Puerto Rico: A state? A country? A commonwealth? The Element crew was there to figure it all out (and get some epic skateboarding in, too).

Words by Ryan Dewitt

The island of Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States. This was of much debate on the Element team’s recent trip there. Some people thought it was a state, others thought it was its own country, and some changed their thoughts depending on the direction of the conversation. Either way, we had a damn good trip-despite being there during hurricane season.
In some of the crew’s defense, Puerto Rico really does seem like another country. The people primarily speak Spanish, the architecture is unlike anything in the States, and the climate is very tropical. Our squad consisted of Tosh Townend, Nyjah Huston, Tony Tave, Jimmy Lannon, Collin Provost, and Dallas Rockvam, and we began our trip in Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan. It’s a touristy type place with cobblestone streets, and it’s also where cruise ships come in and dock. There were plenty of restaurants, nightlife, and luckily for us, plenty of shreddable spots within just a few minutes of our tiny hotel.
One of the prime spots we hit was in the island’s worst neighborhood. With some help from our tour guide Raul, we were granted access to a place even the bravest locals would never go. Now this cost us a few completes and a little bit of greasing-up of the heavy hitters of “La Perla,” but it was well worth it. We met up with Luigi and his crew at the top of “Drug Point” and were sternly told the rules: absolutely no cameras-except at the spot-do not go down in there by yourself, and no smoking at the pool. Our guides led us through a ridiculously sketchy area, and when we came upon some rogues who stood up and started toward us, a few words were passed in Spanish letting them know the outsiders were okay to pass. We were just going to skate the pool, after all. Moving on through the madness, we passed a few cock fights and some people who really looked like they had it tough.
Finally approaching our skate destination, we walked out onto the beach and saw before us the craziest little pool ever. It had been built and financed by some of the “businessmen” of La Perla. It was built as a distraction for the kids of the neighborhood-knowing well that La Perla was built on (and run on) drug money, the locals just wanted to give the kids a safe outlet. Not only was the pool thrashed by the locals, they actually filled it up every in and a while so the kids could swim in it. It was handmade and far from perfect, which of course makes it that much better.
We skated the pool for a few hours right before the clear blue waters of the Caribbean Sea-it was pretty unreal. After our session, everyone went for a swim, cleaning our collective stink away. The locals of La Perla were so happy to have us at their pool that pictures were taken, the kids tried out their new completes, and we were granted instant status and entry to the worst neighborhood in Puerto Rico. Skateboarding is an amazing thing.

Old San Juan is littered with little plazas and parks with all kinds of hassle-free spots-this is priceless on tour. We got so much done at one particular plaza, we could’ve done a whole article there. A restaurant on the same street as our hotel, called the Parrot Club, had a bunch of the guys from La Perla working there. So we’d go in to eat and they’d give us the best tables with no wait and shower us with complimentary appetizers and drinks. Have I mentioned how great skateboarding is?
From Old San Juan we headed west to the other side of the island. We stayed right outside of Aguadilla, and this was a major change from the touristy streets of Old San Juan. Our new hotel was right on the beach and surrounded by old empty army barracks. It was a fifteen-minute drive into town where we found a little modular skatepark and a shop called Aguadilla Board Shop. Now, Nyjah and his family had been on the island for a few weeks and had befriended Gerry, the owner of the shop, and his wife Mariza. Nyjah also had some links to some spots in the next town south that he’d been to on his last trip.
We started every day on the west side at Ramey Bakery, a local bakery that made great breakfast sandwiches. Coffee, sandwiches, and games of SKATE… what a great start to the day. From there, we’d head into town and Gerry always had spots for us. Along with more brand-new plazas, the city was in the process of building a cement park. Yep, we barged the fenced-off, unfinished park with the locals and sessioned it ’til dark.
The next day, it began raining in Aguadilla, but not in Mayaguez, so we pushed the day’s demo and got some things at another little plaza. When we got there, however, it was still pouring, so we signed some autographs and waited to see if it would dry up. The locals were feverishly toweling and mopping the park in hopes to see the demo actually happen. It finally dried up and Gerry and was quite pleased. So pleased in fact, that he invited us over for dinner to celebrate his wife’s birthday. So off we were to Gerry’s house, and there was some home-style Puerto Rican stew waiting for us. Another thumbs-up to skateboarding!

We spent a few more days on the west side, but everyone wanted to deal with some unfinished business back in Old San Juan. Before we headed back, we did a demo with a truly Puerto Rican touch. Directly after the demo, they cleared the course and paraded four girls out, one at a time onto the main obstacle. A few had high heels on and needed assistance getting up there. It was pretty wild: The girls each modeled four bikinis and with each round, the kids got crazier and crazier. This was definitely and thankfully un-American. You think Zumiez would hold a bikini contest for 1,000 kids between the ages of twelve and seventeen?
We did run into more rain toward the end of the trip, but it was welcomed. People were sweating through two to three shirts a day, and a day off didn’t sound so bad. So the day was spent cruising around, spending per diem, and buying silly shot glasses, T-shirts, and magnets.
As we drove back to the airport, our argument continued: state, country, territory? Some said, “Well, I saw a Target and an Arby’s. They wouldn’t have that in another country.” Then someone said, “Yeah, but they speak Spanish and don’t really obey any traffic laws.” Another chimed in, “They use the American dollar, though.” Everyone had pretty good arguments. Nah, not really.