Interview by Ted Barrow on April 18, 2007. Supplementary commentary by Rob Campbell, German Nieves, Ray Wong, and Louie Louie.
Rodney: When I used to skate the Banks, that pretty much…Rob is interrupting my session.
Rob: I used to steal niggas boards back in the day [laughter].
Rodney: You were theivin’?
Rob: Shit was crazy. Growing up, I ain’t have that much, so I couldn’t afford boards. Sometimes I’d do it by myself, sometimes with friends. It was like, dumbass niggas from Jersey or out of state would show up to the fucking Banks or whatever, and they’d go to Burger King, and leave their board there.
At Burger King or at the Banks?
Yeah, yeah. At Burger King.
Rodney: Burger King was the hang out spot after the Banks. Go to the Banks, go to Burger King, and then go to Seaport, or skate all around Water street. Then go back to the Banks. From the Banks, when it got dark, then go skate to Astor Place. Chill and skate at Astor Place, drink 40s, smoke weed, and then after that, skate to Union, do the same thing over there, and then from there skate to Midtown. All day, all night. Everyone would meet up at the Banks at noon, and skate ‘til like midnight. Then skate to Midtown and like, break night. Stay all night skateboarding. Just causing ruckus, you know? Drinking, smoking, skating. Hopefully hook up with some girls, but if not that then skate, have fun. Just doing little kid shit, you know?
What era is this?
This is like early 90s, right? Yeah. Early-to-mid 90’s. It’s not like that anymore.
Why do you think it’s not like that anymore?
Because everybody now is on some sort of agenda. Everybody’s got to film a trick for a video, everybody’s got to be all secretive, everyone’s got their own little clique of people that they roll with. I guess that back in the day everybody rolled together.
Rob: No doubt, like back in the days, if you wasn’t real, you couldn’t show up at the Banks. I see like half of these cornball ass niggas that look like Pharell and fucking shit like that, goofy asshole looking motherfuckers, like them niggas would totally get robbed for everything they got. It was like everybody that skated at the Banks knew each other.
So if you were from out of town?
It wasn’t even that. It was like, snake sessions? Oh, man. You’d get your board focused. Remember those days?
Rodney: Everybody in New York has a lot of pride in what they do and basically, it was almost like you were stepping on toes if you came out here and tried to run shit. It’s either you got your ass whooped or you got your product stolen. One or the other. It’s still kind of like that now with all the older people, you know? Skateboarding in any sense, if that’s where you grew up, it’s like you’re a part of a fucking huge family of people, a huge mafia in a sense, you know?
People would come here and try to run shit, for no reason. They tried to step on toes. They tried to fucking come up off people, and use people, in a sense where it wasn’t anything genuine.
Do you mean people from California, sponsor shit?
Rob: It didn’t matter where the fuck you were from.
Rodney: There were also the stubborn motherfuckers that just didn’t care where you where from, who you were with, who you were down with, they just would like take your shit and go because they didn’t have anything, and you had what they wanted.
Oh, I loved Kyle. He was he best. He was the realest motherfucker. He’d show up at the Banks, and he’d fucking be rocking some Tims, and be all blinged out with his chain, and he would kill it. In Timberland boots, he would kill it. He would do more more shit than you could probably ever do.
And steal your board?
No, no, no. The best thing about it, is it would get dark, he’d give you back your shit. But he was just so intimidating to a lot of people. A cool dude, but the most intimidating looking person.
Rob: He just didn’t take no shit from nobody. That’s how it is. Especially if you come from the hood.
Rodney: It was just different back then. Mostly because nobody cared. But people did have a lot of pride in where they were from, where they were at, and what they were doing. When they felt offended in any way, disrespected in any way, that’s when they’d step in and cover their ground, you know? Other than that, it was fun because of that. It was fun because nobody gave a shit.
Would you say it was better back then?
It was, because, less politics, more skateboarding.
Do you have any specific stories?
Oh yeah, the Banks contest. When was that, 93? When Kyle got a skate key to his head by Mario. Alright, Mario is still around today, and so is Kyle but, Mario is still around in skateboarding. He’s helping Vinnie Raffa put together skate videos now. Back in the day, I don’t know, they had some beef or something. There was a big contest, like all the top pros at that time were at that event, it might have been in a 411, but anyway. Mario and Kyle just didn’t like each other, for whatever reason, and they saw each other at the Banks contest. From the story I remember, Kyle tried to rob Mario, tried to steal his chain, and they started fist fighting. Mario hit him with a skate key. The fork of the skate key, in the back of his head.
Otherwise, Jeff Pang and Harold Hunter and Ryan Hickey, Chris Keefe and Peter Bici, in my opinion, they were running shit at the Banks. They did everything. Keenan and Gino too. Those seven dudes.
