chrome ball interview #94: ryan hickey

chops sits down with the king of new york

As a native of Brooklyn and long-time staple of the City, how would you describe skateboarding in New York?

That’s a hard one because skateboarding is always changing and it’s a lot different now than it was when I was young. We didn’t have skateparks or nothing like that. The City was way sketchier back then. A lot more raw. We were basically a bunch of delinquents coming together from all different boroughs. Skateboarding was all we had. All the skaters in my crew had family problems, which is probably why we bonded like we did.

Skateboarding is just a totally different experience here. For one, you gotta deal with being limited in the winter so many months out of the year. I mean, I remember being out in zero degree weather with gloves on and three pairs of pants. When you’re young, as long as the ground is dry, you’re out there… and for us, we’d be out there sometimes when it wasn’t dry. We’d go skate a train station if we had to. That’s how it was.

We didn’t have “skate fashion” in New York back then either. We just dressed how we did in the neighborhood. You might’ve worn a Powell shirt or something but that was it. You couldn’t really get that stuff because there were hardly any skateshops.

It’s just a different type of energy.

With all the tourism and transplants, I imagine you constantly meeting “New Yorkers” claiming the City after only moving here a year or two ago, right? Would these kids have lasted back in the day?

No way. People actually tried to do that back in the day and they couldn’t hang. People would come out from Cali and want to skate with us but they’d get too scared. Our energy was too nuts. It’s not that we were out doing things to people, we just weren’t your typical skaters. Our attitudes and how we dressed, we were different. My crew was a bunch of street kids from the hood, we just happened to ride skateboards. We were always on that hood mentality: constantly looking over our shoulders, waiting for something to happen.

I always say that you have to be born in New York to be from New York. You other guys, you just live here now. Brooklyn’s the mecca of that. Everybody always moves out to Brooklyn when they first come here and they always try to claim that’s where they’re from.

“No, no, no… where are you really from?”

I can tell by your accent. You’re living in Brooklyn, but you’re from Ohio or something. You’re not fooling me.

What’s your sketchiest experience growing up here? It’s hard to imagine but did a young Ryan Hickey ever get his board stolen back in the day?

Nah, I never got my board stolen. We always rolled pretty deep and if somebody messed with any of us, we all just attacked. Boards just started swingin’. It wasn’t even a question.

I’ve had guns pulled on me growing up. I got robbed a couple times at gunpoint in Brooklyn when I was younger. As far as skateboarding goes, I know one time Hamilton and I had a guy pull a gun on us down on the Lower East Side. We were skating through and I happen to look over my shoulder and there’s some dude, down on one knee, aiming at us. Just like that. I don’t even know why, we just got outta there. But like I was saying, that same block is like the suburbs now. Didn’t used to be that way.

Honestly, we tried to stay away from trouble. There was always stuff happening around us because of how we came up but we got into skating to stay away from all that. It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of the hood.

You used to hang out a lot at Jeremy Henderson’s loft. What was that scene like? I’ve always been fascinated by that place.

Jeremy was older and we all kinda looked up to him. He’s like the godfather of New York skateboarding. He was cool, man. He was an artist and always had famous models hanging out. He was like a rockstar but because we had skating in common, we’d always hang out with him. It was crazy. You’d go over to his place and you never knew what you were gonna get. It was always unannounced. Mark Gonzales would be staying there sometimes or you’d knock on the door and Natas is there. This was back in, like, ’89 when that shit wasn’t common in New York.

There were also times when we wouldn’t even be allowed in… who knows what was going on those days. You can only imagine.

I have to imagine being in the Henderson mix that you were on Shut back in the day, right?

I was on Shut at one point but it was a little later. The problem was that they put me on the team without ever actually telling me they did! At least not officially, I didn’t even know! So I went to get on Nimbus, not even knowing that I was actually already on Shut… man, those dudes hated me for years because of that! Hated me!

Even when Zoo York started years later, they still didn’t want to put me on at first because of that… but I ended up being their first pro.

So you were around to see early Zoo York come to fruition?

Yeah, myself and Ivan Perez were the first two on Zoo York, period. We used to meet at Rodney’s apartment with Dan Zimmer about once a month to work on ideas and check on the progress of things. I was helping get the team together and working on shapes, too. It was rough in the beginning, man.

I actually rode for another company, 777, while I rode for Zoo back then just so I could have boards. That’s how bad it was… and those boards were horrible. I remember having to make Rodney recut those 777 boards with his jigsaw into better street shapes.

But yeah, Zoo York took a long time to get rolling. We just didn’t have the money. Plus, we were working with Chapman while he was starting to build his brand, too. So we had to deal with his issues on top of our own because those were our boards.

What was the thinking behind turning you pro when they did? Because you were still pretty underground at the time, at least outside New York.

Yeah, but at the same time, I was at my peak in the City. I started skating in ’85 and never quit. Skating was all I did. I even dropped out of school to skate, so by that time in New York, I was ahead of most people. It was just a matter of getting me out there more.

Originally, Ivan was supposed to be the first pro for Zoo but he and Rodney had a falling out. So Rodney turned me pro instead. Just like that. My board came out and then it was Barker and Ricky’s…. I didn’t stay on much longer after that.

I remember my first time taking notice of you was your Zoo ad frontside flipping the Brooklyn Banks Wall. Was there ever video footage of that?

I filmed that thing a couple of times but it was always with the wrong filmer. Either they hoarded the footage or didn’t film it good. I used to do that one all the time actually. I threw switch flips and 180 flips over the wall, too, but I don’t think I ever filmed any of those.

I just wasn’t big on filming, man. That was always my problem with just about every company I rode for. I think I only had maybe aminute of footage all put together. I hated it, man. I only wanted to film when I wanted to, where I wanted to and how I wanted it done. Of course, it hardly ever worked out like that and it drove me nuts. But I’m stubborn. I wanted to do it how I wanted to do it.

One problem is that we never really had filmers in New York in those early days. It was usually just us filming each other with the camera, which is never any good. You go out and bust your ass only for the footage to come out all shitty with your feet cut off. Plus, it was always some situation where there was a bunch of us all trying to film at once. It’s too chaotic.

Plus, I always wanted to film in the City but all of our spots were in Midtown back then and security guards would be on you instantly. You could barely even skate there, let alone film.

I just found filming to be too frustrating, which because of that, basically turned me off from being a professional skateboarder. That’s when it felt like a job, and the fact is, I wasn’t making enough money to be killing myself like that.

But you had plenty of photos.

I had no problems with shooting photos, as long as I wasn’t injured. The thing was I was going through constant ankle injuries back then, too. One after another and I didn’t have any insurance to get the proper treatment.

But shooting photos could get weird. Like, I remember meeting up with a photographer once and he straight-up told me, “Where do you want to go skate? Because I’m only interested in shooting stuff like what Jamie Thomas would do.”

What!?! I’m not Jamie Thomas. I’m not gonna throw myself down a gigantic handrail in order to get on the cover of a magazine. That’s not what skating is to me. Let’s just go out and see what we get. I always felt like skating was supposed to be natural and unpredictable. I don’t want to plan shit out all day…. Like, meet at this spot and this time, I’m gonna grind this rail at this time. Nah, that’s not how I skated.

Why’d you leave Zoo just as things were starting to happen?

It was all about money. I was going through some family issues at the time and I needed to pay the rent. I was only getting about $400 a month from Zoo back then and you can’t survive off that. I know that Rodney would’ve paid me better eventually when he was more capable, my thing is that he just wasn’t honest about it. I feel like there a lot of lies being told and promises were being made only as a way of keeping me around.

