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Kids in Baja will skate anything

Next to Manos Sucias in Tijuana. It's terrifying.

Ana Gaspar Leon pulls a backside grab at the Baja Surf & Skate bowl.
Ana Gaspar Leon pulls a backside grab at the Baja Surf & Skate bowl.

“In Mexico or Baja California, there is a lot of corruption done by the municipal police force as they arbitrarily arrest people and the officers ask for a bribe to release them, without going before a judge,” Ensenada resident Daniela Ramírez said in a recent Reader interview. “Between 2006 and 2009 in Ensenada specifically, there was a lot of harassment by the municipal police towards skateboarders — men, young people, older people — where their skateboards were confiscated, and they were arrested for simply skating on the street.”

So beginning in 2006, Ramírez started organizing events, promoting pop-up skateparks, and advocating with the government for skateparks in Baja. Ramírez believed that safe and dignified places to skateboard in the state would help end the prejudices and harassment perpetrated against her skateboarding comrades.

Ramírez, now in her 30s, is a lifelong skateboarder. She is also the president of Skate Baja, A.C. (Asociación Civil), a non-profit organization formed in 2010. Through Skate Baja, Ramírez and her partners have continued her work, promoting events and advocating for public spaces for skateboarders in Tijuana, Tecate, Ensenada, Rosarito, and Mexicali. Ramírez explained, “We collaborated with skate shops, brands, and people who had the interest and desire to do better things for the skateboarding community.” In 2011, they promoted the skatepark and skate spot at Ampliación Guaycura in Tijuana, and afterward, a skate contest at Colonia El Descanso skatepark in Tecate. Over the years, the number and size of those events continued to grow.

A favorite Skate Baja site was the boardwalk in Ensenada. In 2011, the organization temporarily closed off the boardwalk area by the beach and set up a wooden ramp circuit for the skateboarders; soon after, a “best trick” contest ensued. Because of the popularity of such pop-up skateparks, a more permanent half-pipe was built across the street from the boardwalk, Recalled Ramírez, “Those ramps belonged to Club Revolución, an organization from Ensenada that for many years maintained a wooden skatepark in front of the beach. They always utilized their resources and donations and never had government support. It was outdoors, open to the general public, and free to watch. Many pleasant gatherings were held there. Unfortunately, during the pandemic, a building began to be built on that land, so the skatepark disappeared.”

Two people who felt the loss of that half-pipe were Alfredo Haro and Jose “Chacho” Anaya — longtime friends, surfers, and skaters. “With skateparks, many children and adults get away from the streets and the drugs,” said Haro, former proprietor of the now defunct Playa Hermosa Surf & Skate Shop in Ensenada. “When I was 8 years old, we moved to another house, and it was next to a San Miguel surfboard factory for many years. I used to skateboard out there, watch the surfers arrive, and see the immense passion. But here in Mexico, it is challenging to skate because of the condition of the streets. So sometimes we have to go to parks” — or empty pools. Haro, 37, recently closed his shop by the Ensenada boardwalk, which was often visited by San Diego skateboarders and surfers. In 2020, thieves broke into the shop and “stole skateboards, wetsuits, surfing accessories, leashes, tees, close to $3500 USD worth,” he said. And because Mexican nationals at the time couldn’t travel across the border due to covid restrictions, Haro and his business partners couldn’t replenish their merchandise. The business went downhill, and “the cops did nothing.”

On the flip side, cops are quick to bust skateboarders for no reason, as Ramírez noted. “In the 38 years of skating, I was stopped by police many times,” Anaya said. Anaya, now 52, was never locked up because he “is a living legend of Ensenada,” said Haro. “He started skateboarding when he was 14 years old.” Haro and Anaya, both avid surfers who currently reside in Ensenada, used to skateboard at the that famous half pipe by the beach and boardwalk that locals call Malecón de Playa Hermosa.

Jose Chacho Anaya rips his backyard ramp in Ensenada.

In 1988, Anaya won one of the first organized skateboard races held in Tijuana, held next to what we now know as the Caliente Hipódromo; back then, it was called the Agua Caliente Casino and Resort. “There were 120 skaters,” Anaya recounts. “It had lots of ups and downs, about 14 kilometers. I used a Dog Town skateboard, which was the norm during those times.” Today, an OG Dog Town skateboard is selling on eBay for $10,000. Unfortunately, Anaya doesn’t have his old skateboard, but he does have the original 1988 trophy, which cemented his street credibility.

Speaking of streets: “I like to skate on the downhills on the highway,” said Anaya, “and sometimes, the Federales intervene and stop me.” But never for long. In 2011, Anaya was the only skateboarder to enter one of the Rosarito-to-Ensenada bike races. Riding a bike over certain uphill stretches on the Carretera Federal 1 highway is strenuous; just imagine propelling a skateboard. But Anaya persevered, and finished the 50-mile race in 5 hours and 38 minutes. “I always look for the best fairways to ride my skateboard,” Anaya continued, “and if you have to, adapt to bad fairways. Nowadays, some are impossible to skate,” he noted — and that’s not even considering the places through which those roads pass. (Travelers are often advised to pay the $2+ for the Carretera Federal 1D unless they have business along the free frontage road.)

