Chico Brenes: Back to Nicaragua

Imagine the place you live turning into a war zone. Two warring factions are fighting all around you. U.S.-backed Contras wage guerrilla warfare in your front yard, attacking anyone suspected of aiding your democratically-elected government—the Sandinistas—while the Sandinistas fight to maintain power. Your country divides and chaos ensues, forcing people to choose sides, laying the groundwork for a future of war.

In 1985, long before Chico Brenes started skateboarding, that was the world he lived in. In this fog of war, his mother was shot in the face by someone she knew and the future for Chico was one as a boy soldier in the Sandinista army.

His mother survived the shooting and, without much recourse, she and Chico headed north by bus, through Mexico and immigrated illegally to the United States, where they settled just outside San Francisco. For anyone who knows of Chico, the rest is a history which held friendship with Mike Carroll, a central part in the EMB scene, sponsorship by World Industries and a long-standing spot with Chocolate Skateboards.

His smooth style brought him a long career as a professional skateboarder and years after the war in his home country subsided, he wants to give back to Nicaragua with the gift that was given to him.

A few months ago, he opened up a skate shop called Central Skate Shop
in Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua and he plans to keep the skate scene growing by offering legit products for affordable prices to the ever-expanding community of skateboarders. Eventually, Chico hopes to use his notoriety to push for a skatepark in Nicaragua. Here's a slice of Chico's Nica and the scene he hopes to grow in the coming years—far away from the strife that he fled.

You just opened a skateshop in Nicaragua. What's it called?
It's called Central skateshop.

How long ago did you open it?
About three, four months ago. It's the first skateshop in Nicaragua.

The first one? Is there a scene down there?
Yeah, there actually is. Ever since I started going back, it's just grown and grown. The kids that have access...I mean, there's a shop over there that carries Element stuff, but that was it and the prices were ridiculous. It wasn't a skateshop, though. So, what I did was bring in different product at a lot better price, you know? And, the scene just keeps getting bigger and bigger. I brought some people down there and we did a demo and a contest for the kids. My next step is to get together with the city and build a public skatepark for the kids.

What city are you in then? Granada?
No, I'm in Managua, the capital city.

And you're hoping to do a skatepark there, then?
Yeah, I'm hoping to work on getting a public skatepark for kids. That's my next step—maybe get together with the city and see if they can determine a piece of land and maybe get my sponsors to donate some money to help construct it. I'm still not sure.

I used to live in South America—in Chile—and the scene's good. It's a good size. It's not huge. They have their own local magazine [La Tabla]. But, it seems like Central America's still developing a skate scene. It's there, but it's not as big...
It's taking off, though. I'm impressed how much it's growing. I think it helps that there are a lot of good spots, too. There are really good street spots, so that's helped to keep skating alive, you know? I went to Costa Rica recently and they have an amazing skatepark over there—skateboarding's huge over there—but, I thought there were better street spots in Nicaragua. So, I think, if we build a skatepark in Nicaragua, it'll take off.

Tell me a little more about your background. Obviously, you're of Nicaraguan descent. Did you live there? Were you born there?
Yeah, I was born there. Then, at the age of nine, I moved to San Francisco, you know? I came illegally, actually. I took a bus from Nicaragua all the way through Mexico past the border in '85 and I moved to San Francisco with my mom. And, I just started skating. I mean, over there, Embarcadero was the spot.

You were in the heart of the EMB era. How did you get in that crew? Did you just show up? What age did you start skating?
I started skating, maybe about 13, 14 and then...well, Mike Carroll lived a couple of houses down from me. He had a miniramp—I used to skate that all the time. And then, they all used to go to Embarcadero, so I just started going along with them. We all started hanging there and that became our scene.

What was the name of the neighborhood where you all lived?
Well, we lived in Daly City, which is maybe ten, 15 minutes away from the city. It's the next little town over from San Francisco. My family actually still lives there. My mom lives there. I go there all the time and stay over there.

It's crazy to think about how that all worked out—busing it up to SF and then getting into skating with Carroll and all those guys. It's basically gotten you to where you're at right now.
Yeah, man. You know, then I got on World Industries. I was on World for a while. Next thing you know, Rick Howard and Mike Carroll started Girl. I was actually one of the dudes who got left out, but, a year later, they started Chocolate. That was when I got involved and I've been there ever since, man.

So, how often do you go back to Nicaragua?
I used to go twice a year. I think I'm probably going to have to go more now, you know, because of the shop and everything. I'm trying to do more events down there. Right now, in October, I'm going out there with LRG, 'cause we're filming for a new video right now. We got that coming out in spring. We're gonna go out there and do a demo and then hold a concert for the kids and keep filming for the video.

Are you gonna try to get more clips from Nicaragua to show the spots and the scene there, too?
Yeah, definitely. I did one of my video parts for a 411—there were actually a lot of spots in there. I brought a few people out there, too, like Robert Lopez, Danny Montoya, Rob G, Emmanuel Guzman. There are good spots, man. I still haven't gone all around the city, so I'm sure there are still a lot of spots to find.

So, do you have homies or family running the shop?
Yeah, it's actually my family. I got my cousin, who's running it—he's the manager—and my uncle's the accountant. And, I do all the buying over here, you know? The hardest thing is just dealing with the import fees and the taxes. They charge a lot and I'm trying to keep the cost down for the kids. I'm trying to keep the prices in tune with Nicaragua.

It's really crazy how big skateboarding has gotten worldwide, that it's getting big where you grew up.
Yeah, I'm shocked. I can't believe it sometimes—that I can go abroad and travel there and it's just as big with the locals. I did that Fuel episode not too long ago and it showed a lot of the scene. We had a contest down there. We all got to travel to where my dad lives, outside of Managua, about eight hours away. There's no electricity and that's actually where I was born. I took Colin Kennedy [DVS filmer] out there, just so he could get a first look where I came from. I want to show where I'm from and be a part of making Nicaragua's scene grow.

To go to the website for Chico's shop, Central Skate Shop, click here. You can watch Chico's Firsthand on Fuel TV and learn more about the Nicaraguan conflict in the 1980s here.