Part 3 of Brooklyn Banks week. Couldn’t find any nineties / Banks footage of Charles, but the Lurkers 2 part (alternate edit) is always worth a revisit.
Interviewed by Ted Barrow on August 27, 2006
I first started skating in Staten Island around the neighborhood of my parent’s house. The whole way I started skating was, I lived on a hill, and I used to hear the bearings roll down the hill, and the locals around the hood were skating. I used to watch them roll down the hill and it was a bunch of white dudes, a bunch of black dudes, and two Spanish dudes. They were all going to this one kid Jose’s house like three blocks away from my mom’s house who had like, a piece of shit box with nails coming out of the side.
What year is this?
I guess I was nine or ten. I skated around before that, but on little blue banana boards with crazy wheels and not doing tricks. But I saw them doing ollies out of curb cuts going down the hill, getting this high, and I was like, “Oh I gotta do that.” So I started creeping around that dude Jose’s house and eventually got a Santa Cruz, like, Jim Theibaud board. This is 1990 I guess, in the spring. I started hanging out at that dude Jose’s house all the time, which eventually led me to these other kids at McDonnell Lane Park, where there were people from all over Staten Island skating a ledge and 4 stairs. From there I met some kids that were really good, and I learned a bunch of tricks, and then it started.
I was always going to the city to skate the Banks, but it was only when I was like, “I don’t want to take a bus or ask for a ride to go to this park in the middle of Staten Island and have to come all the way back, I could just skate down the hill to the ferry, take the twenty-five minute boat ride, and be at the Banks, five, ten minutes after that.” Skate with people from all over the world that are super good, get really psyched. That’s what I started doing, all the time. Saturday, Sunday, when I wasn’t in school, it was just like full-on Banks.
How early would you get there on a Saturday?
Oh, I was getting there at like 9:30 in the morning at first, and then it just became like, I would always get the twelve o’clock ferry boat, skate until seven, go back home, eat dinner, maybe go back out, somewhere on the Island, you know, skating around. So I guess that’s how I got introduced to the Banks and skating was just like, 360 flips, impossibles, a few switch things were coming out, but uh, pressure flips…
So this is like, ’91, ’92…
Yeah, by now, by the time the Banks had become a regular thing in my weekly schedule, it was a time of like, I saw the first pressure flip and was like “Wow.” It was at a Blue demo at the banks. There were mad Banks contests. One summer there was a Banks contest like every other weekend.
Was it local skaters?
Yeah. The locals, the Banks dudes, the Banks people you’d see everyday, from every borough or whatever, everyone entered. Mike Wright, Javier, and Me. We all entered. But then you’d see some dude like, I’d see Rob Pluhowski and be like, “That dude’s not from New York, who’s that?” And he’d be kickflipping over the wall.
What was it like for people from Jersey or wherever coming to the Banks? Was there any hostility or wass it cool?
I think I was too young for that localism.
Did you get vibed at all?
Me? I never got vibed, because I didn’t stop to talk to anybody. I was super shy back then, I’d just be skating the whole time. I hung out with dudes that were like thirty, and I’m like twelve or thirteen or however old I was, and my friends are like twenty-five years old. Shane, that dude Jimmy.
Uh. We just knew him as Jimmy. He kind of disappeared, did 540 flips on the banks, on the end part. On the small bank.
Did anybody skate the big banks back then?
Yeah, just doing tricks into it. Ollies, 180s, and maybe a kickflip. You know, and the wallride thing, but the main attraction was the tech skating on the little banks. There was also a time when, the roller coaster on the side of the banks stairs, you could like slap-on noseslide, like, stop, nudge, and eventually slide the whole thing. I remember Sasha tre-flip noseslid the whole thing.
Yeah. I know some dude crooked it. Like, just put his truck up there and crooked it.
Tell me about the contests.
Ok, so this is the time where there was like a million contests one summer, like one every other weekend. I guess Dead-End threw a contest, that was big. Benji’s was that that skateshop right over there, I used to ride for them.
Where was it located?
It’s on this street right over there, it’s called something – The Order of Hibernians – and he lived in the projects right here on Pearl Street, it was the most super narrow street. The shop that he had, it’s a laundromat. Like a really small, tight, claustrophobic place. But he threw a contest, and Dead-end threw a contest, and what’s that other shop? There was Basic Wheels, which is a little further in, towards that school with the humps.
But both shops were really close to the Banks?
Yeah. And then you had a supermarket where you would buy like a two gallon thing of iced tea, and pass it around amongst twenty friends.