On Anaya’s trek from Rosarito to Ensenada, he would have passed by the K-38 Surf Shop, a popular surfboard and skateboard shop where surfers from all over the world stop in before hitting what surfline.com calls “a moderately powerful, bowly right point breaking over a rocky reef.” It’s also one of the go-to spots for skaters in the region. The shop’s owner, 62-year-old Jacinto Garcia, sells skate accessories and fixes boards. Garcia is a well known surfer in Rosarito, but he’s also one of the original 1970s Tijuana skateboarders. “I still have my original board from 1975,” he said. “I started skateboarding when I was 15; it was 1975. My girlfriend’s family at that time opened up the first skatepark in Tijuana, Skapistas De Mexico. And people from all over came down. It had a place where kids could party, really family [oriented] stuff. My specialty was handstanding,” he recalled. “So I used to handstand until I got dizzy. My favorite [section] was the large pool,”

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Skapistas De Mexico closed in 1978. But it paved the way for future skateboarders. One of them, Freddy Palazuelos, skated there when it reopened in the 1980s. “We found out there was a place called Las Skapistas, which was a famous bowl-type place to skate in the city. Here, we learned for the first time to skate in an empty pool-type spot.” Palazuelos said that San Angel is now the best place to skate in Tijuana, because it has the best bowl in the city. And then there’s La Bandera Skate Park, with its large Mexican flag marking it as something of the culture, and not opposed to it. “We continue working with the boys in the Fundación Actitud Extrovertida,” he said, “keeping boys away from drugs and violence.”

Freddy Palazuelos skating in Tijuana.

Besides dispensing goods , advice, and repairs at K-38, Garcia keeps an eye out for trouble. Skateboarding may not be a crime, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be trouble with the authorities. On July 3, 2020, at about 2 pm, Garcia noticed a truckload of American surfers and skateboarders being harassed by Mexican police officers across the street from his shop. He clicked the record button on his phone, then walked across Federal Highway 1 towards the group. He sent the footage to the Reader, and the Spanish dialogue between Garcia and the police officers in the footage was translated into English.

Garcia: “They are my friends. What problem do you have?”

Officer: “If you want to know, meet us at the police station.”

American woman in truck: “It’s the paper [license] plates. They’re trying to take the car.”

Garcia: “Do you have a registration paper?”

American man in truck: “Oh no, it’s in the mail.”

Garcia then looked at the two police officers and said, “You can check your database to see if the car is stolen, or by his license plate to see if it belongs to him.”

“No,” responded the police officer, “that permit is [valid] for the United States, not here.”

“Look, sir,” Garcia began.

“Who are you? Who are you?” yelled the police officer as he rushed Garcia.

In 2011, Anaya was the only skateboarder to enter a Rosarito to Ensenada bike race where he finished the 50-mile race in 5 hours and 38 minutes.

Jorge Nieto, a Baja reporter, surfer, and skateboarder, saw the incriminating video footage. “When [Garcia] sees an injustice, he acts on it,” Nieto told the Reader. “As in this case, defending the tourists in the gray Tacoma truck. I am very sorry that the city authorities treated the surfers that way. [Garcia] was then illegally beaten and arrested,” Nieto continued. “Then his wife” — now his ex — “approached the scene to claim physical abuse by the Rosarito municipal police.” In the video, the two policemen are on top of Garcia and restraining him with handcuffs. One of the Americans from the truck appears to be filming the tussle from about seven feet away. Garcia’s ex-wife is seen attempting to pull the officers off Garcia, with no success. Then the policeman toss Garcia in the back of the police truck.

Nieto continued, “They also arrested his wife. And when their neighbor, an employee of the pharmacy, wanted to take a photo of the patrol number, she too was loaded [into the police truck] by force. This altercation sends a bad image abroad, because Baja is famous for its waves.”

The Reader followed up with Garcia a week or so after the local police arrested him. “I spent one night, like 30 hours in a terrible jail cell full of tweakers,” Garcia said. “They made me sign some papers and let me go.”

Around the same time he spoke with the Reader, Garcia also interviewed with a news station from Mexico City. The news station then interviewed the Mayor of Playas de Rosarito, Araceli Brown. Garcia noted, “Those cops were fired. The Baja Board of Tourism is monitoring any abuse. Once the tourists are stopped by police, they should dial 078, and they will be immediately assisted with a translator. Tell the readers that they are safe here. Then, if you are stopped and you have made an infraction, ask for your ticket and go to the police station and pay your fine. They will take your license, and you will get it back. If you haven’t broken any laws, just keep asking for a ticket, and do not give them any money.”

Baja Surf & Skate Airbnb in Ensenada.

Javier Morales, a 34-year-old Rosarito skateboarder and bodyboarder, knows how the police roll in Baja. He treks back and forth across the border to his job at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. “The police are OK,” he told the Reader. “But they do mess with us skaters all the time. They can stop you and do a [random] search. The last time I had to bail a friend out of jail, it was a pro skater from Spain. They broke into a school to skate some stairs, and the cops showed and took the three dudes to jail.” Morales said he slipped the police officers at the jail “$50 USD, and they got released very fast.”

