Brooklyn Banks Week: Steve Rodriguez Interview

July 17th, 2010 | 11:14 am | Features & Interviews | 2 Comments

Saturday links will be back on…Monday.

Interview by Ted Barrow on September 2, 2006


I moved here in ’91. I had been skating here before, since ’86, because my mom had a store in the city, so I used to come in and skate the city.

From where?

From Jersey. From the shore. You could see the progression of the Banks from going from one of those like, Mecca spots. To me, it’s one of the four spots. You could see it going from that to it being closed down as a police parking lot, to it being renovated, once, to it being closed off when the Trade Center happened the first time, they turned it into a parking lot then. And then when 9/11 happened they said it was closed indefinitely at that point for a year. Now it’s open again, [it has] been re-furbished again. They took the top, the small banks, which totally sucks, but you have to give a little. So, I’ve seen the whole life of the spot. Since ’86, because before that I didn’t skate.

Start at the beginning.

Basically, I started skating just in New Jersey, whatever, I guess it was popular in like ’83,’84. I was actually into BMX before that, but you know…

Many of us were…

Yeah, but one of my friends skated, I was like, “Oh, let me try your board,” or whatever, I got on that shit, and ever since then have been wanting to skate.

What spots were you skating back then?

It was suburbia, so strip malls, back yard pools. One of my best friends that skated had a backyard pool. Some shit had happened and they emptied it, and that’s where we started skating pools. Basically, our inventory to set-up was some of those vert ramps down by the shore, like Carville ramp, some of those rotten parks like Jeff Jones, that was some famous skater back then, he had a skatepark. One of my friends had a weird vert ramp with weird transitions. It was all shit we skated, but what we really wanted to skate was the strip malls, and little jump ramps like that. It wasn’t something where you’d have to like, kill yourself, and it seemed like it’d be more fun, more longevity in skating.

Street skating was more accessible, and everywhere. There was this one ramp called the Gandhi ramp, I don’t know why it was called that, but it was in my town and a lot of people would go there, a lot of pros. I remember Jim Murphy going there back in the Alva days. You’d be like, “Damn, that’s Jim Muryphy!” Or Jeff Kendall or somebody. Someone would always show up there. But we honestly would skate the ramps in his driveway than the [bigger] ramp. [The Gandhi ramp] seemed like it was something that was made beyond our ability. Just dropping in and doing a kickturn on the vert, you’re just so psyched, but you had an illusion that you were a better skateboarder if you skated street, you know what I mean? I think that’s what it was, because you wanted to do tricks. It took a longer time to learn stuff on vert. It was total commitment. I mean, we did it, but you could spend all day, and almost get a frontside air, or I could learn so much shit in the streets. There was a ramp culture down by the shore, because there were bowls, and established pros who had parks, but again, it seemed for our situation, and where we grew up in the suburbs, skating the strip malls was the equivalent of skating the city.

When did you start going into Manhattan to skate?

‘86, ’87, around then. My mother owned a store that’s actually where I live now, on 6th Avenue and Bleeker, the Bird Shit Banks used to be there, or the Bleeker Banks. It was right across the street, and I had come in with her, sort of like as a summer job to help her deliver shit, and right across the street were these sick fucking banks. I have photos from ’86 skating that spot.

It kind of worked out well because I eventually moved into that building, partly because that spot was right there. I was like, “Damn, I’m going to move right here,” you know? My uncle owns the building that’s adjacent to that park, so we never got kicked out.

When did you start going to the Banks?

The Banks, was probably in ’86, when we first started coming in. I’d come in with my friends from New Jersey, and every time we’d come in, we would go skate a little further.


Down or up, it didn’t matter. Honestly I was scared as shit. Because in the 80s it was pretty sketchy around Washington Square. My famous story that I’ll never forget – We were skating to Washington Square on West 4th Street from 6th and Bleeker, and there was a group of thugs that just walked up to a bodega, picked up cases of soda. The guy came out, and they threw the soda at him. Literally at his face and at his body. They just kept walking like, “Don’t say a word, don’t say a word.” They just kept walking. We were following them to Washington Square, because that’s where we were going, and they were literally throwing full cans of soda at people, random people. That kind of shit back then was pretty sketchy. We didn’t know any better so we’re like, “Shit, we’re in New York, this is pretty sketchy.”

Just hanging out in front of SoHo Skates on 6th Avenue. It’s in that park where those antique shops are. Christian was the guy that worked there. That in itself was a smaller version of what’s going on at Tompkins right now. Well, Tompkins like 2 years ago, now it’s different. But it was only locals: Harry Jumonji, Chris Riley, this guy Ian Fromme, I think he was from Boston though, Bruno was there. I mean the sessions that went down…I saw Harry Jumonji do a kickflip 50-50 one of those benches there that has the skate stoppers now, so long ago. Back then it was inconceivable what they were doing. You’re still doing bonelesses, and they were like stacking 4 boards and ollieing them.

