Jefferson Pang wasn’t the first person with UK roots to make a significant mark on New York skateboard culture, and nor would he be the last, but he’ll always be one of the first New York City skateboarders to turn pro—for Andy Howell’s 1992 Underworld Element dream-team alongside Julien Stranger, Harold Hunter, Pepe Martinez and Rick Ibaseta—as well as being one of the original Zoo York pros, part of the original Shut crew and proudest exponents of everything great about East Coast skating.
From a chance encounter with a schoolyard rival that introduced him to what skateboarding could be all about, through various pro models and industry work, to his current role as manager of Brooklyn’s Supreme store, Jeff Pang is, and has always been, perfectly placed to tell the story of New York City skateboarding.
Despite these globally troubling times, Jeff was able to give me a couple of hours on the phone to talk through some of the highlights.
Interview by Neil Macdonald @scienceversuslife
How has lockdown been for you? Where are you?
I’m about 120 miles north of New York City right now. I’ve been coming up here since the ‘90s, to snowboard, when you can’t skate in the city. It’s always been my dream to buy a place up here, and a couple of years ago we were able to buy it. So we have this place upstate for me and my family to self-quarantine.
Alright, good. So, what was the first real skateboarding you saw in New York City? When did you realise it wasn’t just a Californian thing?
Well, this doesn’t qualify as ‘real’ skateboarding, but in the ‘70s I did go to a local sporting goods store, a one-stop-shop where you can buy Converse Weapons from Magic Johnson or Larry Bird, and they had skateboards there too. So I did have a plastic skateboard—which actually had urethane wheels—and I’d just ride that in front of our apartment building in Brooklyn.
The first time I was exposed to a real skateboard, would be from a friend called Wing who lived up the street from me who had this Powell board. I’m not sure which one, because I just remember the top graphic which was the standard dragon, and it had these giant orange wheels… I remember just thinking, “What is this thing?!”. It was a real, true skateboard and I’d never seen anything like it in my life.
Wing was this Chinese kid; our neighbourhood was just all immigrants, and it still is. I still live there from when my family moved here from Ireland and England in 1973. They moved to Kensington, Brooklyn, and we still live two blocks away from where we’ve always been. So Wing told me where he’d got it, and it was this skate shop called Soho Skates. I wasn’t exposed to skateboarding as early as the Dream Wheels shop, which you’ll know about, but that Soho Skates was on Sixth Avenue.
I believe they had three different locations over the years: one on Sixth Avenue, one was on Varick Street just north of Canal, and they had another location which I think was on Ninth Street, but I could be wrong. They might have only had two locations… So was my friend down the block a real skateboarder? No, but that’s the first time I saw this thing that wasn’t a plastic, toy-store version of a skateboard.
Then fast forward further into the ‘80s, to getting into BMXing and stuff like that. I was always a small kid so I was never able to bunny hop or anything like that. It was the summer before I got into High School, late ‘80s Brooklyn, and it’s such a cliche to say but in Brooklyn in the late ‘80s it was graffiti, breakdancing and music, but then it was also constant street fights with everybody. It would be unusual to not get into a fight at least once a week, and when you’re a 13 year-old kid you can fight the same kid for an hour straight and nobody really gets hurt because you weren’t capable of doing much damage back then.
I worked at this hobby shop in Brooklyn, and this one day I got off the bus coming home from work and my brother and my friends from the block were like, “We got into a fight with these guys, these Russian guys, let’s go get ‘em!”, so I was like, “Uhh, alright, cool. Let’s go fight then”. So we went to the local bodega, into the trash, and we got out all this rotten fruit. There was this Puerto Rican crew we would hang out with: Edgar, Rodney and Dwayne, who came with us, and they had dog chains wrapped around their fists, and one of them had a leather spiked bracelet wrapped around his fist like brass knuckles. Twelve year-old kids thinking they’re the fuckin’ Warriors.
they had dog chains wrapped around their fists, and one of them had a leather spiked bracelet wrapped around his fist like brass knuckles
Leading the charge. Photo: Mike O’Meally
And you’ve got your fruit.
Yeah, ha! So we go up the block and we get into this brawl with these Russian kids who live a block and a half from us. We’re fighting, and it’s gone on for a while, rolling through the dirt and stuff, and the last battle was me and this one kid whose name is Alexey. Him and I went toe-to-toe for a while and the whole thing maybe lasted ten minutes, but when there’s that much drama at a young age it felt like it lasted for hours, and the local adults broke it up. And that was that. That was in the summer before high school.
First day at high school, just this skinny freshman kid who couldn’t bunny hop a bike because he’s so small, and I’m looking around my homeroom class… My high school was John Dewey near Coney Island, a skate spot people have been skating forever, although it wasn’t a skate spot when I went there in the 80s. But you can find a lot of pictures of that spot and a lot of R.B. Umali footage is filmed at Dewey as well. It’s not that much fun but a lot of skating’s gone down there. So I get into my freshman class, and it’s a different neighbourhood, and it’s not just kids who are zoned to go there because of the school they went to for prior grades, there are students from everywhere.
I’m looking around and I don’t see anybody I know, then I spot the kid I was fighting in the summer, the Russian kid Alexey. So I’m just like, “Aw, fuck, dude…” He’s like the last person I should be paired up with, and while I wasn’t paired up with him, he was from the neighbourhood so we had mutual friends from the neighbourhood. For weeks we’d go to lunch and sit on opposite ends of the table with all our neighbourhood friends around us, and for weeks it’s like we’re just mean-doggin’ each other, like “When is this gonna happen?”, like being in fuckin’ jail, you know? There’s this person you have beef with, so you have to fight. And then after a couple weeks, it had just never happened, and I never spoke to him, ever. Then one time I was riding my bike back in the neighbourhood and I came across some people skating a jump ramp, and was just… “What the fuck? Skateboards? Jump ramps? Holy shit”.
They were fuckin’ flying off this thing and I’m there on this bike, and I could go off the ramp on my bike, but this looked way cooler. I didn’t know any of the kids, but the one person I recognised was that kid Alexey, who I had beef with. Maybe because we were in the same freshman class, but I asked him if I could use his board and he said yeah. On the first day I learned how to ollie up a curb, gave up my bike and became best friends with this dude. That’s how I was introduced to skateboarding, and how I learned that it was a ‘thing’. Through this little crew who skated in one neighbourhood.
On the first day I learned how to ollie up a curb, gave up my bike and became best friends with this dude. That’s how I was introduced to skateboarding, and how I learned that it was a ‘thing’. Through this little crew who skated in one neighbourhood
There’s a photo of me standing on the platform of a vert ramp from when I started skating, and the person standing next to me is the guy Alexey who I got into a fight with, who got me into skateboarding, who put my life on this trajectory which is the reason I’m here now. Haha!
From Left-Marcello, Dave, Craig, Justin, Jeff, Alexey and Ben. Ben’s ramp 1985
Did the original beef ever get mentioned?
