Spots #2 with R.B. Umali
After kicking off our 'Spots' series last month with Brian Wenning, we wanted to do an installment on some New York City spots. So naturally, we hit up RB Umali.
The first time I went to Astor Place, we left Supreme once they closed shop at 7pm. We skated uptown to this random intersection with nothing to skate but tipped over garbage cans and pretty rough flat ground. There were so many skaters there just gathered around this metal sculpture of a cube at this one intersection. I was like ‘Why is everyone skating here? There's nothing here and the ground isn't even that good.’ For some reason we would just hang out there. I learned how to slappy grind on the metal curbs there, and I'm pretty sure I learned how to play cee-lo there, rolling the dice off that same metal curb. We would just drink forties, smoke blunts, and look at girls. This was in the pre-cell phone era - if you were balling you had a pager, but no one had a cell phone. We kind of needed that place as a central meet up spot after the skate shop was closed.
After Astor, if we were going to skate midtown later we would always head up to Union Square. It was kind of two spots, the front and the back. I spent more time in the back, the North end, which was just amazing flat with no cars and not too many people walking around. I remember this one time, I don’t know why I wasn’t filming, but Keenan Milton did the most beautiful switch inward heel flip I’ve ever seen over a tipped over garbage can. I seriously think it was as good as the switch kickflip over the picnic table everyone knows him for.
I didn’t actually see this trick go down, but if you look at the end of this old Thrasher from the early 90s, Robbie Gangemi does a boardslide to fakie across the long rail in the front of Union Square over the knobs. This was way back in the day. When I first moved here I thought it was a myth. I heard he did it and I didn't believe it until I saw the sequence. I don’t think there's any footage of it.
One of the things that drew me to New York was that there wasn’t a ton of video footage coming from here, but there were so many good photos and sequences in the mags. It kind of felt like a mystery. Dimitry Elyashkevich was my favorite photographer from here at the time.
For Zered (Bassett)’s first trip to New York, he had just turned 16 and drove down from Cape Cod. He showed up in a car with a license plate that said “DRZ”, – that's why we called him 'Dr. Z'. He met us at the Zoo York office on West 13th Street. It was me, Harold and Chad Muska. The first spot we went to was Union Square, and this was right when the Tony Hawk Pro Skater came out - and Muska was a character in it, him and his ghetto blaster. So we get there and all these kids just swarmed Chad and Harold. It’s funny that was Zered’s intro to skating with us in the city. Such a legendary crew.
Midtown was the epicenter for us back in the day. It would just be cat and mouse all night, kicked out of one spot and on to the next. Midtown to us was really just like 5 blocks though, (laughs). Like 50th Street to 54th Street on 6th Avenue. The city felt so much more lawless back then. We would sometimes just barge it in the daytime – I wouldn’t ever just roll up there in the middle of a weekday now. I’m sure hungry kids are still getting it. I’m sure it is the same feeling, getting kicked out of everywhere. To me it just got frustrating. Almost getting something and getting kicked out every time.
Quim Cardona did this line at Paine Webber with a nollie hard flip on flat. Everyone is like ‘that is the best nollie hardflip ever”, and that line always sticks out in my head. I always loved the way he skated, He was energetic, had the best motivation, and was always just so happy and looked so rad on a board.
The first time I saw the Courthouse was Frank Natiello ollieing into it in the Zoo York 411VM industry section. In 1998, I went there with Danny Supa and he nollied into it. I just went through the footage the other day and I noticed a young Anthony Pappalardo sitting on the steps as he was doing it. Not long after that, I went there with Josh Kalis and he backside tailslid the ledge and ollied the flat bar on top before the drop, then ollied into the drop. I think those clips made it into his TWS Sixth Sense part.
Can you tell us about Rodney’s 360 flip?
Rodney’s trick there was ahead of it's time, for sure. I almost missed his kickflip before the 360 flip too. Those old VX’s sometimes take a second or two to start filming after hitting the record button! I believe Billy Rohan nollie hardflipped into it around this same time. Mike Wright switch frontside flipped into it around that time also. There were rumors of some kid trying something and breaking his neck off that thing, but I don’t know if that's true.
Did you film Westgate and Zered skating it like a drop ledge?
Yes, I was filming that session. It was pretty early on a Saturday morning/early afternoon. They were both getting their last minute tricks for the X-Games Real Street Contest. It was pretty funny how they were skating at the same spot while competing against each other in a contest while skating for the same team.
We would always pass by this spot on the way to or after a session at South Street Seaport. The first trick I filmed there was Jones Keefe, he did a frontside tailslide. But the first person to really handle their business at that spot was Kalis. This was during the Peep This days. Kalis was that dude, if you went out with Josh, you were guaranteed to get some banging shit. I actually knew Josh from living in Texas. But we made some history here.
Josh was always in the right place at the right time. In SF he made his mark, obviously he made his mark in Philly at City Hall & Love Park. When Barcelona was just starting to pop off, he spent a lot of time there. He always gravitated towards the right area at the right time, and being as influential and as talented as he is, he always helped add some flavor to the area.
Rodney Torres brought me out there the first time. For months and months he was telling me I need to come out to Queens to skate this spot with him and Rodney Cooper, who skated for 60/40 back in the day. It was a cold winter evening in 1996 and I finally made the adventure out there with them. We got there and skated for about 5 minutes and out of nowhere they shut the lights off! It was pitch black and I was so bummed (laughs). Rodney Torres was probably the first one I saw go over the grate with a legit trick (not a 50/50). He did a crooked grind and a backside tailslide, both to fakie.
Who would you say has put the hardest beating on the spot?
I have give it up to Rodney Torres, the King of Flushing Queens. A lot of pro skaters came from all over the world and did some damage to this spot, and without a doubt they were all influenced by the impact that Rodney Torres made at that spot.
Can you tell us about about…
Vinnie is the man. A great story would be skating and filming with 12 skaters on a hot summer day in Tribeca. Vinnie would make a phone call and his family restaurant (F.illi Ponte) would set up tables with Lobster Pizzas and pitchers of Lemonade for the entire session as we passed by on our way to the next spot.
Loki is an OG New Yorker and Supreme team legend who grew up skating in Brooklyn with Ryan Hickey, Justin Pierce, Jefferson Pang and he kills it! He always skated so fast and with so much power while rocking out to Slayer and Metallica. He worked at the Fat Beats Record store during their prime, so he was straight hip hop as well. Loki is a computer wizard and he put me onto a lot of knowledge in the Mac game back in the day.
Hamilton Harris – He had tricks in Mixtape filmed off a TV - what was up with that?
Hamilton Harris is an OG Zoo Yorker who became world famous for teaching us all how to roll a blunt in the Washington Square Park scene from the movie Kids. The story about Hamilton’s tricks over the Flushing Grate being filmed off the TV is that they were filmed using a different camera than what I had. I believe the camera was a Canon Hi8 that belonged to either Dimitry, Keith Hufnagel or Sammy “Da Joo” Glucksman. I remember editing the part and we didn't have the right cable to transfer the footage onto the Betacam decks that we were editing off of at the time and all we had was a VHS copy of it. So I put it in my VCR and filmed it off the TV!