Those times. I think on the same day there was a Dead-End contest or some demo, there was a humongous food fight at Burger King down the street. All skaters, it was like a Plan B, or a Blue demo, or something crazy. This is when they had Burger King ashtrays and you were allowed to smoke in there, you know? But I guess, by the end of that summer, the second to the last contest, it was just a really lucrative summer for the whole Seaport, Red Benches, Downtown, World Trade, people were skating everywhere, every weekend, and the Banks was just the main meet-up point. You would come back through there. You would go to the big banks and people would, you know, smoke blunts. The bums lived in the wall underneath the bridge, and they would be sweeping up or yelling at you. There was also like, lost tourists.
Besides skaters, who else would come through?
Uh, these people. [Gestures to Chinese people in park.]
Chinese people, yeah.
This one bum, he was so recognizable. He would have a cigarette butt in his mouth, unlit, that he had like picked up off the ground, always. He wore like heavy coats in the summer when it was unbearably hot. There were a bunch of guys, but they would come in and out, because I guess the bums eventually moved or died. The tourists always came by. Right around that bend there’s Park Row, where J&R Music World is and City Hall, and people would just wander down, like past Pace University and be like, “Uhh, where’s the bridge?” They would like walk up the Banks nine and be like, “Where’s the cross? There’s no crossing over here,” and we’d all be laughing, you know?
Since the police station was right there, would they come through?
Never. I remember this one time there was a highway divider separating the little bank area in half, so you had to do things across a larger channel because of the ride away space. Or if you wanted to go big and fast. Jamal Williams had a varial heelflip sequence in an ad, just past the police barrier.
But the police didn’t harass you like, “Get out of there.” If they did it was like, “What are you talking about?”
Tell me about the beat downs and board jackings?
Alright. The notorious board jackers were Kyle James, Dirty Daniel, and Gangsta Rick, Slick Rick. Who to this day, is one of my favorite dudes ever, like he’s really funny. Super hysterical.
He’s still around?
He’s still around, like, switching tags on jeans in stores, selling Supreme stuff, like, all season long until the good stuff runs out, and then he moves on to like another hustle. Parties, bottles all the time, he wears Gucci glasses, it’s great.
So back in the day, what would these guys do?
So these guys would be like, “Oh that board’s pretty sick, can I see that?” and like, Rick would have like a smirk on his face. I remember he stole Tim Achille’s board. When Tim had blonde hair. And he was like, “Oh this board is pretty sick, let me see it.” He grabbed it, ollied over the banks wall, and just kept going down the way. I remember he [Tim] was chasing him, and he [Rick] was just laughing in the air, while he was going over the wall, and just skated away. This dude Daniel, he would like steal your board from you, and then just sit right next to you. You’d try to get it back and he’d be like, “Don’t be fucking touching me!”
Kyle James. He was a super good skater, like, super good bag of tricks. Nollie backside heels, pulled, folded. Really good pop. Really good, but he was never really sponsored or anything, and he would just steal people’s boards when they got new boards. I don’t know what happened, man. There was a crowded day at that contest, even Channel 2 did a little thing. I still have the VHS tape. And it shows Kyle James with a low-brimmed hat, like skating around. I know he had an olive shirt. I don’t know why I remember that.
I guess it was super crowded and he started messing with people that were either from out of town, or somewhere other than New York, they didn’t know that people stole boards or something. I don’t even know if that’s the reason why there was a fight, but all I know is that I saw a huge sea of people rushing over to this area of Banks against the wall, not the banks wall, but where the bridge was, the foundation. All of a sudden I see Kyle go down, and I’m just on top of the banks, like sitting on the wall looking over there, and some dude like took his board. I guess he was passed out. I think I skated off and went to Burger King, at that moment.
Did Kyle disappear?
Disappeared, but I saw him last year. He came into Supreme. He works for ConEdison, he’s super diesel, he says he has like five children, and he still skates, every once in a while. He’s boys with Ryan Hickey. He comes by once a year, and Hickey gives him like a set-up, a whole Supreme outfit. He remembered me. Didn’t know my name but he was like “Oh snap!” Couldn’t believe it. And I was like, “Wow. Kyle James.” He was definitely the one that got beat, I don’t know what it was for.
Was that a common thing? I remember that Fit promo, there were shots of that fight.
Yeah, so you would be scared of the teamriders.
Yeah, I was like, “There’s no fucking way I’m going there.”