Oh, it was done. It was settled. We communicated through skateboarding that it was done. I became a skateboarder the moment I borrowed his board. My first set up was a used Billy Ruff board that I bought off of him, Gullwing trucks that someone gave me, and I used the wheels off of my hockey skates for my skateboard wheels.
There’s a lot spoken about the main spots around Midtown and Downtown at that time, but were you guys travelling further out? Were you exploring the Bronx and Staten and shit, the other boroughs, looking for spots?
You know, the ‘adventure’ part of it didn’t really happen until further down the line. We were very cautious of going to other neighbourhoods, because of it being so sketchy. The kid, Ben, who had the ramp in Brooklyn, his dad was a pretty successful doctor and they had this big plot of land with the ramp, a little BMX track, and his mom had a little vegetable garden. They had three houses in this super nice neighbourhood, and we had gotten into beef. So that was the catalyst for me to be like, “OK, fuck it, I’m not going to this ramp anymore”, because I didn’t get along with the dude. So my option was now to go to Manhattan.
In my BMX days we would go on a Friday night, we’d go over the Brooklyn Bridge and we’d ride the Brooklyn Banks on our BMX bikes. It was crazy, this mystical place, like, “What is this shit?!”, it was just insane. But from there we’d venture into the village where we’d go to Washington Square Park, where you’d see Joe Humeres freestyling, as well as Harry Jumonji. My first time of seeing someone throw down real next-level shit was Harry Jumonji, and I want to say that’s around 1984, ’85. He was ollieing over a Converse Chuck Taylor shoebox, on its end. It’s not big, it’s almost like a Jenga piece, but he stood it up vertically and he ollied over it on his Hosoi Hammerhead, which did not have the best tail for popping ollies, but he was ollieing a fuckin’ shoebox in 1984, 1985. It was completely mind-blowing.
My first time of seeing someone throw down real next-level shit was Harry Jumonji …He was ollieing over a Converse Chuck Taylor shoebox, on its end. It’s not big, it’s almost like a Jenga piece, but he stood it up vertically and he ollied over it on his Hosoi Hammerhead
So it was the beef with Ben that led me to want to venture out, at first to the Banks. That’s where the connections started being made with people in Staten Island, people in the Bronx, people in Queens. That’s how you ventured into those neighbourhoods, you got the pass from somebody. Mike Hernandez was my pass into the Bronx, Peter Huynh was my pass into Queens, these dudes Rob, Matt and Phillipe were my pass to go to Staten Island where we’d go skate the Jungle Ramp, this ramp that was built in a kind of wooded area of this golf course. It was a sheet-metal vert ramp, eight feet tall and super fast, and I think it was only twelve feet wide. That shit was amazing, sheet metal ramps are so fuckin’ fast and smooth and this one was super sketchy.
So your trips further out were the result of meeting people at your spots, rather than heading out on your own.
I wasn’t even the person that was doing that stuff, and I have to say—and I’m pretty sure I’m completely wrong about this—but it wasn’t until people were moving to the city from elsewhere that that started. They were the pioneers of those search-and-destroy missions.
Standing tall on a long Brooklyn 50-50. Photo: Giovanni Reda
People who don’t already have territorial allegiances.
Yeah. At the time I would just go with what my friends at the time would suggest. I don’t know if it was Puleo… He’s the dude that would just find the most obscure spots, these “Where the fuck is that thing?!” spots, meanwhile we’re just skating the same Midtown spots. I guess we definitely could have been exploring more, but we were still exploring Midtown! The spots that are staples in ‘90s skate footage are things that we would just find on our explorations in Midtown Manhattan. There was so much to explore there that you almost didn’t have to go out.
To be honest with you, Rodney Torres was telling me about Flushing for fifteen years before I went. Just being, “Why the fuck do we have to go to Flushing? Look at all the shit we’ve got here!”, and he’s just like, “Dude… Trust me”. So it was years later, and I’m like, “Hoooooly shit… Why wasn’t I skating here sooner?!” Hands-down one of the best spots in the world, and I’m like, “Nah, I’m good. I’ll skate the Banks. I don’t want to go that far on the 7 train”. Haha!
So with everybody now speaking to each other, and with new people arriving, there’s a much more stable scene and Shut Skates starts, who you end up skating for. Did you know those guys before they did the company?
No, I didn’t. I just knew them from seeing their crew at the Banks. They would pull up at the Brooklyn Banks contests and they were the best dudes there. It was kind of mind-blowing… We fuckin’ lived at the Banks from the late-‘80s into the early-‘90s, before we started venturing to Washington Square, Union Square and to Astor and stuff like that, but when those ESA contests started happening there was this whole other layer.
The superheroes would surface. Coco Santiago, Mike Kepper, Felix Arguelles, Dune with Bruno Musso and Rodney Smith running the whole thing… Even Mike V. would show up from time to time. It was like a whole other level of skateboarding, not that our level was below that, but it was incredible and very eye-opening to see that there was even more possible than what we had come to understand.
It was like a whole other level of skateboarding, not that our level was below that, but it was incredible and very eye-opening to see that there was even more possible than what we had come to understand
My ‘in’ to Shut was through Ben’s ramp in Brooklyn. It was one of the best ramps—one of the only ramps—in New York City for years, so people would make that trip to Brooklyn based on this folk-tale of a ramp. So the Shut crew used to come there. Jeremy Henderson used to come there by himself all the time, as well as Puppethead, the old vert skater from New York City. Jeremy would come hang out with us, and he would give me boards.
Was Alexey still around by then?
Alexey was still there, but I don’t know man… He wasn’t as into, or as focussed on, skateboarding. I mean we all drank and we all smoked weed, but he was also really focussed on graffiti. I dabbled with writing, but I was just skateboard, skateboard, skateboard. Smoke and drink in between, but my focus was just skateboarding. I think because I was so bad at graffiti, I didn’t care.
So Jeremy would come and he would give me boards from time to to time. Eli Gesner came to our ramp one time, and I don’t know if he would remember this, but he had a Natas mini with Thunder trucks and he just gave me it. To me it was a brand new board, it was way better than anything I’d had, ever. Just like, “Here you go! Have this!” And I’m just like, “Fuck yeah!” But my ‘in’ with Shut was when Jeremy started giving me boards.
There was a time we were skating the ledges down from the Brooklyn Banks, where Josh Kalis did that tweaked-out kickflip over the orange cone thing, and I was doing half-cab Japans over the little curb, and then I started doing fakie Japans over the curb… Late ‘80s, early ‘90s… Who didn’t love doing ollie grabs?! I remember Coco Santiago saying to Mike V., “Check this out, look at this shit!”, and being a bit like, “Huh? This is cool to Mike V. And Coco?! What the fuck is going on?” So that was a memorable moment of me looking up to these guys but at the same time they’re watching me and noticing stuff that I’m doing that they might not be doing.
So after that I started going over to visit the Shut factory/offices over on Mott Street, and I wasn’t on, but I remember asking Bruno about what I should do to get sponsored and stuff. I think I was 15 or 16 at the time, and Bruno said, “Tell ‘em you’re 14”. Haha! Basically, straight off the bat: start lying. It was amazing because I love Bruno and he’s such a stand-up dude, but I don’t think he remembers that.