Basically what happened, it was the summer they were filming Kids in the City. I was actually supposed to be in Kids but I ended up going on this crazy tour with Deluxe through Metropolitan. Dune was all about hanging out in New York at the time and decided he’d rather do that than go on tour so he just gives me his plane ticket. Deluxe didn’t even know. I just show up. I’d always wanted to go on a big tour like that so I jump at the chance. I didn’t really think Kids was going to be anything at the time anyway.

So once I get back from tour that same summer, I’m out skating Astor Place when Dune shows up with Jason Lee. We’re skating around and Jason is complimenting me, saying that I’m one of the best he’s ever seen or whatever. So after a while, we go sit down and I start bitching about Zoo when Jason flat-out asks me if I want to ride for Stereo. I didn’t even believe him at first but he was serious. I wasn’t sure, though. When you live in New York, quitting Zoo is a serious move.

A few weeks go by and I go to Zoo York to pick up my check. This is something Rodney used to do to me all the time that drove me crazy: I used to be at the Zoo offices literally everyday but whenever it came time to pick up my check, he’d always say “Oh, I mailed it to you.”

What!?! Why would you mail me my check when you know I come here everyday!?! And on top of that, I didn’t have a bank account back then. I didn’t even have an I.D.! Just give me cash, man!

But he tells me this and I know I’m never gonna see this check. It’s gonna be “lost” or something. So I raise hell.

Finally, Rodney’s like, “Okay, okay… I’m gonna send you over to Adam’s house.”

Adam was Zoo York’s backer early on. The guy’s loaded. Cool, I’ll have my girlfriend drive me over to pick it up and it’ll be all good.

So Adam ends up coming down and he hands me an envelope sealed in all this fuckin’ tape. I mean, it’s crazy. It’s gonna take me an hour to open up this fuckin’ thing with all this tape. So we take off and I finally get the thing open: there’s supposed to be $800 dollars in there but there’s only $400. I’m done. I go home and immediately call Dune.

“Put me on!”

Dune wants to put me on right away but realizes there’s gonna be a problem because he and Rod had grown up together. They were very close. How’s he going to take me away from Zoo for his own company? At the same time, Real was wanting me to ride for them, too, but I wasn’t feeling them. Stereo seemed a little more unique and I liked what they were doing. Plus, they just weren’t as crowded. Real’s always had way too many people on it. 

So yeah, this is now the second time I have beef with Rodney. He’d just gotten over that shit with me and Nimbus and now he’s back to not talking to me again. Not even a “hello” at the Banks.

“What’s up, Rodney?”

“Don’t talk to me.”

Whoa! Alright… It was really awkward for a while.

I don’t think he talked to Dune for years because of that.

Weren’t you asked to ride for 101, too?

Yeah, Jason Dill ended up calling me at my parents’ house shortly after the Newburgh contest and asked if I was interested in riding for them. I didn’t even know the dude at the time. I don’t know how he got my number but I guess he’d seen me skating during practice at that contest. Newburgh was kinda like my training spot during the winter so I had that place down. Never bailing anything. And I was extra hyped that day because I wanted to show all those Cali dudes that New York skaters were good, too. So I was just out there killing it. 

I don’t know why I didn’t choose 101. I always loved Natas and was psyched on 101. Gino was already on there… I think Kareem was looking at me for possibly Menace, too.

I just think by that point, I’d already gone out to SF a few times and liked the scene out there. It’s a lot like New York where you can just jump on your board in the morning and cruse around from spot to spot. Plus, I was already on Metropolitan and Deluxe was out there. So I chose Stereo, which I regret now.  

Was it difficult getting into the Stereo mix, post-Visual Sound?

Going from Metropolitan to actually being on Stereo, I knew right away I’d made a mistake. I just didn’t fit in with those guys. My first trip out to Deluxe after joining Stereo just felt weird. I felt all this pressure. I remember going through the warehouse, picking out some stuff and they kept trying to push these pants on me.

“Nah, man… those pants are too tight. I can’t skate in those things.”

It felt like they were trying to change the way I dressed, to look more like one of their guys… like how Dune and Ethan were dressing at the time. I’m not dissing them but that was their thing. I always have to be me and I’m not changing for anybody. So right away, because of little things like that, I felt like I didn’t belong. I knew it wasn’t going to last long.

They never wanted to just go out and skate. Everyday was filming. Everyday was a photographer. When I was in San Francisco, I was out early with Gabe everyday. After a week of that, I was so bummed, man. I’d try to sit on the sidelines and barely skate because I just didn’t want to deal with all that.

Some days, you just want to skate.

Did you consider moving out to SF for your career like most East Coasters were doing at the time?

Nah, I’d just go and stay out there for a month or two. Deluxe was constantly pressuring me to move out there but no way. All my friends are in New York and I was always real selective about who I skated with. I’m staying here.

How seriously did you take a career in skateboarding? You brought up not making much money and New York definitely isn’t cheap…

I honestly didn’t take it that serious, man. That’s something I regret but I feel like I didn’t have any real type of guidance. My family was fucked up. The guys who really made it in New York all came from good families. They had support. They had someone to fall back on if they couldn’t make the rent.

I’m cool with Huf and all them, we’re family, but I never considered them to be New York pros. They’re from New York but they turned pro out in Cali. They moved out there. We stayed here. We’re the ones who put New York on the map. It was only after we made it here that those guys moved back. But they couldn’t hang! The crew was too nuts. All those guys had to leave again!

Huf moved back and lived with me for like a year in Sunset Park, he had to move out! He was constantly complaining to me about the other roommates. You gotta stand up for yourself, man. I don’t have a lock on my door and still nobody goes into my shit because they know I’m not having it. Finally, Joey Alvarez stole his box one day. He was sitting on the steps when UPS came up and he signed for it. Huf never saw it. He was out after that.

Were you able to recognize when the East Coast started to gain momentum within the industry, even becoming “trendy” for a minute in the mid-90s?

Definitely. I feel like that was the main reason I got on Stereo. They wanted an East Coast guy. The way we skated and the tricks we tended to do…  skating fast. Tech tricks with pop. That was our thing. If you couldn’t pop it, you didn’t do it.

We stood out because of that and made every company out there start looking for their own East Coast guy. That’s how a lot of people I knew got put on.

How did you get the nickname “The Gun”?

I don’t really know how that happened but it started around the Stereo days. I think Mike Hernandez might’ve coined that one but honestly, nobody in my crew ever called me that. I feel like that was just an advertising gimmick to try and sell boards.

Speaking of marketing, how did your East Coast brethren take Dune’s utilization of the “Stereo East” slogan? I know Ricky, in particular, seemed to take offense. What was your philosophy on all that coast stuff?

Yeah, they started that “Stereo East” thing after I got on, too. I think they were trying to tie Metropolitan closer together with Stereo. That was another one of their advertising things.

Ricky took that shit personal and it was none of his business. That “Coast” shit he was on didn’t even matter to me. We were all skaters! Who cares?

The thing is when I was on Zoo York, I was number one. Ricky was never number one. He was only able to become number one because I left. I’m even one of the people that helped get him on the team. Honestly, I always thought he was good but he was never anything special. He had no pop. He had some tricks but he was a jock, man. Whatever. He was good but he wasn’t Fred Gall.

But I loved that Metropolitan stuff.  It was more of a city thing and they had such a sick team. Everyone who was sick from the East Coast was on Metropolitan. The problem was that it got too big! It was supposed to remain small and just be a sister company to Spitfire but it wound up outselling those guys. People were tired of all that skulls and flames shit. Even the guys who rode for Spitfire started riding Metropolitan. It was never supposed to do that so they got rid of it.

