Its been a few months since the issue dropped so Michael Brooke at Concrete Wave gave me the go ahead to finally drop the full article on our blog. This story was written by Mike Dallas and Rob Perry for the Spring 2010 Issue of Concrete Wave Magazine and is an in depth look at the New York City longboarding scene and the growth of Push Culture. I could tell you more, but I think those guys are much better writers than me so I’ll let them do the talking. After your finished, take a look at some screenshots of the actual article posted at the end of this blog post. Enjoy!
It’s 6:00 Tuesday night. Down the stairs, out the door and onto your board. Push into the street, then quickly change lanes, and now you’re traffic surfing. Crisp April air stings your lungs, blood is pumping…a tourist slams on his brakes! Sharp carve – left! Right! He’s still shaken but you’re long gone. He’s not used to the brazen confidence of a New York pusher, but you see this every day. Slalom past him and push harder; gain speed. Jump the curb onto the bridge and push up the hill…push, push. Climb higher and watch the Manhattan skyline open up before you. Push, push, push…
New York longboarding is all about the push. To skate these streets you have no choice. The hills are often small and hard to find; if you want to skate New York you’re going to have to push – it’s as simple as that. It can be intimidating. It can be dangerous. But most of all it’s exhilarating. And as the sport grows, an increasing number of the city’s brave souls are taking on the challenge, creating in the process a distinctive style of longboarding that reflects the gritty tradition and adventurous spirit of the country’s biggest urban playground. Welcome to Push Culture.
Yeah, it’s a big city, and you can find a spot for every type of skating – there are popular hills, like Watchtower in Brooklyn and Snake Hill and the Cloisters way uptown, and enough rails, stairs and skateparks to make your city jealous – but what has emerged as the most common longboarding style is also the most logical: push. Pushing here isn’t a chore, it’s a lifestyle: part adventure commuting and part transportation revolution, like an adrenaline shot to your daily routine.
Imagine you want to get to work or to school or to the Lower East Side to see your friends band. When it comes to transportation in New York, you have endless options: You could jump on the subway (preferred if you’re filming a documentary on the breeding habits of giant rats); you could jump on a bus (which you refuse to do since that bus snapped your board in two last spring); you could jump in a cab (ideal if you’re rolling in cash and bought your longboard as an collector’s item); or you could jump onto your board and tear off for an exhilarating ride through the miles of obstacle-filled streets that make up the city’s grid.
“The understanding of longboarding as a viable means of transportation is still forging its way into different age groups, and that for me is exciting,” says Adam Dabonka, organizer of the annual Jersey Jumpoff downhill race. “Not everyone with a [longboard] has to feel that pressure to do tricks and be flashy…why not just cruise and enjoy the ride?”
It is precisely this inclusive attitude that is forging a new era of skating in New York. Gone is the intimidating and exclusive culture often associated with skateboarding, especially in the city, and in its place is a sense of community and a desire to spread the stoke to new riders. This breed of riders – like many New Yorkers – comes from all over the country and the world. But their style is all New York, and they live to ride.
What could make you feel more alive than pushing and slaloming the streets of Manhattan, through an interactive and unpredictable urban jungle? Every block is a race – against the lights, against traffic. It requires physical exertion, intense focus and subconscious reflexes. No part of your body is uninvolved; it is the definition of living fully in a moment. The shape-shifting flow of traffic, pedestrians and traffic lights assures that no two rides along the same route are ever the same. The flats and narrows of Greenwich Village become a push challenge, a mile-long gradual decline becomes a high-speed pedestrian slalom course, and the smooth pavement and rolling hills of Central Park are one giant longboard roller-coaster forest. At high speeds it feels like a video game – think Gran Turismo meets Grand Theft Auto – negotiating unthinkable turns, dodging cops, knocking off a mirror and…wait! what did that cabbie just yell? You can’t say that on basic cable – if this were a video game, it would be rated M for Mature. But it isn’t a game; it’s a way of life. Wear a helmet.