Shifty ollie in Brooklyn. TWS Feb 1995. Photo: Dimitry Elyashkevich
You were a small kid anyway.
I was, so maybe that was why. Ha! So through Jeremy suggesting that I get on the team, I shortly afterwards got on Shut. But let me make it very clear, before Shut I skated for this company called Nimbus, which was a company out of New Jersey which was done by these guys Ian McCarthy and Charlie Butterly. They were hooking me up with boards. There was Shut, this company called Badicoli and Nimbus. At the time I thought I’d never get on Shut, since Bruno had told me to lie about my age to get sponsored. So Nimbus started giving me boards.
Was Mike V. involved with that company back then?
I don’t know if he was… I don’t think so. I was actually the first person on their team, so Mike V, would have already been pretty well known by that time. But Peter Bici, Ryan Hickey, Puleo, myself, Gio Estevez, Peter Huynh and many others skated for Nimbus.
Oh wow, right.
I was on for a brief moment, I maybe got ten boards from them before Jeremy started giving me Shut boards, then that was done. It was like, “Holy shit, I’ve made it. I’m part of the Shut crew”. Those were the boards that they’d cut with the jig-saw by hand, and finished with the drum sander at their space on Mott Street which, coincidentally, was the Beastie Boys’ practice space as well. The same building on Mott Street.
What went wrong with Shut back then? Was it down to making the wrong shaped boards, down to not keeping up?
I think that was a big part of it. When Schmitt, with Chris Miller, put out that first double-kick, Shut just didn’t want to get away from the spoon-nose. Or maybe they had too much invested in the mold that they were using. Some bad people took advantage of them being…
Yeah, they were naive about how ruthless some people can be in business. Their sales were not happening because they weren’t evolving with the industry, but then people started noticing Shut, and New York started to get noticed and all the other companies started coming and cherry-picking skateboarders. Mostly H-Street. Haha! They plucked apart the team. Sheffey went to Life, Billy Waldman went to World. Coco went to Real but that seemed like it was a more natural thing.
It seems like there was a bit of a dip in New York skateboarding between Shut and Zoo York, even store-wise. Was there anywhere to hang out and see new stuff?
Have you heard of Benji’s?
I don’t think I have. There’s Benji Boards but I don’t know of a store.
Benji Boards is from the UK, right? So there was Benji’s skate store, which evolved into Ultimate Journey. The closest projects to the Brooklyn Banks are probably a block and a half away, and there was a store that was run out of an apartment in the projects by this guy Benji. Hanging out in this project apartment was the closest to a skate shop. If you needed a kingpin, griptape or wheels, that was it, they were the source for the Brooklyn Banks.
Was that the only ‘industry’ there was until Zoo York in ’93 and then Supreme a year later?
No, there were shops… There was Blades, a sporting goods store that sold rollerblades, skateboards and snowboards.
But it didn’t have skateboarders working there? Or did it?
Blades did… There was also Pro Sports New York, PSNY, just across the street from the famous basketball courts by Washington Square Park on Sixth Avenue, and they had skateboards as well. Both shops actually did have a skate team, but they weren’t just about skateboarding, it was anything that was a fad and could make money.
I got into snowboarding because I skated for Pro Sports for years before Supreme opened. That evolved into me getting a snowboard and learning how to snowboard, and they would run bus trips so in the wintertime when I couldn’t skate I’d be on a fuckin’ bus coming up to where I’m at now, probably five times a week, to go snowboarding because it was fun and way easier than skateboarding! That was how I started to love this area.
Gunars Elmuts, the photographer, worked at the shop. I actually had a photo in Transworld Snowboarding, I had a two-page spread doing a handrail in Central Park, probably late ‘80s, early ‘90s. I was doing electrical renovations at the time, and after a job one time he was like, “Hey, your snowboard came! Meet me at some hotel on 57th Street when I get off work!” So he shows up with all his camera gear and all my snowboard gear, and my new snowboard. There was this rail in Central Park… Central Park was two blocks away but this was about thirty blocks into the park, and there was a fuckin’ snowstorm.
There was this rail, a flat bar, that Robbie Gangemi had done and I thought it must be rideable now, on a snowboard, because there’s so much snow. I’d never done a handrail on a snowboard in my life, so I learned on this brand new snowboard, and got a double page spread in Transworld Snow.
There was this rail, a flat bar, that Robbie Gangemi had done and I thought it must be rideable now, on a snowboard, because there’s so much snow. I’d never done a handrail on a snowboard in my life, so I learned on this brand new snowboard, and got a double page spread in Transworld Snow.
Central park snowboard experiment. Photo: GUNARS ELMUTS
And in the middle of New York City, not up some mountain… So this dude is running a shop out of his apartment near the Banks, and before anything else big happened in the City, you get on Underworld Element.
Yeah, I was on Underworld Element from the tail end of Shut when everything kinda went south. Andy Howell had been coming to the City and staying with Jeremy. In those days Jeremy Henderson’s house was the nucleus of New York skateboarding, so anybody that came to town would come through there. He was like the Godfather, he had this amazing loft in the Lower East Side, with all this space, and it was such a creative zone that it was insane. Painting, music, spliffs, beer, everything. You could paint, or carve wood, or do etchings; he was always encouraging everybody to explore their…
Dude, it was incredible. One day I woke up there and Mark Gonzales is there pouring a fuckin’ bowl of cereal. I’d never met him before, and him and Jason Lee are just… There. In the fuckin’ apartment. Rappers would come over there too.
I feel I should know this, but what was Jeremy Henderson doing in New York? What did he actually move there for?
I don’t know exactly, but he was friends with the original Stüssy crew. That was Alex Turnbull, Jules Gayton, Jeremy and a couple other guys. I believe Jules and Jeremy lived in the same loft, and Jules went on to be a DJ and designer, and stuff like that, and Jeremy just kept pursuing skateboarding which was why he was one of the main pros for Shut. But we were all selling weed, that’s pretty much how everyone was making money.
So Andy Howell came by one time.
Yeah, so Andy Howell was another person staying with Jeremy and I remember we just skated the entire time he was in town. I was definitely on Shut. One time we were sitting down on the curb at Astor, in front of the cube, and Andy—who was doing New Deal at the time—was like, “Yeah, I’m thinking of doing this other company, it’ll be more urban, more about hip-hop, more street and more gritty than New Deal”, and he said he was thinking that he wanted me involved.
I was skating for Shut at the time, and it wasn’t really working out, but I was an apprentice electrician at the time so I was making more money than I’d ever seen in my life, so it was just like, “I’m good, why would I move away from this?” but Andy told me he was going to send me a board anyway. He sent me a package, and it was a hand-drawn board—with the double kick, which I wasn’t very used to—and a plane ticket to Atlanta, for a flight leaving in three days. So then it was, “Well, OK, I guess I gotta tell my boss I’m going to Atlanta”. That’s how that happened. Shut was already done, and I was happy to still skate but not really pursue it, and instead focus on growing up and making money.
