Photo by Kyle Myles
Words & Interview by Frozen in Carbonite and Recordings of Boardings
Pulaski, for connoisseurs of plaza skating, offers the most authentic experience left in North America. One is out in the open yet simultaneously in one’s own pocket of reality. The Capitol looms at the end of Pennsylvania Avenue, and the White House stands only a couple of blocks away. The locals know the color schemes of the different law enforcement vehicles that encircle the block and react accordingly. The sheer electricity of the overall experience blows away your local park, no matter how expansive or plaza-like.
Like I said here, the power resides in the marble.
D.C. videography dates back to Sheffey’s A Reason for Living part, but exploded onto the scene via Chris Hall’s New Deal parts and the first issues of 411. Dave Schubert’s camera and Giant Distribution’s willingness to feature their riders at the time offered skating writ large a window into an intimidating but mind-opening scene that overshadowed Love Park for most of the early nineties. In 2018, “east coast” is synonymous with wallrides ‘n shit, but Pulaski locals were just as tech if not moreso than their Embarcadero contemporaries.
In addition to producing generations of rippers, Pulaski has produced as extensive a library of independent scene vids as anywhere — back to True Mathematics’ Prosperity², to the seminal Pitcrew (R.I.P) vid Where I’m From, to the turn-of-the-century classic Pack a Lunch. As computer technology facilitated D.I.Y. video production, more essential documents emerged. Along those lines, we recently caught up with Smalls, the dude behind the longest-standing D.C. video series, to discuss Stop Fakin’ 3 — the third in the trilogy of the same name — and the culture of one of the most prolific scenes in the world.
You can purchase Stop Fakin’ 3 along with the whole trilogy here.
What were your first inspirations for getting into filming?
I think I was just impressed by the way that some of the videos I was watching had edited everything together, and I wanted to be a part of that. Also at the time, there weren’t any cell phone cameras, so you still needed a filmer to see how you looked.
Which D.C. videos and videographers were you psyched on growing up?
The first D.C. video I saw — and also my favorite — was Pack a Lunch, which came out around 2000; Zach LaPlante and John Edwards made that one. I think those two guys made Capital Crimes and Four Letter Words, which are awesome videos as well. Pack a Lunch just seemed to have it all — a solid mix of OGs and younger dudes, plus a great mix of music — UGK, The Doors, Shyne, Trick Daddy. I’d say we’ve modeled a lot of what we’ve done with the Stop Fakin’ videos after Pack A Lunch.
Photo by Kyle Myles
How did the first Stop Fakin’ video come about?
I did a video called Out of the Box in 2007 with my friend Charlie Church, and after that, just kept filming with no real project in mind. I was skating and filming with a lot of the same people as my friend Andrew Feldt, and eventually we decided to just do one big project.
Did you set out for it to become a series?
Nah, not and all — and I wanna say the name didn’t come up until close to the end, either. But it stuck really well so we decided to make a volume two a couple years later.
What are your goals for this video and filming in general?
Well, this is actually my last video, and I wanted to work on another long one. I have a lot of lower back problems from filming — go figure. So, this is probably the clearing at the end of the path in terms of filming skateboarding. Beyond that, I’ve been sort of involved off-and-on with this Pulaski documentary, so that could be really cool.
Who does the #musicsupervision, and how do you go about choosing a song for a part?
I picked most of the music for the series. Out of like two dozen parts in SF3, only two people wanted to pick their songs. I listen to a ton of music; I played piano for about twelve years, so I‘ve always been into playing and listening to different types of music. I’m lucky to have friends that play and listen to a lot of different stuff, so they’re always putting me on to new things. But yeah, picking the music is probably one of my favorite parts of the process.
How does the new vid differ from the first two?
It’s longer. I would say there are less random clips from movies or on the internet in this one than the first two. That gets done so much in videos, but there are only a handful of companies that are actually gifted at stringing random shit together, like Green Apple, Bronze, Fancy Lad. I also went at this project alone, since Feldt was out of the area for the past few years, though he did film most of the New Orleans section.
What’s the deal with “New Orleans Connection” part in the vid?
A bunch of us had planned a trip for mid-January 2015, which happened to be the same month that Manny passed away. Even though we felt shitty, we decided we still had to go, and it ended up being one of the best trips I’ve been on. Since then, my buddy Mascelli moved down there for work, so I’ve been down a couple times.
