The Zoo York Institute of Design

In the introduction to his interview with Zered Bassett, Chris Nieratko details how Zoo York was once a source of pride for east coast skaters. A few buyouts and a decade later, nobody sets up a Zoo board with a geographic bias in mind anymore. Even if the company completely phases out of skating, people will forever nerd out over their first three videos (Mixtape, at this point, is just as much of a hip-hop classic a la Wild Style or Style Wars as a classic skate video), and chances are, most who began skating after Zoo ceased being any sort of an east coast status symbol have seen those videos and cried about how all the spots are gone.

You can’t type “zoo york ads” into a Vimeo search bar and get any results, so a lot of younger kids won’t see the old Zoo ads. (They probably won’t see the new ones either…do kids still look at magazines?) Those ads are just as full of classic nineties east coast iconography as the original videos.

The Zoo ads throughout the nineties were HIP-HOP at a time when that meant more than leaving comments about how Lil’ Wayne sucks on every pre-2000 rap video’s YouTube page. Other companies even jocked their whole hip-hop scrapbook vibe when it was appropriate: Transworld styled article layouts for east coast skaters with Zoo’s look (see here), west coast companies would run Zoo-esque ads for their east coast riders (see here and here), and start-up east coast brands like Illuminati, Metropolitan, and Capital all had a bit of Zoo DNA in their ads. It’s unfortunate that now, even when paired with a sick photo, Zoo ads look pretty generic.

Thanks to the internet’s leading scanner-based skate sites, we gathered a handful of ads from 1994-2000 into one place. The scans are stolen from The Chrome Ball Incident, Police Informer, and

“Zoo York ads from 1994 and 1995 are amazing. The grimy black and white photos and their classic logo looked cool as hell back then and still look great now, even if the current Zoo York is a very different company. I remember thinking that Zoo boards were the sickest – anyone I saw skating one seemed just a little bit cooler and ‘in the know’- their boards were a bit harder to find back then than the average Birdhouse or whatever. In the mid-nineties Ryan Hickey was one of the sickest New York skaters. For proof refer to the NYC section in Eastern Exposure three, or any of his Zoo or Stereo ads. I heard that he is big time into fishing now, and I’m sure that he’s real good at that too. Here he is in 1994 doing one of his patented frontside flips over the wall at the Brooklyn Banks.” — Police Informer.


  1. Wow, what a great post. Great work on seeking out all these ads! I think that I remember that Illuminati was under the Zoo umbrella for its short lifespan. This era set the stage for a lot of people from all over. It gave kids the opportunity to relate to something that wasn’t California, and even if they didn’t live in NYC/Philly/DC, they could relate to the less than perfect spots, and hard work involved in skateboarding/seeking shit out. Awesome work.

  2. Top Notch shit as always guys. Remember those new york minutes that Ted Newsome would do for TWS? It had the same vibe with carry out receipts scanned in next to MTA cards mixed in with Mike Hernandez skating. The one with Mike Wright skating on Christmas day in a Jean Jacket got me psyched as a kid.

  3. i feel like this is the r.i.p to zoo york , which it is kinda of in a way … we wont ever see that shit again (insert tear drop) … how can zoo york forget what legend status was and has to be for them ??? stupid big shots in suits run skateboarding now , we need lawyers ?? wtf … thanks to rob dyrdek and mtv ..

  4. Awesome post, any idea who gets the credit for putting together these ads in Zoo’s early years?

  5. What most people don’t know or consistently overlook is that, while the skaters were dope and the filming was on point, Zoo York was also the way it was as a brand because of Eli Gesner. Once Ecko dismissed him and the other two founders, Zoo was a wrap.

    All of the art, the taglines for ads, the clothing designs, some of the photography, the painful EST beats, that was him. Zoo’s aesthetic was his. He also co-directed Mix Tape, arguably the best video. He also did the Illuminati project. Dude rarely gets any mention for being the missing piece (and a huge piece) of the puzzle.

  6. Damn! These are so sick! Gets me more hyped than 98% of videos and ads that come out today. There won’t ever be a thing like Mixtape again, but that is what makes those videos one of the best, if not THE best, ever made!

    To get back to 40inmylap…
    We still run skateboarding man. People in suits and the other cunts who only care about money won’t ever run skateboarding if we don’t let ’em. Support the small independent brands and shops, but also the more ‘underground’ websites/blogs cause that’s where the good content is at!
    Don’t drink those fucking energy drinks.. they’re seriously a problem at the moment. Perhaps one of the biggest problems.
    The new generations just have to be taught stuff and be raised by older generations. Cause they’re the ones that are very sensitive to all the ‘sport-like skateboarding’! The contests, free energy drink everywhere, people who’re just straight up performers/sports men and do crazy shit down rails first try (Cole, Sheckler, Huston). It all looks very impressive to all the kids when they don’t know better.

    But ay, as Josh Stewart posted on Theories of Atlantis a while ago… “The poles are shifting”

  7. @Yani, i feel you, but skateboarding is no longer a fringe activity. More kids skate than play baseball now. So unfortunately its inevitable that they will learn about it through a completely different lens. Maybe if skateboarding dies again they’ll be a crop of youngsters that get taught right way, but thats pretty unlikely seeing as how mainstream and accepted as it has become in popular culture.

  8. no ollie bump here. only flatground. school is over. adults use this size table

  9. I remember right when I started skating, looking at the zoo website when websites were just like one page of text and a few photos. There was a gif of someone doing a frontside 360 ollie, and I think that was the first time I’d ever seen that trick. There was also a sequence at the banks, of Bici I think. Zoo York from the 90’s rep’d the Northeast in the best way possible.

  10. Amazing… and an iconic piece of East Coast skateboarding history. I was influenced by the aesthetic and urban skateboarding ethic of the Zoo York guys since I met them in 1986 (well, back then they were the SHUT crew). This is a great visual history of what I would call part two of their ascension as global skate brand. There are a slew of guys who drove it, but it’s great to mention (if not interview) Eli Morgan Gesner here as well, who captured the convergence of graff, street skating, hip hop, and urban culture seamlessly, and is single-handedly responsible for these ads (along with the skaters featured of course).

    Yes, he’s an old friend, so I’m biased, but I count him, Alyasha, Rodney, Pang, Harold, Felix, Bruno, Jeremy, Peter, Barker, and a cast of others as big influences for me in founding New Deal and Underworld Element / Element in the early 90’s. Skating with them in the late 80’s and early 90’s in New York was always an adventure, a happening, a party, and a number of sessions on all terrain. They ALWAYS had their boards with them. They woke up, skated out the door, and the board became the vehicle and ID for every part of the day.

    Thanks Eli and the rest of the Zoo Crew, old and new.

  11. this vid and ads had a major influence in people that skate in Rio (Brazil), cause in here the big scene was in são paulo and we`re just party skate rats !N.Y. rules and everyone who survived the 90´s on a skateboard !

  12. big up Andy… the Zoo ads were, now that I look back, a big influence on me as a designer… your work certainly was as well – as was some of the artsy-er stuff coming out of the Deluxe camp. The Fine Artists Vol. 1 video was a huge influence on me as a little Philly-area skate rat… but also the sheer vibe of the original Underworld Element stuff – the look of it, the ideas, the graphics, etc. That stuff definitely influenced me in some way or another.

Comments are closed.