Surfing the concrete wave in Costa Rica
In a country where barreling waves break year-round, the surfer is king. But a growing number of young people are paddling back in from the lineup, trading in their surfboards for skate decks and taking to the streets for some old-fashioned sidewalk surfing.
Jorge “Coco” Monge, who is somewhat of a Costa Rican skateboard legend and holds coveted sponsorships from Quiksilver, Maxx energy drinks and Arenas board shops, among others, says skateboarding in Costa Rica has reached a new peak.
“I’d like to have a professional statistician or someone do a formal study about what the fastest-growing sport in Costa Rica is, but just look around in the streets. There are more skateboarders than ever before,” he says.
Monge should know. Sixteen years have passed since he first stepped on a skateboard – it belonged to his sister’s boyfriend – and since then he’s taken an active part in the culture, riding consistently, working at board shops and organizing events like professional demos and local contests. He lives for the sport.
“Skateboarding is the best thing that has ever happened to me,” he says.
While skateboarding is sometimes brushed aside as “kids’ stuff,” Monge is living proof that it is a legitimate sport requiring the same time and dedication as any other. He insists that without six hours of daily practice, no skateboarder will ever reach a competitive level.
Monge has athleticism in his blood. His father, Jorge Hernán Monge, played soccer for the Costa Rican national team in the 1950s and ’60s and still holds the Costa Rican record for most goals scored by a player in a single game.
Coco Monge is part of a generation of skateboard pioneers in Costa Rica. He and his skate crew were the first to film and photograph their tricks, defining the resourceful style of skating for which Costa Rica has become known in Latin American skateboard circles.
Before skate parks and backyard mini-ramps appeared in the country, the only option for skateboard aficionados was to head into the streets. Unfortunately, for those wishing to huck their meat down a set of stairs, Costa Rica’s paved surfaces were, and still are, less than ideal for rolling around on small polyurethane wheels. Riders had to get creative.
“In the streets there’s always something holding you back,” Monge says. “You’ll roll up to what looks like a perfect spot and there will be a pothole or a big crack through it. … So you have to get creative. Costa Rican skateboarders are known more as artists than as athletes.”
Blast Magazine, which reports on the Latin American skateboard scene from Mexico and Puerto Rico down to Argentina, frequently includes pages of Costa Rican coverage, and is quick to point out the Tico knack for ingenuity.
In a recent article, Blast writer Olman Torres said, “Wherever it is, [Costa Rican skateboarders] always end up finding something to do over, on top of or underneath anything that can be skated.”
The rising tide of eager skate rats has created a boom in the industry, spawning countless board shops carrying most international brands in addition to brand decks, trucks, wheels and hardware from Nasional Skateboards, a Tico brand. Costa Rica also has its own online skateboard magazine, elcubocr.com, and the new wave of Tico skaters has access to an ever-growing number of skate parks.
Parks, both public and private, wood and concrete, can be found from coast to coast. To those who thrash, the Oneida Skatepark in Tamarindo, on the northern Pacific coast, is known for its snake run, which starts at a shallow 3 feet deep and slopes down to an 8-foot bowl at the opposite end. Over on the Caribbean coast, Puerto Viejo has its covered Concrete Jungle skate park. In the Central Valley, San Joaquín de Heredia and the San José suburb of Guadalupe both have public concrete parks, and Cartago to the east has started construction on an anxiously awaited “skate plaza.”
In addition to parks funded and constructed by municipalities, a handful of privately operated parks have sprung up in the past few years. About eight kilometers north of Tilarán, on the windswept shores of north-central Costa Rica’s Lake Arenal, is Hotel Tilawa. The hotel caters mostly to windsurfers, but it also boasts the largest outdoor skate park in Central America, according to hotel representatives (2695-5050, www.hotel-tilawa.com).
Designed by pro skaters from the United States, the Tilawa park includes a 6-foot bowl and a 9-foot pool in addition to street obstacles like funboxes, pyramids and rails. Hotel guests skate for free, and outsiders can see what they’re made of for ₡2,000 ($4). All riders skate at their own risk and must bring their own boards.
During the rainy season, indoor parks are especially valuable. The recently opened Sk8land in San Ramón de Alajuela, northwest of the capital, is a popular medium-sized indoor park with a variety of obstacles. Arenas board shops own two indoor parks; the smaller is in Cartago, and the larger park – which covers 1,200 square meters – is in downtown San José on Paseo de los Estudiantes, 100 meters east and 25 meters south of the Costa Rican Water and Sewer Institute (AyA) (2258-7879, www.arenascr.com).
Monge is the manager of the San José Arenas Skate Park and has been working there for almost five years, planning events and designing the park’s obstacles, such as the 6-foot half-pipe and the various boxes, ramps and rails.
The entrance fee to the park is ₡1,500 ($3) for a three-hour block on weekdays and the same price for two hours on weekends, when the ramps are more crowded. The onsite board shop sells gear and clothing, but also rents skateboards for ₡5,000 ($10) and helmets, which are required to use the facilities, for ₡1,500. Inside the park is a pool table, restaurant and observation deck for skateboarders’ waiting friends and parents.
Monge believes the sport’s popularity can only increase. He says the country’s growing number of skate shops and skate parks give Costa Rican skateboarders an advantage over their shredding forefathers.
“It’s easier for these young kids to pick up the sport and get sponsored now. They have more support from their parents, and there are way more places to skate,” he says.
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