I was actually in Supreme one day when I heard Metropolitan was gone. Some kid walked in and told me. I couldn’t believe it! Nobody even called me! This is how I find out? So I call up Deluxe right away to find out what’s going on, thinking I could hopefully get on Spitfire or something, and they basically tell me that I’m not on Stereo anymore either.

Just like that?

Just like that.

Those guys knew I’d be pissed and that I wasn’t going to go easy so they made Micke do it. He was the tough guy in San Francisco. He basically started threatening me on the phone but I wasn’t afraid of him. I flat-out told him that.

“Yo, I’m not scared of you. I deal with tough guys like you all the time. Where I come from, you guys are a dime-a-dozen. What are you gonna do? Fly out to New York and beat me up? It’s not happening, bro.”

So yeah, I didn’t leave on good terms. We’re all cool now but we didn’t speak for a long time. When I rode for Capital after all that, we hated each other. We’d go to Tampa and vibe those guys hard. Like, I remember throwing shit off the balcony at Ethan Fowler while he was swimming in the pool one night. Freddie and I are all wasted, 4 stories up, throwing chairs at him.  Just terrible the shit we used to do.

How did all that Supreme stuff come together?

Apparently, the guy who started it used to sit in that old diner at Astor Place and watch us skate at night. He wanted to start a skateshop and hit up Chappy to help him out, who I also knew. They got together with Pookie and Matt McGrath and started Supreme. I think the original team was me, Justin, Peter Bici, Mike Hernandez and Jones Keefe. It went on from there.

Was it weird being used in so many “NY Lifestyle” type ads for Metropolitan and Supreme back then?

I didn’t mind it. I actually got a couple of modeling offers after all that. It was around the same time that Peter Bici was getting on all that. I wasn’t that interested but he jumped on it. I just wanted to skate.

I always loved Ari’s stuff but didn’t part of you want a skate photo instead of just standing around? I realize that’s what made them stand out but still...

Oh, I would’ve rather had a skate photo, for sure. But Ari was different. He shot a few skate photos but that wasn’t his style. He shot with Leicas, man. No light meters, no flashes, none of that crap. But he was our photographer in New York at the time. Who else was gonna shoot an ad for us back then? We didn’t really have anybody else. 

How did you guys start meeting up with Ari anyway? He was an old Warhol head, right?  

I met Ari through Jeremy Henderson back in the day. He’s the one who hooked it up. The first time I ever went out with him was the day we shot that frontside flip ad. He started hanging out with us after that.

If you look in the back of that photo, you’ll see some bikes and one of those is Ari’s. He used to ride around town on this Mary Poppins’ bike, man. It was this funny old school bike with a basket on the front and everything, Pee Wee Herman-style.

But he was cool. He’d just be riding around with us, hanging in the back so you’d forget he was there. That’s when he’d start shooting photos. That’s why those photos are so cool because they’re real. It’s us hanging out like we normally would. Nothing is set up.

Were you guys sketched out at first by him?

Nah, I was honestly more sketched out by Larry Clark. That dude was a straight pedophile or something. I don’t know what was going on with that guy.

You weren’t down with Larry?

All I know is that I wasn’t going over to his apartment like some other people were. Nah, that guy was weird. Some of the stuff he’d say? Weird.

Like what?

Just stuff that made you think he was a pedophile. I’m not trying to diss Larry at all. I’m just saying that when I was a younger, I wasn’t about to go over to that dude’s apartment.  No, not doing it. If you were drinking and pass out… nope.

I know you were on tour during filming but what did you think of Kids when you finally saw it?

It was weird seeing my friends in a movie but it was cool. I’ll admit that I do have some resentment, though, because my skate crew went to shit after that thing came out. Justin was always on some hang out shit after that. Hamilton Harris used to be super good but he fell off after that movie, too.

Those guys hung out for 6 months and probably fell back 2 years in progression. I remember getting so mad at them. Skateboarding is something you have to do everyday to be good at. You’re training your body. Muscle memory is constant and you have to be on top of it. You hang out too much, you fall behind.

I had to start changing things around after that to keep going. The old crew was starting to party too much and drugs started coming into play. It all went to shit after that. I had to start finding new people to skate with who I never felt all that comfortable around. That’s kinda what made me start giving up a little.

What about the A Love Supreme video that you were in for Supreme? I personally love that one but I know some of the riders weren’t feeling it at the time.

I’ll be honest, I hated that video. I felt like Thomas Campbell was always too busy trying to film artsy stuff. I wanted to film skating. And when we did film skating, it was all of us out together at once. You can’t film like that. It’s gotta be an individual thing, especially if you want to put together lines and stuff like that. Everyone’s going crazy and getting in each other’s way. It just doesn’t work.

What about those two lines for Eastern Exposure 3? You gotta like those, right?

But that’s exactly what I’m talking about: spontaneous. That was one night and it wasn’t even planned. I just bumped into those dudes. Dan was out filming with someone and I was feeling it. The whole thing was real quick. We just went to a couple grimy spots that I used to skate and that was it. Banged them out.

What’s the secret to a good frontside flip?

You gotta do the whole 180 in the air. When you catch the flip, the 180 has to already be there. I don’t like it when you catch in the air and then turn the rest of the way. Or the pivot thing? Nah, that’s not right.

So how’d Capital enter the picture? That seemed like a perfect fit.

After I got kicked off Stereo, I called up Chris Keefe and got on Capital the same day. He called up Andy Stone about me and he said, “Hell yeah! Put that dude on!”

Capital was great, man. I loved that company and felt like I fit right in. It was a lot of fun. We’d go on tour and all the riders worked real well together. Real smooth. Too bad the owner was shady.

But that’s what killed Capital, right? Dude had a gambling problem?

Yeah, that’s what I heard.

Talk about that cover of High Times? How’d that go down?

I kinda knew this guy who worked for them and he put me on. A bunch of us met up with him down at the Banks. Dude just wanted an ollie photo so I had that, of course. I’d skated the Banks since the 80’s. My thing was that I used to ollie different there. Everyone used to go in-between the planter and the pole but I always went behind the pole. I knew I had that shit.

Personally, that cover was sweet because I knew Ricky was talking a lot of shit about me at the time. I remember him always saying fuck skateboarding magazines, that his dream was to be on the cover of High Times.

Well… take that, asshole. (laughs)

Talk about the appropriately titled Infamous project. A short-lived company with an amazing team that imploded after one of skateboarding’s most notorious 2-demo tours.

My involvement with Infamous basically came about because the owner of Capital had heard a rumor that I was trying to get back on Zoo and kicked me off.

On the last Capital tour, we had a lot of problems with money because the owner was gambling. We’d get to demos and our money just wouldn’t be there so we’d have to figure shit out as we went. We’re staying in these gross hotels. It was crazy.

I think the Zoo stuff started after Capital had sent me out a box of the wrong boards. I’m very particular about riding my board because that’s the shape I want. I didn’t like anybody else’s shape on the team back then. So I traded the boards for some Zoo boards because I liked the pop. So yes, I’m out there riding Zoo boards. To make matters worse, one night while I’m arguing with this asshole photographer, I say something along the lines of, “Whatever, I’ll just get back on Zoo.”

I don’t know if that photographer said something or what but after the tour was over, I get back to New York and the owner calls me up. He basically tells me he can’t take the risk of making my board next season if I’m going to quit… even though it’s selling the most.

I wasn’t trying to get back on Zoo. That shit wasn’t true. The problem was that he asked Rodney about that rumor and he confirmed it, probably as a way of getting back at me for shit. That’s how Rodney was and because of that, I get kicked off Capital.