While some American skaters might be terrified of the prospect of getting sweated and shaken down by the policia, others feel that’s just part of the fun and excitement of skateboarding in Baja. It’s still a little bit outlaw down there. Even local skate legend Tony Hawk couldn’t avoid the allure. He rolled down to Playas de Tijuana to skateboard and film the last portion of “The End,” which was part of his Birdhouse video line. “We rented this bullring in Tijuana for two weeks in 1998 for a whopping $1500,” Hawk posted on his Facebook page. “It took ten days to build the ramp and four days to shoot all the skating.”

A key feature of the $40,000 custom-built half pipe built by Tim Payne in the Plaza Monumental de Playas de Tijuana, according to the Skateboarding and the City YouTube page, was a 360-degree loop. Before Hawk’s visit, nobody had completed the loop. And video posted by Skateboarding and the City shows Hawk eating it at least two times. (“I always got hurt somehow along the way of learning it,” said Hawk in another interview.) Then on the third shot, Hawk makes it all the way around.

The original flyer from the Tijuana skate park, Skapistas De Mexico.

The Tijuana half-pipe inspired DIY builders from both sides of the border, including Morales. “I built this mini ramp at home,” he said, showing pictures of half pipe that looks about 5 feet tall and 30 feet wide, made with bricks as a base and cement up top. “I just do it for fun with free material I scout around,” he continued. “It depends on size and material, [whether it’s] concrete or wood. But with cash in hand, it can be done very fast, like three days. There is also a DIY pool in Ensenada,” he added.

In 2021, Analy “Ana” Gaspar Leon and her friends built a DIY skate pool in Ensenada behind her home. “The idea of the pool was born because they removed the place where I skated in front of the beach in Ensenada” — the same ramp that Haro and Anaya once skated. “In 2019, I bought my land and was allowed to create something on my property.” Leon’s diyskatepool_ens Instagram page depicts Leon and her skater friends building what folks all over the world now know as DIY Skate Pool Ensenada. The project took four months: they dug a hole in the soil, laid the rebar, created a perimeter with wood and cement blocks, poured the cement, and smoothed it out. The crew then painted the skate pool Tiffany Blue. Leon, now 30, began skating in 2005, and loves the sport so much that she built two additional concrete ramps next to the pool.

She held her first two skate tournaments in June and July of 2021. Others followed. Former Clairemont residents and partners Denise “Ivanna S. Pankin” Grimes and Trish “The Dish” Ethier cruised down to Ensenada to compete and hang out at the Summer 2021 skate tournaments. “So we got there at DIY Skate Pool Ensenada at 2 pm,” recalled Grimes, “and at the time when we first met, Ana didn’t speak a lot of English, and we didn’t speak a lot of Spanish. So like, we just skated with Ana for a couple of hours, and then the contest started later, and then no one else showed up until like five.”

Grimes and Ethier had just relocated to La Misión, a small municipality in the northern part of Ensenada between Rosarito and downtown Ensenada. Grimes continued, “And we met Misa, who’s from Tijuana. He has a Tijuana skate shop called Manos Sucias.” (Misa and his Manos Sucias staff were in charge of #GoSkateDay in Tijuana in June 2022; they provided kids with decks, grip tape, t-shirts, and slaps for free at the San Angel Skate Park in Tijuana.)

Natalie Krishna Das frontside air at Baja Surf & Skate.

Grimes and her new Baja skater friends would reconnect at their La Misión property in September 2021 to commence building another Baja DIY. “Misa brought a bunch of people from Tijuana, and Ana came with a bunch of people from Ensenada and then returned every Sunday. So it took nine months or something of Sundays. We only missed two Sundays. And we would work on cement all day long, then just barbecue and drink beers, and then everyone would go home at night. It was a super fun way to do it.”

During the week, when it was just Grimes and Ethier, they would work on their house, getting it ready to be an Airbnb. Then they’d get back to the DIY work. “We would do all the prep,” Grimes continued, “like all the digging and constructing the forms, so that when everybody was over, we could actually focus on pouring in the wheelbarrows of cement. So it was like the same basic core crew almost all the time. Because of that, we kind of got to know many people in Mexico.” The La Misión DIY skate bowl features coping at the pool’s edges, hips, and two roll-ins. The two also added a wooden mini-ramp halfpipe near the bowl.

Grimes and Ethier also converted two rooms within their 4000 square foot home into Airbnb units. On the Airbnb site, the rental is referred to as “Baja Surf & Skate Apt. #1 or Apt. #2 with a mini ramp and skate bowl;” the spaces each cost $59 a night.

Grimes, Ethier, and Leon threw their first collaborative event, titled “Women’s DIY Baja Skate Contest,” at their spot on August 27; the following day, a second contest was held at the DIY Skate Pool Ensenada. The two DIY skate events were promoted online and attracted women skateboarders from both sides of the border, including Natalie Krishna Das, a professional skateboarder from Eureka, California. “I went with one of my best friends and Las ChicAZ crewmates Laura Logue,” Das recalled. “We took her 2018 Jeep Cherokee.” On the way down, the two skateboarders made sure they had their passports and purchased Mexican auto insurance online, “We were concerned that our Google Maps would not work during the drive,” Das continued, “but we were elated to find that they worked perfectly fine, and we had WiFi and phone service the entire way with Verizon.” The Baja Surf & Skate Airbnbs were already booked, so Das rented an Airbnb about 15 minutes away, still in La Misión. “We spent about $130 per night for a beautiful penthouse with a huge upper deck balcony. It was perfect, with a Frida Kahlo theme and an epic ocean view.”

