MEXICO CITY — A year ago, Carolina Altamirano left her home in Oaxaca, Mexico, where she had been skateboarding for nine years, in search of opportunities to develop her skateboarding career.
In years past, that would have meant moving to Los Angeles, New York, or even Barcelona, Spain. Instead, Altamirano moved to Mexico City.
“There are a lot of skate parks, and they’re building more,” she said of the city, which has quickly become an international destination for sports and an incubator for an impressive roster of athletes as the skateboarding scene is flourishing. “The skateboarding community is strong here. If you meet someone you don’t know who is carrying a skateboard, they will greet you and talk to you.
Among them is Itzel Granados, one of the highest ranked skaters in the country and something of a local celebrity in Mexico City’s skate parks. In November, the 20-year-old Granados finished second in the women’s street competition at the Junior Pan American Games. Before that, she placed third in the famous Exposure skateboard competition. She hopes to qualify for the Paris Olympics in 2024, the second time skateboarding will be at the Games.
When Granados started skating, there was no skateboard school in the area. Now she is in good company. Female-run skateboarding schools like Mujeres en Patineta (Women on Skateboards) are springing up in the city, offering lessons to girls of all ages from low-income backgrounds.
“The skateboarding scene is centralized in Mexico City, a city that is home to the best skateparks in our country,” said Mariana Muñoz, director of Mujeres en Patineta. “The social openness that exists here, along with the women’s movement, has allowed women’s skateboarding to grow in an unprecedented way.”
The city’s new status as a skateboarding paradise has been hard-earned. Olga Aguilar, who has been documenting Mexico City’s skateboarding scene since the 1980s, said accessibility was one of the first hurdles. “The first problem was that it was hard to find a skateboard,” she said. “There was no skate shop. If you knew someone going to the United States, you would give them money to bring back. It was also expensive at the time.
For women, skateboarding also carried a stigma that Aguilar and others slowly dismantled. The sport was seen as inherently male, so it was frowned upon for women to participate in it, she said.
“We had to hide our skateboards because our mom didn’t want us to skate,” Aguilar said. “There were no skate parks back then. In the late 1970s, there were no places to go and learn. It must have been on the street.
The Mexican government began building skate parks in the 1980s in an effort to restore public spaces, and the tide changed in the decades that followed. The scene is becoming more and more diverse.
“The atmosphere has changed with the opening of availability and skate shops. Everyone has access to a skateboard these days, and it’s not considered like it used to be,” Aguilar said.
Last year, Mexican skateboarder Oscar Meza returned to Mexico City after spending most of his adult years professional skateboarding in Los Angeles. “This city offers a real raw new generation of people who really enjoy skateboarding. I felt like I lost that somehow.
As a teenager in Los Angeles, Meza felt a certain uneasiness about being a Mexican skateboarder. “They thought we were like weirdos. As if you were playing a sport for white children. But as he got older, he saw the sport become embraced and flourish in his community. “Now it’s like you’re not cool if you don’t skate,” he said.
Mexico City’s idiosyncratic architecture and building styles make for exciting skateboarding terrain, Meza said, although, as elsewhere, police and security guards occasionally intervene.
“In LA, you go to one place and the handrails are exactly the same size. Everything is so regulated. It doesn’t exist here,” he said.
As the skateboarding scene grows in Mexico City, international interest also increases. It has become a travel destination for skateboarding enthusiasts, professional athletes and sponsors. In 2014, Nike Skateboarding, in collaboration with the Mexican government, built an Aztec-inspired skate park to provide access for young skaters in the city. In early December, Vans built a flagship skate park and event space in Mexico City’s Mixcoac neighborhood.
Granados is at the forefront, although she hit a speed bump last year. Last summer, during the qualifications in Rome for the Tokyo Olympics, she fell and lost her chance. “I hit my head,” she said. “Three doctors said to me, ‘You can’t compete. You can not do this. And that was it.
Failure did not slow her down. She is keeping pace with the growth of her sport in Mexico City, where industry interest and government support are growing beyond local efforts. Granados hopes to skate for years, until she says, “I’m breaking my knees and I really can’t take it anymore. Until then, I will continue to skate.
And she’ll have more places to train, alongside a growing community of skaters like Altamirano.
“I love it,” Granados said of training in Mexico City. “It has parks for beginners to skate and intermediate and advanced levels. I think that’s what makes a skate park perfect, right? When it’s for everyone.