Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Skaters Gather to Pay Tribute to a Legend in NYC
Generations of Skaters Gather to Pay Tribute to a Legend in NYC
August 17, 2009 By COLIN MOYNIHAN - New York Times
The noise of skateboard wheels thrumming on wooden ramps echoed near the Brooklyn waterfront in Greenpoint on Saturday night, where a semisecret skating spot called the Autumn Bowl is located inside an old brick warehouse.
Photographs of the New York City skateboarding pioneer Andy Kessler decorated the walls inside the warehouse, and bouquets of roses sat on a table next to handwritten messages addressed to Mr. Kessler, who died last week at age 48 after an allergic reaction to an insect sting.
In another sort of tribute, dozens of skaters took turns whizzing around a 2,500-square-foot, 7-foot-deep birch skateboarding bowl, as a boom box blared songs by the Beastie Boys and the Who.
Among the 200 or so people who showed up to remember Mr. Kessler was Tony Alva, a champion skater from Santa Monica, Calif., who many believe epitomizes West Coast skating and who said that Mr. Kessler embodied “the spirit of New York.”
“He carried that flag higher and bolder than anyone,” Mr. Alva said as he stood in a wide alleyway next to the warehouse. “He skates with me today.”
More than 30 years of skating the homemade ramps and rutted streets of New York City left plenty of marks on Mr. Kessler, including scrapes and scars from bone-shattering collisions. And in many ways, Mr. Kessler left an equally strong impression on the city.
They called him the Godfather, and as a teenager on the Upper West Side in the 1970s he skated at places with names like the Death Bowl, an abandoned pool in the Bronx, and Suicide Hill, a steep slope near the banks of the Hudson River. He also became a member of a group of graffiti writers and skaters who called themselves the Soul Artists of Zoo York and who helped define East Coast skating.
“Andy was like the president, the king,” said an artist called Zephyr, who was part of the group.
As a teenager Mr. Kessler skated on the fringes of the city, using planks pilfered from construction sites to create makeshift ramps. Later, after wrangling with the New York City parks department, he designed and helped build one of the city’s first sanctioned skate parks, at 108th Street and Riverside Drive. It opened in the mid-1990s at a spot where he had first skated 20 years before. Other skate parks followed.
The renegade roots of that time seemed distant on Saturday morning as a handful of young skaters there signed forms that exempted the city from liability, then — wearing helmets, elbow pads and kneepads — rolled briskly along. One young skater, wearing a red helmet, paused at the mention of Mr. Kessler’s name.
“Who doesn’t know him?” asked the skater, Anthony Rojas, 11, from Washington Heights, adding that he thought the park “needs some more ramps.”
There was more talk of Mr. Kessler that evening at the Autumn Bowl, where young skaters who wanted to acknowledge his legacy gathered with longtime friends who had rolled with him as teenagers through nighttime streets. Skating luminaries from California mingled next to Mr. Kessler’s mother and sister, who had recently arrived from Florida.
“He had a wonderful heart,” said Mr. Kessler’s mother, Ruth. “If anybody ever needed anything, Andy would help them.”
But underlying that generosity, friends said, was a blunt willingness to sometimes ruffle feathers.
“We loved him for his straight-up candor,” said J. J. Veronis, 46. “That boldness was like an avenue he would open up right in front of you to follow.”
For some time Mr. Kessler traveled a path of passionate abandon, friends agreed. But after giving up drinking and drugs more than 20 years ago, he declared his dedication to others seeking sobriety, answering the phone late at night to offer counsel, or taking struggling comrades on trips away from the narcotic temptations of the city.
Sometimes, during those journeys, he would cite skating as a simile for a healthy life. And some friends extended that thought on Saturday while analyzing Mr. Kessler’s skating style. Steve Olson, a well-known skater from Los Angeles, called him “a soul skater.” Mr. Veronis, who grew up with Mr. Kessler in the 1970s, called him “the artful dodger.”
Mr. Kessler never stopped skating, but it was more or less inevitable that would he slow down somewhat as he aged. Five years ago, while skating in SoHo, Mr. Kessler wiped out. In the resulting crash, he dislocated a femur, damaged his pelvis and broke a kneecap.
More recently, he had been surfing in Montauk, N.Y., partly in an effort to spare his body further battering, friends said. Mr. Kessler was on a surfing trip there last Monday, when he received a sting from a wasp that resulted in cardiac arrest.
The news staggered friends, and they began gathering at the KCDC Skateshop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where the shop owner, Amy Gunther, planned Saturday’s memorial along with Mr. Kessler’s far-flung friends.
Common experiences emerged. For everyone he had aided within the world of skating, it seemed, there was also somebody who credited Mr. Kessler with helping him or her steer clear of drugs or alcohol.
Harry Jumonji, 41, from the Lower East Side, said on Saturday night that Mr. Kessler took him to Montauk last week to get him away from the heroin he was in the midst of quitting.
“He saved my life,” Mr. Jumonji said. “I wish I could have saved his.”
Posted by Journey at 12:19 AM