Saturday, June 15, 2024

Where to exercise when the pandemic has closed gyms? A skatepark!

Skateboarding was invented in Santa Monica, California, in the 1950s when surfers — frustrated on days without good waves — came up with the idea of putting wheels on a board so they could “surf the streets.”

It probably reached its peak of popularity around 1963, crashed in 1965 and then, slowly regained popularity during the following decades thanks to the innovative techniques of skateboard pioneers and legends like California’s Tony Hawk.

In Mexico, one of the many aficionados of skateboarding in the 1980s was Luis “Luigi” Medina, today director of Guadalajara’s highly innovative and successful IMI College.

“Here in Guadalajara,” says Medina, “three skateparks suddenly appeared in those days, all of them private. One of them was called Skatopistas del Sol, and its bowl measured 4 1/2 meters from top to bottom. Now, I was 8 years old then, and I was terrified when I first looked upon that great bowl: it was very, very deep! Sad to say, these three skateparks disappeared as fast they appeared. The skateboard era suddenly evaporated, and come the 90s, you could hardly find a single professional skateboard for sale in Guadalajara.”

If Medina wanted to skate, he had to do it in the street.

Medina rappelling down a waterfall in Syange Khola Canyon, Nepal.
Medina rappelling down a waterfall in Syange Khola Canyon, Nepal.

“I’d go to the train station,” he told me, “because the floor was really smooth …  but then the police would show up. ‘You are creating a public nuisance!’ they would say, or ‘You are damaging public property!’ And we skaters would reply: ‘Why is there no skate park in Guadalajara? Why can’t we skate in a proper bowl?’”

At 18, Medina was hit by a truck, damaging his knees. He decided to stop skating and got involved instead in rock climbing and canyoneering. Medina, in fact, soon excelled at these sports and eventually became the organizer of international rock-climbing events that focused the attention of world experts on Jalisco’s excellent rock-climbing venues.

He also ended up representing Mexico at world canyoneering events such as the 2011 International Canyon Rendezvous, held in Annapurna National Park in Nepal.

A few years later, unfortunately, Medina fell from a 50-meter high waterfall. Amazingly, he survived, but rehabilitation was slow and painful. It was only after years of physical therapy that he felt ready to become active again.

“I thought, ‘My body has lost strength, elasticity, agility and reflexes. What sport should I practice to recover all this? Answer: skateboarding.’”

He returned to “street surfing” at 41.

Medina didn't expect to find folks his own age when he took up skateboarding.
Medina didn’t expect to find folks his own age when he took up skateboarding.

“I thought I would look pretty funny,” he says with a smile, “a viejito [an old man] skating among little kids, but it turned out just the opposite. I found myself among lots of very active older people ranging from 40–60 years old, and now I skate with them every week.”

Over time, Medina noticed that people like these would head for a skatepark with their children and grandchildren only to discover disreputable characters hanging around.

“These people were either drugged or drunk or both,” he told me. “I was worried myself about these characters. Are they going to start pestering me? Was I going to get mugged? There they were, shooting up in the skatepark, and when families would arrive and see this situation, they would turn right around and leave.

“That’s when I said to myself, ‘I need to do something to recuperate these public spaces that we’ve lost.’”

Doing some research, Medina discovered, to his surprise, that there were 40 skate parks in Guadalajara alone, and another 30 scattered all over the state of Jalisco. He decided to draw the attention of the public and the authorities to these forgotten parks by setting himself a personal challenge:

“I’m going to pick 50 of these parks and I’m going to go visit every single one of them during a period of 50 days.”

Luigi Medina’s 50-day challenge will end on Dec. 21 at Puerto Vallarta's skatepark.
Luigi Medina’s 50-day challenge will end on December 21 at Puerto Vallarta’s skatepark.

Medina’s challenge brought surprises:

“I went to Parque Montenegro in Guadalajara and discovered that it’s truly enormous; the board is gigantic. So I went to see the people who built it and they said, ‘We were inspired by the skate park in Venice, California, which is the biggest in the world.’

The Venice skatepark, however, he explained, has no graffiti, while Montenegro Park is full of it, “just like every other skatepark in Mexico.”

Little by little, Medina came to the conclusion that Mexico already has a great collection of skateparks.

“All we have to do is rehabilitate them: remove the graffiti, check the soundness of the structures and then take measures to keep vagabonds and delinquents away, something the local police could easily handle.”

To accomplish his goal, Medina initiated his 50 Parks in 50 Days Challenge.

A frequent sight at skateparks: a father teaches his son to skate.
A frequent sight at skateparks: a father teaches his son to skate.

“I’m saying to the public, ‘¡Mira! ¡Mira! There’s a park here! And there’s another one over there, and another one over there!’”

Medina reports that his campaign has already produced results: five municipalities around the state have all responded to his proposals with support, asking him what he needs. Medina says local leaders are especially enthusiastic because the country is in the middle of a pandemic.

“Skateparks,” he says, “offer people a way to get exercise without getting the virus, with none of the dangers of infection you might find lurking in gyms.”

Near Lake Chapala, he adds, you can find three skateparks.

“One is right on the lakefront in the town of Chapala, and it’s now being renovated. In Ajijic, there’s one in excellent condition, also on the Malecon. And there’s another one — in ruins, unfortunately — in Jocotepec, and I’m talking to them right now about renovating it so people can go there to skate and then eat at a restaurant.”

As for the Guadalajara area, Medina has been meeting with the directors of Tourism, Social Communication and Youth in Zapopan, who have agreed to start out by fixing up 16 skateparks and then launching a series of tournaments: for boys and girls and adults and for beginners.

Fifty-six-year-old Álvaro Gutierrez performing a Frontside Grind.
Fifty-six-year-old Álvaro Gutierrez performing a Frontside Grind.

“They will be held each time in a different skatepark so that the public will get to know all 16 of them,” he explains.

So far, Medina has visited 21 of the 50 on his list.

“And I don’t just pop in for a quick look. I go to get exercise and have fun. I skate for two or three hours without taking a break.”

Want to meet this one-man show for yourself? If you happen to live near Lake Chapala, Medina will be at the Ajijic skatepark on December 19.

If you know nothing about skateboarding but you want to give it a try, Luigi Medina assures me that you will be welcomed with open arms at any skatepark in Mexico.

“That’s the nature of this community,” he says. “So if you want to make friends, buy a skateboard!”

The writer has lived near Guadalajara, Jalisco, for 31 years, and is the author of “A Guide to West Mexico’s Guachimontones and Surrounding Area” and co-author of “Outdoors in Western Mexico.” More of his writing can be found on his website.

Skateboarder Beto Olso is 60 years old.
Skateboarder Beto Olso is 60 years old.
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