What’s up with Daniel Kim’s part in the vid?
A few years ago, Daniel started showing up to Pulaski without his board, just to stare into the sun for hours on end. After a few months of this, he announced Stingwater.
Photo by George Hanuschak
You guys travel a bunch despite having a perfect plaza and city full of spots to skate.
It’s corny as hell, but meeting people in different places is one of the best things about skating. D.C.’s also situated well in terms of short trips: you can do day trips to cities like Baltimore or Richmond, or weekend trips to Philly, Jersey, New York. Having taken trips to these places for years, and having lived in Philly for three years, we already know a ton of people up and down the coast.
What is your “day job?”
I work for the planning department for a county government outside of D.C. Basically, our department guides and regulates land use and development.
Why have new plazas gone more toward a full blown grass and tree oasis versus tons of marble?
They don’t want people to skate. The story with LOVE is kinda funny; the planner who designed the whole plaza [Edmund Bacon] obviously didn’t have skating in mind because it was built in the 1960s, but he embraced skateboarding once he saw what was happening. That’s pretty different from how most local governments feel. With LOVE today, it’s just another attempt to build a park that forces skaters to find somewhere else to skate. But people are already skating there just to spite the city, so they’ve already failed.
Pulaski was constructed a couple decades after LOVE, but luckily designed with the same all marble, wide open space formula in mind, but I don’t think they’d do a public project like that today. And at LOVE, how long do they expect all that grass to stay grass? I can’t wait to see how shitty it’s going to look in a year or two.
What’s your point of view on the current state of “plazas” — both in the US and abroad?
The only international plaza i’ve skated is Milano Centrale, so clearly I need to start traveling more.
Domestically, it’s on the decline. You have examples all over the place, like LOVE, where they just completely redesigned the space, and I remember reading that interview you did with Ross [Norman] where they brought in all the surveillance cameras at Legislative. So I think they’re taking a variety of different steps, anything from good ol’ knobbing to designing what they believe are skate-proof parks. However, in a lot of cases, if the plaza is already there it’s probably not going anywhere for a while, because even if they have the money to design and build a new one, the process could take years.
What’s your opinion on shared public spaces they have in places like Copenhagen for skaters and the “general public?”
I think cities are starting to realize what they’re reckoning with. Skaters fought for LOVE and City Hall for decades until the city had to physically destroy them. Where I work, people do talk about these shared public spaces, but as usual, we’re behind Europe in this area.
Photo by George Hanuschak
What is the current generation of Pulaski kids like?
A [30⁰] day like today would not phase them at all; I probably saw a couple dozen people out when I was checking stories earlier. One of the biggest surprises for me is enforcement — and I know that isn’t really done at a lot of spots, but people do take it seriously at Pulaski. If your board shoots out and almost hits a lady walking by, you will be warned to be more careful. So I’m proud to see that the younger generation is willing to step up and do that.
At times it gets a little over the top. A funny story about that: Sammy Wientzen, a skater from Arlington who rode for Pitcrew, moved to California like ten years ago. Once a year or so, he’ll come back for a visit and skate Pulaski a couple times. One of those times, he was waxing a ledge, and, as you probably know, some people here aren’t big fans of wax. So anyway, a couple dudes went over and really tried to get Sammy to stop without even realizing who he was. Luckily, it didn’t come to blows; I think they just yelled at each other for a few minutes.
Is it better for plaza locals to be welcoming to out of town skateboarders or defend their own “fort?”
I guess Pulaski has a reputation for being overzealous with defending the spot, but a lot of people come through on a regular basis that have no problems whatsoever. They say “what’s up,” they’re generally respectful, that kind of thing. But then there’s always the crew that come through and acts like they own the place. When you act like an asshole, it makes life difficult for the people that skate there on a regular basis.
This past summer, a team from the west coast came out and was disrespectful, and they ran into some problems because of it. Their TM was actually calling local skaters they knew to try and get them to put in a good word, but by then, it was too late.
Craziest Pulaski story?
As most people know, when it comes to sharing a spot, skaters and bikers have always had a rocky relationship. One Friday night, about two dozen bikers showed up, while there were only five or six of us skating. Luckily, one of the people skating that night was Darren [Harper]. One of the bikers that took the most offense kept screaming about being tough and from Brooklyn and wanting to fight one of us. With a single punch, Darren leveled this guy out, making, no joke, a grown man cry for mercy. With no other bikers squaring up, Darren started jogging around shadowboxing and doing push ups on the ledge. The look on the other bikers’ faces was priceless, and they got outta there quick.
What’s the current situation with the bust factor at Pulaski?
It’s easier to skate there than it was ten years ago. But it’s still weird. You need to be ready for anything. I can remember a couple months ago, we had a few days where it was almost back to the old days of taking boards and arresting people for bullshit.
Park police crews rotate areas every nine months. So if you get a group of cops that don’t give a shit about skating, it’s a skatepark. But if you have a group that enjoys tackling kids and writing meaningless tickets, you’re going to have a shitty nine months. If that’s the case, you just hope that the summer doesn’t fall in that time frame. Long story short, it goes back and forth.
Some of the old-timers have told us that we lived through the worst of it in the early and mid 2000s. They would stage ridiculous busts, coming in at all angles with cars, motorcycles, dudes on horseback, dirtbikes — it was insane. They would have the horses shit all over the plaza right before they left. I’ve seen everything from IDs snapped in half to beatings and completely fabricated charges.
If you talk to any non-park police in D.C, they say that park is where every other law enforcement agency’s rejects go. If you talk to park for more than a few seconds it’s apparent why.
Is there a certain person that oversees filling cracks in ledges and fixing stuff at Pulaski like Panebianco did with LOVE?
No, we don’t really maintain the plaza beyond basic cleanup. Love needed it more, considering what materials they used to build it. The tiles at Love were thin and would shift and crack; a lot of people had a subconscious map of which routes to take. At Pulaski, people will just avoid a missing piece of tile or the crack in the ledge. They could be filled in, but I think people would rather pop out early or learn how to go right through the crack. It’s pretty satisfying to go through that crack.
Most underrated D.C. local and why?
That’s a tough one, most DC skaters are pretty underrated, but I’d say the most underrated is probably my buddy Joel Barahona. He’s got a little grip of footage in the video. He rips, is modest and respectful, and filmed some stuff in SF3 and makes sick videos himself.
Top five D.C. skaters all time?
In no particular order, Pepe, Sean Driscoll, Hojin Chang, Paul McElroy and Manny.
Tell us a little bit about Manny Law. If you have an untold story, that would be cool.
When I was in high school, park police never got tired of playing cat and mouse with skaters. They’d swarm the plaza from all sides and send everybody fleeing, eventually cornering the last few people to try and run away. One Sunday, Manny was cornered by a group of park cops in the middle of the plaza, and had to juke them out one by one, eventually escaping them all. Turning to run down the stairs onto Pennsylvania Avenue, a supercitizen grabbed Manny’s jacket, which ended up pulling him face first down the set, and the crowd went wild. Crossing the street, Manny put up his hands to surrender, which wasn’t enough for the most infamous park police [Officer Snow], as he body slammed Manny to the ground.
Photo by Campbell Kliefoth
The photo taken in the immediate aftermath actually ended up on Crailtap as one of those daily photos they used to run on their landing page.
Any shoutouts or thank you’s?
Andrew Feldt for all of his work on the trilogy, Jeremy Knott for loaning me a camera so I could film for an extra year, Pulaski crew young and old, 25th Street house, shops that have had our backs, and everyone else that has played a part in making these videos happen.
You can buy Stop Fakin’ 3 — along with the whole trilogy — here.
Darren Harper one of the hardest hittin safeties in the league
skated pulaski from 94-2002 before moving to NYC. i hated it by then because of the constant paranoia, the authority abuse, the shame of post 9-11 police state. had park hold a boot on top of my head at 16. rednecks from way out in the suburbs with a hard on to overcompensate for their miserable lives.
darren harper used to steal boards in the mid 90’s, including mine. people change but he needs to come to terms with that violation. i ain’t forgetting.
“the obama of skateboarding”
Shout out my man swoll, Smalls and the rest of the Pulaski crew. And to anyone that wants to skate the plaza. SEND MORE
Spent every weekend at Pulaski during the early 90s. I’m amazed that Chris Hall wasn’t on the list of the top 5.
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