Natalia Sanchez : The Godmother of Argentinian skateboarding
January 13, 2021 / By nicolas
6 minute read
Somewhere in the confines of Argentina, in a region where cows outnumber humans, in a village where the streets are not paved… is the heart of Argentine skateboarding. Here, the sound of skateboard wheels on concrete can be heard more often than car wheels. Normal, because unlike the streets of the village, the skatepark is completely concrete. Twice a year, hundreds of skaters converge to Pilar, in the province of Cordoba, to participate in one of the biggest skate contests in South America. “I think it’s pretty much the only private concrete skatepark in the country, ” says Natalia Sanchez, co-owner of Empilar Skates. But how did Pilar become the epicenter of skateboarding in Argentina?
Welcome to Natalia Sanchez’s home, the godmother of Argentine skateboarding
After a teenage years marked by skateboarding in Tucuman, her hometown, Natalia decided to push her passion further. As her skills were not keeping up with her passion, she redirected her energy to help the skaters she was around. Poverty was rampant in her area, but Natalia’s family lived quite well. So she and her family started hosting skaters on road trips. “As I was the only girl in my skateboarding group, my parents preferred that we’d invite them over.’’ She befriended several of them and eventually met her husband, professional skater Hans Ulver. Together, they traveled all over the world for skateboard competitions and settled temporarily in Barcelona in 2005. After several years of a hectic life, the two lovers returned home.
A few years later, Natalia and Hans set sail for the small town of Pilar, near Cordoba. “I decided to open a skate shop in a town where no one knew about skateboarding and there was no place to skate!” That’s how Empilar Skates was born.
But what first attracted Natalia to Pilar was a house with a very large plot of land. An opportunity for her to let her creativity run free. That’s how she and her husband started to build a skatepark, helped by Hans’ sister, an architect. “We thought that if we wanted to do something with skateboarding here, we would have to create it ourselves. Every week, friends from Rosario, Buenos Aires and Cordoba came to help us. As soon as I had 1000 pesos, I would buy concrete or blocks… and it took a total of 5 years. Two to level the ground, three to build.” Here is what the skatepark looked like at the beginning of its construction…
After the construction of the skatepark in this small country village, friends of Natalia and Hans started to visit more and more regularly. “Then one day, all my friends from the north of the country came. Then others from Buenos Aires… and we found ourselves competing with 50 or 60 people. The people of the village were shocked to see so many people disembark!” But the people of Pilar quickly had to adapt… because the 50 people became 300. Then this competition became a bi-annual tradition where skaters from all over Argentina, Peru and even Brazil converge. Natalia and Hans welcome all these beautiful people in their home… and for a few days, their residence and skatepark take on the appearance of a festival. “We receive more than 200 skaters every year, but they bring friends,” says Natalia. During competition weekends, there can be 300-350 people sleeping in tents and my backyard becomes a bit like Woodstock. But I’ve never had a problem, people respect our home exceptionally well.” Every year, since 2014, Natalia and Hans organize these big skateboard masses. Hundreds of young people arrive in Pilar and are welcomed with open arms by the couple. And skaters can participate for free. “We don’t ask anyone for money… I sell the meals I prepare, but we don’t do it for the money anyway. We do it to connect with people, with brands, with distributors. We do it for the passion of skateboarding!” For the past six years, all the big names in Argentina have passed through Pilar and their careers have certainly been influenced by Natalia’s help. Mauro Iglesias, Matias Del Ollio, Martin Isoldi and Adriel Parmisano among others, have made their wheels resonate with Pilar. And they travelled thanks to the competitions organized by Natalia. “In one of our two annual competitions, the winner can choose the skateboard trip of his or her choice at our expense. Mauro went to Barcelona, Martin went to Copenhagen, Adriel went to the Mystic Cup in Prague.”
Today, these skaters are among the best known in the world, but they are still very close to Natalia. Besides, if you see the Argentinean skaters in a competition, you might see them accompanied by the skateboard godmother. For Natalia, life rhymes with skateboarding. “You can really live from your passions… if you want to be a professional skater, go ahead, if you want to build a skatepark, do it. But you have to be 100% focused on your goals.”