So now I’m calling up Rodney, demanding to be put back on Zoo, especially since he’d said all that shit to get me kicked off. But he denies everything. Then he goes on to tell me that he couldn’t put me on because he just put on Vinny Ponte. I couldn’t believe it! Are you crazy!?! I mean, Vinny was good but he’s a freakin’ millionaire! Kick him off and put me on! The guy’s loaded, he can start his own company!

…It also didn’t stop them from using my footage in Mixtape, either. Yeah, it was only one trick but I didn’t film it for that.

So shortly after that, Mike Hernandez and Ben Liversedge hit me up about this guy they know who wants to start a company and give us a part of it. I knew it sounded too good to be true but I go meet with them anyway. As soon as I sit down, I immediately start thinking to myself that this will never work out… but I fall for it anyway. I couldn’t resist that “part of the company” bullshit.

Infamous was just one nightmare after another. The products were horrible, all those guys did was lie, they were always changing my board graphics… I always wanted to have input on my graphics because I felt they were a representation of who I was. I was very particular about graphics but those guys were always fucking with them. The whole shit was horrible.

The Infamous tour, the one in the video, that was nuts but that’s not what ended everything. A lot of guys got kicked off after that but the company was still going. The shit really went down at this contest in Jersey not too long after that.

Matt Bell and I were super wasted, walking around the night of the contest and Matt ended up stealing some cameras. I’ve never really spoken about this but how it happened was that we walked into this hotel room where Dune and a couple of dudes were playing dice. This is back when we were vibing him. So just to be a dick, I start blasting my radio and making fun of him.

We end up leaving to go walk around some more and when we walk back by their room later, we notice that the door’s open. We look in and the place is empty.

Matt goes, “Oh shit, there’s the camera!”

It was the first really expensive Sony camera, a 3-chipper or whatever. Honestly, the only reason why we wanted to steal it was because we thought it belonged to Deluxe, stealing it was our way of saying fuck you. Turns out that the camera belonged to Vans, who were actually the ones backing Infamous back then. So yeah, we fucked that up.

We walked out to the end of this pier and threw it in the water. We didn’t even check but evidently there was footage in there and apparently it was of Gonz. Fuck, man. That just made it so much worse. So yeah, the Gonz footage is destroyed, the camera’s gone and it wasn’t even Deluxe’s to begin with… fuckin’ great.

Mike Hernandez ended up throwing me under the bus to save himself. Not trying to be a dick here, just telling the truth: I never wanted him on Zoo or Infamous. Rodney only put him on Zoo because they were friends. I never felt like he deserved to be pro.

But after all that, I was done. I moved upstate and lived by myself like a hermit for a couple years.

When did Supreme come back into the picture?

I actually worked there for a couple years prior to moving upstate.  Whenever I came back, I started working at SSurplus around the corner. I knew that I could get a job back at Supreme if I wanted to, I knew the owner was wondering why I was working for his competition but honestly, I wasn’t really trying to work. The SSurplus job was a cakewalk. The shop was super tiny and I could run it all by myself… which meant I could show up hung over and sleep in the back with the door locked. I’d put up a sign on the door that said, “Be back in 5 minutes” and be asleep in there. If I happened to hear someone knocking, I’d walk out with a big pile of t-shirts. All good.

I did that for a couple years until I got my girlfriend pregnant, so I had to start looking for a real job. Supreme hooked it up.

I know you were there for a while but it seemed like you managed the NY store when it was at the height of launch insanity.

Everything was pretty cool at Supreme until the sneaker thing took off. That’s when the frickin’ assholes started coming out of the woodwork with lines around the block. I had to deal with all that and it was insane. And when the reselling of sneakers became a big thing and those dudes couldn’t get’em… oh my god.

Honestly, we were the ones doing that reselling shit. We saw what people were starting to do with a couple pairs… fuck that, we can do that shit ourselves.

The way we came up on it was when someone came in right before the launch of some sneakers. There were 4 of us working and they offered us $20,000 cash, that’s $5,000 each, just to let them buy these things early. And it’s not like we gave them the sneakers either, they bought them at retail. We were hyped but then we quickly realized that if he wasn’t sweating paying us the $20 grand, how much money is this guy really making? So then we started doing it. 

You were known for ruling that place with an iron fist but do you think you often got a bad rap? Granted, you were quick with the boot and the ban but with how chaotic everything was, I’m not sure there was any other way.

I just wasn’t having it, man! A lot of people were assholes and I just wasn’t having it. We had a system but people would just get crazy! The line would be acting nuts so you know what? Fuck you! You’re not coming in and don’t ever come back here again.

A lot of that shit started with Nick Tershay. I mean, I was always good friends with his brother but I didn’t even know who the fuck Nick was. I didn’t know he was “the Diamond dude” or whatever. I don’t care. I remember him coming into the shop one day and asking if we sell griptape.

“Yeah, of course.“

“Ok then, can I get some grip?”

No problem, I go over and cut the grip.

“5 bucks.”

He just looks at me in shock. It’s true that most of the pro skaters that would come in, if I knew who they were, I wouldn’t charge them. But I didn’t know who this dude was. He’s not a pro skater.

“$5 bucks.”

So he finally gives me the money… but he’s still just standing there, looking at me.

Finally, I’m just like, “What’s up!?!”

“Can you grip it for me?”

I just look at him.

“Do you know how to skate?”


“Then grip that shit yourself!” and I walked off.

So after that, Nick went on some website and badmouthed me. Talking about how I didn’t want to grip his board. No, I didn’t. He still doesn’t like me to this day. Whatever.

I actually did that shit to a lot of people but that was my thing. I’d never let anybody grip my board. To me, that was personal. We’d only grip boards for Moms or if we saw some little kid in the corner struggling, screwing it up. That’s the only time I’d ever grip another skater’s board but I always made sure to teach them as I was doing it. That’s how I was brought up in the skateshop: show them once and then they’re on their own.

It’s a pretty standard unwritten rule, not just at Supreme.

Right!?! Here’s the thing, I was always cool with people but if they disrespected me, that was it. I wasn’t holding back. My temper was insane back then and if I lost it, something was gonna happen. We had to keep that place in check.

You gotta understand that we were under a lot of pressure. The owner could call up at any moment and start cursing you out because honestly, he was paying us a lot of money to work there. I was making almost $70 grand, plus commission. To work at a skateshop? Nobody was making money like that!

Anybody ever try to steal shit while you worked there?

One time we were hanging out in the back and this guy came in and snatched some shit. I almost fuckin’ caught him, too. I chased that motherfucker for 10 blocks in February wearing a t-shirt… but he got away. He grabbed two $400 sweatshirts and ran out the door. That’s probably the only time.

As the legend goes, didn’t you headbutt a kid once?

Ok, I got into some shit with a kid in the line one day and yeah, I gave him a little headbutt.

It was sneaker thing. We start selling sneakers at 10 in the morning when we open and there would already be a line around the block. We close the shop at 7. That shit could just get so crazy, we could do $150,000 in sales on one day and it’s almost all in cash. I gotta count that shit! If we close at 7, I’m lucky to be getting out of there at 9! I’m not staying til 11 to count all that.

So it hits 7 o’clock this one evening and the line is still around the block. We’re trying to close so I just gotta go out there.

“Yo guys, go home. We’re closed.”

This kid starts getting belligerent with me.

“Well, I work at the Mac store and when we release Macs, we stay there til when the last blah, blah, blah…”

“This ain’t the fucking Mac Store! I don’t work for fuckin’ Mac! I work here! This is Supreme. Get outta here! We’re closed!”

