Skateboarding and Cuban culture were a large part of Steven Andrew Garcia's upbringing in the Tampa Bay area.
Now he has combined the two into a business and international relations venture called Toda Fuerza, a skateboarding brand sponsoring what he hopes will become the first skateboarding team from Cuba to perform globally.
"They are talented but haven't competed outside of Cuba," said Garcia, a graduate of Osceola High School and a current resident of Brooklyn, N.Y.
"It almost feels like they have no hope. But I thought, what if I try to focus on six guys and try to get them known on the international scene? Then we can turn that team into the embodiment of the skate culture for Cuba."
Garcia, 29, is funding the team through Toda Fuerza apparel designed by Cuban artists, then made and sold in the United States.
Garcia hopes that by year's end, he will have the money and government approvals for the six-member amateur team to enter competitions off the island, including the Tampa Am at the Skatepark of Tampa in November.
"We have had skaters in the Tampa Am from Russia, South Africa, South America, all over Europe," said Paul Zitzer, the Skatepark of Tampa's event operations manager. "We would love to see Cuba experience it."
Meanwhile, Toda Fuerza products are available online at www.todafuerza.com or locally at Westside Skateshop's locations in Largo and Tarpon Springs.
"The shop has always tried to support the skateboard community and those who have similar interests," said Westside Skateshop general manager Bob Levoy. "I am proud he is trying to do his part with his brand and the community in Cuba."
Levoy has known Garcia since the Toda Fuerza founder was a teen and first transitioned from skateboarder to industry promoter.
It was while Garcia worked at Skatepark of Tampa.
There, Garcia connected with the area's best skateboarders. When they needed videos of their talents to obtain sponsorships, they turned to Garcia, who was as capable behind a camera as he was on a board.
Garcia's Cuban identity comes from his father and grandparents, who were Cuba natives. During regular visits to his grandparent's Tampa home, Garcia was inundated with Cuban food, music and history lessons.
"My abuelo was nostalgic about the pre-Castro glory days," Garcia said. "I wondered: Is anything like that still there? How do people live now?"
The opportunity to see for himself came through CubaOne, a Miami-based nonprofit that sponsors free trips to the island for young Cuban-Americans.
Garcia went last June. While in Havana, he initiated a conversation with a local who was wearing a U.S. skateboarding shirt and was invited to join him at a skate park the next day.
He was shocked that their talent was on par with what he's seen in the U.S. and thought the world should know about them.
It was also during this trip that Garcia was introduced to graphic designers he felt could become globally popular if given the chance.
And so the idea behind Toda Fuerza — which means All Strength — was born.
The skaters he befriended helped recruit the team, and the graphic designers connected him to others in their field. They all agreed that proceeds should be reinvested back into Toda Fuerza, which was launched in November using Garcia's savings.
One T-shirt and deck design is of a Cuban sugar cane farmer. Another is of a vampire eating ice cream, a reference to the Vampires in Havana animated film and Havana's most popular ice cream shop, Parque Coppelia.
None of the apparel is for sale in Cuba because of the difficulties American companies face doing business there. But Garcia donates plenty of it to Cubans so the team's popularity grows there.
It seems to be working. While in Havana, he has spotted Toda Fuerza's cigar label-shaped stickers on buildings and teenagers wearing the shirts.
"There is a thriving skate culture in Cuba made up of a whole new generation of Cubans," Garcia said. "America needs to meet them."
Contact Paul Guzzo at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.