So then I went down to Atlanta and that’s where I met Julien Stranger, Rick Ibaseta, Chris Hall and Andy. Julien was my favourite skater at the time—and still is—thanks to Sick Boys, and when I got off the plane he was right there. Like, “Oh my fucking God, it’s Julien Stranger…” Rick was great too, he’s such a nice dude, but I was all Julien. You know when you skate and you try to picture whoever you’re trying to emulate when you’re trying a trick? Suddenly this person who had always been in my imagination was standing right in front of me. We became friends, and we went on tour, then we made this promo video that I don’t know what happened to. I think there are some copies floating around, but I’m not sure…
You know when you skate and you try to picture whoever you’re trying to emulate when you’re trying a trick? Suddenly this person who had always been in my imagination was standing right in front of me
But we filmed that promo video in a couple of weeks and while we were on that tour I remember sitting in this restaurant in New Orleans, and Julien telling me about a contest in San Francisco he wanted me to check out. I had no idea how I’d get there, but Andy said he’d fly me out, so that was it, I flew out to California with Julien, to San Francisco, and stayed with him for about a month before the Golden Gate contest happened inside the park. I think there’s a photo of Mike Carroll doing a noseblunt slide on this office table, definitely before his Skater of the Year.
Washington Square Park backside flip. Thrasher February 1993. Photo: Chris Ortiz
I think that was 1992, Mike was SOTY in ’95.
Yeah. So that was it. I skated that contest and so then I was on Underworld Element, and if we weren’t travelling I’d be staying with Julien. Julien lived with Mic-E Reyes, Luke Ogden, Tobin Yelland and this girl Claire in this garage/warehouse in the Mission in San Francisco. It was an amazing experience, and I had my first experience of going to EMB, with Julien. He was not the EMB dude, but my understanding of San Francisco at the time was that if you went there, you went to EMB, and knowing him now, I understand that this was a really big favour he did for me because he actually came with me to EMB, which just wasn’t his thing. So I pull up at EMB with Julien, and Kelch was there, Wing Ding was there, Henry Sanchez might have been there… I was just thinking, “Holy shit, I’m here”, and I didn’t realise those dudes held it down the way they did.
Kelch being the Mayor.
The Mayor of Embarcadero. But I didn’t know, I didn’t know anybody, so I just got on the bricks and started skating the ledges, then this dude comes up, all like, “You’re Pang? I’m Kelch, nice to meet you”. That was a bigger deal than I realised, that was me getting a pass from Kelch, and him even knowing who I was, but pulling up to EMB in San Fransisco with Julien definitely made that difference.
During that month I stayed with Julien it was all about skating EMB with Rick, and going out partying with Mic-E Reyes. And this is when he was a cop.
Go on then.
I slept on this foam mattress on Julien’s floor. His mattress was on the floor too, but there was this other thing that looked like a cushion from a couch that had been thrown out, and I slept on that for a month. Best fuckin’ time ever. Sharing a room with your idol, while eating avocado and Monterey Jack quesadillas, drinking beer and skating all the time… I remember one morning, Mic-E came in at like 10am, after I’d been out with him at this party down the street until about 3am, and he goes, “Pang! Wake up! Let’s go!” And it’s 10am on a Sunday so I’m asking “Where, where to?
It’s ten o’clock in the morning!”, and he’s just telling me to come on. So we get in his truck and drive to somewhere on Valencia, and this is when you could park your car in the middle of the street in the Mission. I think it’s because it was a Sunday, and that’s what they do for church.
So we park, and we go into this gay club, where dudes were fucking hammered, and it was the best thing ever. Mic-E was playing pinball with this woman who must have been in her 60s, and she had super short cut Daisy Dukes, cowboy hat and this leopard print Spandex top…
Dude, like a straight-up grandmother. Next thing you know he’s just tonguing her down, at the pinball machine. I’m just like, “Look at my life right now…” but ended up going back to Julien’s and then going skating for the rest of the day. But that was just Mic-E’s level of insanity.
That’s a Mic-E Reyes Sunday morning.
That’s it! And then, a couple days later, we’re hanging out at Julien’s after skating, and there are girls hanging out. And we took some hallucinogenics… So we’re hanging out, drinking whiskey and Mic-E is in his room with his girlfriend. And then we hear this fuckin’ shotgun blast go off, and he’s shooting off a fuckin’ shotgun in his bedroom with his girlfriend there. We’re like, “What the fuck is going on?!”, and then his bedroom door opens.
This shit is like it’s out of a fuckin’ movie… The bedroom door opens and there’s a single lightbulb in the room, swinging from the cord, and the smoke from the shotgun is in the background behind a silhouette of Mic-E Reyes stark naked. The only thing he’s wearing is a black condom on his dick. So he walks out slowly, and we have no idea what the fuck is going on.
The bedroom door opens and there’s a single lightbulb in the room, swinging from the cord, and the smoke from the shotgun is in the background behind a silhouette of Mic-E Reyes stark naked
There’s a girl sitting on a La-Z-Boy recliner with a fifth of whiskey in her hand, and he fuckin’ grabs the bottle out her hand, slaps her face, chugs the whiskey then grabs her from behind her neck, tongues her down and throws her back into the La-Z-Boy. Then he turns around and walks back to his girlfriend in his room. And I thought, “I need to get the fuck out of here!” Haha! That was it. I’d never thought that before but that was it. I love Mic-E though, he’s such a good family guy now. We’ve all really settled down.
But one of the girls that was hanging out was from Santa Barbara, and she’s all, “Come with me to Santa Barbara!” And it was just, “Uh… OK! Cool!” and the next morning I met her in the parking lot of a Safeway—not the Safeway curbs Safeway, another Safeway in the Mission…
Not the Danny Sargent Safeway.
Yeah, not that one. Not the Danny Sargent curbs! So I get in the Subaru and I was like the sixth person in the car. Then next thing, I’ve got no fuckin’ money, I’m in some stranger’s house in Santa Barbara and I’m wondering how the fuck I’m going to get out of there. So I call Steve Douglas, basically saying, “I know you got my plane ticket out here, but now I’m in Santa Barbara and I’ve got no money and I don’t know what I’m going to do”, and he says, “Well, you skated that contest in San Francisco. That was a pro contest, so you’re pro now. I’ll send you a cheque”. So that was my first cheque for skateboarding, I never knew about it or expected it. So thanks to Steve Douglas, I got out of Santa Barbara.
Back Smith nearly 3000 miles away from Santa Barbara. Photo: Giovanni Reda
“I’ll send you a cheque! What’s the address?” “Umm…”
Yeah! The girl was standing next to me and I’m like, “What’s your address?!” And then with that money I was able to make my way down to LA. Julien’s mom was in San Francisco and his dad was in Venice Beach, so that’s how he would be going back and forth. So I got my cheque and met Julien in Venice. During that time my sister had been living in LA, working for Fed-Ex, and she’d moved back to Brooklyn but her car was still in LA.
