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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.