I remember, you know what was also a really hot spot, was I guess when I was like 15, 16. Washington Square, that was the big thing too. The flatground, the bump. They would go in there, it’s more relaxed. It was comparable I guess to going to like Nation and hanging out there in Paris. Nothing much to skate but fun to hang out anyway, you know?
I remember one time I was skating there, and Erf and Maurice [Key] were hanging out against the fountain. And there was some skinhead skater. He was pushing mongo. And I was doing late shove-its off the bank, or something. I remember the skinhead dude was skating around, and I guess I’d gotten in his way once, and he was like struggling. He was an older dude. So I’m like fifteen or sixteen and he’s like twenty-ish. I don’t know how old, just old. Older than me. I guess I got in his way, and rode away from a trick and didn’t push off again and was just like, rolling. All off a sudden Maurice and Erf are like, “Yo, Charles, watch out!” I look behind me and he had like kicked his board super fast at me. I just stepped out of the way, looked back like, “Yo, what’d you do that for?” Not even trying to start a fight, and he comes rushing toward me. I didn’t really know what to do, I’d never been in a fight. I’m white. He’s a white…supremacist, and I’m skating with black people. So maybe that was part of the reason? He’s rushing towards me and he gets real close to me, and he’s about to do something, like raising his fists up or something, and Maurice comes over there immediately and just pushes him against the fountain. Maurice is just like, “What, what, what!” And Erf is smacking him in the face while he’s up against there. He totally thugged him out and the dude just scattered. Left his board, I think. Never to be seen again. That was it for fights. That was the only fight experience I had. No one ever stole my board. But I’ve seen it happen right in front of me. That day I guess I was lucky that Maurice was there. I remember he was wearing like, he wasn’t wearing a shirt, he was wearing green Cross Colours.
But he would do, like, he switch flipped over the wall super good. Switch front heel [over the wall]. His switch flips and nollie flips, he was the first person I saw who did them consistently like how people do them now, all day, every day.
Anything else happen at those contests?
Well, there was a Dead-End contest on the same day that there was a Benji’s contest. They’d both give you a package. Benji’s, you’d get a whole package just for entering, of like, leftover stuff. And Dead-End, you’d get a board and some stickers. So Vinnie Raffa made some stickers that said “Benji Sucks.” And Benji was this dude who worked for Motown, and he had like a lazy eye, and people speculated on the subject of him kind of being a child molester. He had a stutter, he was on the weird side. Generally a super nice guy, but it became uncomfortable for me for someone like that, like, it got weird for me and I totally dropped it like, whatever.
So that joke was around for a while and Vinnie Raffa made these stickers in that World Industries font, the black with the white letters on the inside, he wrote, “The Brooklyn Banks,” and he wrote another one that said, “Benji sucks,” and then he wrote another one that said “Bengay.” And so, Benji went up to him and was like, “Wh..wh…wh…what the fuck?” Vinnie Raffa was like flipping cigarettes in the air or something, and Benji literally rolled him down the hill. They fought, in a fight, it was insane. And Benji definitely held it down. I’m not defending him, I’m not defending either, but that was a weird one like, “Wow, these two grown men are fucking going at it.”
What do you think was the most productive time in skating for the Banks?
Well. Saturdays were like downtown skating. You’d see a pack of ten skaters over there going somewhere, you’d see a pack of ten skaters coming from here, backpacks on, making the rounds. Newport came around, so there was Newport, Red Benches, the Crooked Benches, Pyramid Ledges. There was a whole slew of really good ledge spots. I was like, “Well, I don’t really skate ledges, I don’t have many good tricks.” And I’d see people do whatever trick, and this was my favorite kind of skating.
More so than the Banks?
More so than doing a bunch of tre flips or switch tre flips at the Banks. This is like ’96, ’98. Other spots came in. More spots brought more skaters. There was just more to do here. You could make a whole day of not going above Canal, you know? All the spots on the Westside were untouched. People from Long Island like Pappalardo, that whole BLVD crew, they were always killing it. Jersey dudes came by, they were always killing it. There was a bunch of different Jersey dudes. There was like my little team from Staten Island, and then Brooklyn and Manhattan and Queens kind of just like did them. The rest of us had to roll in packs, but if you were from Brooklyn, Manhattan, or Queens, you didn’t have to. But Rodney always came with a pack of little Mexicans. Moya, Diaz, Rudy. Just the names back then.
Let’s hear some.
You got Gangsta Rick, Ducky. Ducky was insane. He was like the Spanish Gonz of that era, of New York. Wait, is Gonz Spanish? He’s Jewish, right?