I didn’t know how I was going to get home, and she had a car there that she wanted to get back… It was somewhere in the Valley, my mom’s friend had it on her driveway. There was a bassist Jeremy had introduced us to, The Rat, who lived in LA, and he had a friend who was one of the illustrators on Ren & Stimpy so I stayed with him, then he drove me to the Valley to pick up the car. He drove me out to the car, and I’d had one driving lesson, and I had to figure out how to drive a manual car. One time when I was staying with him we went to this bar, King King, and Steve Olson was working the door…
Original Steve Olson?
Yeah, the original Steve Olson, not Shorty’s Steve Olson. Anyway, I drive to Venice to go pick Julien up, and I met Rick down there, so we drive to Giant Distribution to pick up a bunch of boards and we kinda co-ordinate it with Giant and Underworld Element that we’ll do a sort of a tour, since we’re driving across the country anyway. So we got in the car and drove to Arizona, where we stayed with Randy Colvin for about a week, and then we’re like, “Alright Randy, get in the car!”, and then all four of us drove across the country doing demos and stuff like that, and got into a bunch of trouble along the way. Dude, it was insane. It was fuckin’ nuts. None of us had driving licences.
Was that what the ad with the mugshots came from then?
No, the ad with the mugshots was actually the first time we all got together. We shot that in Andy’s condo in Buckhead, Atlanta, the first time we all hung out.
So you’re on this DIY tour.
We’re on this DIY tour. I don’t even know how long it took us to get across the country, maybe a month or two, but we wound up in Chicago. I don’t know if we’d co-ordinated this, but we wound up in Chicago right when there was a Mark Gonzales art show in town. I’d known Gonz from him being at Jeremy’s house and stuff like that. I’d also heard that Jesse Neuhaus had a place where we could sleep on his roof, so we went to this Chicago apartment, this famous loft, and nobody’s answering the door. We didn’t really know what to do, and Gonz goes, “You guys are on your way to New York? Fuck it, let’s just go, let’s drive right now”, so we’re like, “Really? Yeah alright, fuck it”.
It was about two in the morning, and Gonz joins the Randy Colvin, Julien Stranger, Rick Ibaseta caravan to drive to New York. Gonz chain-smoked cigars and drove the entire way from Chicago to New York, and we almost got pulled over right when we went over the border into New York. We were speeding, but following another car, and the patrol car appeared and almost hit us because he was chasing the car in front of us.
It was like the Dukes of Hazzard, these old fuckin’ police cars. So it almost hit us, and Gonz didn’t have a driving licence either, so with the cop car behind, Mark starts pulling over, but the guy blasts past us to go for the lead car, the car they first saw speeding, so we made it home safely. When we got home I learned that my sister also wasn’t paying her insurance on the car, and that unfortunately there were a couple of warrants out for people’s arrest too.
You say you got home, but New York wasn’t home to those guys. What did they do?
They stayed with me in Brooklyn. I believe Gonz stayed with Jeremy, and everyone else stayed with my mom and family in Brooklyn, but my mom and sisters were never home, they were all busy doing shit so there was a lot of time when the house was empty so it was the perfect place for people to safely rest their heads.
Was it around this time you started filming for Skypager?
Yes. A lot of the stuff in Skypager was shot during our first get-together, and on some tours. One of which was down in Florida, and why anybody would go on a fuckin’ skate tour to Florida in the summertime is beyond me. I think we’re all a little smarter than that now. I remember meeting Andrew Reynolds when he was just a little kid, several years before he got on Birdhouse…
But the Skypager stuff was fragmented between stuff that Chris Ortiz had come to New York shoot and film, and us taking trips down to Washington DC, which is how I first met Pepe Martinez. Ortiz came to New York and we took a road trip down to DC to meet up with Pepe.
Julien owned his own camera, so he had a camera with him pretty often. A lot of Andy’s Skypager part, mostly the footage that’s in Atlanta, I filmed with Andy’s camera, and I filmed the stuff of Julien at those wall banks, those quarterpipes, from inside the car. There was no set videographer, it was more just, “Alright, you skate and I’ll film, then I’ll skate and you film”.
A lot of Andy’s Skypager part, mostly the footage that’s in Atlanta, I filmed with Andy’s camera, and I filmed the stuff of Julien at those wall banks, those quarterpipes, from inside the car
What’s going on at the start of your part? Who’s paging, who’s all there and what’s so funny?
I don’t know why it’s so funny. I think I might have been paging myself, maybe that’s why it was funny. And also, just filming a skit that’s staged. Dude, there’s so much shit around that. That apartment was actually pretty significant because we had an apartment in Midtown, on 44th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenue right over Jimmy’s Corner which was this famous dive bar… Actually, Jimmy the owner was a famous boxer and he just passed away within the last couple of weeks…
But there was an apartment building above it and we were staying there with Peter Huynh’s girlfriend because there was a bunch of shit that happened in the Lower East Side by Jeremy’s place, where there was a murder and a robbery and there were cops everywhere. The selling drugs thing got really bad for a while, but we’d moved up into Midtown, just for a little bit, which is where we shot that scene.
One of the dudes there is Kevin Kessler, who was in the Rollin’ With The Z-Boys video, who passed away around two years ago. Then there’s Pooky from Supreme—one of the first employees at Supreme—and then Peter Huynh, and Maya Labatt the BMXer. I think it was funny because I had two beepers, and the DEA jacket.
The New Deal ‘DEAL’ coach jacket.
Yeah, and I’d peeled the ‘L’ off. One time we went to the Pot Fest in Washington Square Park, and I’m there smoking weed wearing this DEA jacket, and people were freaking out. Haha!
What was it like going from having a pro board on a pretty big company with all the distribution, to going to your friends’ brand new company?
It didn’t feel bad at all. In my world, pre-internet and not really understanding levels of success or how much these brands are making, Zoo York was just as significant, and it was even better because instead of me going to San Francisco or me going to Atlanta, I could just be with everybody at home and not have to travel. Those guys had offered me a deal before anything even happened. I remember going to dinner with Eli, Rodney and Adam Schatz, and they made a really good offer that was way better than anything I was getting from Element. They really stepped it up and it was an honour.
It’s hard to calculate what someone’s value is to a brand without directly monetising it, so them saying they were going to invest in me, with no history behind it, was a big deal. Yeah, we sold a lot of Element boards, but that stuff was never really transparent. You’d get royalties but they’d always say you weren’t selling boards outside of your minimum, so it’s not like you’d ever get a big royalty cheque. It was like, you get royalties, but when you exceed your minimum you’ll get extra money, and that never happened. You never exceeded your minimum.
Zoo York was still a small business, but it felt great, man. It was like going home. Those guys took really good care of me, and to be honest, Eli is like a brother to me. He’s one of my best friends and mentors, and we’ve done so much shit together. Life is a beautiful thing if you have those types of relationships.
I mean, it’s possible that Underworld Element were just raising what the minimum was.
