On top of putting together Full Bleed, and being one of the nicest, most approachable dudes in New York skateboarding, Alex Corporan is responsible for Matt Mooney being able to kickflip.
Full Bleed: New York City Skateboard Photography gets an official, wide release today. Even though the book has experienced a fairly wide media blitz this past summer (well, at least as far as it can go for a skateboarding photography book, but even then, a GQ feature for a skateboard book is pretty crazy), and you have seen maybe three or four links to interviews related to the book on here, we felt that we should do something different.
This was originally supposed to be used for Banks week back in July, but wound up sitting around. The interview has absolutely nothing to do with Full Bleed whatsoever, and is more about skateboarding in New York from around 1986 to the late-nineties. It was conducted four years ago, on August 27, 2006, by Ted Barrow. Hopefully, it provides some context on the man largely responsible for the book for those who may not know him. Plus, olden day New York City content never focusses on people from Washington Heights in the same way it covers people from Downtown Manhattan or Brooklyn, so maybe it’ll serve as a bit of a change of pace.
The book is currently $23 bucks (retails for $35) on Amazon.com, so you can buy it there if a nearby store doesn’t sell it.
And yes, Alex and several other Dominican individuals are wholly responsible for Matthew’s kickflip abilities.
Interview by Ted Barrow
Conducted on August 27, 2006
The first person who introduced me to skateboarding was my friend Freddy from Washington Heights, who I grew up with since I was five years old. We had always been the different kids in the neighborhood in Washington Heights. As you can imagine, it was the coke capital of New York for a long time, so it was just constant drug dealers and just everybody wanted to be thugs and stuff. And then just one day, of course being musically different, Freddy just picked up a board out of nowhere.
What do you mean by being “musically different”?
In Washington Heights there was a lot of Spanish music, and of course the come-up of hip-hop, and everyone sort of stuck to that, freestyle music. For some reason, me and my boy Fred just picked up metal, the hardcore scene and the punk scene, and we were just all about everything.
Was it just you two guys who were into it?
My two other buddies also, so, there were four of us actually. We were just the different kids in the neighborhood, but no one really bothered us because we’d all grown up together and everyone knew each other. So yeah, one day Freddy just happened to order a board, I forgot what catalog it was, I think Skates on Haight at the time, and then all of the sudden he had this Powell board, and I was like “Hey, what’s that?”
When was this?
1985, 1986. So I was like, “Oh, I want one,” and so I ordered one. The second it arrived and I got it, I fell in love with it instantly.
What board did you get?
I had a Tony Hawk Bone-ite. That was my first board. Instant love. I knew that I was gonna take it further than I ever thought in my life. You know, my mom still says for me to quit. She says, “It’ll bring you nowhere,” and I’m like, “I don’t ask you for money,” you know?
So did you mostly skate around your neighborhood or did you venture downtown?
I skated around the neighborhood for the very first couple of months, then started venturing downtown. Then, lo and behold, you know, I find a skateshop downtown called Soho Skates. The first one on Varick. From there I met Rodney Smith and everyone and followed them to the banks, and from there [we] found the Banks and it was like, “There it is, the Mecca”.
Was it easy meeting people? At that point, what was the community like?
There wasn’t too many people because, the big guys were already doing it…
Who were the big guys at that point?
At the time, Harry Jumonji, Kenny Huseman, Bruno and Rodney of course, the names could go for days.
So it was small, but there were already like older dudes, established.
And when you first went to the Banks, what was it like?
It was dirty, glassy. It’s still dirty and glassy, but not the way it used to be. Real gritty. You’d fall on human shit if you don’t watch out.
Who else was there besides skateboarders?
Bums. That’s it. Bums and skateboarders.
Any bums that stood out?
I guess at that point, we were the younger kids so we didn’t really pay attention. Probably Rodney and those guys could be like, “Hey, that’s so-and-so bum!” But we were just like, “Oh shit, the banks, let’s skate this,” so we cared about no one else.
And were there big sessions back then?
Most of the big sessions were at the smaller bank in the higher part, you know, and then sometimes we’d venture to the big banks, but the big banks were worse than the small banks.
Meaning how dirty they were?
Dirty, and glass. It was insane.
When did it really start picking up, or has it always been steadily crowded? Thhis is around when Shut was coming up too, what was that like?
Pretty much, we really had no reach to videos. It was rare if you’d find a video. So it was pretty much the Shut guys that everyone was looking up to. To be a part of that team, it means that you’re the best of the best, you know?
Who was the Shut team at that point?
Jeremy Henderson, one of the main kings of New York, Sean Sheffey, Coco Santiago, Obid, Rios. The list goes on, and on, and on.
Would they do demos or hold contests?
It was just a local thing. Just go skate.
What was the routine back then?
The whole thing is, you wake up in the morning, go session your neighborhood, then straight to the Banks. Meet up with everyone, skate all day at the Banks, skate to Seaport. Washington Square Park was just a stop to hang out, drink 40s, skate flatground, slappy curbs. Then everyone would just hang out, smoke, then go to Union Square, skate some more, and then head straight towards Midtown for a night session.
And this is ’91, ’92?
Yeah. The beginning of it was ’91. And then it had kind of died because a couple of us had finally made it. We left the city so everyone else just kind of stayed, did the Washington Square Park, Banks thing. And then when I came back, and Huf came back…
Where did you go?
I went to San Diego.
How long did you live there for?
Who were your sponsors back then?
My first sponsor was G & S. That’s who flew me out to San Diego. Then Deadbolt Trucks, Cockroach Wheels, back in the day. So then I came back, and that’s when skateboarding kind of died in that 1992, 1993 period where it just sort of fizzled.
