A meeting between two mom entrepreneurs from Venezuela and Russia holds the promise of a skateboard to change people’s lives.
It’s said that journalists write the first rough draft of history — the big story, the kind that makes it into textbooks. But what of little stories with big potential?
Here’s a story about a quiet meeting between two women from disparate cultures who share one passion: the promise of a skateboard to change people’s lives. Maybe two entrepreneurial moms talking shop over kombucha doesn’t sound historic, but the moment speaks volumes about the power of diplomacy to open doors for international collaboration.
And that’s exactly what happened in Washington, D.C. mid-October: a miniature economic development summit of sorts at sPACYcLOUd, the eclectic Adams Morgan shop owned by Tati Kolina, 47, an IT professional and single mom of a teen who founded a skate- and surf-inspired brand and movement in 2012. sPACYcLOUd is more than just cool clothes: in the summer, the Skate Girls Tribe Surf Camp brings young women beach side for a week of professional instruction and confidence boosting in the mid-Atlantic.
Kolina, who became an orphan at 7 and earned her entrepreneurial chops with the Soviet-era tusovkas (street groups) and farovshiki (school-aged black marketers), is paying it forward by providing a haven for creatives with a focus on women’s empowerment through action sports.
Andrea Martinez, 30, just happened to be in town representing Zona Rasta Venezuela, another skate- and surf-inspired company, founded 20 years ago by her husband, a professional athlete. Martinez, a digital marketing professional by trade, has competed in bodyboard at the professional level, and considers herself a skateboard hobbyist. The couple, which is now devoted full-time to legalizando patineta — making board sports legit — has two young children. In years prior, Zona Rasta built skate parks out of wood all over the now beleaguered nation of Venezuela, where a lack of resources and supplies inspires Zona Rasta to greater resilience.
Martinez landed in D.C. at the final convening of 250 fellows from Latin America and the Caribbean who were part of the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI), a one-month Department of State mentorship program run by Meridian International Center that pairs entrepreneurs with businesses in 20 cities across the United States. Andrea was one of 13 fellows in South Florida, where Global Ties Miami hosted YLAI. While in Miami, Martinez worked with mentor Maui Goodbeer, founder of Street Waves, a non-profit organization that exposes urban youth to ocean life.
By the time Martinez arrived in the U.S. capital, she had spent nearly a month learning best practices at Street Waves. “Working with my host was very gratifying,” she says. “To know that there are people in this world with a similar vision as ours fills us with hope.”
The Dupont Circle connection
How Martinez and Kolina came to meet had to do with seemingly random connections. I’ve been writing for Global Ties Miami since YLAI started in 2016, and I was particularly thrilled to support the project remotely from my new home in D.C. My curiosity about skateboarding was piqued last year when I penned a newspaper article about a board sports venture between the U.S. and Cuba, a nation that is no stranger to the kind of economic crisis plaguing Venezuela today.
Fast forward to just a few weeks ago, when a friend and neighbor who had recently started skateboarding introduced me to producer and board sports advocate Anthony Smallwood, also a neighbor, whom she met while practicing around Dupont Circle. I already knew Andrea was coming to D.C. and wondered if she could meet local skateboarders during her free time off the official agenda. That’s when Smallwood told me about Kolina. And the rest, as it’s said, is history.
Skating on common ground
sPACYcLOUd and Zona Rasta seek to dispel the slacker reputation associated with the sport while respecting its decades-old street cred, and are devoted to youth empowerment. They’re also inspired by the sport’s creative expression in visual art and fashion. Both companies focus on the active practice of skateboarding and surf, and offer training. As family-owned ventures, they also see lasting social impact in community building.
When we met at the storefront, both women asked each other about merchandise practices from e-commerce to t-shirt printing. They also talked about the impulse in their endeavors to help youth through sport and empower women.
“Tati is an inspiration, the real deal,” says Martinez. “Learning her story meant proof that you can achieve what you set out to do.”
It all starts with a dream
It’s not a far stretch of the imagination to see the potential impact of what’s little and local at play in sweeping historical movements — from the outcomes of a collapsed Soviet Union, to embattled Caribbean and South American nations carrying out the drama — and yet, for one crisp fall evening, two women, who could have never imagined meeting each other, talked in a nuanced way about how a piece of wood on two pairs of wheels can make the world a better place. They exchanged t-shirts as tokens of mutual appreciation. No deals were sealed, but treaties were signed in the heart.
“It was interesting to see how much we had in common even though we’re so far away from each other,” says Kolina. “We shared similar challenges as women in the industry. I’m glad I met Andrea. I know by ourselves we cannot do much, but together we can accomplish so much more.”
For Martinez, her experience in the U.S. influences her next steps back home. “After YLAI in Miami learning with my host Maui Goodbeer of Street Waves, and later meeting Tati, I have a wider vision and new ideas to generate bigger impact for children through Zona Rasta,” she says.
Maybe what was written that night was the first draft of an intention. Maybe these two entrepreneurs aren’t making history in the conventional sense, but they’re creating new narratives through the art, athleticism and lifestyle of a recently-turned-Olympic street sport.
And most beautifully, they’re not alone: for over ten years, NGO Skateistan has been improving the lives of children, with a focus on girls, in Afghanistan, Cambodia and South Africa. Skateistan, which currently has over 2,000 children in its program, was the inspiration for Kolina’s original summer camp. Knowing that skateboarding breaks through geopolitical boundaries, both women are excited about future collaboration in Venezuela.
For Kolina, it starts with a dream. “It makes me feel good to start dreaming about different projects we can do in the future,” she says. “If you dream hard, everything is possible. It’s about unification with one board and four wheels — a very powerful tool.”
Maria de los Angeles is an independent journalist, writer and teacher, and has worked with Global Ties Miami as writer and media liaison. A spiritual entrepreneur, she’s the founder of #heartcenteredmedia, a startup featuring the forthcoming HeartCenteredDC podcast.