But this kid starts getting stupid. He gets in my face screaming… so I give him a headbutt to the nose. He grabbed his face and ran away. That was it. I never saw him again. I swore that I was gonna get fired when I came in the next day but nothing ever happened.

Another time, I choked some kid from behind the counter because he started mouthing off to me. I had to let him know. When I grew up, I never mouthed off to the older dudes in my hood because I knew they’d slap the shit of you. So when this kid was mouthing off, I had to keep telling him, for real, that just because I’m a grown-ass man doesn’t mean that I won’t come out from behind the counter and do something. But he just kept fuckin’ needling me so I lunged across the counter and grabbed him by the throat. I got him by his adam’s apple and just remember squeezing him. He gets this look on his face like he thought he was gonna die. I had to let him go.

His mother called the next day to the shop, wanting to speak to the manager. Luckily, that was me. I played it off.

That was the thing, nobody had a connection to the office at the time. I’d see the owner maybe 3 times a year, even though his office was only 2 blocks away. I think he was too scared to walk over. He knew there was crazy shit going on but he didn’t want to see it. He could hear about it, he just didn’t want to see it. The money was coming in, insane amounts of money. The guy was getting rich.

It started to change after that.

What happened that you stopped working there?

I got into a car accident and hurt my back. I couldn’t even walk for a while after that. That’s when the owner tells me that he didn’t need me to work there anymore and basically paid me to leave. 

I feel like he used a lot of us to build up his brand and then threw us away. Using people’s talent and street credit because they didn’t have it. Even after I’d stopped working for him, he opens a store in London with pictures of me all over the walls. Making sneakers with Vans that have my image on them. I don’t make any money off that. I know he says he bought the photos off Ari so he can do whatever he wants with them but c’mon, that’s not right. I got kids. I gotta make money. I work.

I was just about to say that with both Zoo York and Supreme, you were at ground zero for two brands that really exploded in popularity.

I do feel like I’m one of the people who made Supreme what it is today and I don’t feel like I got anything out of it. The guy’s probably worth half a billion dollars and I’m broke. (laughs) 

I feel like the guys who helped start it are owed something. They have so much money, man. There’s only a couple of us. When he told me he that he didn’t want me to work there anymore, he should’ve given me like $10 million dollars or something. That amount of money wouldn’t have even affected him.

As we wrap this thing up, while you've definitely had some classic photos over the years, with less than a minute of total footage over the years, it's not like you never had the most accessible of careers.  Why do you think your skating still has this cult following 20 years later?

Honestly, I don’t know. I guess my skating just stood out. Like I said, I did skate real fast and aggressive, especially for the time.

I actually have a bunch of footage from the Stereo days that no one has ever seen. I still have the Hi-8 tape. I don’t even know what’s on it or if it still works. I remember that we were working on a video at the time I got canned and I was able to get all of my footage back. Maybe I’ll put that out someday.

I’m down if you are. But do you feel like you got your proper due in skateboarding? Did the industry blow it when it came to Ryan Hickey?

I don’t know, man. I know I could’ve done more. I think I actually had the potential to be one of those top dogs but I underestimated my own abilities… and once I realized what I had, it was too late. Maybe at the time when people wanted me to move to California, I might’ve been around a lot longer had I done that. I think I might’ve stood by my crew a little too long at a certain point, that a few people might’ve been holding me back.

But there's no way of knowing that shit. I did everything I could for myself. The industry is such a weird thing. It's all so fake, man. So many kooks and so many empty promises. I just wanted to skate. Unfortunately, there's so much more bullshit to it than that.

Thanks to Quartersnacks, Ray Mate and Ryan for taking the time.


chrome ball interview #93: vinny ponte

chops and vinny break bread.

So Vinny, I did some research and I gotta ask: Why are you afraid of little people, man?

(laughs) You had to set it off like that, didn’t you?

I honestly don’t know, man. People are scared of irrational stuff. I’m scared of midgets. I’m sorry if that’s not the correct term: midgets, dwarves, little people… fuckin’ monsters. I’m sorry. They scare the shit out of me. I don’t know why but whenever they’re around, I just can’t act right.

I was at Ted Newsome’s wedding a while back and all of the guys went out to eat at Hooters one night. And Reda… you know Reda, right?

Yeah, he’s the one who told me to ask this question.

That prick cocksucker.

So anyway, we’re at Hooters eating and a whole family of them just happens to walk in behind me. I don’t even see them come in but all of a sudden, Reda’s laughing, telling me not to turn around… so, of course, I gotta turn around. I had to run out the fucking restaurant.

I have nothing against them. It’s not like I hate ‘em or anything. I’m just petrified of them. I’m truly scared. I’d rather hang out with a bunch of dirty, drunken clowns then see a midget walking down the street.

We’re probably gonna get some comments on that one. So moving on… deep in the NYC mix, even after moving out to Jersey as a teen, what was it like growing up as a little dude yourself on the streets of pre-Guiliani New York?

It’s pretty insane to look back on. We’d roll around 15-30 deep all day, every day. It was cool because as long as you didn’t look like you had a gun, cops didn’t really give a shit. Real talk, we’d be wildin’ out and cops would just roll right past. But at the same time, we never really posted up at spots either. People didn’t really skate spots in New York back then. We just skated down the street, hitting whatever you saw. You might get a trick, boom, and keep it going. There was no Seaport or Pyramid Ledges. We might meet up at the Banks or warm up at Astor Place but that was it. It was different back then.

Anything stand out as a particularly sketchy experience from back then?

I got crazy stories, man. What do you want to hear? Like, I remember all of us skating to the Tunnel one night. On the way there, we crossed 26th Street where all the hookers and pimps were at. Some shit went down and Harold ended up slapping a hooker. Next thing I know, there’s a pimp shooting at us.

I brought up the Banks earlier. I don’t think people remember how sketchy that spot was. Anybody who wasn’t from New York was getting robbed. It was that simple. But at the same time, on the flipside of that, I remember this one time at the Banks when a few of these hood kids from Brooklyn tried robbing one of our friends. This kid tried taking our friend’s board, not realizing that all 150 of us kids skating there were together. Next thing you see is literally 150 skaters chasing this kid across the Brooklyn Bridge. Shit got wild.

I was reading Berra’s piece about first meeting you as the world’s loudest 13-year-old at Woodward Birdhouse demo back in the day, talking shit on him and everyone else after every missed trick. Would you do that kinda shit at demos often?

Where I come from, you talk shit. If you can handle it, then we become friends. If you can’t, you’re a pussy. I talk shit to everybody. That’s what I do. No one ever really got bummed because it was all in good fun. You gotta remember that I met all those guys at Woodward… Berra, Alphonzo Rawls, Fred Orlande. We’d all just be hanging out and became friends. That’s how I made a lot of friends actually.

Was shit ever reversed down the line where a kid tried doing that to you at a demo?

Nah, they never did. Honestly, the only shit talk I’ve ever gotten was on the internet.

It’s good for that. Explain Dead End Skateboards to kids who might not have been around or paying attention back then. I always loved the brand and they always had quite the cult following… there’s still Dead Endustries stickers on almost every toll booth and toilet stall you come across on the East Coast to this day.

Yeah, Dead End was a small brand out of New York back in the day. It was all from this guy, Vinny Raffa, one of the best dudes ever. If it wasn’t for Vinny, I know for a fact that Danny Supa, Javier and myself would never have gone anywhere in skateboarding. We were still really young but he happened to see us out skating somewhere and started hooking us up with product and rides to contests. 

He put us in the circle, man. We were too young at the time to realize how grateful we should’ve been to him. He’s just a nice, generous guy.

Was that your first sponsor?