On August 27, skaters pulled up to the Baja Surf & Skate DIY property line, where the pavement turns into dirt. The road to the house and skate park runs a mile over hilly terrain. Visitors can hear roosters, donkeys, goats, horses, dogs, and peacocks. At the competition, “all women, non-binary and trans folks of all skill levels are invited to compete,” read the flier’s caption on Instagram in both English and Spanish. Awards were given for: best trick, highest air, weirdest trick, fastest learner, most creative run, smoothest run, most technically proficient run, crazy train, used every feature, 110 percent send, most run, trick master, and fast AF. More than 40 people showed up, many of whom competed. On her newly installed Cherries Wheels, Das performed a 50/50 grind, a rock to fakie, a frontside air, and a slew of other tricks on her board. “I got third place,” Das said. Ana Leon took first place, and Das’s buddy Logue took second place. The next day at DIY Skate Pool Ensenada, Das took first place, Logue came in second, and third place went to a San Diegan, Trisha Miller.

(Grimes and Ethier knew what they were doing as hosts: the couple competed in the Las Vegas roller derby competition circuit, and founded RollerCon in 2005. Then in 2009, the couple moved to San Diego, where they joined the San Diego Derby Dolls. Grimes would eventually captain the team, leading them to a championship. They also opened Sin City Skates, a roller derby equipment shop. They sold the shop in 2016 to focus on their new projects, including the La Misión DIY. They still run the RollerCon.)

But despite the joys of DIY, and despite advances in both cultural acceptance and public support, skateboarding in Baja is still playing catch-up on the world stage. The covid-delayed 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo saw the games’ first-ever skateboard events, and San Diego was well represented, with Bryce Wettstein, Jordyn Barratt, Cory Juneau, and Heimana Reynolds skating in the park-discipline preliminaries at the Ariake Urban Sports Park in August 2021. The other Olympic skateboard event was referred to as “street,” and resembled much of what you’d see in certain parts of Tijuana: curbs, handrails, stairs, walls, benches, and slopes.

But, said Skate Baja’s Ramírez, there are complications. “In Mexico, the skateboard organization for the Olympics is FEMEPAR (Federación Mexicana De Patines Sobre Ruedas) at the national level. And at the local level, we must communicate with the associations that have the state’s presidency. Unfortunately, in Baja California’s case, not many skate associations have approached the state presidency. Consequently, for athletes to approach events for Olympic ranking, there is little information, slow communication, and no support, especially in funding. Here, the government structure can’t meet skateboarding needs in public spaces and for athletes. It already happened to the CONADE National Games recently.” Comisión Nacional de Cultura Física y Deporte is a division in the Mexican government which oversees the promotion and fostering of promoting sports, physical education, and recreation throughout the country. “But of the five municipalities signed up, only two participated with athletes because the other three did not know how to organize themselves.”

Continued Ramírez, “In the Baja California skate community, there is a disenchantment with the Olympics because we see that there is not a good national organization, and that means that only a few people have access to compete, especially those skateboarders who are in the center of the country. But, on the other hand, many young athletes would like to be able to reach that level of competition and are enthusiastic about being in those Olympic venues. So what can we do from here? Keep promoting events, promote decent skateparks, and support those who seek to travel to compete.”

It turns out there are limits to DIY: “If our skateboarders want to train in vert or the bigger bowls, they must go to the U.S. If they work in the U.S. and can skate their as well, that gives them an advantage. We’ve collaborated with the Poseiden Foundation, and for a few years, I was looking to take our skaters to Ladies’ Day at The Berrics. But our skateboarders had impostor syndrome, or didn’t have a Visa.”

Olympic-skateboarding coach Will Cortez, a bi-national and part of the Mexican Olympic skateboarding team, told the Reader, “There’s a lot more street skaters in Mexico, but park-skating-wise, there’s not as many. It’s kind of hard to go and practice [skateboarding on vert ramps and bowls in Mexico]. And that’s why Cortez trains here and not there. “Like, per capita, the most ramps in the world are probably in San Diego County,” he said.

For now, anyway. Denise Grimes at the La Misión DIY said they plan to build more skateable DIYs on their property. And if they build it, they’re betting folks will come. “I see, on average, just regular kids in Mexico that come to our DIY that can rival some of the best ones at the Linda Vista skatepark,” she said. “The kids here in Baja will skate anything. They skate in the alley next to Manos Sucias in Tijuana; it’s terrifying. It’s all full of gravel, and everything’s handmade to skate there. So it’s rough and bumpy with kinks in it. The kids go crazy in there, you know? And I’m like, ‘Oh, I need to wear a helmet,’ coming from Linda Vista, where everything’s perfect and perfectly swept up, and they blow it out every morning with leaf blowers and stuff. So I would love to see some of the kids that come to our place in La Misión skate at a really nice facility, like at Linda Vista, City Heights, or Memorial in Logan Heights.”

In the meantime, there is consolation in how far the sport has come. “It seems awesome to me now that we are considered Olympic athletes when our whole lives people have cataloged us as lowlives,” said Jose “Chacho” Anaya, the 52-year-old skateboarder who fearlessly rode his skateboards on the freeways. “I hope people who do not skate now see us as athletes.”