…pushing, climbing the Williamsburg Bridge, you squint at the sky to the south, orange and pink, as the sun descends behind the Brooklyn Bridge, behind the Statue of Liberty. Push, breathe, breathe, push…to the right the Empire State is lit up green and blue. (Why? Forget it.) Push, push…up to the crest of the giant steel wave…push…and then relax. Cruise the concrete downslope of the bridge, picking up speed, carving your way through misplaced tourists, pedestrian commuters and aging hipsters on fixed-gear bikes…for once in this city, gravity is your friend, and Manhattan approaches in a flash…
The history of skateboarding in New York is long, rich and complex – it’s a subject for a different article or a book…or four. Everyone knows that for years some of the best short-board crews and skate videos anywhere have come out of the five boroughs. For most of that time longboarding has been far less prominent, but its roots penetrate deep into the same soil.
“For me…I have to say Rodney Smith and Andy Kessler,” responds Brian Petrie of Earthwing Skateboards, when asked about influential figures in longboarding in the city. “They have ripped apart streets in NYC on decks with small wheelbases, and long wheelbases, on both hard wheels and soft wheels, since before anyone decided there needed to be a separate label for ‘longboarding.’”
It’s very true. Still, for many years longboarders were second- or third-class citizens on these streets – or whatever it is you call someone who virtually doesn’t exist. Maybe “illegal aliens” is better. “When I used to ride on the streets of NY, people would yell at me to ‘go back to California!,’” says local legend Kaspar Heinrici. “Now we have a longboard community that rivals California’s.”
So, then, how did the New York longboarding scene get here from there? In general New York lacks the chill beach-cruising terrain that drove the growth in SoCal or the killer inclines that spurred the explosion of downhill in the Pacific Northwest. The pavement here is abundant, but it’s crowded, largely flat and often poorly maintained. Because of this, adapting longboarding to the city’s chaotic streets would take some innovative people and innovative products – well, that and a few seeming lunatics with no better sense than to literally go play in traffic.
The original pioneers were hybrid skaters – short-board riders who found that if they put some bigger and/or softer wheels on their board, they could get there faster. Once they got a taste for the thrill of skating fast through traffic, they began to seek out boards and setups that would allow them to go faster and maneuver with precision through the morphing landscape of cars, pedestrians, bikes and the occasional runaway hot dog cart.
“Riding my board is flat out the fastest way to get around New York City,” says 2009 Broadway Bomb winner Mark Schaperow. “No matter where I’m going my board is taking me. I learned long ago that skating is faster than trains, buses and cabs and the ride is way more interesting.”
These pioneers pushed out into traffic and made it back with great stories. Their energy is contagious even now. But it was in the early 2000s that a few enthusiastic innovators of the scene began to organize, and with their efforts the scene grew exponentially. In 2001, Ian Nichols challenged Fred Mahe and made New York history. What started as a bet to race from 116th Street and Broadway to the Wall Street Bull statue in the financial district, 8.5 miles of mild downhill and flatland pushing through traffic, soon became something much more. With only three riders that first year, they started one of the country’s most famous outlaw races – The Broadway Bomb – and New York’s most iconic competitive longboarding event was born.
Another watershed moment for longboarding in the city was Jeff Gaites’ launch of freshpaved.com, a site where skaters from all over the city began to connect and get together for shredding sessions. The budding community now had a place to congregate, at least virtually. Jeff also organized the annual “Style Sessions” event to highlight the best and brightest of the NYC skate scene.
But it was the birth of two New York based manufacturers that gave the longboarding scene the final push. In the late ’90s Brian Petrie founded Earthwing. By 2003 he was working with individual riders to create new board designs, and Earthwing had its first Broadway Bomb winner. About the same time the crew from Bustin Boards arrived on the scene. Ryan Daughtridge and the boys hit the streets with their original shapes and graffiti inspired designs. Bustin reached out to the growing network of longboarders and worked with them to tweak their board line and setups for city skating, and encouraged new riders to take up the sport. With the direct support of local companies, the growth gained momentum and the community began expanding rapidly.
…at the bottom of the hill you lean into a hard right, buzz the traffic cop, brush some pedestrians on the way by and head up Delancey Street, holding speed, slipping between stopped cars and parked cars…two feet wide, don’t slow down, watch those mirrors…kick, push, kick, push, kick…straight through the light, first off the line. No stopping, keep pushing…through that yellow light, dodging cross traffic. Push. Push. Must make the next light. A burst of heat and a terrifying roar six inches to your left – tour bus in your ear, blowing by. Quick, use it – push, push, push harder, grab the wheel well and catapult yourself through and up and forward. Steady now, wheel wobble…stay alert, dodge grandma pushing the shopping cart; scare the drunk couple. Hold your speed and…now carve, kick, push, kick, RED LIGHT, footbrake…footbrake and…GO!