He’s half German, half Mexican, I think.
Oh. That’s what it is.
Well, the real Spanish Gonz.
There was a bunch of nicknames, like Erf. Everyone had crazy names. Weird…it’s not coming back to me. I’ll mention it when I cross another vector of the story.
But there were a lot groups of people from Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan. The Bronx had a few people. A lot of people from Jersey, Connecticut, Philly people came all the time. Saw Stevie Williams in like purple Reeboks, tongues out, doing hardflips on the bank.
And were these guys for the most part welcome?
Yeah. Everyone was pretty much welcome. What I thought, was that people started to skate better when there was someone from another place around. There was definitely like a little, not rivalry, but comparativeness, more like friendly competition. But it was unspoken.
I’ve noticed that when someone else comes from out of town to skate your spot, they skate it in a different way so that kind of opens up a new way for you to approach it.
There’s an unspoken exchange, a conversation through skating.
There was also a spot that was super good for flatground called the humps. If you watch 411 #3, Javier Nunez mentions it. That was right around the corner too. There was these dudes, Mark and Glen from Jersey, and they would always come with Javier, and they were super tall and super good and they wore Kani. They seriously wore Kani. The double K was seriously repped hard in Jersey. That was like seriously part of my whole thing against Jersey.
The abuse of Karl Kani?
There was also Vasco Jeans, there was Paco Jeans, the worst was Boss jeans. They had a little white tag here and it said Boss. If you were broke, you had Boss. I didn’t even like wearing jeans, I would wear corduroys.
When did the Banks era end? And why do we skate Tompkins now?
The first thing I really noticed was, they flattened the humps, so that you could no longer skate the humps. They were just curb cuts in front of a parking garage driveway, and they flattened them. They made it so there were no humps. That’s actually across the street from the CI.A. Ledge, in that little alley.
So when did it end?
Of course. Does that mark in some ways the end of that big Downtown loop of skating?
When was World Trade? That was 2001. So that took away a lot of the safety, and a lot more things were guarded up. That whole [Ground Zero area] that blocked a lot of things, so cars had to go the other ways and, I guess that affected some spots. People never went to that street gap anymore, people went to Battery Park and had to go up either side to go towards Newport or up the Westside Highway, because everything in between was blocked off. They put skatestoppers on the Pyramid Ledges, which came off a few times. When Newport ended, that’s when it was like, “Alright, now what?” Tompkins.
Newport was kind of like a half-natural spot with benches, but with metal edges people had made. It basically was a transition to a fucking wooden box in a park.
It was. Yeah. There was also that one spot on 28th street by all those clubs. It was like a baseball diamond and it had these two benches.
The Dugout. Yeah. That was awesome.
But that was the same deal, metal-edged.
Metal edged, yeah. People made several boxes, big, small, long, short, and Tompkins became what the Banks was, like a meet-up spot. But it’s hard to get anywhere from there because you have to take a million trains.
So people end up there and don’t leave.
Yeah. You get stuck there. I mean now if you work a lot, or aren’t on your board as much as you used to, you could have the time of your life one day a week at Tompkins, just you and the box.
Do you think that has something to do with people just growing up and having less time to skate?
Yeah, that too.
And then the kids who start skating now don’t really realize that you can spend the whole day skating different spots.
Yeah. Well there are people you see that have never left Tompkins. When they go somewhere else, they can’t even grind these slippery plastic benches in a park because they’re used to like the metal.
People quit. You see people walking around in suits that used to skate, you see people that are heroin addicts, you see people with kids. A lot of people passed away.
So would you even bother skating the Banks now, when you go down and see the new obstacles, along with a ton of bikers?
I hate it. It’s fucking, like, there’s a flatbar there in the ground, but the ground is so harsh that I haven’t skated it in years. I mean, I don’t want to wear 56 millimeter wheels. I’m not Matt Reason. I can’t do it. I like smooth. I like perfect spots. I like Paine Weber for a real ledge. I like going Tompkins. I like going to Midtown, all over, Flushing. Anywhere but the Banks. It’s fucking dirty, everything’s been done, it’s not even the same spot. Plus, the only way you can hit it now is going down this way and making a quick right onto the bank. But before, there was that little portal underneath, that little arch, that’s where we set up to go skate it. So you could make it to the top, do a huge kickflip, ride down the entire bank. Now it’s like you have to make a swerve up, when setting up for a tech flippy trick, be uncomfortable. Who want’s to be uncomfortable on a skateboard?
I mean everyone in there is uncomfortable.Tweet