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MANILA, Philippines – Nearly every Saturday night, a group of men, women and children meet in front of the Santo Niño de Tondo Church to skate. This is their mass.
Their sacred space is a small plaza they share with many of the people in Tondo. Here vendors flock to sell whatever they can sell, jeeps rest before going back to their route, children play with anything they can put their hands on, and lovers meet. The floors are smooth, it’s dimly lit and there’s a heady scent from the people who’ve made the plaza their home for the night.
It’s perfect. And in this religion, anyone can worship – hands or no hands.
Jess Lacebal has lived without hands all his life. Born into a poor family, a young Jess made an already hard life harder by getting into fights over people ridiculing him. But with age comes grace and at 25, he says he loves haters as much as they seem to love his tattoos, his dreadlocks, and his lack of hands.
Inner peace comes from passion, too – his is skating. Jess taught himself to skate at 14 years old after figuring out basketball wasn’t the sport for him. With his own self as his competition, he started to practice basic riding, eventually moving on to fundamental tricks like the ollie. He hasn’t looked back since then.
Today he’s part of the Tondo F*ckin Krew, a skate crew that welcomes people of all ages and all backgrounds. Jess says people seem to think substance addictions come with skating but he’s proud to say he’s part of a crew of good people.
His crowning achievement is the laser flip trick where the board does a 360-degree turn while he hangs in the air. Though he’s got the trick under his belt, it’s something he says he’s rusty with these days. (READ: Freedom, solidarity at Go Skateboarding Day)
Strapped for cash, Jess sold his skateboard. Working for his mom’s carinderia and having no money to go to Tondo from his home in Navotas have robbed him of practice too. Tempting though it may be to say goodbye to skating, he describes the feeling of being on the board to falling in love for the first time – and who can ever really forget their first love?
Jess is honest and straight to the point. Skating is scary. He could get hurt and say goodbye to another limb. But Jess says, skate. All you really need to do it is heart – and fearlessness.
Watch Jess skate and talk about skating below.
ASSOCIATE PRODUCER: Dindin Reyes
CAMERAMAN: Naoki Mengua
VIDEO EDITOR: Exxon Ruebe