Just the little sessions there, seeing that shit. And then when those guys would leave, following them. Staying two or three blocks behind, which is what we did. We ended up just following them to the banks. Downtown. So many spots that just aren’t around anymore, it’s kind of weird.

Once we went uptown, [this is] another good story. I jumped in a cab with Harry, he’s like, “We’re going Uptown to the Harlem Banks.” We get there, and he just jumps out of the cab. And I’m still there, I have fucking 10 bucks or whatever, he’s like, “What are you doing? Get the fuck out!” I was from a different time and a different place, you know? I’m from New Jersey. I’m like “Fuck,” and just finally ran out, and the guy ran after me. It was kind of fucked. And they were kind of bummed on me because I didn’t know to run out of the cab. So we’re up there, we skated that shit, that was amazing. Then again, back then, that was some super ghetto shit. It was so scary, getting back, not having money, taking the subway from up there, it’s really gnarly.

Literally it was like every weekend, or in the summer, just all these little adventures all around spots that you knew about, or someone had heard about something, and little by little getting in with that crew, you know what I mean? I actually had met Rodney from Shut in New Jersey. He would come to our contests in my town. I mean back then it was just some guy, now it’s Rodney, who’s still some guy, but still. But I wasn’t in the city as much until ‘91, when I was here full time.

In that period, had the scene around the Banks kind of changed. Skateboarding was sort of dead then.

I don’t know. It was dead, but you had people like Ray Wong, this guy Kyle from the Bronx, you had all these guys who kind of like owned the Banks. They were always there. Honestly, like back then, BMXers wouldn’t ride the Banks. Skaters wouldn’t let it [happen]. It sounds so weird to say this, but I kind of miss that skaters were thugs. I miss that shit so much because, I don’t know if it’s because I felt like I belonged to something, or I felt like we were an authority or something, or what empowerment it gave us, but it was like “This is our spot.” Even normal people wouldn’t walk by there. It was off limits, “Oh, that’s where the thug skateboarders hang out.” You know what I mean? If you were from out of town, that guy Kyle, he would pick fights with you instantly. To his credit, I have sick footage of him skating in Timberlands. The kid was amazing. Even by today’s standards, the kid was sick. And could do lines for miles. He would be like one of the enforcers, like, “This is the Brooklyn Banks, pay your dues” or whatever. Any kid that would come there from the suburbs, he would immediately try to steal your board. No matter what. No matter who you were, or whatever it was. Immediately. He would immediately try it, “Let me try your board,” and then just take off. No one knew where he went. He would probably go to like Benji’s and sell it or whatever.

There would always be a jam on Halloween. Vinnie Raffa would always throw a contest down there.

I don’t know if it was the first Banks contest or the second one, but someone got shot. A gun went off. At the Banks contest. I know for a fact, because I was there, and I was scared as shit.

A lot of people talk about jacking at that period, shit like that.

But the thing was, it was the skaters that were doing it.

For you, when was skating the most pure?

Early 90s, because skating died. It went from this to this. It wasn’t cool anymore. It wasn’t the cool thing for the moment. The people that stuck with it, [the ones] that kept skating, [they were] the purest form of skaters. What they were doing, what they were about, it was so dope, you know? I lucked out, because I just happened to move here at that time. That shop, Pro Sports? Right by where I live, 6th Avenue and West 4th Street. Everyone that worked there is involved in the industry now. Craig Metzger, Oggie, everyone that worked there is either a rep, or in the industry. That was a time that skating wasn’t so popular, so you knew that those people were in it forever. PSNY. I think I am the only person that didn’t work there.

At some point skating changed. For you, what do you think changed skating at the Banks?

You know what killed the Banks? The truth is the fact that they put a fence over the wall. It wasn’t that you couldn’t skate the wall, but that people couldn’t sit there and hang out. That’s the fucking real reason. Honestly. Ever since the beginning it was a chill spot. Every single picture that you see of the Banks, where there’s people, there’s twenty people sitting on the wall. When did the Banks die? When they couldn’t chill there anymore. If you really think about what the tipping point of the Brooklyn Banks was, that’s what it was. And yeah, it sucks that you couldn’t ollie over the wall, but not everybody ollied over the wall. A lot of people didn’t have the skill to do it, you know?

I’ve heard that it was hard to approach in some way.

Honestly it was like, if you could ollie off a fucking jump ramp you could do it. Kids in the city didn’t ollie off jump ramps. So kids from the suburbs would come in and they’d kill it. Because they were all jump ramp kids.

Can you talk a little about the different waves of people that would come in? How did that work?

There was an article in Transworld, when Shut was around. I have the issue. There was an article with like Puleo, Bruno had a photo, this guy Oban Rios that fucking rips, he was so good, early 90’s, ‘91. That’s the issue. It was in 1991. They did a thing on New York. That’s when I think people realized that there was all this shit. I mean, you know about New York, but when you see it in a magazine, you realize you want to go there.

When a spot gets coverage, even if it’s in a video, it becomes identifiable and more appealing.

[That’s] when the trip mentality started coming around. When 411 came out, that helped it. When was the Metrospective?