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Ana Gaspar Leon pulls a backside grab at the Baja Surf & Skate bowl.
Ana Gaspar Leon pulls a backside grab at the Baja Surf & Skate bowl.

“In Mexico or Baja California, there is a lot of corruption done by the municipal police force as they arbitrarily arrest people and the officers ask for a bribe to release them, without going before a judge,” Ensenada resident Daniela Ramírez said in a recent Reader interview. “Between 2006 and 2009 in Ensenada specifically, there was a lot of harassment by the municipal police towards skateboarders — men, young people, older people — where their skateboards were confiscated, and they were arrested for simply skating on the street.”

So beginning in 2006, Ramírez started organizing events, promoting pop-up skateparks, and advocating with the government for skateparks in Baja. Ramírez believed that safe and dignified places to skateboard in the state would help end the prejudices and harassment perpetrated against her skateboarding comrades.

Ramírez, now in her 30s, is a lifelong skateboarder. She is also the president of Skate Baja, A.C. (Asociación Civil), a non-profit organization formed in 2010. Through Skate Baja, Ramírez and her partners have continued her work, promoting events and advocating for public spaces for skateboarders in Tijuana, Tecate, Ensenada, Rosarito, and Mexicali. Ramírez explained, “We collaborated with skate shops, brands, and people who had the interest and desire to do better things for the skateboarding community.” In 2011, they promoted the skatepark and skate spot at Ampliación Guaycura in Tijuana, and afterward, a skate contest at Colonia El Descanso skatepark in Tecate. Over the years, the number and size of those events continued to grow.

A favorite Skate Baja site was the boardwalk in Ensenada. In 2011, the organization temporarily closed off the boardwalk area by the beach and set up a wooden ramp circuit for the skateboarders; soon after, a “best trick” contest ensued. Because of the popularity of such pop-up skateparks, a more permanent half-pipe was built across the street from the boardwalk, Recalled Ramírez, “Those ramps belonged to Club Revolución, an organization from Ensenada that for many years maintained a wooden skatepark in front of the beach. They always utilized their resources and donations and never had government support. It was outdoors, open to the general public, and free to watch. Many pleasant gatherings were held there. Unfortunately, during the pandemic, a building began to be built on that land, so the skatepark disappeared.”

Two people who felt the loss of that half-pipe were Alfredo Haro and Jose “Chacho” Anaya — longtime friends, surfers, and skaters. “With skateparks, many children and adults get away from the streets and the drugs,” said Haro, former proprietor of the now defunct Playa Hermosa Surf & Skate Shop in Ensenada. “When I was 8 years old, we moved to another house, and it was next to a San Miguel surfboard factory for many years. I used to skateboard out there, watch the surfers arrive, and see the immense passion. But here in Mexico, it is challenging to skate because of the condition of the streets. So sometimes we have to go to parks” — or empty pools. Haro, 37, recently closed his shop by the Ensenada boardwalk, which was often visited by San Diego skateboarders and surfers. In 2020, thieves broke into the shop and “stole skateboards, wetsuits, surfing accessories, leashes, tees, close to $3500 USD worth,” he said. And because Mexican nationals at the time couldn’t travel across the border due to covid restrictions, Haro and his business partners couldn’t replenish their merchandise. The business went downhill, and “the cops did nothing.”

On the flip side, cops are quick to bust skateboarders for no reason, as Ramírez noted. “In the 38 years of skating, I was stopped by police many times,” Anaya said. Anaya, now 52, was never locked up because he “is a living legend of Ensenada,” said Haro. “He started skateboarding when he was 14 years old.” Haro and Anaya, both avid surfers who currently reside in Ensenada, used to skateboard at the that famous half pipe by the beach and boardwalk that locals call Malecón de Playa Hermosa.

Jose Chacho Anaya rips his backyard ramp in Ensenada.

In 1988, Anaya won one of the first organized skateboard races held in Tijuana, held next to what we now know as the Caliente Hipódromo; back then, it was called the Agua Caliente Casino and Resort. “There were 120 skaters,” Anaya recounts. “It had lots of ups and downs, about 14 kilometers. I used a Dog Town skateboard, which was the norm during those times.” Today, an OG Dog Town skateboard is selling on eBay for $10,000. Unfortunately, Anaya doesn’t have his old skateboard, but he does have the original 1988 trophy, which cemented his street credibility.

Speaking of streets: “I like to skate on the downhills on the highway,” said Anaya, “and sometimes, the Federales intervene and stop me.” But never for long. In 2011, Anaya was the only skateboarder to enter one of the Rosarito-to-Ensenada bike races. Riding a bike over certain uphill stretches on the Carretera Federal 1 highway is strenuous; just imagine propelling a skateboard. But Anaya persevered, and finished the 50-mile race in 5 hours and 38 minutes. “I always look for the best fairways to ride my skateboard,” Anaya continued, “and if you have to, adapt to bad fairways. Nowadays, some are impossible to skate,” he noted — and that’s not even considering the places through which those roads pass. (Travelers are often advised to pay the $2+ for the Carretera Federal 1D unless they have business along the free frontage road.)