I don’t know, I don’t know the math behind it, but I will be transparent about how that relationship with Underworld Element ended. Andy had sent a video camera, a TR101, to film for the second Element video, and we’d filmed a shit ton of stuff. I had a lot of stuff filmed for that video, and I didn’t even fuckin’ think of keeping the tapes separate from the camera bag. Harold wanted to borrow the bag, to film himself too, so I handed it over to him and that shit got stolen with all our footage.
I had a lot of stuff filmed for that video, and I didn’t even fuckin’ think of keeping the tapes separate from the camera bag. Harold wanted to borrow the bag, to film himself too, so I handed it over to him and that shit got stolen with all our footage
It was stolen just off Bleecker. He left the camera bag on the sidewalk and someone pulled up in a car and just grabbed the bag and took off. And there went our video parts. So without any video parts, Underworld Element decided they had to sever ties, which was actually a blessing in disguise anyway. Andy and I had some bad blood for a bit because of it, although I’ve since grown and realised that holding grudges doesn’t benefit anybody.
Fakie Heelflip at the banks. Zoo Ad. Thrasher August 1994. Photo: Dimitry Elyashkevich
You’re one of the first people anybody would associate with Zoo, but you didn’t have boards on Zoo for long, did you?
That’s a very good point, I was on for a bit then came back. Zoo did take good care of me, and then they just stopped paying the team. Mike Hernandez, Ricky Oyola, Ryan Hickey… Nobody was getting money. So that’s when people started kinda floating away. Ryan going to Stereo, Ricky doing his thing, and then I partnered back up with Rick Ibaseta. I’d decided to move to San Francisco, although I don’t know if I was actually living there yet, but it was the time of the first FTC video premiere, when they’d just moved from the Tenderloin into Shrader Street, before they moved to Haight.
Obviously I was hanging out with Rick all the time, and he introduced me to this dude who told me he was going to start a company with the dude who did Pure Wheels, which Koston was on. And that’s how Cream began. Rick, myself, Peter Huynh doing all the creative side of it, and Joey Alvarez. So it was more of an East Coast thing, but Rick was the part that kind of linked it to California. Rick also had lineage with Shut, he’d been on the Shut team as well, before New Deal, and I think he was the only Californian skater on the team. Once Cream ended I did skate for Zoo again and over time it evolved into me doing team management, marketing, and some development with them until around 2005.
You’ve never really been inclined to pursue own company, have you? I know there was UXA with Peter Huynh…
That was in ’99, and I feel like it was a continuation of the direction of Cream because Peter was the creative director of it all. That was Peter Bici, myself and Peter Huynh. We did do our own thing, but it was never a money maker for us, it was more of a passion project, a hobby. Sometimes it was sustainable and sometimes we’d need to fund it out of our own pockets to keep it going. But man, it was cool.
People have tattoos of that brand! It was flattering to know that people were really supporting us. I was working for Zoo as TM when we were doing UXA, so I was a bit of a silent partner and couldn’t really be at the forefront of it. People knew it was me but I couldn’t really be all, “Yo! It’s me!”, because I didn’t want to step on Zoo’s toes at the time.
It’s corny when somebody tries to sell themselves via a brand anyway. Make the brand good, and back it hard, but don’t use it as an outlet to sell your ego.
Yeah. It’s interesting when people name their companies after their own name. Ha!
Talking of working for Zoo after you skated for them, Seth Curtis mentioned a story about Reda at Heathrow… Let’s hear that.
Hahaha! I like to think I have a pretty lucid memory, but those Euro trips as team manager are all pretty foggy. Except for this Reda story. We had a few hours layover before a connection to Germany or somewhere like that. Because of the distributors, we’d visit Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK. It was Todd Jordan, Anthony Correa, myself, Danny Supa and RB Umali, just hanging out at a bar in the airport with hours to kill. You know if you have a domestic flight you’ll show up around an hour early, if it’s international you give yourself two hours?
Reda’s the type of person that’ll get there four, five, six hours early. I’m not sure if the flight was delayed or what, but Reda wasn’t with us, and we thought we’d just go to the bar. This bar was on the second level, overlooking the terminal, so we could see all the people walking back and forth between gates and stuff like that. We were there for a long time, and we see Reda, just pacing around. We kinda wondered what he was doing, and every time we saw him, his level of frustration was higher, he was getting more and more pissed off.
He had no idea where we were but we had a bird’s eye view of him. So when he finally finds us, we’re all just sitting there with smiles on our faces because we could see him just about to boil over. And he’s all, ‘What the fuck?! What the fuck are you guys doing?! I’ve been walking around this fuckin’ airport for hours looking for you guys!” And we’re just, “What, dude? We’ve just been sitting here the whole time”. Everybody thought Reda had just been chilling, just wandering, but then he takes his camera bag and just fuckin’ winds it up and slams it into the ground. And it was a fuckin’ Hasselblad. Not a digital one, thankfully, but his medium-format camera shit the bed on that one.
Lofty Backside Lipslide. Photo: Giovanni Reda
Ha! Wow. Alright, going back a bit… Zoo York started in 1993, but then within two years Kids was out, a shop called Supreme had opened, the first Wu-Tang album was out and then Mayor Giuliani gets in and starts switching everything off. Can you even describe how much things changed in such a short period?
That’s crazy… Well, during the time of Kids, when they were filming, I was living on the Upper West Side right next to the Museum of Natural History with Peter Huynh. Then he moved out, but my other room mate was able to cover the rent with me, which I think was $800 at the time, because he was Justin Pierce and they were filming the movie Kids.
Justin was such a fucking amazing person. There was just nothing fake about him, he’s never gonna act like he’s something else other than himself. He’s very similar to Harold. During the filming of Kids he got arrested for some argument he had with his girlfriend, so he couldn’t film, then there was another time when we got arrested together because we were smoking weed in the park… 40s in paper bags were always acceptable, smoking weed was always acceptable, then Giuliani came in and suddenly it was no beer in the bag, and if you’re smoking weed you’re coming in and you’re getting a summons. That was the thing that was really noticeable.
There was this cop that was always harassing the skateboarders in Washington Square Park. Once the Giuliani thing kicked in, it meant he had the green light to arrest people. He used to always harass us, but now he’s the guy who can send us to jail.
As far as seeing a change to society, we weren’t really seeing anything outside of our skateboard lens. Whatever you weren’t supposed to do, we could still do it at the Banks or we could still do it at Astor, where cops don’t really fuck with you and you can see them coming. If they’re on the way we can just hide our shit. The script for Kids was based on exactly how we lived our lives, then it’s sensationalised with this dude who has HIV and wants to have sex with virgins.
The answer to the question, “Is Kids realistic?” has always been, “Yes, just without the AIDS”.
Leo was around, he was definitely on the scene, but he was this awkward kid from New Jersey who wasn’t part of the ‘borough people’ group, the people from the five boroughs. There wasn’t exactly a territorial struggle, but the dudes from the five boroughs were all really bonded, cemented together, then there were people from Jersey who were in it, like the Cardonas were just locked-in. Jamie Story, Rich Arbitelle, there were other people locked-in too, but there were other people who just didn’t get into the orbit of the borough guys, and Leo was so young that he hadn’t had that opportunity yet.