Were you skating then?
I was skating then, but I got depressed because I came back to New York with no sponsors.
Yeah, I know that was a shitty period, but I think that it got really good after that.
Yeah, yeah. After that Rodney and them just started Zoo York.
Did that breathe life back into it?
The band was back, everyone was all together.
So for that spot, and that era, what was the highlight for you?
It was the beginning of the new kids of New York just killing it, and continuing the attitude of the Shut feel, and what they created, but just brought it…modern. Like H-Street to Plan B, same deal. It went from those raw guys to these raw guys.
That’s a really good comparison, I never thought about it like that. So at that point, who are these new kids?
At that point it was Ryan Hickey, Peter Bici, John Hamilton, Chris Keefe, Jones Keefe. Huf and Keenan had already stayed in California, so they kept it for us over there, and Gino too. Who else? Steven Cales of course. It was just, you know, the family was strong together. Jeff Pang, all of us. We knew that all we had was each other after that, after we went through everything.
How did you feel about Metropolitan, American Dream, and that interest from DLX?
It was amazing. I mean we were all stoked at the time, and then you know, after whatever happened, politic-wise, or whatever may be, you know.
Do you feel people got burnt by that?
Not necessarily burned, but it kinda hurt, you know? Because everyone was really thriving to skate, and that’s what it was. To create such energy, and to be like, “Oh shit, here it is,” you know? On paper.
So now in the mid-nineties, with Kids and all that attention, how did that effect people’s attitudes about New York?
Oh, people just saw that we stuck together as a family. People, anywhere we would go, would feel intimidated, because it was just everyone with the same aggro [attitude] just like, knowing themselves, like this is it. “This is who we are.” And also everyone was just ripping, doing their thing, and also cheering each other on. And then when Supreme opened up, that was even more of an excuse for us to, like, keep a sort of club house, like, here it is, you know?
So if anything, all the attention helped to unify you guys, right?
Exactly. It’s cool though. I think that overall people didn’t understand. We just had family values with each other. Pretty much, some of us had both parents, some of us had one parent, some of us had no parents. But you know what? The whole thing is like, we took care of each other. You barely see that around. You may see that with like five people, but especially when it’s like twenty guys, with the same values, and all the girls that would be with us, they were like our sisters, so we protected them like no tomorrow. So it was almost like people thought that they couldn’t get in and that we’d bark at them, but we were just all about who we are.
Yeah, family. Do you have any crazy stories from those times?
You know, no rivalries, but you know, plenty of times. Those kids from the projects right across from the Brooklyn Banks, every once in a while they would come down and start fucking with somebody.
I remember that Thrasher video where there was that huge beatdown at the contest?
Yeah. One of those kids from the projects came through and everybody decided to just gather together and just, beat him up.
Oh, really? He didn’t skate?
Nah. Oh, that one, yes. I think that kid that you’re talking about was this one that was around Maurice Key, one time. In Maurice Key’s part in the FIT thing.
Yeah, but I’m thinking about the…
The Banks contest, the one where Harold heelflipped over the wall. Yeah, that was a pretty crazy fight too.
What happened there?
It was a mess. It was one of those things where things got messy, you know. One gets crazier than the other and then it’s over.
As the nineties progressed, did skating change?
People were going out to Cali more. A few of us just stayed. There was still Zoo York, Infamous. Then 5Boro started forming, and there were actual New York companies that were still here.
And what were people skating?
Skating the same thing, I mean all of us that were like from New York City would just travel all around the boroughs and find spots and whatnot.
What do you think about it now? It seems dead compared to how people used to talk about it?
Yeah, that was because of 9/11. September 11th kinda ruined that. All of downtown. It was hard to skate after that.
How do you feel about the state of skating in New York now?
I think now, it’s amazing to see the hundreds of kids skating now. And it’s good, it keeps them off the street, it’s fun, and it gives them good energy. I’m psyched.
But do you think that same kind of edge is there? The way I see it, if you have twenty close friends, you must have been the only guys doing it for a long time, whereas now, as you said, there are hundreds of kids doing it.
Yeah, we were the only guys doing it for a long couple of years. Like I said, I respect the thought that every kid is skating now. I just want…like me knowing it, then selling it, and now I work in the corporate side of the industry, I just want to push people to make sure they have fun at the end, and that’s it. The mentality of “I want to get sponsored, I want to go pro…” I just want kids to understand that that’s not the goal, that the goal is to enjoy yourself.
And the lifestyle that goes along with it, yeah. How do you feel about kids skating Tompkins, or this park under the Manhattan Bridge. Spots that are essentially designated skate areas that are a little less interesting, over the Banks, or the rest of downtown. Midtown sessions hardly exist anymore.
Yeah, they don’t. But that got ruined by, besides the fact that back in the day we were fighting security guards, and all of a sudden they got Rottweilers all over town. It’s just a result of time. Over time it would be harder to skate everywhere. More security gets aggro, you know? Back then there wasn’t that much authority around, to be like “Oh shit, police are coming right away.” You’d have a chance to fight a security guard for a good 5 minutes, and then you could skate away.
Any specific stories from that period?
We’ll leave it as New York was very raw back then. I’m just glad that everyone’s skating. As long as the kids have a spot to skate, that’s what I care about. Tompkins Square is good, it’s just bad that it doesn’t have the kids going out there, running down the street, doing a slappy just to do it, ollieing over manholes, you rarely see that. Now kids do more spot stuff, more just staying there.