Text and Images by Lindsey Okubo
Twenty years ago a group of 15-year-old boys sat aboard vacant cars on the Long Island Railroad. The slamming of metal hooves echoed as this runaway train galloped off towards sunrise. The boys left home with nothing but a sack of quarters for pizza, an elephant wrench, a clean t-shirt and their skateboards. Rick Sulz, the founder of NYskateboarding.com, remembers setting the back two wheels of his Zoo-York board down and checking his pager for a 143 (code for I love you) from his girlfriend at the time before heading uptown on 7th Avenue. Endless mountains of concrete, this was their favorite candy shop. There were no directories, no destinations, just the city, its avenues turned aisles and the staggering possibilities of the next place to get their fix, a testimony to the fact that concrete has got some flavor. Twenty years later, Rick Sulz is 36, six-foot something, wears his hat backwards and has been skateboarding for the past 26 years of his life. Though those night-train trips are legendary now, his skateboard is the crux from which his blood flows–it’s his heart.
“From the first time I saw skateboarding it changed my life forever. The friends I have, the places I go, where I’ve lived, have all been driven by my love for skateboarding”, said Rick in between sips of his Stella sitting as close to the exit of Sweet and Vicious on Spring street, without actually leaving. He stashes his skateboard under the bench but his foot inescapably finds the deck, rocking the wheels back and forth until the bouncer comes over, picks up his board and forcefully shoves it under the bench, giving Rick a damning look though he doesn’t even seem to notice.
NYskateboarding.com was founded in 2009 based on those epic nights of unhindered bliss. New York transformed from this hulking, taxi-horn roaring, hot-dog eating beast into heaven for those boys, complete with stars in the form of streetlights. Rick hopes that by doing this site which links the skateboarding community through its event calendar and extensive coverage of products, skate spots and shops, video clips, interviews etc., that the rising generation of skaters can grow up as he did; having this mentor, passion, thing, whatever you want to call it, to shape their lives in the same positive way.
It wouldn’t be NYskateboarding without New York and Rick is one of those die-hard New Yorkers. To him it’s a place built by and around the people who come here, those who have these goals and dreams that drive them to live in this urban hell.
“You’ll either become a New Yorker or you won’t”, said Rick in a matter-of-factly tone that makes me realize that perhaps he’s right. “If you can’t stay up with the speed and the pace of it, it will take you down very fast. If you look at a neighborhood in two years it’s drastically different and that is what entices people to come here and skate New York. New spots, new spots, new spots. It has everything. That’s the truth. Whatever you wanna do, you can do, wherever you wanna go, you can go, it’s just so free.”
Through the eyes of a skateboarder, concrete becomes the reason you wake up every morning and here, you never have to stop skating, time is not warden. Skateboarding culture in New York is based around these “lifers” as Rick calls them, the people who have pioneered skateboarding in New York since 1986, and they’re still paving the way for those following in their kicks and pushes. Rick doesn’t necessarily see himself as one of these “lifers” per say but he’s getting there with every aching joint, kick-flip landed and post on NYskateboarding.com.
“I’ve learned that you can fall and get back up, that you can get hurt, but it eventually goes away,” said Rick about his skate-induced enlightenment. “Fear is probably worse than the injuries and fear prevents you from doing so many things.”