Like me going to EMB and being accepted by Kelch, it’s almost like this thing where you have to be accepted by the people around. It wasn’t like it was a locals thing, but if shit was going down then you would see where the lines were drawn. If there’s a fight happening, these dudes are going to stand up for this guy, but if someone jumps that dude, nobody’s gonna do shit.
And it’s a strange new situation for you all to be in.
Yep. Leo was one of the people who weren’t part of the everyday hang out. Javier Nunez, as a little kid, was fuckin’ hangin’ tough. This little kid from Jersey who would come to the Banks by himself at fuckin’ nine years old was instantly part of us. As soon as he showed up he was part of the crew.
Chloe was already hanging out, she’d been hanging out in Washington Square Park and was a super-good friend for a while before the movie even started, and Harmony had been hanging out for years as well. Then Larry shows up all, “I’m gonna make a movie!” and Harmony’s like, “I’m gonna make a Salt n’ Pepa music video!” I’d never even seen Harmony with a camera, let alone know that he was a director or filmmaker or anything. Then that whole thing happened.
Did you really have a body double for the kiss scene in the movie, or was that just said so you didn’t annoy a girlfriend at the time..?
I didn’t have a body double. What magazine was that published in? Haha!
You and your friends were kinda part of why New York got so fashionable then, and is as fashionable as it is now. What do you think of new New York?
Oh boy. Well, you can see what’s happening with the campaign to save the Banks, and to me that’s what skateboarding is in New York City. It’s things like that, it’s not the Lower East Side park or any of those parks, and it’s not necessarily about being born and bred New York. Hmm… Who exemplifies the New York skateboarder… I mean, Tyshawn is from here and his skills are above and beyond anybody on the planet, he’s just super-human. That type of skateboarding makes me proud to see what’s coming out of New York. As far as how big skateboarding has gotten in New York, it’s a great thing.
Nocturnal Nollie Nosegrind in 1995. Photo: Dimitry Elyashkevich
How much do you think the City has become something that brands feel the need to be associated with? Either by basing themselves there, having dudes live there, filming parts there or whatever?
It’s about time everyone fuckin’ woke up. Everyone, in the entire world no matter what the industry is, has to be here, so it was only a matter of time. As far as the industry and brand relevance goes, some of the most successful and influential brands are from here. It’s a shame that Shut isn’t as successful as it should be, being the first skateboard company from New York City, and that Zoo York has become, well, what it is known for now versus what it was in the ‘90s. It’s your messaging and brand management that’s going to determine whether or not people are going to be loyal and feel that you’re sticking to your roots and being authentic. And that’s a very difficult thing to manage nowadays.
What’s ‘the Block that Giuliani Forgot’…
That’s a funny one. The original Zoo York offices were at 425 West 13th Street above a meat processing business called ‘Dave’s Quality Veal’, which Dave Ortiz adopted for the name of his Boutique ‘Dave’s Quality Meat’.. On many occasions, we were hanging out on the block drinking forties of Old English, and the neighbourhood was only hookers, drug addicts, drug dealers, gay night clubs, and skaters. It was years into the Giuliani Administration and everyone was getting locked up and the gritty soul of the city was being pressure washed away.
the neighbourhood was only hookers, drug addicts, drug dealers, gay night clubs, and skaters. It was years into the Giuliani Administration and everyone was getting locked up and the gritty soul of the city was being pressure washed away
The first business that infiltrated the block was a restaurant called Freson which was right downstairs, and people that would never come to the block where all of a sudden being bussed in with their fancy noses in the air. I guess it was frustrating at the time, feeling like our last little holdout of the city was getting taken over.
One Old English night after seeing the people get off the bus I started chanting, “The block, the block, the block Giuliani forgot!”, which was a futile attempt at trying to preserve our Rebel Fortress. After that, we all referred to West 13th Street as the block Giuliani forgot, but the development continued and the Meatpacking District is now a neighbourhood I rarely find myself.
Where do you think skateboard has got to go? I mean a photo from today could have conceivably been shot five years ago, but in, say, 1992, a photo from six months ago looked dated.
I feel that the direction that skateboarding has been going is kind of consistent with the evolution of athleticism in general. Not saying that skateboarders are athletes, but they are super-human, and as knowledge and information is exchanged, it’s just evolution. Things progress, and that’s the nature of people. Once you see something, you want to emulate it and take it up another notch, and then when there are more people in that cluster the growth starts happening faster and faster and you get to where we are today.
Where tre flips are a beginner trick.
That’s mind-blowing but I’d rather watch Gino push down the street than see someone skate a fuckin’ mega ramp.
Likewise, of course, but there’s a lot of that stuff coming in to skateboarding now. The biggest airs and disgusting multiple-flip tricks with no style. People like us still care about the style, the important side of it, but are we in danger of getting nudged out by this bullshit?
I think it’s our duty to let people know what’s right and wrong. I do have a lot of faith in the younger people that I’ve spent time with. They have a good palate. Watching some of the young guys I’m around do a kickflip or a tre flip… It’s a thing of beauty. I don’t care if you’re doing it down a ten stair or if you’re doing it on flat, it’s just the way it looks, and that’s it. It’s not that flip-in, flip-out stuff, that shit’s garbage. I’m not saying skateboarding’s only about style…
It’s a massive part of it.
It’s the reason why I wanted to be a skateboarder. It’s because I saw Harry Jumonji ollie over a Chuck Taylor box on a Hosoi Hammerhead, looking like Hosoi. I didn’t know who Hosoi was but that’s who I think Harry Jumonji was emulating.
The Twin Towers provide the background for some street furniture levitation inspired by Harry Jumonji. Photo: Dimitry Elyashkevich
What have your favourite shoes been, through the years? Shoes you bought and paid for.
Gosh. The first significant pair was Chuck Taylors. I actually bought the leather ones, which was a bad decision because they didn’t last any longer than canvas. That was because of Christian Hosoi. The there was an Ellesse shoe that Thiebaud wore, and I must have had five pairs straight of those. The shoe would last maybe three weeks tops, but the sole was so grippy. That was a memorable shoe for me because I skated them for about a year straight.
Then there was the adidas Instinct high-top in red, gold and white, which I have a brand new pair of still, on ice. Then there was the blue, silver and white. The shoe looks like a fuckin’ space boot but it’s still a beautiful thing. It has that weird rubber patch thing too. There was the Nike Court Force, which was kind of like a Dunk-ish thing with a weird collar… That was one shoe that I skated multiple pairs of. Oh, there was a Vision Street Wear shoe with the shelltoe and the ollie patch…
And a lace saver?
I don’t think this one had the lace saver, I think it was just regular laces, but the only reason I skated that shoe was because one of the first times Gonz came to New York, he was skating those shoes. A green suede pair of those shoes. At one point he went, “Oh! I need new shoes!” and went to Modell’s and bought some random pair of shoes that I can’t remember, but then he took off his Vision Street Wear shoes and threw them in the trash.
