Building Ramps and Tearing Down Walls

Surf and skate photographer and filmmaker Brian Adamkiewicz tells us how an international crew of skaters is combating negative rhetoric with shovels and trucks (not the dumping kind)

The mission behind Build Ramps Not Walls is very simple—It’s right there in its name

Skaters have always run on the rebellious side. Any skater on the streets of New York knows the drill…find the spot, grind it until the cops come, get the hell outta dodge before they confiscate your board. While the spirit of defiance still thrives in the skater community, skateboarding is following surfing down a professional path that has a final destination of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. So what does a more organized and professional skate community with a defiant streak do? Well, they get together and take on the injustices in the establishment, that’s what.

While the surf community has naturally galvanized around environmental concerns and protecting the ocean, the skate community is speaking out against racism, prejudice and hatred. Take the example of our binational initiative of Mexican and American skaters. With skaters from New York, California, Hawaii, Portland and from all over Mexico, Build Ramps Not Walls has started a movement against the negative rhetoric about Mexicans and immigrants.

The moment came for me when I overheard a young skateboarding prodigy Nat (just 7 years old at the time) talking to his friends. As a 7-year-old he couldn’t understand what the wall everyone was talking about was for and why. As a Mexican-American he was nervous though, wondering if he was going to be able to see his friends and family on either side of the border.

So we showed him the alternative of what you can build with the same materials—cement, rebar, cinderblock etc.

The skate community is speaking out against racism, prejudice and hatred.

Skateboarding has always broken down barriers. Go to any skate park in New York City on any given day and you will find guys from Brooklyn, from the Dominican Republic, from Mexico, from California, from Long Island, from all over. There is no localism in skating, the vibe is ‘anyone is welcome’. No throwing attitude because some guy is not from around here, ever. It just does not happen like that.

This open-minded and accepting attitude is the basis for the Build Ramps Not Walls project where a crew of international skaters decided to build a new skate ramp with the same materials that will be used to build the wall along the border between the U.S. and Mexico.

I have a ton of friends who skate and surf in Mexico—some are Mexicans, some are Americans and Canadians. When the talk about the wall started getting serious, and images of Mexicans in the U.S. media took a turn for the worst, we all got together and decided that we wanted to make a statement, make a change in how people view Mexicans, view skaters, view the border.

In February of this year, I headed south of the border to the coastal town of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where the local surf and skate community was gearing up for a DIY ramp build with volunteers from both sides of the border. After we spent about three months in Mexico, building, filming, skating, surfing and pushing the change we want to see in the world, the project has been picked up momentum and has been growing ever since.

The result of all this is a documentary short that will be out in early 2019.

Through this film, we want to show the world that skaters can have a big impact, standing up for what they believe in and breaking down the barriers that divide people by building ramps that unite.

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Watch for the film and more projects