In partnership with Coachella Unincorporated: Coachella Unincorporated is a youth media training program based in the eastern Coachella Valley. Young people, ages 15-24, who join Coachella Unincorporated strengthen their storytelling and leadership skills and work to amplify voices from the eastern Coachella Valley. The youth media program is operated by New America Media and funded by The California Endowment’s Building Healthy Communities initiative.
NORTH SHORE, Calif. — In a community surrounded by desert as far as the eye can see, there’s a group of skateboarders who regularly turn the abandoned buildings and streets of North Shore and Mecca into their own makeshift skate park.
The six-members of the group proudly refer to themselves as the ‘North Shore Misfits,’ taking their name from the horror-inspired ’80s punk band, The Misfits, and for the general outcast identity they’ve embraced.
Skaters are an uncommon sight in rural eastern Coachella Valley, mostly because there aren’t any skate parks -- or really anywhere to skate at all. To get to the nearest skate park, skaters here need to catch a ride with a friend for the 30 minute drive to Coachella while getting to contests or local skating competitions means an hour’s drive to Palm Springs Skate Park.
And then there is the cement, or lack of it in the ECV. Like surfers who need the ocean to practice their craft, skaters need cement to skate. But in North Shore and other nearby communities, there are few finished sidewalks for walking, let alone skating.
So the North Shore Misfits and other local skaters have to be adaptable and, out of sheer necessity, creative. They build makeshift ramps out of old pieces of wood found scattered around empty lots and across the desert floor. They drop into abandoned pools. Like the surrounding landscape, skaters here have evolved a raw style unique to the area. Here, the jumps are more daring and the risks are bigger.
The scars on arms and knees, the road rash trailing up elbows, and the bumps on shoulders speak to some of the beatings that skaters here have taken. But ask any of them and they would tell you the scars are badges of honor, proof of their daring and willingness to risk all to elevate their game. A 15-stair jump landed on hard concrete is run of the mill for these skaters.
But there are other scars beneath the skin that tell different stories.
“It’s sad to know this little city was once full of talented skaters,” says Edgar Hernandez, one of the North Shore Misfits. “Some [skaters] picked up meth and quit skating ... they were my only friends.”
Hernandez said one by one each of his closest friends got caught up in the cycle of gangs and drugs, until it was just him. Hernandez eventually connected with another group of young skaters in nearby Mecca and says their shared passion helps keep them away from the drugs and gangs, and takes their minds off troubles at home.
“Skateboarding for me is an escape from whatever is happening around me,” Hernandez says. “The freedom to push around through a desert landscape is still relaxing to this day.”
There was a time when Hernandez had dreams of becoming a professional skater and actively pursued sponsors. But with his parents and five siblings to help support, most days Hernandez has to trade in the skateboard for a ladder that he uses to pick dates on the surrounding farms. He says he is saving up to buy a car to help take his sisters to school.
“Reality hit me hard ... responsibilities and pressure doubled for me,” Hernandez said.
But even though he’s no longer pursuing a professional skating career, he still wants skating to remain part of his life and sees it as a way to reinvest in the community.
When Hernandez was younger, he took inspiration from the story of Jamie Thomas, a skater in Northern California who, like Hernandez, had to overcome much adversity to skate. Thomas, who quickly became Hernandez’s hero, created a skateboarding company, Zero Skateboards, to help up and coming skaters.
Hernandez says he hopes he can become that kind of a mentor for young skaters and maybe help keep skating alive in the eastern Coachella Valley.