continent because the region is associated with low quality.
But they produce at Generator and do everything else you cherish board companies for: they support local contests, cooperate with artists, do tours, and collect cash for DIY projects, which can still be improved as Olman laments: “We are very lazy in context of DIY. We don’t really have a DIY culture.” One of the most famous DIY spots, the El Caño ditch, was basically built by longboarders. Francisco adds with a grin: “Skateboarders here are a bit selfish, they expect everything to be done for them, they don’t do the work. No one knows how to fix a spot, how to use Bondo. Costa Rica is kind of a lazy banana republic, but I don’t mean it in a horrible way, this is part of the attraction. There are two speeds here: slow and stop. Pura Vida of course.”
Roberto Chaves – 50-50 Gap out
By now, we’re on our way to the airport and he’s stepping on the gas once again while saying that. His pace is a different one. He’s motivated, always ready to get things rolling, get projects running. And so he did during my stay in Costa Rica. He got the crew on their toes and made sure that we got enough footage. But it didn’t really seem like they needed extra motivation. Even if the spots are rough, they know how to handle them and are ready to squeeze one more trick out of them. After they dropped me off at the departure terminal, they’re on to the next street mission. Maybe I’ll join once again soon. Pura Vida Ticos!