Kevin Bires, Army Soldier #10163 wearing his Grenade Army dog tags
Grenade Army Soldier #10163, Kevin Bires of Fort Myers, Florida, just landed back home from a trip to Guatemala. There, he and a crew of volunteers spent their time building a skate park for the locals of Xela, Guatemala. We asked Kevin to write a guest post about his experience. Along with being a decent human being, Kevin is an accomplished photographer and he sent along some amazing photographs to go with his text. So without further ado... Take it away Kevin!
Mission Objective: Fly To Guatemala; build the most badass skate park in the country. Give the kids skateboards to ride and see what Guatemala is all about.
My trip started off in Fort Myers, Florida at 6:00am. I stopped in Naples, it's about 30 minutes south from where I live, to meet up with Mark and Shannon Koch, founders of Ride Nature. After we load up a bunch of donations we head to Fort Lauderdale to meet the rest of the group at Ramp 48 Skate Park. From there we loaded all the gear, tools, donations and team members into two small-ass mini vans and headed to the Miami Airport. There, we checked in 150 skateboards with trucks and wheels to make completes, five boxes of clothes (big thanks to Gatorboards for that), DVDs, hats and stickers. We had to unload one box of trucks and wheels because it was overweight, so a few of the team members put the extra stuff in their carry-ons. We didn’t think that was going to fly but we did make it through security.
We are now all ready to head to Guatemala City where a five hour bus ride through the mountains to Xela, Guatemala awaits. Two hours and 30 minutes later we land in Guatemala City and went through customs and all that crap. Very, very easy. We roll outside and the most gangster ass bus ever is sitting there waiting for us. This thing was rocking the chrome and gold front grill, a custom painted roof rack and then some. Its name was the Super Nina! The bus driver was one gnar looking dude that could drive the hell out of it. He was haulin’ ass up and down the mountains and around sharp turns. When we rolled into Xela it was real late and most of us are all jacked up from the near death ride on the bus.
First day of the build we’re up early at 5:30am and we are all amped to get going. Then we see the wood. Holy shit is this some third world lumber. The 2x4’s didn’t really stay consistent in size -- some were 2x4 on one end and like 2 ½ by 3 at the other end. The wood was hand cut I’m pretty sure. It was so gnarly to build with. We got rollin’ hard on the park with about 60% of the framing was completed in the first day.
We end the first day after 10 hours and went home to hang out for a bit before going to bed. Not much to do at night plus it’s not safe in that area. We got up again at 5:30 am and there was this Guatemala lady in the house cooking for all of 14 of us. That was sweet to have breakfast made for us every day, but too bad it was so horrible. I snuck off when I could to hit up McDonalds and Burger King to get me by for the week. But she was an awesome lady.
Around lunch time this dude Michael Portugal and I headed out to get some photos of the area. The group leader who lives in Xela told us it’s not safe to walk around without any of them, but we wanted shots and we were going to get them regardless. We kinda hung around a four block area at first, and we got some good shots. We wanted to see more of the local market and people. So we headed down to where we saw about 20 buses parked on the side of the road. We walked down the middle row of the buses to run right into a big group of bus drivers and locals selling everything from super glue to candy. Oh man these guys wanted their photos taken so badly. Dudes were running to get their friends and other people for shots. It was awesome on so many levels to have the locals inviting us into their world and letting us take photos to show others.
When we got back the rest of the group had almost finished all of the framing on both the mini ramp and the street area of the park. It was awesome to see how much work they did. So I shot a bunch of photos of the work done. It really started to look like a skate park.
The next day was all about working on the park. I used to weld so that was my main job for the week. I had to weld the copping and the transitions on the ramps, and I built a few rails. The job would have taken me two hours if I had the right tools and materials. However, being in Guatemala things didn’t go so easy. I had to weld all the steel with a stick welder and the steel was way too thin for that kind of welder. I made it work and got the job done in six hours. The group ended up working for 16 hours that day. We had all the framing done and needed to start sheeting the next day.
The following day we got up at 5:30am again and started work on the park by 6:15am. We had the park done by 10:00pm that night. The guys road for about an hour and then we headed downtown to check out the central park.
On Saturday we were all up at 4:00am to head to this volcano. It was a 45 minute hike up to the top with a 45 degree angle. Both ways. Where I live it is three feet above sea level so being that high up was doing me in. We made it to the top and started the decent to the inside of the volcano where a long, long time ago the volcano erupted into itself and somehow formed a lake. The lake in the volcano made the local‘s think it was special and holy. A lot of the local people come there to pray and worship. When we got to the lake you could see why. This place was beautiful, and the lake was so butter and clear. All along the lake’s edge where these flowered crosses that people made for praying to. Looking back up the volcano as the morning fog was rolling out you could really get a sense of the power this place possessed. It made me feel like I had the world at my hands and totally amped me up for the rest of the trip.
After visiting the volcano we loaded up all the donations we had brought and headed to the park for the grand opening at 3:00pm. When we arrived it was a very big surprise to see about 200 kids waiting to skate! Also, about 12 BMX locals showed up and road outside with a small kicker to sand landing.
We did a best trick comp on the street part of the park. Five stairs with a fat huba on one side and a long thin huba on the other side. Holy shit! These kids where killing it. Kick flip to 50-50, backside board slide, backside tail slide, and a 3 shuv 180 down the stair set. The winner of the best trick, with his kick flip to 50-50, was a kid from Guatemala City. He goes by the name Nacho and this kid kills it.
Going to a place like Guatemala for the first time and not really knowing what to except was a very new and weird feeling for me. When I was walking around with Mike and really seeing with my own eyes what it was really like in this country, it made me pissed to see it in such horrible disarray. Then, when I looked deeper into the people that lived in this place, that in my eyes is the inside of a trash can, they were all happy people. For the most part, these people were happy to be alive and enjoying life.
The people of Guatemala changed my life in such a way that I can’t explain. I feel it and I plan on using this new found inner power to make the best of what life has to offer me and the people around me. Thank you. Kevin Bires.
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Story and photos by Kevin Bires