skateboarding, costa rica, urban culture

These skaters have created a safe haven from the dangers of Costa Rica’s drug trade

Words: Nicole Buscemi
Photography: Kylemacvisuals

When a member of the San Rafael EXtremo skate crew was murdered by a drug dealer, the rest of the group decided to do something about the problem of violence on Costa Rica’s streets. This is the story of how they reclaimed their space by building a skate park

It’s 8am and the heat is already beginning to radiate off the asphalt of San Rafael Park. About 200 people – skateboarders, locals and community members – stand behind the walls peering through the chain link fence as WeJourney volunteers and members from local skate crew, San Rafael ExtreMo, install the finishing touches on the new Luzo Skate Park.

The sight provokes a sense of hope because people from all over the globe are working together to improve the local community. As volunteers work in unison, the language barrier proves non-existent, everyone instinctively gesturing among themselves in an effort to assemble and beautify San Rafael’s first skate park.

Read more

From inside Luzo Skate Park, a leading member of San Rafael EXtremo, 19 year-old Rodrigo Jimenez, approaches the volunteers with a radiant smile and a kiss on the cheek. Under his arm, he has the pieces of a weathered balance board – a flat board that sits atop a solid wood cylinder plastered with graphics. After greeting the WeJourney members, he swiftly flips the oval shaped board and lands squarely on the cylindrical part. 

It’s only early morning but the park is already buzzing with a diverse mix of creativity and talent. Brayan Mora, Costa Rica’s national balance board champion, stacks multiple boards and rollers to reach unimaginable heights, while a unicycler sinks the pegs of his wheel into a steep hand rail. This isn’t your average skate park. And it makes the Venice Beach bowl look tame by comparison.

balance board, generation z, youths

San Rafael EXtremo member and national balance board champion Brayan Mora at Luzo Skate Park

© Tyler Grove/WeJourney

journey, travel, adventure

“A new generation of travelers, driven to address the needs of our world. Lasting social change starts within each one of us, and that nothing compares to in-person experiences and human connections to inspire new ways of being.”

Skate culture in this humble community is thriving like never before. But it’s still overshadowed by San Rafael’s notorious gang violence – something WeJourney volunteers are hoping to curb with the new recreational pastime at the request of the transformative youth skate crew, San Rafael Extremo. They are using their sport to not only change the gang-misconception associated with skateboarding, but also to create a safe place for people to pursue action sports. 

Local skater Rodrigo Jimenez says living in a marginalised community makes it difficult for skaters to peacefully hit the streets without being harassed by drug dealers or having their skateboards confiscated by police. 

“This skatepark will be an opportunity for us to change the mentality of skateboarding,” says Jimenez. “We’re commonly viewed as dangerous or junkies, so we want to get involved to help change that mindset.” 

Rodrigo hopes the park will serve as a hub for people of all ages in local and surrounding communities to peacefully pursue their passions. 

skatepark, costa rica, crew

Local skaters in San Rafael gather for the grand opening 

© Kylemacvisuals

action sports, skateboarding

“We believe in the inspirational and transformative power of Actions sports to positively impact both individuals and communities. While these sports are out of reach for most large urban populations, we are committed to changing that.”

But how’d all this come about? According to Jimenez, it was a coming together of the niche skate community when EXtremo member Luis Diego “Luzo” Zumbado was murdered by drug dealers while trying to protect his neighborhood friends. Luzo was a core member and creator of the group, and he was persistent in his effort to defend local skaters from the inherit dangers of San Rafael.

Establishing a safe place to skate has been a constant challenge for members of EXtremo. Until now, they’ve been limited to the streets and on a daily basis face threats by drug dealers and police harassment, their boards often taken away with no return. 

Yara Jackson, a balance boarder and member of the skate crew, is optimistic that Luzo Skate Park will create a necessary and positive change in the community. “We won’t have to worry about violence and drugs. This will be an opportunity to not only remove kids off of the street, but incentivize those who are interested in the sport to get involved,” she says. “Whether it’s skateboarding, balance boarding or longboarding, it will be a safe space for youths to gather and practise together.” 

San Rafael, volunteers, journey, skatepark

San Rafael EXtremo skate members with WeJourney volunteers.

© Tyler Grove/WeJourney

glasswing, non-profit, education

“Butterflies have long been considered symbols of positive transformation. Just like the butterfly effect, we believe one small act can achieve great things.”

As word spread about EXtremo’s mission, international organizations quickly jumped to support their cause. WeJourney, an impact travel collective, joined forces with Divertcity and Glasswing to secure land and organize funding for the skatepark. WeJourney is known for making a positive impact around Central America by assembling young travelers from different parts of the world to participate in socially-conscious projects. 

This particular project is aimed to enhance the action sports scene in Costa Rica by constructing a designated place to skate, while also providing a safe haven for at-risk youth. A cause close to Ryan Sheckler’s heart, the pro skater even offered the support of the Sheckler Foundation and Red Bull to help the project come to fruition.

Read more

What’s taking place in this small sector in Costa Rica is a reflection of a larger trend transpiring across the globe. Ruben Villalobos, Luzo’s cousin and a leading member of EXtremo, explains that we are living in a moment where young, socially-conscious members of communities facing adversity feel compelled to take action.

In New York City, the Brujas, an intersectional feminist skate crew, have received national attention on how they are taking activism beyond their local skatepark and into the worlds of fashion, art and politics.

volunteers, urban activism, skateboarding

San Rafael EXtremo’s Bryan Mora and Rodrigo Jimenez help build a ramp.

© Tyler Grove/WeJourney

Left Wing Futbol – Xicago, a group of Chicago activists are breaking down the social boundaries in soccer by bringing together people who are typically not represented — people of color, queers and trans athletes. Urban activism is also thriving in the UK. The Bristol Bike Project is mobilizing their community by recycling bikes and hosting mechanical workshops. Allowing marginalized and disadvantaged people the independence to move around their city and increasing their chances for employment. It’s a generational movement that is inspiring groups around the world to leverage social media and other tools around them to create positive change.

And as international organizations and local city council members joined forces to support EXtremo’s mission, they immediately began to feel more like valued members the community. It proves to them that their voices do matter. That outsiders are open to accepting skateboarding as a sport, and all skaters should not be classified as “lazy and dangerous”. This is an opportunity for them to not only showcase their talents in a safe space, but to shift the misconception of skateboarding nationwide. 

It’s shy of 1 p.m. now and people are crowding every inch of Luzo Skate Park. Volunteers paint vibrant designs on cracked walls as others watch the skateboarding and balance board show hosted by the EXtremo crew. Older, graduated members of EXtremo hang near a large, black mural with their spray cans and respirator masks, peacefully drawing cartoons to illustrate support for their crew and community. No tags here.

More people have gathered around the fence to sneak a peak at their new skate park. You can’t help but get the sense that this may be the biggest thing that’s ever happened in the community. Or at least the most positive in a long time if the stand-still traffic , congested sidewalks and visit by the mayor are anything to go by.

From the outside world, it’s just a skate park. It’s a space for people to skate on ramps and rails, and a place to hang out. But for San Rafael and the San Rafael EXtremo, this is an opportunity for skaters and marginalised youths to reclaim their space and disrupt the misconception of skateboarding. It’s also the realisation of Luzo’s dream.

You can follow their journey here: San Rafael EXtremo

Read more

Next story