No, but to be honest, I’m a little embarrassed about anything earlier than that. I mean, like I said, I can talk a lot of shit. I’m a talker. So I started doing this thing where I’d flip through magazines and call all the companies to try and get free shit. Next thing you know, I’m getting hooked up by all these crazy little companies just from talking shit. I’m getting boxes from Flyaway helmets! No sponsor-me videos or nothing…

Flyaway helmets!?!

Yeah! I’m fucking 12-years-old, sitting there with 8 Flyaway helmets! I look like a kook but I didn’t care, I just wanted free shit!

Incredible.  So going back to your more legitimate sponsorship days, what was the story with that crazy Dead End Team Mixer ad you were in? Send $10 for a mixtape. What the hell was going on there?

That was all for shits and giggles, man. Just for fun. I was already DJing by then and everybody knew I was heavy into rap. Vinny Raffa just wanted to do something stupid. I remember him coming up to me like, “I know you DJ and your pants sag, let’s take it a step further. Just make it wild style”

“Fuck it. Let’s do it.”

Don’t forget that you had to do ad minimums back then in order to get in magazines. That was actually a lot of money but Vinny put it up.

That hat was pure leather, by the way. Just to let you know.

Was there really a mixtape? Did you make that?

(laughs) To be honest, I never made that mixtape. I only made mixtapes for Raekwon, never Dead End.

It was around this time that you made some serious waves in Transworld as the “first to ollie the Love Gap”… a caption that still stirs controversy to this day. Leading the detractors, one Choppy Omega has been very adamant over the years about his doing it first…

I know! Choppy is serious!

Not to be rude, and I love Philly to death, but I do think people got butt-hurt that I got the first photo ollieing that gap. Know what I mean? I’m sure they’d much rather have someone from Philly have gotten the photo.

Everyone always brings this up, man. The truth is that I’d never even been to Philly before that day. Vinny drove us all down for a contest. All the top dudes were down there and we were hyped. I remember skating around and all of a sudden, it’s thrown out there like, “Whoever is first to ollie the Love Gap gets $200 bucks!”

So I ollie it and I get the money. It was only when they put it in the magazine with the caption that I was the first to ollie it, that’s when people started saying shit. My reply, and I’ll admit that I might’ve been a little drunk back then, a little high… but I remember saying “Yo, if you don’t got a picture of it, don’t start talking shit.”

That’s what I’d always say, which probably didn’t help the situation much. But I never claimed that I was the first to ollie it ever. There was no claiming first back then. It’s like being the first to ollie over the Brooklyn Banks Wall… I have no idea who really did it first. A lot of people did it, regardless of photos. I mean, Supa and I used to drive around, ollieing way bigger gaps than Love back then. We definitely weren’t the only ones doing shit like that.

Choppy’s saying he’s got an exact date with witnesses.

I mean, come on. That shit is funny to me.

But yo, much respect to Choppy. I don’t know him and I’d never diss him. Too bad I didn’t see the footage. Too bad I wasn’t there. I mean, I can say I did whatever down the Hollywood 16, too. But yo, much respect.

How’d you and Supa end up on Tree Fort? What was the story with that company?

Yeah, Tree Fort was through Troy Morgan, the guy who went on to do Kayo. He started Tree Fort out of his garage. Like I said, I was good friends with Alphonzo Rawls and I was out there visiting one time, we ended up stopping by Troy’s house. We go skating and Troy asks me to ride for Tree Fort that day.

From there, we started getting a team together. Tree Fort was cool, man. It was a lot of fun. My thing was that I still felt we needed another East Coast dude on there but everybody kept on telling me to chill. I pressed it though.

“Trust me. Fly Danny Supa out here.”

Within 5 minutes of Danny landing out here, he switch kickflips up a picnic table. This was back in 1995. All of a sudden, these guys want him on the team!

“Nah, chill. I thought you guys didn’t want anymore East Coast dudes.” (laughs)

We’ve already talked about how territorial heads were back then, did you get much shit for riding on a west coast company from friends back East?

Honestly, not at all.

Growing up with skateboarding in the 90’s on the East Coast, it was more about holding your ground wherever you were, period. It wasn’t just some coast shit, you had to hold down your spot. When you went skating and saw another skater getting fucked with, if you didn’t help them out, you were gonna get your ass kicked later by the rest of the crew. Everybody had to hold their own.

For example, I went to college in Boston. My first night there, I roll up to Copley Square, which was the ill spot at the time. Robbie Gangemi, Roger Bagley and Jahmal Williams are all there.

“Yo, what are you doing here?”

“I live here now. I live right down the fucking street and I’m gonna be skating here everyday. What’s up?” 

“Just as long as you’re ready to hold it down.”

The same shit happened the first time I went to Pulaski Park. Brian Tucci and those dudes broke it down to me the same way. You can do your thing as long as you’re not a punk and if you’re gonna talk shit, make sure you can fight. If not, get the fuck outta here. It wasn’t as much about tricks as it was about being respectful. If you’re not local but you’re coming to these spots, you gotta be part of that. That’s how it was.

So you were going to school in Boston? Weren’t you going out to Cali a ton at this point as well?

Well, Tree Fort was in Oceanside. Somehow I worked it out to where I was having them fly me out to San Diego from Boston every other weekend.

Damn, that’s impressive!

It was nuts, man. We were out skating with all these crazy dudes like Chad Muska and Rob Dyrdek, going to all these spots… Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve been to the Carlsbad Gap and all that shit. That shit was pretty big. I tried to tre flip it and ended up bruising my heel. But for real, one thing I remember thinking to myself constantly while being out there at first was, “Yo, this Cali shit is pussy!”

All the spots are golden, man. They’re perfect. Everything’s so smooth. We were all riding minimum 56mm wheels back in New York while everybody in Cali’s riding 51s! And on top of that, everything’s mad small. They were like warm-up spots. I was always wondering where the real spots were.

How seriously did you take the Tree Fort video? Of course, your part is solid but did you give it top priority? Because you were all over the mags by then and more kids were bound to see that shit in comparison.

That’s a good question because at the time, I didn’t take it all that seriously. I wasn’t trying to kill myself. I was more about going out with my friends and having fun, skating different spots. I wasn’t used to that Cali life of going to spots and trying to get this and that for the video. I definitely wasn’t sitting around making lists or whatever. It was more about wherever you ended up. I think that’s probably how I was able to get so many photos in the magazines. I didn’t have to think about some crazy part but I could get photos as I went.

I mean, my ender for that is me falling into a sand pit. I just got done smoking a blunt and I got wrecked! It was funny! This was the generation before kids started looking at videos like, “It’s time to die.”

How’d that double-kink frontside boardslide for the cover of Transworld happen?

The story behind that is basically what I was just talking about: going out and skating around with my friends. I knew that I was going to try and get a photo that day but I honestly had something else in mind. My thing is that I always liked to bring my boys to come skate along with me to help pump me up. So we’re skating around and we end up at that double-kink. That spot wasn’t even for me. It was for Caine Gayle. He brought up wanting to 50-50 that thing…

“Oh shit!?! Alright! Let’s go!”

We’re all family so Alphonzo and I go with him for support or whatever. I was actually thinking about frontside boardsliding the Oceanside rail for a photo later that day…. I wasn’t even going to try a front board on that double-kink until Caine brought it up. But that’s how it worked out.

I gotta admit that the one I made was kinda wack. I did do one right before where I slid down the whole thing, even the bottom part, but I hit a crack and fell right when I landed. I ended up going a little faster and did it but I didn’t really like it. I flew out and it was kinda sketchy but that’s the photo they used.

How’d Zoo get into the picture?