On Anaya’s trek from Rosarito to Ensenada, he would have passed by the K-38 Surf Shop, a popular surfboard and skateboard shop where surfers from all over the world stop in before hitting what surfline.com calls “a moderately powerful, bowly right point breaking over a rocky reef.” It’s also one of the go-to spots for skaters in the region. The shop’s owner, 62-year-old Jacinto Garcia, sells skate accessories and fixes boards. Garcia is a well known surfer in Rosarito, but he’s also one of the original 1970s Tijuana skateboarders. “I still have my original board from 1975,” he said. “I started skateboarding when I was 15; it was 1975. My girlfriend’s family at that time opened up the first skatepark in Tijuana, Skapistas De Mexico. And people from all over came down. It had a place where kids could party, really family [oriented] stuff. My specialty was handstanding,” he recalled. “So I used to handstand until I got dizzy. My favorite [section] was the large pool,”

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Skapistas De Mexico closed in 1978. But it paved the way for future skateboarders. One of them, Freddy Palazuelos, skated there when it reopened in the 1980s. “We found out there was a place called Las Skapistas, which was a famous bowl-type place to skate in the city. Here, we learned for the first time to skate in an empty pool-type spot.” Palazuelos said that San Angel is now the best place to skate in Tijuana, because it has the best bowl in the city. And then there’s La Bandera Skate Park, with its large Mexican flag marking it as something of the culture, and not opposed to it. “We continue working with the boys in the Fundación Actitud Extrovertida,” he said, “keeping boys away from drugs and violence.”

Freddy Palazuelos skating in Tijuana.

Besides dispensing goods , advice, and repairs at K-38, Garcia keeps an eye out for trouble. Skateboarding may not be a crime, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be trouble with the authorities. On July 3, 2020, at about 2 pm, Garcia noticed a truckload of American surfers and skateboarders being harassed by Mexican police officers across the street from his shop. He clicked the record button on his phone, then walked across Federal Highway 1 towards the group. He sent the footage to the Reader, and the Spanish dialogue between Garcia and the police officers in the footage was translated into English.

Garcia: “They are my friends. What problem do you have?”

Officer: “If you want to know, meet us at the police station.”

American woman in truck: “It’s the paper [license] plates. They’re trying to take the car.”

Garcia: “Do you have a registration paper?”

American man in truck: “Oh no, it’s in the mail.”

Garcia then looked at the two police officers and said, “You can check your database to see if the car is stolen, or by his license plate to see if it belongs to him.”

“No,” responded the police officer, “that permit is [valid] for the United States, not here.”

“Look, sir,” Garcia began.

“Who are you? Who are you?” yelled the police officer as he rushed Garcia.

In 2011, Anaya was the only skateboarder to enter a Rosarito to Ensenada bike race where he finished the 50-mile race in 5 hours and 38 minutes.

Jorge Nieto, a Baja reporter, surfer, and skateboarder, saw the incriminating video footage. “When [Garcia] sees an injustice, he acts on it,” Nieto told the Reader. “As in this case, defending the tourists in the gray Tacoma truck. I am very sorry that the city authorities treated the surfers that way. [Garcia] was then illegally beaten and arrested,” Nieto continued. “Then his wife” — now his ex — “approached the scene to claim physical abuse by the Rosarito municipal police.” In the video, the two policemen are on top of Garcia and restraining him with handcuffs. One of the Americans from the truck appears to be filming the tussle from about seven feet away. Garcia’s ex-wife is seen attempting to pull the officers off Garcia, with no success. Then the policeman toss Garcia in the back of the police truck.

Nieto continued, “They also arrested his wife. And when their neighbor, an employee of the pharmacy, wanted to take a photo of the patrol number, she too was loaded [into the police truck] by force. This altercation sends a bad image abroad, because Baja is famous for its waves.”

The Reader followed up with Garcia a week or so after the local police arrested him. “I spent one night, like 30 hours in a terrible jail cell full of tweakers,” Garcia said. “They made me sign some papers and let me go.”

Around the same time he spoke with the Reader, Garcia also interviewed with a news station from Mexico City. The news station then interviewed the Mayor of Playas de Rosarito, Araceli Brown. Garcia noted, “Those cops were fired. The Baja Board of Tourism is monitoring any abuse. Once the tourists are stopped by police, they should dial 078, and they will be immediately assisted with a translator. Tell the readers that they are safe here. Then, if you are stopped and you have made an infraction, ask for your ticket and go to the police station and pay your fine. They will take your license, and you will get it back. If you haven’t broken any laws, just keep asking for a ticket, and do not give them any money.”

Baja Surf & Skate Airbnb in Ensenada.

Javier Morales, a 34-year-old Rosarito skateboarder and bodyboarder, knows how the police roll in Baja. He treks back and forth across the border to his job at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. “The police are OK,” he told the Reader. “But they do mess with us skaters all the time. They can stop you and do a [random] search. The last time I had to bail a friend out of jail, it was a pro skater from Spain. They broke into a school to skate some stairs, and the cops showed and took the three dudes to jail.” Morales said he slipped the police officers at the jail “$50 USD, and they got released very fast.”