To get the attention of New Yorkers generally requires something spectacular. People here are trained by necessity to be oblivious – to sirens, crazies, cabbies, drunks and each other. If you’re easily distracted you’ll never get anywhere, because there’s always something going on. So when the first Broadway Bomb was held it seems doubtful that anyone would have taken much notice of three speed freaks dodging taxis on strange-looking skateboards; it was just another sideshow in a giant circus of a city.
By 2009 it was a totally different story. You simply can’t ignore 300+ skaters – from hardcore skaters to clean-cut college kids – invading the busiest street in Manhattan, spreading out like an army of ants, pouring into the narrow cracks betweens cars and swallowing the entire road, then eventually separating and thinning as the faster skaters pull away, but all of them moving collectively southward from Columbia University past Central Park to the permanent neon daylight of Times Square; then dodging the bustle of Union Square, speeding past piles of fake Italian handbags in Chinatown, pushing through the city’s ghosts in the Canyon of Heroes and finally into the Financial District.
“The Broadway Bomb is like the push culture Olympics,” says James Soliday. “Its what we do every day and then once a year we race each other.” It is appropriate that the Broadway Bomb is the biggest event in New York because it’s the event that most directly represents the style of longboard skating that is uniquely NYC; it is both aggressive and dangerous. According to Heinrici, “It is only the more able and committed skaters that attempt to ride Broadway.”
The death-defying sprint is the quintessential NYC race primarily because it is simply Point A to Point B as fast as you can – an intensified replication of the daily commute. For this reason it is no surprise that the event has been dominated by local riders and local companies. Earthwing rider Kaspar Heinrici won the event for five consecutive years, while the two most recent events have been taken by Bustin team riders, Theseus Williams and Mark Schaperow.
The other events on the longboarding calendar in New York are as diverse as the terrain of the city. The Central Park Race every June draws 100+ participants for a 6.2-mile race through the most celebrated urban park in the country. Jeff Gaites’ Style Sessions are still an annual must-see, showcasing the best in freestyle and sliding, drawing participants from all over the Northeast. The Jersey Jumpoff, organized by Adam Dabonka, is a social but competitive group skate across the Hudson River. Then there are the Brooklyn Blitz, the Stokum Outlaw and various other events – including this past winter a toy-drive charity event in Santa costumes. With the growth of the community there are certain to be new events on the way.
…push…breathe….push…breathe…on the East Side, pushing quickly, breathing deeply, it’s your nose that can’t keep up with the distinct odors of the LES. Sweet, pungent restaurant trash hits the back of your tongue, your throat…fresh bread, cigarette smoke, filet-o-fish, god-knows-what…East Village not much better, maybe worse…push…maybe worse…push…breathe…push…ahead, the wide avenues of Midtown…push…six lanes and taxis hitting 50 mph…no mistakes…pushing uphill…push…
“The thing in common between Earthwing and Bustin is the degree to which they exist for longboarding, not because of longboarding,” says Heinrici. “Both companies started as a means to bring the excitement of longboarding to more people, not as ways to capitalize on an already trendy thing to do.”
A shared love of skating has resulted in a spirit of cooperation between the two NYC-based manufacturers that transcends competition. In the new Bustin Boards flagship store in Brooklyn, you will find Earthwing boards on the shelves alongside Bustin decks. “There is more than enough business in the city for both of us and we represent two different styles,” says Ryan Daughtridge of Bustin. “The success of both companies is a testament to the strength of the scene here, and I want our NYC riders to have the best products on the market at their fingertips.”
The Bustin Boards store, located in the hip Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, exists in the same building as their new company headquarters, with offices, production facility, online fulfillment center, prototyping shop and rider lounge all under one roof. Since opening in November 2009, it has quickly become an unofficial headquarters for longboarders throughout the city and has inspired tourists from as far away as Australia to cross the East River for a tour of the store and facility.
