Meet the Bolivian Skateboarders Bringing Andean Culture to the Halfpipe
When Peruvian photographer Celia D’Luna went to Cochabamba, Bolivia, in March 2022, she wasn’t quite sure what to expect. She had been exchanging Instagram messages with an all-women skateboard collective, ImillaSkate, and wanted to photograph them for a series on Andean women in male-dominated spaces like wrestling and rock climbing. But none of them had ever met in person before, and there was a fair chance it wouldn't come together. “I went to Bolivia as an act of faith,” says D’Luna.
D’Luna, who has traditionally focused on fashion and portrait photography, was interested in showcasing ImillaSkate for a number of reasons. They're great skaters, yes, but they've also been traveling throughout Bolivia to teach other women their skills—and they aren’t compromising on who they are in the process. “I was mesmerized because they are practicing a sport, at its extreme, that is usually dominated by men, and they’re adding their heritage to it by wearing traditional clothing,” she says. “As a Peruvian from Ayacucho, from the Andes, I see myself in them.”
After ImillaSkate and D'Luna got to know each other over a hearty plate of pique macho, a friendship blossomed. The team spent one week shooting. D’Luna captured them nailing tricks; pairing Vans slip-ons with traditional pollera skirts; and sharing a sense of camaraderie and pride in their culture that moved her.
“Where I’m from in Peru, cholita is a derogatory term, mostly to put someone down,” says D’Luna. “So when I saw in Bolivia that it’s totally different, that you’re proud to be a cholita, that you’re proud to be a luchadora, that’s something I wanted to show. Most Peruvians are cholas, cholos, and we should be proud of who we are and what color we are.” One year after the shoot, this sentiment feels more relevant than ever, adds D'Luna, amid the current outcries in Peru against inequality and racism toward Indigenous Andean people.
Below, D’Luna reflects on her time with the ImillaSkaters—and their work to change the face of skating in South America.
“As soon as I saw Belen Fernandez, I was like, she could be a model. She was a little hard on herself because she was not landing tricks. She was one of the newer members, and she almost didn’t make it the day of the shoot—she had a lot on her plate, a lot going on in her life, she said, but once she got there we had a good time.
Skateboards are not as common as they are in the United States, and it's a little more difficult to get one in Bolivia. Since their plan is to share skateboarding with other people, they want to raise money to buy skateboards for other girls. If I were to ever sell prints of these photos, I would want to donate to that effort. People can also DM them on Instagram to contribute. ”
“Zusan Meza, on the left, was so fun, so lovely and lively and she was all about the camera. You could sense she was like, the flirty coqueta. To me, it was the juxtaposition of the pollera skirt and the socks. She loved her socks and said we needed to feature them. She was wearing her hat when she was skateboarding too, and it wouldn’t fall down—it was the same with all of them, I don't know how they did it.
On the right is Brenda Tinta, la jefa, the boss lady. She takes charge of the group. When I met her I was very intimidated, but as soon as I got to chat with her—we were in a little taxi, heading to the skate park—she was telling me how she started skating and little by little she got better, and then she was winning competitions. She was showing me photos of awards that she has gathered. Back then, the competitions were in Cochabamba, but I follow her on Instagram, so she’s since gone to Peru, too.”
“I could tell Tefy Morales could really skateboard. I asked her to do a trick and honestly it became my favorite photo. She did this ollie and it was one of those moments, as a photographer, when you feel like you have just captured something beautiful. I love how her tattoos are showing, and the contradiction with the garments and the sneakers. When I moved to the U.S., I felt that contradiction too—I didn’t live in a big city like Lima, I came straight from Ayacucho to Miami and it was a big shock for me. I could relate seeing her wearing the Vans with the traditional clothes: I have my heritage deep in my heart, but also i'm kind of an American now.”
“Huara Medina was landing tricks left and right, and I wanted to show how badass she was. She’s wearing a necklace that was handmade with their logo on it, which is a hat on a skateboard. I would have bought one if I could have. They’re all very focused on putting ImillaSkate out there and making sure people know about them. She’s actually working on a documentary about ImillaSkate, which was supposed to come out at the end of last year.” [Editor's note: Keep an eye on the ImillaSkate Instagram for news on the release.]
“This was at a skate park in the suburbs of Cochabamba, so we drove for a little bit to get there. They mentioned Cochabamba doesn't have many skate parks, so this is where they go when they want to get away from the city. When they have competitions people come and watch, but when they practice it’s just them doing their thing.
I wanted to portray the power and connection between these women. If someone can't land a trick they'll be like, dale, come on, you got this. They are very supportive toward each other. You can tell they love each other. Coming from a rural town, women are always together and they are very supportive, and it just happens that we gravitate toward each other. Like, what is it that you need? How can I help you? How can you help me? It's beautiful to see that appear in their skateboarding, too. It's the same amor por las mujeres—love for women.”
Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler