The Last Time The City Shut Down — An Oral History of Skateboarding In New York Right After Hurricane Sandy

Photo by Pep Kim

New York has quite literally never felt like it does right now in this quarantined liminal space that we are in. The level of quiet in Manhattan at 8 P.M. is incomparable to even the deadest, coldest Sunday night in a residential zone. Obviously, there’s a reason for this, in that we all must do our part to minimize human contact so that COVID-19 can be contained, hospitals can maintain a semblance of functionality, and we can begin to burrow out of this chapter. Mobbing to skate midtown and being a responsible member of society are clearly at odds right now.

However, the current state of the city did bring up memories of a different disruptive event: Hurricane Sandy.

Sandy hit New York on October 29, 2012, causing $19 billion in damages, knocking the power out, and fucking the subways up to this very day. Apart from the actual night of the 29th, there was no stay-at-home order. With no lights in our homes and no jobs to go to, many of us spent the next days shacked up at friends’ apartments in zones that were spared, trying to skate in a hobbled version of the city.

As a look-back on the last city-wide shut down, we spoke to several people who, at the time, were entrenched in video projects and ended up using that anomaly of a time to their advantage. Skateboarding is something that thrives in the shadows of regular society: during businesses’ off-hours when buildings are empty, in desolate lots under bridges where D.I.Ys get built, or, you know, at Con-Ed Banks, where no other non-skating human in their right mind would spend three hours of a sunny day at. The days following Hurricane Sandy were thus an opportunity unlike any before.

We, ourselves, went to Astoria Park and Commodore and shit, which isn’t much of a story ;)

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Lev Tanju on Filming Shawn Powers’ “Powers Surge” Part

Do you remember what you were doing the day the hurricane hit?

I was out in New York for work. After everyone else left, I stayed back to film Shawn. I don’t think we were really skating with anyone else. I stayed at Pryce’s house after the power went out in the city. I was getting a taxi early in the morning from Carroll Gardens every day to meet Shawn after the shutdown, because he was living downtown.

How would you describe the city then?

It was empty, man. Lafayette and all them streets had maybe three people on them sometimes. People would queue up to get free food in certain areas, it was pretty mental. You couldn’t get a drink or anything from a shop — everything was just shut down.

Did you set in mind to go anywhere specific?

We thought Soho was a good idea because it’s not like you could ever skate the front of all those shops in the afternoon. They’d be open and there’d be people everywhere. I hadn’t filmed with him much before, so we were just doing whatever. I don’t really go far when I’m filming so we stayed around there, I’m kind of lazy.

We didn’t plan to make the video look like that — it just kind of happened.

Did you get any reactions from the people you did see?

Everyone was kind of hyped we were out skating. It would be different now, because there’s a reason you’re not supposed to be outside. We didn’t even get kicked out of anywhere, no one gave a shit at all. I guess Shawn and I also looked kind of dodgy out there, so no one was really messing with us.

You have any quarantine plans?

I bought a Nintendo Switch. I’m going to get back into playing computer games and drink loads of red wine. I already need to stock back up.

It’s pretty fucking shit, man. I’ve been working from home, but my internet broke today. So I’m trying to pretend I can still live my life without the internet. I’m used to sitting at home and looking at my computer screen for twelve hours a day, so it hasn’t really hit me yet how bored I’m gonna get. I’ll deal with it.

Colin Read on Filming Magenta’s “Panic in Gotham” Edit

Where were you when Sandy hit?

I was in Japan, and we were supposed to fly back the day of the hurricane. I think some of the Magenta guys were supposed to fly into New York that day too. I ended up getting stuck in Japan for an extra couple of days until flights opened back up. I arrived in New York right as the water started to recede. I got an extended vacation in Japan, it was nice.

Do you remember what the city was like when you got home?

We walked over the bridge, and it felt really surreal. All the lights were off, all the cars were gone, and the streets were empty. It felt like something out of a super hero movie.

Were there any specific spots you had in mind on account of the shutdown?

It’s the Magenta team, so it wasn’t what the more standard attack approach would have been. It wasn’t “head to midtown, go to the impossible-to-skate ledges” because those guys definitely skate more oddball stuff. I don’t think we went anywhere specific, other than skating almost exclusively in the city, from midtown down. It was kind of a really big pack of dudes, like on one of those really fun summer sessions when you’re deep, roaming around. It was that — but in November.

Also, it was so crazy because it snowed after I think, and by the next day, it was just a spring day. It was Mother Nature fucking with us. We ended up skating a ton because so many businesses were shut down. Not that the cops really mess with you for skating in New York, but especiailly then, they had even more stuff to worry about. Security guards were supervising repairs.

We got to skate a lot of Soho, which is usually a really big hassle. All those fashion shops were closed and all the middle-aged rich people who live above them cleared out of the city for a while. We got to skate a lot of those extremely noisy spots that you otherwise get shouted at for skating.

Considering those guys were all visiting the city, how did they react?

I do remember that it was the first time a couple of the people from the Magenta team had been to New York. It was the first time Leo Valls had been there, and he was blown away: “Man, you can skate anything here, it’s like a playground!” It was definitely some strange circumstances to experience New York. He shows up, there’s a hurricane, then there’s snow, and the next day it’s perfect weather and you can skate everything. It was some weird Willy Wonka Hunger Games thing going on.

Have you ever experienced anything similar in terms of a shutdown?

All the time, because I grew up in Florida. Hurricanes are a huge part of life down there. Every year, for a solid while, there’d be a major hurricane. Schools would be shut down because power would be out and roads were flooded. It’d be a free extra week with everything closed. We’d go around skating, and it was the same type of deal, but in a suburban way. One time, there was this really sick hurricane spot that got made, because a road got washed out and made a spot that was kind of a reverse pyramid out of a sinkhole.

What are your quarantine plans?

I was supposed to be shooting a feature film right now that got cancelled. It was supposed to be in Florida, which is where I’m trapped right now. I feel grateful to be here rather than New York though, just because I can go outside and enjoy life a bit more than I would being stuck in my apartment.

I’m trying to find a way to live, man. I’m trying to find some film work that I could do in the meantime — I pitched a couple remote things. I’m working on writing for other feature projects. My main plan is just trying not to lose my mind.

Aaron Herrington on Filming For Static IV

Do you remember what you were doing when the hurricane happened?

I was at my apartment in Bed-Stuy. We were drinking beers and getting riled up because the storm was happening outside. I was living with Brian Delatorre at the time. We were partying pretty heavily; we might’ve microdosed or something. We went to the park by my house that has the ledges with the gaps in the middle that used to be painted with piano keys [Herbert Von King]. A tree had fallen over an hour before we got there. We were in the pit of the tree roots, which were five or six feet deep. We had tall cans, it was raining and we were just being loud partying under this tree. I remember thinking how crazy it was that the cops didn’t roll up on us because we were so on one. It was almost like out-of-towner’s luck, but in your own town.

Your lights didn’t go out?

No. When I looked out the front of that apartment, I could see the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center. The brownstones where we were kind of blocked the Lower East Side. We could see the light from the Con-Edison plant blowing up, but we couldn’t actually see the plant. We were just like, “There’s this crazy explosion going on or some fireworks or something.” I don’t think we even knew until the next day that the power went out in Manhattan.

What was the city like the first time you stepped out to skate?

I remember skating around the next day and Balthazar had tables set up outside. They were selling like $5 sirloin steak sandwiches because they were trying to get rid of everything that was in their walk-in freezers. It’s like a $35 sandwich or something — this is the only time you’re getting it for five bucks. This is pre-veganism, so I was just like “Fuck yeah.”

But it was just a ghost town. I remember there were a lot of barbecues going on outside of restaurants because people were trying to not waste their inventory.

Were there any specific spots you tried to go to?

I wouldn’t say anything was spot-specific. I do remember going downtown to the Financial District, Water Street area. It was so flooded. There were a few lines Jeremy Elkin and I filmed — I can’t remember where it got used — but you could move these benches around. In “cherry,” Sage does a noseslide-tailslide on the two of them. We skated that spot hassle-free. You start from the alley that has all those Irish pubs behind Water Street, and all the cellar doors were open and they were pumping water out, cleaning out their basements. We skated those things for like an hour or more. I feel like we never got that much time there before.

I filmed this one line where I ollie over that gold rail on Water Street and wallie out over it. That spot is an instant-kickout otherwise, because it’s like a nice apartment building. We utilized downtown because we knew the lack of power made it so that security wasn’t as on-point at the time. I remember Zucotti being completely dead, too.

What are your quarantine plans?

I make my bed every morning now. I drink decaf coffee, so I don’t get too stoked in my apartment. I’ll try to walk around by myself for an hour or two a day, because I live in a neighborhood where I can pretty much not be around people at all.

I’ve been talking to my family a lot, and it’s been a good time to get closer to them. Checking up on each other is nice.

Jeremy Elkin on Filming Static IV & The Brodies

Do you remember what you were doing or where you were when Hurricane Sandy hit?

Paul Seaholm and I were living in Chinatown in a six-story walk up. I was in the middle of filming Aaron’s Static IV part. We both worked at ‘Snice [West Village restaurant], so we would try to check out new areas of the city on our days off. Leo Gutman was taking the ferry in a few times a week from Staten to meet up. [Kevin] Lowry and [Jason] Spivey were both in town visiting that week. I remember running into Shawn and Lev in Soho, who were filming for a Palace video. They were the only other skaters we saw.

What was the city like the first time you stepped out to skate after the hurricane?

It was a similar feeling to a cold winter night, but all day everyday. It was windy and desolate downtown. Quiet in the outer boroughs. It wasn’t dangerous out — just slightly eerie, a lot like Soho right now except downtown subway entrances were boarded up and sewers were popped open.

What was the first place you decided to try and skate?

Looking through my archive, it was Astoria, which seems odd. Aaron wanted to skate the 3030 Park rail that German Nieves crooked.

Any reactions from people you saw out?

During that time period, it felt like Aaron and I were the only ones who skated New York. Skateboarding wasn’t trending.

Have you ever experienced anything similar in terms of skateboarding during a shutdown?

Montreal had shut downs in ice storms. When I was a kid, I skated on the Upper West Side during the time of 9/11.

What are your corona quarantine plans?

Wrapping post-production on my first feature film.

Be safe, and be smart, everyone. See you out there when this shit clears up ♥

4 Comments

  1. Elkin is such a New Yorker I had no idea he lived in Montreal. Can’t wait to see his feature full length film


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