While some American skaters might be terrified of the prospect of getting sweated and shaken down by the policia, others feel that’s just part of the fun and excitement of skateboarding in Baja. It’s still a little bit outlaw down there. Even local skate legend Tony Hawk couldn’t avoid the allure. He rolled down to Playas de Tijuana to skateboard and film the last portion of “The End,” which was part of his Birdhouse video line. “We rented this bullring in Tijuana for two weeks in 1998 for a whopping $1500,” Hawk posted on his Facebook page. “It took ten days to build the ramp and four days to shoot all the skating.”

A key feature of the $40,000 custom-built half pipe built by Tim Payne in the Plaza Monumental de Playas de Tijuana, according to the Skateboarding and the City YouTube page, was a 360-degree loop. Before Hawk’s visit, nobody had completed the loop. And video posted by Skateboarding and the City shows Hawk eating it at least two times. (“I always got hurt somehow along the way of learning it,” said Hawk in another interview.) Then on the third shot, Hawk makes it all the way around.

The original flyer from the Tijuana skate park, Skapistas De Mexico.

The Tijuana half-pipe inspired DIY builders from both sides of the border, including Morales. “I built this mini ramp at home,” he said, showing pictures of half pipe that looks about 5 feet tall and 30 feet wide, made with bricks as a base and cement up top. “I just do it for fun with free material I scout around,” he continued. “It depends on size and material, [whether it’s] concrete or wood. But with cash in hand, it can be done very fast, like three days. There is also a DIY pool in Ensenada,” he added.

In 2021, Analy “Ana” Gaspar Leon and her friends built a DIY skate pool in Ensenada behind her home. “The idea of the pool was born because they removed the place where I skated in front of the beach in Ensenada” — the same ramp that Haro and Anaya once skated. “In 2019, I bought my land and was allowed to create something on my property.” Leon’s diyskatepool_ens Instagram page depicts Leon and her skater friends building what folks all over the world now know as DIY Skate Pool Ensenada. The project took four months: they dug a hole in the soil, laid the rebar, created a perimeter with wood and cement blocks, poured the cement, and smoothed it out. The crew then painted the skate pool Tiffany Blue. Leon, now 30, began skating in 2005, and loves the sport so much that she built two additional concrete ramps next to the pool.

She held her first two skate tournaments in June and July of 2021. Others followed. Former Clairemont residents and partners Denise “Ivanna S. Pankin” Grimes and Trish “The Dish” Ethier cruised down to Ensenada to compete and hang out at the Summer 2021 skate tournaments. “So we got there at DIY Skate Pool Ensenada at 2 pm,” recalled Grimes, “and at the time when we first met, Ana didn’t speak a lot of English, and we didn’t speak a lot of Spanish. So like, we just skated with Ana for a couple of hours, and then the contest started later, and then no one else showed up until like five.”

Grimes and Ethier had just relocated to La Misión, a small municipality in the northern part of Ensenada between Rosarito and downtown Ensenada. Grimes continued, “And we met Misa, who’s from Tijuana. He has a Tijuana skate shop called Manos Sucias.” (Misa and his Manos Sucias staff were in charge of #GoSkateDay in Tijuana in June 2022; they provided kids with decks, grip tape, t-shirts, and slaps for free at the San Angel Skate Park in Tijuana.)

Natalie Krishna Das frontside air at Baja Surf & Skate.

Grimes and her new Baja skater friends would reconnect at their La Misión property in September 2021 to commence building another Baja DIY. “Misa brought a bunch of people from Tijuana, and Ana came with a bunch of people from Ensenada and then returned every Sunday. So it took nine months or something of Sundays. We only missed two Sundays. And we would work on cement all day long, then just barbecue and drink beers, and then everyone would go home at night. It was a super fun way to do it.”

During the week, when it was just Grimes and Ethier, they would work on their house, getting it ready to be an Airbnb. Then they’d get back to the DIY work. “We would do all the prep,” Grimes continued, “like all the digging and constructing the forms, so that when everybody was over, we could actually focus on pouring in the wheelbarrows of cement. So it was like the same basic core crew almost all the time. Because of that, we kind of got to know many people in Mexico.” The La Misión DIY skate bowl features coping at the pool’s edges, hips, and two roll-ins. The two also added a wooden mini-ramp halfpipe near the bowl.

Grimes and Ethier also converted two rooms within their 4000 square foot home into Airbnb units. On the Airbnb site, the rental is referred to as “Baja Surf & Skate Apt. #1 or Apt. #2 with a mini ramp and skate bowl;” the spaces each cost $59 a night.

Grimes, Ethier, and Leon threw their first collaborative event, titled “Women’s DIY Baja Skate Contest,” at their spot on August 27; the following day, a second contest was held at the DIY Skate Pool Ensenada. The two DIY skate events were promoted online and attracted women skateboarders from both sides of the border, including Natalie Krishna Das, a professional skateboarder from Eureka, California. “I went with one of my best friends and Las ChicAZ crewmates Laura Logue,” Das recalled. “We took her 2018 Jeep Cherokee.” On the way down, the two skateboarders made sure they had their passports and purchased Mexican auto insurance online, “We were concerned that our Google Maps would not work during the drive,” Das continued, “but we were elated to find that they worked perfectly fine, and we had WiFi and phone service the entire way with Verizon.” The Baja Surf & Skate Airbnbs were already booked, so Das rented an Airbnb about 15 minutes away, still in La Misión. “We spent about $130 per night for a beautiful penthouse with a huge upper deck balcony. It was perfect, with a Frida Kahlo theme and an epic ocean view.”

