Roughly a decade ago, while still riding for Alien Workshop and living in Basquiat’s old apartment in Downtown Manhattan, Jason Dill talked in an early Epicly Later’d episode about the challenges of being a pro in NYC:
“What percentage of working pros live in Los Angeles? About 75% percent,” he told Patrick O’Dell. “How many pros live in New York? There’s about 5.”
Dill also mentioned how difficult it was to get coverage while living in NYC, let alone get the cover of Transworld. Flash-forward to today and his FA teammate Anthony Van Engelen is on the cover of Thrasher Magazine skating a handrail in New York. (OK, it’s not TWS, but you get the drift.) Moreover, as New Yorkers deal with the brutal winter cold, Huf and Levis just hosted a skate session at a bar in Williamsburg that houses a giant bowl, and just recently many industry heads converged at Max Fish for a Tommy Guerrero pop-up show. This kind of activity isn’t unusual for NYC in 2015, but 10 years ago? Fat chance.
These days, New York coverage is common, and Dill’s interview — by no fault of his own — seems ancient. It’s no longer a necessity to move to California to have a skate career. Yeah, there aren’t really any Nike SB sponsored bro videos coming out of Alaska (yet), but the eyes of our collective culture are no longer focused on one state. So, why did it take so long for a career in skating to be viable outside the West Coast, and why is NYC becoming the next hub of skate culture?
One word: technology. In the years since Dill’s interview, traditional skateboard magazines and media have been heavily disrupted by web and mobile phone content. Getting a pic in a big magazine or having a marquee part in a DVD is no longer the only way to get recognized. In fact, a good amount of Instagram followers and a steady flow of content will keep your name buzzing much longer than a print ad in 2015. Because of this shift in how we receive our skateboarding, California, where all the media (Thrasher, Transworld, The Skateboard Mag, the Berrics…) resides, is steadily losing its monopoly on the skate industry. Print’s decline and the rise of the web have forced the notoriously insular skateboarding industry to open up and become more democratic. You no longer need to be skating in SoCal with the “right filmer,” the “right photographer,” and schmoozing with the big magazine editors just to get some coverage. Instead, you can upload a trick from Bumfuck, Nowhere that can go viral way before that mag could even get to press.
”Print’s decline has made skateboarding more democratic”
The skate industry’s decentralization is being felt first and most strongly in NYC because it’s New York City – the epicenter of American art and fashion at a time when those things matter more than ever in skateboarding (and money can be made off of them). The city that used to turn almost every aspiring pro skater who moved here into a penniless part-time bus boy, has become the new mecca for skate brands and individuals alike. Brands have established NYC offices, Nike has decorated a floating barge with logos and skate obstacles for “Go Skate Day,” and the British brand Palace picked the Big Apple to host their high-priced pop-up shop instead of Los Angeles. Skaters are actually giving up the perfect California weather and spots to move here. Longtime pros like Mark Gonzales, Brian Anderson, and Stefan Janoski all live in New York now. And up-and-comers like Yonnie Cruz, Aaron Herrington, and Gavin Nolan have all left their homes for the rough streets of NYC. Instead of forcing people to move to California, major sponsors are now letting and even encouraging that their riders reside in NYC.
Steve Rodriguez, founder of 5Boro, recently said something that shed some light on this shift from the perspective of a longtime NYC local. “Four or five years ago,” he told me, “you couldn’t be the solo dude living in New York because your brand and sponsors weren’t here and your brand wasn’t supporting you to be here. But now, with social media, it’s also more about the individuals. These individuals have become brands themselves. Brian Anderson, Alex Olson, you know, they are brands. It’s almost like, let these guys live where they want to live. The companies and sponsors understand that that’s the way things are going. That they should support them and back these leaders in the skate culture and as a result, they get some marketing off of that. They are allowing the skaters to be themselves in a way. I truly believe that.”
”Skaters no longer move here and watch their careers slowly fade.”
NYC isn’t relevant because of the Element store in Times Square or the Dew Tour taking over a Brooklyn block for a contest. New York’s prominence has risen with the momentum of small companies and local videos: Theories of Atlantis, Bronze, Supreme, Mandible Claw, Quartersnacks, Johnny Wilson’s videos, LurkNYC…etc along with heritage brands 5Boro, SHUT, Zoo York are the leaders and inspiration of a kind of dogged persistence to make shit work even when the odds are against you.
That’s not to say that skate culture in California is over, or that the scales have tipped totally to the East, instead it’s an example of a determined change that’s taking root throughout the skate world, starting in NYC. What do you do when it’s too cold to skate? You layer up and put on some fucking gloves, not quit and start snowboarding. If Ty Evans isn’t coming to your city with a giant crane and production crew to film you, then you go get a shitty camera and film your crew. Think Blades is corny? Start a shop. Nowhere to skate? Lobby to get the money you pay in taxes back for a park.
NYC has long been on the forefront of the do-what-you-can-with-what-you-have mindset that makes any culture exciting and ever-evolving, and skateboarding is nothing if it’s not in constant flux. This recent shift in focus, from the California coast to the five boroughs, may be just the beginning of a widespread decentralization of the pro skate world. As the big brands look to extend their reach, they hit the major markets first.
It goes back to something that Steve Rodriguez mentioned in our conversation: “As a lot of the bigger brands get involved with skateboarding, they need to hit the big markets. Yes, there are the core sales from skateboarding and skateboarders, but there’s all the fashion, music and scene around that. And what drives their sales isn’t the core skate markets, it’s the fringe around it.” As crews from other markets like the Southwest deserts (Pyramid Country), Appalachian hills (Bust Crew) and the Scandinavian mountains (Polar) continue to gain global recognition, we may see many other cities start riding the wave that New York has been enjoying over the last couple of years.