Tree Fort kinda slowly dissolved. Troy’s investors had lied and ended doing some bullshit. I’d just finished school in Boston and moved back down to New York when Zoo York started gaining interest in me. I already knew just about everybody on the team and was usually out skating with those dudes everyday, putting in work. I ended up going to this bowling party one night with my friends and all of a sudden, they have a Zoo York jersey for me, recruiting me on the team that night.

Did you take the Mixtape project a bit more serious than the Tree Fort video?

I’m not gonna lie: no, not at all. I was a lunatic at the time. We were all fucking lunatics. I’m not trying to plan shit out for a video part. I’m just gonna go out and skate for a few months and hopefully get some good shit on film.

Honestly, the thing that trips me out the most whenever I read shit about that part on the internet, they’re always making comments about that red vest I wore.

I was gonna bring that up.

It’s so funny. People are always bringing up that red vest and it wasn’t even my coat! It was my friend’s coat and he doesn’t even skate! I was just wearing it because I was cold. That’s the only reason I have anything to do with that fucking coat! We were in North Carolina at that police station down there… but I will say, even though they cut to Diamond D rhyming, I did that whole line in one try. We were out.

That coat must’ve been good luck.

People will bring up that red vest and they’ll also say that it looks like I’m gonna take a shit every time I bend down to ollie. And you know, personally, that does hurt a little. But hey, who gives a fuck?

courtesy of Quartersnacks

Since we’re on the subject of fashion, what about the cornrows? You gotta admit that’s a questionable call. And what about the gold VP chain in that ad? You still got that thing?

Yeah, I still got that chain! I’m from fucking New York, b!

That’s what’s funny about the cornrows: in New York, that shit doesn’t matter. You can be black, white, Puerto Rican, whatever. As long as you were you, fuck it! I used to get my hair cornrowed in Boston on the steps of my boy’s house by all the hood chicks. I thought that shit was dope! I was big into hip-hop, man! My hair was wild style!

Yo, you can call me a fruitcake if you want but I always wanted that straight Tony Hawk haircut back in the day, too. Of course I’m gonna run some cornrows!

Was the Stretch and Bobbito theme always the concept for Mixtape?

Well, Eli Gesner was best friends with Stretch at the time. He’d hang out there during shows and there was all that classic footage from dudes coming into the studio to freestyle so I think it all just came about from there. I didn’t have a say nor did I request any songs to skate to. Zoo York put it all together. I was just focused on the filming and the skating.

I was psyched because Diamond D is one of my favorites but that got a little crazy. I remember the first time I met him was after the video came out, I walked into Fat Beats and he was in there. I just walked up to him and said, “Thank you!”

“Thank you for what?”

 “Yo, thank you for being in my video part!”

“What the fuck are you talking about? What video part?”

He had no clue about any of it but he played it cool. I explained it a little more and gave him a copy of the video. Not too long after that, the Zoo York video ended up getting shut down. I was told that it was my fault. We’d never cleared any of that stuff.

Damn, but you guys are friends now?

Yeah, years later, my boy Juju from Beatnuts and I were partying one night and he formally introduces me to him. We get drunk and next thing you know, we’re all on a plane heading to Florida to my grandmother’s house, wilding out in my grandfather’s Rolls Royce. Obviously there was never any beef. Because Zoo York had used his song without clearance, he naturally did what any artist would do. He conducted a reasonable course of action. No beef, no stress.

What were Zoo York tours like during that post-Kids/Mixtape era?

Going on tour with those guys made Kids look like a G-rated movie. So many stories from back then, man. What do you want to hear about: money, guns or drugs?

What’s your go-to?

The go-to deals with this one night where we found ourselves in a bit of a situation. We were in Missouri or Michigan or some fuckin’ place like that. I’d just gotten kicked out of a bar because I’d basically started some shit with these dudes. Next thing I know, the whole squad is sitting in this diner eating when those same dudes from earlier show up. I can’t recall exactly what set it off, all I remember is Jeff Pang ripping off his shirt in the middle of the place, screaming, “What’s up? I’m from Brooklyn. What’s good?”

It all spilled outside and shit got real. We all started fighting. You gotta remember, these dudes were like 220lbs and Supa and I are probably the smallest dudes there. I see these two dudes step to Jeff so I run up to help out. As I do, I hear this other guy say, “What’s up, little man? You want some?”

I end up getting this dude to chase after me to try and even everything out. That’s when one of my partners finds a rake on the ground and yolks a dude up. After that, everyone we were fighting just seemed to disappear. They’re gone.

The thing was I didn’t throw a punch and neither did one of our other boys who will remain nameless. We didn’t run but we didn’t hold it down 100% either. So when we got back to the hotel, they’re like, “Y’all two niggas didn’t fight. Now you’re gonna catch it.”

We caught it. Granted we were still young or whatever but we deserved it. We got through it and we’re better for it. A week later, we’re at another spot and more shit went down, me and my man definitely held it down and represented. We had to show how people get knocked the fuck out.

Zoo York was like a family, man. It was serious. If you weren’t down with the program, you were getting fucked up.

Didn’t you meet Biggie on a Zoo tour and he recognized Harold or something? How’d that go down?

I’ll tell you dead-ass how it went down. A bunch of us were flying out from Newark to San Diego for a trade show. Harold’s in front of me as we’re getting on the plane and as we’re walking through first class, we see Biggie sitting there. All of a sudden, Biggie looks at Harold and goes, “Yo! I saw the movie Kids! What the fuck!?! Come sit next to me!”

We couldn’t believe it but Harold goes and sits down next to Biggie with this big grin on his face while the rest of us walk all the way back to coach. I remember sitting back there for the rest of the flight, thinking about how Harold was wilding out up there with Biggie. I wanted to get up there so fuckin’ bad.

Harold and I had a good thing going. I’ll always remember him coming up to me after we landed.

“Yo, I got you something.”

He reaches into his pocket and hands me this crumpled up piece of paper.

“It’s Biggie’s napkin!”

I unfold and it really is fucking Biggie’s napkin. It’s all fucked up with stains and shit on it. I was hyped!

“Are you kidding me!?!”

“I know you love Biggie, man. I ain’t fuckin’ stupid.”

I still have that napkin to this day. I loved Harold for that.

I was gonna ask for your best Harold memory but I imagine that’s probably it, right?

The Biggie one for me is a favorite but did you ever hear the chicken one? This shit is just so funny, man. Legends never die. It was this one time where we were literally out skating all day, seriously from 11:30 in the morning to 6:30 at night. I know for a fact that we didn’t stop anywhere. We’re just out skating from spot to spot. I remember we all sat down for a second and, out of nowhere, Harold pulls out a piece of chicken from his pocket and starts eating it.

“Yo, where the fuck did that come from?”

That shit had been in his pocket literally all day and he’s over there eating it like its fresh out the box. I couldn’t fucking believe it. I love Harold to death, man.

Zoo was about to explode with some big investors… why’d you leave?

I got cocky. I felt like I was the only one on the team who was out there putting in work for the company and that I deserved more. I was constantly going here and there, out to California and trying to get into the magazines. The money was coming in, I wanted more of it. I felt like I deserved more than everybody else because of all that I was doing. But they said they couldn’t do it for whatever reason… fuck it then, I’m out. I quit the team.

Looking back on it, it was a big mistake. Like I said, I just got cocky. I was talking shit and I was probably on a good one. I shouldn’t have left like that but I chalk it up as a learning experience. I can honestly say that there’s not one company I rode for that I have a problem with. Trust me, I’d tell you if they were dicks. I love Zoo York and it’s still my fucking family since day one. We’re still brothers.

How’d you end up on Dynasty?