It is the first longboard-exclusive store in the city and features a candy shop assortment of decks, trucks, wheels, bushings and everything else needed for the most hard-core rider to trick out the perfect setup. To help narrow down the options, riders can cruise demo boards with different setups for different riding styles and consult with Bustin riders for advice on setups, There is even a designated riders lounge where skaters can clean and tune their setups or bug out sharing YouTube videos on the big screen.
“Bustin Boards continues to drive the NYC longboard scene primarily from its customers. [They] become very attached to the company and feel a part of a larger movement – a family,” says Dabonka. “Their customers are a driving force behind the growth of longboarding in NYC.”
While Bustin continues to offer custom-printed longboards online, there has been an increased focus on servicing the local scene. Their last two releases – the Strike and the Sojourn – were designed specifically with the Push Culture skater in mind, and 2010 will see the release of several new styles, redesigns and innovations developed with direct input from the community.
“Sticking with just one spot and one deck is a crime in NY,” says Earthwing founder Brian Petrie. Longboarding is “a very inclusive corner of skateboarding. Just like snowboarding got so huge so quick, it’s something anyone can get involved in. Whether you just roll on the weekends, or get gnarly in a leather suit in racing, you can take it as far as you want to go.”
Petrie, a veteran of New York skateboarding, started Earthwing in the mid-’90s by experimenting with modified snowboards. Not long after, he began working directly with local riders. Heinrici credits him with being an innovator in NY longboarding: “While I was out riding, this guy was in the kitchen cooking up crazy longboard designs and technology… My first experience with him was just talking about the kind of riding I did, and the next thing I knew I had a board that was made just the way I wanted it.”
Earthwing makes high-performance boards for all types of riders, and their crew is diverse and inclusive. For years they have organized the Friday Night Rip in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, where you’ll see some of the sickest downhill and sliding tricks that are happening anywhere. This spring they released the Supermodel, a new twin-tip drop-through downhill/freeride deck. With each new board their popularity continues to rise, and with it the appreciation of the NYC longboard scene.
…gliding cross-town in the Forties, a cab cuts you off. You carve too quick and take a side-view mirror to the elbow. Catch your balance, stumble, balance, push, push back into traffic. Hop a curb, weave through pedestrians, drop back down the curb, duck into the bus lane, push, push, grab a car and jet forward all at once with full wheel wobble… Let go and propel yourself, following that fire truck – sirens blaring – speeding through the intersection. Dodge a fender bender, carve a quick right, slide stop, deep breath…
Push Culture is about combining transportation and recreation – necessity and pleasure – to improve your life. “Longboarding will always be a fun and chill thing to do in NYC,” says Dabonka. “I don’t really care who does it, who is big on the scene or who is winning what races. I’ve never taken longboarding too seriously, because it’s self-defeating. The true nature of longboarding is to chill, cruise and enjoy the ride. So, just grab a few friends and skate!”
Today it’s easier than ever to find a few friends. In certain locations, like Union Square, you can almost just drop by and expect to find something going on. And the Internet has made it even easier. Want to find out somewhere to skate after work tonight? Check out Facebook or Twitter or the Silverfish message board. Someone is skating somewhere. But while you’re on your way to meet them, try to remember that just getting there may be the most fun you’ll have all day.
New longboarders are hitting the streets every day. Want to slide some hills? Join EW for their legendary Friday Night Rip in Prospect Park. Want to bomb the streets with a crew? Check out Concrete Kings at their Facebook page. They have a skate most Sunday afternoons, spring through fall; they start in Manhattan and end at the Bustin store in Williamsburg, where they tune their rides and catch their breath. There are groups for any discipline, all skill levels. Bored? What’s your excuse?
As the scene grows, however, so do potential problems. Heinrici, a respected voice on these streets, wants to be sure that the city continues to be welcoming to longboarders: “I think that with anything that grows it has to mature. We still want to be free and have fun but be socially responsible. When we have events we need to clean up after ourselves, and we need to promote wearing helmets. We need to create good relationships with the neighborhoods where we ride. We need to make sure that we are perceived as people creating fun and not being reckless, even if we are in fact being a little reckless.”
You pick up your board, wipe some sweat off your brow, head through the door. Your friends sit there, catching their breath, cold beverages in hand, boards lined up against the bar. When they don’t see you, you hesitate, and then turn, head back out. You’ll be back. Drop your board, push into the crosswalk…just five more minutes…