On August 27, skaters pulled up to the Baja Surf & Skate DIY property line, where the pavement turns into dirt. The road to the house and skate park runs a mile over hilly terrain. Visitors can hear roosters, donkeys, goats, horses, dogs, and peacocks. At the competition, “all women, non-binary and trans folks of all skill levels are invited to compete,” read the flier’s caption on Instagram in both English and Spanish. Awards were given for: best trick, highest air, weirdest trick, fastest learner, most creative run, smoothest run, most technically proficient run, crazy train, used every feature, 110 percent send, most run, trick master, and fast AF. More than 40 people showed up, many of whom competed. On her newly installed Cherries Wheels, Das performed a 50/50 grind, a rock to fakie, a frontside air, and a slew of other tricks on her board. “I got third place,” Das said. Ana Leon took first place, and Das’s buddy Logue took second place. The next day at DIY Skate Pool Ensenada, Das took first place, Logue came in second, and third place went to a San Diegan, Trisha Miller.

(Grimes and Ethier knew what they were doing as hosts: the couple competed in the Las Vegas roller derby competition circuit, and founded RollerCon in 2005. Then in 2009, the couple moved to San Diego, where they joined the San Diego Derby Dolls. Grimes would eventually captain the team, leading them to a championship. They also opened Sin City Skates, a roller derby equipment shop. They sold the shop in 2016 to focus on their new projects, including the La Misión DIY. They still run the RollerCon.)

But despite the joys of DIY, and despite advances in both cultural acceptance and public support, skateboarding in Baja is still playing catch-up on the world stage. The covid-delayed 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo saw the games’ first-ever skateboard events, and San Diego was well represented, with Bryce Wettstein, Jordyn Barratt, Cory Juneau, and Heimana Reynolds skating in the park-discipline preliminaries at the Ariake Urban Sports Park in August 2021. The other Olympic skateboard event was referred to as “street,” and resembled much of what you’d see in certain parts of Tijuana: curbs, handrails, stairs, walls, benches, and slopes.

But, said Skate Baja’s Ramírez, there are complications. “In Mexico, the skateboard organization for the Olympics is FEMEPAR (Federación Mexicana De Patines Sobre Ruedas) at the national level. And at the local level, we must communicate with the associations that have the state’s presidency. Unfortunately, in Baja California’s case, not many skate associations have approached the state presidency. Consequently, for athletes to approach events for Olympic ranking, there is little information, slow communication, and no support, especially in funding. Here, the government structure can’t meet skateboarding needs in public spaces and for athletes. It already happened to the CONADE National Games recently.” Comisión Nacional de Cultura Física y Deporte is a division in the Mexican government which oversees the promotion and fostering of promoting sports, physical education, and recreation throughout the country. “But of the five municipalities signed up, only two participated with athletes because the other three did not know how to organize themselves.”

Continued Ramírez, “In the Baja California skate community, there is a disenchantment with the Olympics because we see that there is not a good national organization, and that means that only a few people have access to compete, especially those skateboarders who are in the center of the country. But, on the other hand, many young athletes would like to be able to reach that level of competition and are enthusiastic about being in those Olympic venues. So what can we do from here? Keep promoting events, promote decent skateparks, and support those who seek to travel to compete.”

It turns out there are limits to DIY: “If our skateboarders want to train in vert or the bigger bowls, they must go to the U.S. If they work in the U.S. and can skate their as well, that gives them an advantage. We’ve collaborated with the Poseiden Foundation, and for a few years, I was looking to take our skaters to Ladies’ Day at The Berrics. But our skateboarders had impostor syndrome, or didn’t have a Visa.”

Olympic-skateboarding coach Will Cortez, a bi-national and part of the Mexican Olympic skateboarding team, told the Reader, “There’s a lot more street skaters in Mexico, but park-skating-wise, there’s not as many. It’s kind of hard to go and practice [skateboarding on vert ramps and bowls in Mexico]. And that’s why Cortez trains here and not there. “Like, per capita, the most ramps in the world are probably in San Diego County,” he said.

For now, anyway. Denise Grimes at the La Misión DIY said they plan to build more skateable DIYs on their property. And if they build it, they’re betting folks will come. “I see, on average, just regular kids in Mexico that come to our DIY that can rival some of the best ones at the Linda Vista skatepark,” she said. “The kids here in Baja will skate anything. They skate in the alley next to Manos Sucias in Tijuana; it’s terrifying. It’s all full of gravel, and everything’s handmade to skate there. So it’s rough and bumpy with kinks in it. The kids go crazy in there, you know? And I’m like, ‘Oh, I need to wear a helmet,’ coming from Linda Vista, where everything’s perfect and perfectly swept up, and they blow it out every morning with leaf blowers and stuff. So I would love to see some of the kids that come to our place in La Misión skate at a really nice facility, like at Linda Vista, City Heights, or Memorial in Logan Heights.”

In the meantime, there is consolation in how far the sport has come. “It seems awesome to me now that we are considered Olympic athletes when our whole lives people have cataloged us as lowlives,” said Jose “Chacho” Anaya, the 52-year-old skateboarder who fearlessly rode his skateboards on the freeways. “I hope people who do not skate now see us as athletes.”

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