I’d known Donger for a while. He was a DJ and I was a DJ so we had that in common, too. After Zoo, I knew he was trying to do something and it sounded good. He was on a different path than I was but I respected that shit. He wasn’t a yes man. He really seemed to know what he was doing and I was hyped on how Dynasty turned out. I loved Dynasty.

Because we had the DJ connection, I used to love going out to stay at Donger’s house. We’d hang out and skate and do DJ shit all the time.  Sheffey was living above him, too. It was crazy.

Any good stories with Shef?

I mean, getting woken up at 6 in the morning with Sheffey literally standing over top of my head.

“Yo, get up. We’re going on a bike ride.”

“Bike ride? I don’t do bike rides.”

“I don’t give a fuck.”

Back then, Sheffey was on some other shit…

So did you go?

Of course I went! Are you fucking nuts!?!

He literally took me to all the spots he killed in the Life video. That double-kink rail he did in that? Straight up, you could offer me a million dollars to try that thing and I’d say fuck you.

But yeah, he’d wake me up all the time to go on bike rides. We’d go to the San Diego Zoo, we’d go to that old Bus Stop spot and skate… whatever he wanted to do. Honestly, he was crazy as fuck but he held it down, for sure.

So how’d you make the leap into the hip-hop world like you did? It seemed like you were suddenly deep in the mix with Raekwon, going on tour in Japan with the Beatnuts and DJing for Jeru at the Static 3 premiere. How did all that happen?

For me, skateboarding and music always went together. I was always messing around with both. I was always DJing, I was down with the dudes at Fat Beats… I’d go over to Amsterdam with Big L and those dudes. That’s just how shit was. It was kinda gradual until things finally reached a point where Supa came over to my house one day and Raekwon was there, smoking weed and writing rhymes. Supa just started going nuts, like, “Dude, that’s Raekwon!”

I never quit skating or anything, I just kinda faded away from skating professionally as I got more into other shit. 

I was able to meet Raekwon through a friend of mine we used to call Billy Bullshits. You can guess why. This was probably around 2001 or so and he hits me up about doing a cooking show on tv. He wants to film Raekwon cooking in my kitchen.

I really didn’t believe him but sure, whatever.

So I’m chilling at my house with a broken leg, smoking blunts… when all of a sudden, my buzzer goes off.

“Yo, who is it?”

“It’s Rae.”

“Who the fuck is Ray!?!”

“It’s Raekwon.”

“Oh... alright.”

So now Raekwon is in my house. There’s a bunch of white boys following him around with cameras. Shit is crazy. Rae’s cooking fish in my kitchen. Billy Bullshits actually came through.

So you know how everybody is always talking about how they have the best weed? Well, at the time, I really did happen to have the best weed. I had to bust out this glass jar of weed on Raekwon.

“Yo, you rappers are always talking about this shit. You guys aren’t smoking any shit like this!”

He looks at it and tries to front… 2 minutes later, he’s telling everybody, “Cut the show. Cut the show.”

He comes over and starts rolling blunts while I start DJing in the studio I had set-up in my apartment.

“Yo, you’re my DJ now.”

Just like that. I’m kinda surprised but I play it off.


I did 4 mixtapes for him after that, straight outta my house. Shit just went off from there. All of a sudden, I’m sitting around playing Playstation with Method Man like, “Dude, are you fucking kidding me?”

Somehow I find myself in the studio with these dudes. RZA and GZA are over there playing chess. Meth and I are bugging out. We’re all rolling blunts and shit. It was like my all-time rap fantasy!

I remember going back and telling my friends, half of them didn’t even believe me… maybe Vinny’s too zooted or something. But fast forward a few days later, we’re all hanging out at my house when the doorbell rings and here walks in Raekwon with whoever else, wanting to record a track. It is what it is.

In general, who’s more fun to tour with: skaters or rappers??

Easily skaters. You never know what the fuck skaters are gonna do. You wake up in the morning and your leg hurts, you still might be jumping down 10 stairs later on that day on top of whatever else might come up. Rappers are cool and I was always psyched to be around them but it’s more relaxed. Chilling, rolling blunts… that type of shit.

Smiff N Wessun, Jeru, Guru… those dudes used to come over and chill at my house all the time because I had a studio there. We’d go out to a bar or something, get fucked up and fall back in at my house later on. I remember Large Professor coming over and asking to use my MPC one night after going out. I pass out and wake up to a fucking Large Pro beat on my shit. I couldn’t believe it. It was crazy. Like, Bushwick Bill came over and tried to play me for $500 one time…

With your fear of little people, I’m surprised you even let him in your apartment.

To be honest, I had everything covered. If shit was about to go down, I was just gonna throw him out the fucking window.

But skateboarding was always first. I used to geek out on skaters all the time. In comparison, I probably only geeked out on maybe three rappers over the years. Like, I remember going over to Busta Rhymes’ studio so he could do a verse for this song Raekwon was working on. After we record everything, Raekwon asks me if I want to get a quick drop from Busta for my mixtape.

“Nah, I don’t like Busta.”

Raekwon looks at me and just starts laughing.

“Yo, you’re a crazy nigga, son.”

“I don’t give a shit. I don’t fuck with Busta Rhymes. I don’t listen to his shit.”

“This is why I love you, man. Alright then, so what do you want to do now?”

“Well… let’s go get some pizza.”

So I know you were running Rival in NYC for a while and now you’re over at Kayo on Fairfax, not to mention being decades deep with your family’s restaurant biz and all this rap shit, how’d your 40 for 40 part come about for the Berrics? It was great to see you out there but how’d you even have enough time to make that happen?

I was turning 40-years-old and I got psyched to do a part. Like you said, I’m still in the skate scene and I thought it’d be cool. I brought it up to Berra and he was down. He gave me a key to the park, which was a blessing… I mean, don’t get me wrong, he definitely made sure I knew that I couldn’t be trying to push out some bullshit. I had to have some tricks in there or it was dead. But yeah, I’d go in there from 9pm to 4 in the morning. I worked hard on that thing. Those are some late nights and I really appreciate the Berrics for making it happen. They didn’t have to do all that for me.

I can’t lie though, that part took a while. There were a few tricks in there that I’m still trying to get. I tried tre flipping the 10-stair and made it so many times but couldn’t roll away.

You kept on breaking boards.

Yeah, I could never make it. But it reached a point after that where I decided that I was just going to skate and have fun with it.

I mean, that’s how you’ve described the process for all your previous parts from back in your “prime”…

Right? That’s what skateboarding is to me. That’s me. I’m not trying to battle my age. I don’t need a video ender-type part. I just want to put out something cool on the Berrics. If you remember, Felix put out a part like that on the Berrics as well. At the very least, let me focus on trying to one-up him instead of killing myself. 

I actually tried to get Felix in there but it didn’t work out. I got a couple of dudes in there that I was happy about. I remember Nick Tucker doing that switch inward heelflip down the 10 over and over again. Every single try. That really fucked me up. This generation is out of control.

The part was solid though. That had to feel good.

Yeah, I ended up having a birthday party there, too. It was packed with like 200 kids, all out there skating and having fun. Not that I’m gonna quit skating but honestly, all that stuff did give me a real sense of fulfillment with my skateboarding career. There’s so many skateboarders that never got their due. Think about all the underrated East Coast skaters from back in the day... We went through some real shit in the early 90s.

There's so much more to it than talent. You also gotta be at the right place at the right time and it helps to have the right friends. Everyone's always been so good to me. Don't ever burn your bridges, man. That's important. It's all about friends, family and growing up skating with each other. I appreciate all of it.

Big thanks to Vinny for taking the time.