Rene Lecour and Amigo Skate Cuba have sent over 1,000 skateboard wheels rolling through Havana, and now they're going back to donate more.
Born five years ago when Kaya Lecour convinced his dad to take a skate trip to Cuba, Amigo Skate and its crew's mission has grown into a yearly pilgrimage, delivering skateboards to an island with no skateshops. They also bring art supplies.
In February, they're flying back to Havana. And so far, they've got 20 volunteers and they're always looking for more. They're throwing a benefit show January 31 at Churchill's Pub too.
Here's what founder Rene Lecour has to say about marble, concrete, and doing it for the love.
New Times: How much does it cost to get there?
Rene Lecour: Round trip with a visa, it's under $500.
Has the price gone down with the new rules?
It's a little cheaper than in the past, and that might be due to that or gas prices.
How many people are going?
There's 15 of us from the U.S. and seven coming from Canada.
How long have you been doing it?
Five years strong, man. It's been a lesson learned every time we go. You always learn something. It's kinda like an obsession now.
How do you do it?
I spend all year saving up the money. We pay for it ourselves. Me and everyone else. We save, and are always asking people for product, used and new. The first year, it was me, my wife, our son, and a family friend. Now the movement is defintiely getting more attention.
How many skateboards have you given away?
Hundreds and hundreds of skateboards. This trip, we don't even have everything collected yet, and we already have about 150 skateboards in my garage. Our number-two guy Chris Miller is up in New York City collecting too. We've been blessed the last couple of years with good support.
Has anything changed over the years?
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One thing hasn't changed, the big companies still don't understand what we do. And since they can't advertise or sell in Cuba, they don't care. We were actually in conversation with a big name and they wanted to know what skate shop we were affiliated with in Cuba, and what distribution company we work with. I was like, "There are no skate shops in Cuba." They just want to sell their products there. We're not a 501c3 or anything. We're just skaters.
Over the 5 years you've been going do you see the same people?
We have. Our main thing really goes beyond skateboards and arts. It's more about relationships in the long term. The kids we met when they were 14 or 15 are now adults and it's interesting to see the change in their lives and attitudes. Some have left Cuba. It's all about friendship. I could go there now with no skateboards and they would welcome me the same way. To come from the outside and eat together is a blessing.
What are the best skate spots out there?
The whole island is a skate spot. There's so much marble and concrete. One of the best spots is a fountain across from the Presidential Hotel and the Malecón. It's been empty for years. It's beautiful.
What do you need from Miami?
Come out and support our fundraiser online and come to Churchill's on the 31st. We accept new and used products and we hand deliver them 100%. Nothing is resold. Money is good too. We don't ship the cargo. It goes in our luggage and they charge us a lot of money for overweight luggage. Whatever money we don't raise comes out of pocket.
What's up with the show?
The show at Cuhrchill's is gonna be awesome. All the bands are playing free. And we have a group called Suffering Tool. Several members are from Havana and only been in the states a couple of years. There will be raffles. And we're showing a video made by the skaters in Cuba. It's their first full length video. They went through a lot of hardships to get it made and this will be the first time it's shown in Miami. It's called Revolucion Evolucion
Did you know Suffering Tool in Cuba?
Yeah, they had a band called Hipnosis. I met them through a mutual friend, Che Pando. I just found out he was here, got in contact with him, and now they're playing the show to support cause they haven't forgottent heir brothers over there.
You stay just in the big city when you go there?
Yeah, that's where a majority of the skaters are. The cool thing is that the stuff we take, theyre really thrifty with it. They send it to their homeboys in Santa Clara. They don't hoard it. It's like the only good thing about the Communist mentality is that they share everything with others. When they were making their video everybody broke their boards but one guy and by the end of it, the entire crew shared that one skateboard. They're hardcore. It's the real deal/ They're family. They stick together. I there's enough food for one, there's enough for everybody. I've seen that first hand. Most people in the states can't wrap their mind around that.
How did skating get there?
Our main homeboy out there is Che Pando. He is actually one of the original skaters who started the whole movement in the 80s. It started with Russian soldiers who left their skateboards in Cuba, and Pando happened to be one of the kids who picked one up. He still skates. He's been skating for 30 years. He's a talented tattoo artist as well and the inspiration to continue our quest. It's a lot of work, but knowing that he's out there and what he's gone through to keep it together inspires us not to give up.
You fix used gear that's banged up?
We take new and used items. And if we need to put a little shine on it we'll take it as long as it's usable. We also take musical instruments, artt supplies, and skate, surf, and BMX gear. It's all one big family.
Shoutout to my homeboy Chris Miller who's doing the sister project with us in New York as well. He hasa fundraiser in Brooklyn. He's my counterpart over there. And shoutout all the sponsors: Fender Guitars, Maui Knicks, and Madrid Skateboards. Just thanks everybody and especially friends and family who have donated. And also Havana Air. And New Times for always dropping something in abotu us over the past 5 years. Every penny counts. We're helping to repair a skatepark that thhe kids built themselves so we can have a skate contest for them.
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Visit Amigo Skate Cuba on Give Forward for their fundraiser.
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Amigo Skate Cuba Benefit. With a screening of Evolucion Revolution, Cuba's first full length skateboard video. Plus raffles, skateboards, beer, and bands. Sponsored by Jolt Radio and Gummdrops. Saturday, January 31. Churchill's Pub, 5501 NE Second Ave., Miami. The show starts at 8 p.m. and admission costs $7. Ages 18 and up. Call 305-757-1807 or visit churchillspub.com.