Carlos Sanchez of the Belvedere Park area is 17 years old. He said that skateboarding is important to him, and all of his friends, because it allows him to clear his head. “When you’re out there skating, man, nothing else matters. You can focus just on trying to land a new trick and everything else – all the stress, all the bullshit – it all just kind of fades away. I love it,” Sanchez explained.
Skateboarding in East LA transcends all divides. The community of dedicated skateboarders embraces everyone, according to 23-year-old Tyler Riley. “Just look around man,” Riley said while overlooking the ramps and bowls of Belvedere Skatepark, “You got all different kinds of people. There’s old dudes, little kids, even a few chicks. That’s what I like about skating, it can bring all kinds of people together.”
Riley has been living in East LA his entire life. He said that skateboarding helps him relieve stress and provides a way to and from his job. “I skate to work every morning, skate here (to Belvedere Park) every day after work, and just unwind and kick it with all my friends.” He continued, “If I didn’t have skating, I don’t know what I’d do. I wouldn’t be able to get to work, I wouldn’t know what to do with all this tension, and I probably wouldn’t stay in shape.”
Rene Saenz is a 44-year-old father to two small children, Carlos and Faith. He brings both of his children to Belvedere Skatepark almost every day because it gives them an energy outlet, and helps them make friends. “I’m happy to take them here. They run around and have fun, meet other kids their age. And it’s pretty good exercise. Sometimes they might fall or get hurt, but the way I see it, as long as they get back up, it’s a good thing,” he said.Francisco Talavera is 13 years old, and has been skateboarding since he was just 5. “I want to be a pro skater. That’s my dream,” he said. For Talavera, and others his age, skateboarding represents one of the ways that someone from a low-income family can become financially successful. Talavera believes that he can get sponsored by a professional skateboarding company, or “team,” because he’s seen it happen to others just like him. “My cousin was just like me, started skating when he was little and now he’s riding for Chocolate. He’s getting paid to skate every day and put together videos,” he said.
Elena Gomez proves that skateboarding is for girls, too. She is 17 years old and has only been skating for two months, but she said she has had some of the most fun in her life while skateboarding. “It’s just the best, dude, you come out here and everybody’s all amped up, watching each other, and once they land the trick they’ve been working on everyone just explodes. We go crazy sometimes. It’s just a great way for me to make friends and have fun with other people like me,” she said. Furthermore, Gomez used to get bullied occasionally, but she said that the skateboarding community of East La has embraced her and helped her become comfortable with herself. “They don’t give a shit who you are or where you come from,” she continued, “I’ve made more friends in the past few months through skating than I had my whole life.”
Skateboarding is an important cultural force for young people in East LA. Described by many of its residents as a “rough city,” East LA can be a difficult place for a child to grow up. Between the prevalence of gang activity and the financial struggles of many families, young people are looking for a source of stress relief. And there’s no better way to relieve stress – while also making friends and getting exercise – than skateboarding, according to many young people in East LA.
“It was there for me when nothing else was,” said Sanchez. “My dad used to beat up on me and my mom, so I would skate every day just to get out of the house. It became like a release, I could channel all my anger and sadness… into something productive. And now, all these years later, I’m still here skating. And I don’t think I’m ever going to stop.”