I think it was ’93, ’94.

So that, of course. At that point, skating was starting to build up again. So when you have a Metrospective on the spot. You know a million people went to Philly, you know a million people went to New York. Just from that. Because then they can identify and associate, like, “Oh yeah, I’m going to go there now.” I think the Dan Zimmer interview was at the Banks. I don’t know. As I’m talking about this, I’m thinking about all kinds of other shit.

Like what? Go ahead.

Like the whole scene around Union Square. Union Square used to be one of the best places to skate. Something that’s so vital to a skate spot, which is so corny, but it’s true, is that people can hang out there. At Union Square, you could hang out, and people could be seen. You couldn’t do it now. Once the hub of meet-up spots moved from the Banks, to me, skating went downhill, and that’s why I started 5Boro.



When exactly was that?

It got corny, right when Oyola made Zoo famous, and then left. To me, that was the turning point when it got corny. Skating in New York. It wasn’t about skating anymore. It was more about being a model, or like skaters being more [than just skaters]. Skaters used to just care about skating, you know. I understand you got to make money, you got to do this, do that, whatever, but they weren’t doing that shit before, you know?

Skateboarding got another element to it around that period.


Yeah, yeah. It turned from skateboarding, to skateboarding lifestyle. When [before] skateboarding lifestyle just used to be skateboarding. I mean, there was always a lifestyle, hanging out, but it wasn’t a thing. In the early 90s, late 80s, you could go to Midtown, they would be skating until like fucking four in the morning. Those same people, four years later, are at some party until four in the morning.

I don’t know if I’m biased, because I don’t drink, I don’t do drugs or whatever, but it seems like everybody quit skating, in a way. I know a lot of people didn’t, but, it’s like, pros that come to New York now, they don’t get shit done. They just party. They don’t skate. But New York is the best place to skate, you know what I mean? It’s amazing. I don’t know.

That’s really why I started 5Boro, just to have something that reflected what I think skating is about, something different.

Obviously [after 9/11], it basically went from Downtown [going from spot to spot] to Water Street. That’s all that was left to skate, really. It used to be that you’d skate Water Street, and then go out. Water Street is a big street. If you think about it, the bigger the street is, the less security and skating is therefore more allowed. There were a lot of spots. Unlimited spots every corner. That’s funny. Then again, how I see it, is that was a time when the economy was kind of weird, too. So then once construction started again, there were more spots, and more shit to set up. And 9/11 sucked for a year, but then, a year later, there was all that shit [plywood ramps, rails everywhere] you’re like damn!

You’re played a principal role in making the Banks a spot again, how did that come about?

Well, it’s my favorite place to skate. But besides that, I feel like if we let the government, whatever, or the fucking Downtown Commission for Public Parks take away every place to skate, then it’s like what’s the point of being here. Because I’m here to skate. You see all the spots go, and you see what they put there, and you realize no one’s going to go there. You know nobody is going to chill up at the small banks on those benches. I had to work with the senior citizens across the street. They had told me, “Oh, we hang out there,” and I’m like, “I know you don’t hang out there, I’m there more than you.” But then again, everybody has a right to their space. So we gave up the small banks in order to get that whole big banks area. Which is a good trade off. The history is at the small banks, but if we can build shit and leave it there, the big banks are better.

But how do you feel about the bikers being the made ones that ride there now?

I’m psyched to see people skating there, and realizing that this is a safe, fun, creative place that I can skate and have fun. But at the same time, it’s sad that the small banks are gone. We always used to skate the small banks first, then at the end of the session everybody would go to the big banks just to do a couple wallrides and then leave. No one would go to the big banks to session, it’s kind of weird. Huf and those guys would, sometimes, but when they closed those things and you couldn’t get speed, no one would really skate there.

The bikers? To be honest with you, I’m psyched on the bikers.

Because they’re using it, right?

Because they’re using it. The biker mentality is – bikers to me are what skaters used to be. Those dudes are there at night, like fucking all night. It’s so dope. Sometimes I go cruise around at night, like go to the Banks late at night, and you know there’s going to be like 30 bikers there. You know that shit. It might sound bad or whatever, but I’m psyched on the bikers, because of their attitude. I know most of those dudes, if I go down there at any time, the bikers know who I am, I know who they are, it’s a normal thing. But when some of the bikers come from out of town, who don’t know their shit, that’s when it sucks to not have that thug authority still around. It’s kind of cool, because some of the bikers will be like, “Yo, watch where the fuck you’re going” to the bikers from out of town, because they get in the way. You know how you can skate with a thousand people there, and no one will be in your way [if they know what they’re doing], but at the same time, you can skate with three people there, and everybody can be in you way. It’s good [that] it’s getting used, and it’s good that the city sees that, and knows. Some of the city officials came to that event we had, and they couldn’t believe that there were that many people.


Comment by 914
  • Enjoy the great weather

    July 17, 2010 @ 12:17 pm
  • Comment by ayo..
  • is this black dave?

    July 18, 2010 @ 1:14 am
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