German: They set it off for like New York, Brooklyn Banks skating. Those dudes. You knew it when you came here from out of town and seen those dudes. It was just like…You were intimidated.
Rodney: They were that good.
German: It was just their demeanor, and that whole New York City attitude was just, real, it was mad raw. You can’t even knock them dudes for being like that because, that was skating back then.
Rodney: It was definitely a lot more respect in skateboarding, in New York City back then. Now it’s like everyone from everywhere, from all walks of life, comes to New York and they take, and they go. There’s less of a respect now. It was more fun, but nobody gave a fuck. Too many people care too much now.
In what way?
In productivity ways. Everyone’s trying to be more productive and they go on their little secret missions.
Do you think it was more pure then?
It was definitely more pure.
German: And you see it today, how skateboarding is marketed. New York City has always been harder. It was harder to come up on the East Coast, especially in New York. Right now, it’s you know, I think it’s still the same, but skateboarding in general is a marketing thing.
Rodney: It’s a bunch of bullshit. Skateboarding now is about how you can sell yourself. There’s a bunch of that and it doesn’t matter what skill you have.
Do you think that in the mid-90s, with Kids coming out when it did, it became like, the outside is looking how it can market skateboarding?
Yeah, I think everything takes its course. Everything has its natural progression. That’s the way skateboarding progressed, in a sense. They stepped it up to a bigger set of stairs, a bigger rail or whatever, but it was always like, from a marketing standpoint.
Ray Wong: It was really about skateboarding then, and now it’s not about skateboarding. Now it’s about image, back then it was about skating. It didn’t matter who you skated with, what you skated – we skated the curbs at fucking Whitehall Street.
Rodney: The humps! There was a spot across from William Street Ledge [C.I.A. Ledge]. The curb was about this high. And it had coping on it. And we skated it all day. Yo, the tricks back then were the same as they are now, except that they’re on curbs. It was two curb cuts with a curb in the middle.
I don’t know. Skateboarding kinda… How it died before, I think it’s going to die again. Hopefully. It’s become so much of an accessory now, rather than a lifestyle.
When you see how there are all sorts of parks these days that are made for skating, and then think about those huge sessions at the Banks, a spot that wasn’t really made for skating, how does it compare?
Like I said, skateboarding back then was definitely more raw, more real. Now it’s more marketing, image, sales, productivity, and bullshit. It has helped skateboarding, but it’s also kind of killed it. It’s a 50/50 thing. The only thing you can really do is skate for yourself.
Ray: You learn both ways, you know what I’m saying? When you start [skateboarding now], everything is being exposed to you, you know? Back then you had to learn it yourself, and it wasn’t shown. Now everyone’s doing switch everything, you start skating switch. Back then there was no nose [on the boards].
Louie Louie: It was a nice clique from mixed parts of New York City. They would all meet up and cut school. Everyone would just meet up at the same spot. There were no magazines, so we’d just concentrate on skating.
So it was more based on people you knew and what they were doing?
Yeah. It was like little crews. Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan. Everyone trying to battle each other.
Was there any rivalry?
It was all love.
Ray: We knew each other for like 15 years, you know what I’m saying?
Louie Louie: Yeah, because we were the only few that were skateboarding, there was no one else. We’d just meet up like, “Yo, you got a board?”
Rodney: There has always been less of a focus on east coast skateboarding in general, but especially in New York, because there were only so many people that actually skated, that people shed a light on, that came up out here. Everyone else just sort of skated for the purity of it. That’s basically what it all comes down to. The entire story of skateboarding in New York is all about the purity and the rawness of street skating and having fun with your friends. Everything else wasn’t that important. But now that’s what it’s all about [everything else]. It’s like that all around the world. It’s such a commodity now.
We’re all getting older, it makes sense if you want to make money off it too.
Yeah. I’m not gonna front neither, I was always that fucking kid. It wasn’t something that I expected, though.
Ray: East coast skateboarding, was about skateboarding. West coast skateboarding, that derived from surfing. That’s crucial. The culture’s different.
Rob: I tried that shit once [surfing], it was the hardest shit I ever tried.
Rodney: Kids still have fun. I mean, I still have fun doing it, that’s why I continued but, it’s on different terms now.
Louie Louie: Now everyone has their own Burger-King cup.
Ray: I think that there was more identity back then. Now everyone skates, its wack.
Rodney: It’s almost like it’s embarrassing to be a skateboarder now.
Louie Louie: I used to look for skateboarders as they’d walk down the block because you knew them. Now it’s like you see someone with a skateboard, you cross to the other side of the street. You walk the other way.
Rodney: We used to be the outcasts.