Sidemission: Cuba Arto Saari with the Leica M (Typ 240) and the Leica M Monochrom

Arto is a professional Skateboarder and Photographer born and raised in Seinäjoki, Finland. He is currently settled in Los Angeles, California. The text presented below was written by Miles Jackson, Founder and Executive Director of Cuba Skate.

The world around us is seen in a uniquely different perspective when riding around on a skateboard. As skateboarders, we really don’t identify as tourists, rather as adventurers and explorers on the hunt for new terrain. Skateboarding is a global family and one’s skateboard is his or her passport to endless journeys and good times. It’s amazing how something as simple as a seven-layers of stunt wood can lead to truly enriching and authentic interactions. For example, seeing the streets and neighborhoods of any random city, eating local cuisine on rooftop patios, and engaging with the communities and its people all while pushing around.

We started Cuba Skate in 2010 after studying abroad in Havana; returning home to the States we felt burdened and motivated by the Cuban reality – its struggles and its beauties. Our organization has graduated many levels in the years since, becoming a 501c3 is no easy feat, nor is working in the dynamic mess of the Cuban-American relationship. We have focused on making skateboarding our tool for diplomatic progress between our countries, and as a vehicle of empowerment for our Cuban sisters and brothers.

In this time of accelerated change in Cuba, it is our mission to place the necessary tools in the hands of Cubans to address the contemporary, 21st-century problems they face. To provide them the resources and skills to be a sustainable community of skateboarders that depend less on the outside world and gradually become self sustaining and autonomous.

As with any family, we take care of and support each other because that’s what we do. We have distant cousins, half brothers and sisters, and aunts and uncles in places we may have never known. In Cuba, despite the limited resources and difficulty of the situation — a 3rd world country where there are zero skate shops — the island’s community has thrived and prospered thanks to the contributions of skateboarding distributors, local shops, and professional and amateur skate- boarders who have contributed to Cuba Skate.

Working with Andrew, Arto, Ishod and Lucien was a remarkable experience for our organization and the communities we serve in Cuba. I mean, could you imagine spending a weekend with your favorite artist or professional athlete? During the morning coffee sessions, skate missions, bus rides, and the delicious food breaks and feasts in between, we all really get to know each other on a profoundly inti- mate level. That’s something uniquely special about skateboarding — sweating, busting your ass, rolling your sleeves up and getting your hands dirty, all as one and all by choice — that unites our tribe in a way no other sport, culture, or artistry can claim.

Our Cuban partners were in such awe to see a handful of their heroes live and in the flesh; and equally so, our international skate family was amazed by the reali- ties of modern day Cuba, beyond the beaches, cigars, and classic American cars. The experience for them was profoundly powerful — to be able to skate, eat, and engage with a group of the world’s best that they’d only ever seen in magazines and video parts. Since that trip, each of these professionals and their companies have pledged an enormous amount of support and we are all humbled and stoked to grow this relationship.

The cultural exchange between Cuba Skate and these legendary humans is one of many important steps to making these dreams a reality. We are eternally grateful to skateboarding. To accomplish what we have would not have been possible without these wooden instruments that are part jazz, part sport, and inherently one of a kind. Beyond the familial elements of skateboarding, its roots in inno- vation and creativity give us constant inspiration to try, to fail, and to continue trying. Cuba Skate takes pride in achieving the impossible, and never ceasing to improvise until harmony is found.

To know more about Arto Saari, please visit his official website

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