They were barely used and I’m the same size shoe as Gonz, so I skated his shoes until they disintegrated off my feet, then after that I cut a shoelace off and wore it as a bracelet for probably about five or six years so that I would have Mark Gonzales’ energy with me all the fuckin’ time. Haha! The DC Lynx was one that I definitely enjoyed skating. I wasn’t getting shoes from DC at the time, and if I had a connection I probably could have, but Supreme carried DC so I got them from there. That was definitely a memorable shoe. Dunks are so comfortable too, but that was way after my time of being a pro skateboarder. I was Team Manager and Marketing at Zoo York when the Danny Supa Dunk came out, which birthed ‘sneakerhead’ culture.
I’ll say some names, and can you tell me about the person? Starting with Geo Moya.
Man… Geo skated for Infamous and worked at Supreme. Super cool, suave-ass dude. Nollie heel master. Nollie heel noseslide master. I don’t know why he didn’t do more in skateboarding but he definitely had the ability to do as much as any of us from New York City but I think he just found a different path. Now he’s a family guy with a couple of kids, owns a house in Queens and is an amazing person. I still communicate with him pretty often.
Oh my gosh. Dude. He’s my Animal Chin. I wish I was still in touch with him. I do hit up Jagger to find out where he is… Nicest, most stylish skater ever. That dude is loved by New York City. During the Underworld Element days when he came and stayed with us… It was incredible. The skaters loved him, the crew of girls that hung out with us loved him… I really wish I could know where my long-lost brother Curtis is.
I think about him all the time. If that could come out of this, if I could be back in touch with him… Man. I have bothered Jagger and I know Curtis has his own thing going on and has made that decision to not be involved in the whole social-internet forum but he is definitely someone who I miss dearly and have the utmost respect for.
Nicest, most stylish skater ever. That dude is loved by New York City. During the Underworld Element days when he came and stayed with us… It was incredible. The skaters loved him, the crew of girls that hung out with us loved him… I really wish I could know where my long-lost brother Curtis is
Ian Reid! Wow. Great question. Benji’s skate shop, their first store front, was across from the projects. I think it’s still called the Verizon building, where those pyramid wallie things are, and these brick wall ride things. I remember Ian going there as a kid, pre-‘90s, and then seeing him years later and he hadn’t aged at all. He was probably in his late 30s and still skating like he was a teenager. The dude has found the fountain of youth, and he’s now a very successful photographer who dabbles in some more exotic things as well… That dude is a fuckin’ Brooklyn original. From Fort Greene. He’s amazing.
And he made one of the best skateboard videos ever.
Yes! For sure. That video is the perfect example of the attention deficit of a skateboarder.
Oh man, Mike Hernandez. That’s my brother. One of my closest friends, if not my very best friend. Mike Hernandez and I first met down at the Banks, and he was singing James Brown lyrics. I was like, “Yo, that’s James Brown!” and right there we clicked, and we’ve been dear friends ever since.
The epitome of a real NYC kid tough-as-nails that happened to ride a skateboard. Could have done a lot if he stuck to it, but he went in a different direction. Raw power, and style. No question, one of the realest to ever do it.
Did you ever meet Guru?
I had the pleasure of meeting him after Ecko acquired Zoo York and the office had moved to the Garment District. Not sure why he came through, but people were always rolling through the offices even back on West 13th Street.
wildlife dispersing second round 50-50. Photo: Dimitry Elyashkevich
I also want to ask about the 50-50 in Big Brother, with all the pigeons. Dimitry shot it but is that just one photograph? Is that at Astor?
That’s at Zuccotti Park, right under the World Trade Centre. That’s where they were having the Occupy Wall Street protests, and in Eastern Exposure 3, Quim tried to do the lower rail and he kinda ollied up and ran down it.
Ah, no way! Yeah.
Yeah. It’s across the street and down the block from that big orange cube thing that Zered dropped in on, into this fullpipe sort of thing, then launched out. So, I don’t know why no-one did this rail. That was shot originally by Gunars, so he’s got an angle from the side. I understand the Photographer Code, where you don’t shoot the same thing twice with two different photographers, but Dimitry shot it from straight on. It wasn’t at the same time, it was two different sessions. The first time I did it, the Gunars shot, was at night and it was raining, then I shot it with Dimitry where the pigeons are flying all over the place.
Was that first go, or did the pigeons just keep coming back?
There was food there! So the pigeons kept coming back.
The other angle. Zuccotti Park 50-50 in the rain. Photo: Gunars Elmuts
You mentioned the campaign to save the Brooklyn Banks… Is it going to work?
Well, I can’t say if it’s going to work or not. It’s fucked that the City has had the banks closed for ten years—skaters have had recent access to the big banks—but now with all this shit that’s happening with COVID, from what I hear they’re looking to open retail in the Anchorage spaces. It’s mind-blowing that with all these retailers that are closing down that the City is looking to attempt to make money by opening new retail space when retail is closing. Why not preserve something that has so much history?!
No offence to the Save Tompkins campaign, which is a great thing, but there’s no fuckin’ comparison to the significance of the Brooklyn Banks in the skateboard world versus Tompkins Square Park, even though the Shut contest happened in ’88 or whenever it was. When Danny Sargent and Brian Lotti came to New York City to skate a local contest that Skate NYC put on with Shut. That’s the early history of Tompkins Square. These kids weren’t born then. Congratulations and hats off to them, it’s good to see that they’re holding it down, but the banks is—and will always be—the real home of New York skateboarding for me. That’s what East Coast skating is about; those grimy, rugged unintended skate structures. It was built for some other reason, but they somehow designed a perfect fuckin’ skatepark.
1993 encapsulated. Jeff finesses one over the wall at the banks Photo: Chris Ortiz
That’s what East Coast skating is about; those grimy, rugged unintended skate structures. It was built for some other reason, but they somehow designed a perfect fuckin’ skatepark
It worked for Southbank. Those dudes managed to save it, then even get the closed-off bit open again.
Yeah. I’ve been up here for two months now, and to see the images of the bricks gone… Jeremy Elkin, who’s doing this documentary on ‘90s skateboarding, All The Streets Are Silent, which Eli apparently talked for seventeen days for, posted the pictures of the Banks now and for the whole rest of that day I was in a bad mood. I was choked up, trying to explain to my wife… Just the memories, the significance to me…
You’d be a different person if those wavy bricks hadn’t been made like that, all those years back.
Oh yeah. I would not be the person I am without those bricks, and it’s a shame to think that people aren’t going to be able to experience that. I’m sure if they open up a fuckin’ Starbucks, a Jamba Juice, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, then those are going to be successful, but maybe they could be successful somewhere else.
Many thanks to Jeff for taking the time out for this one and thanks to Dimitry Elyashkevich, Gunars Elmuts and Giovanni Reda for sending photos. If this dive into New York skateboarding history has you poised for more then read Neil Macdonald’s last interview with Eli Morgan Gesner.