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The New Skaters of New York

The New


Ice cream trucks jingling, children laughing as they run through an open fire hydrant, nutcracker men hawking their creations on the beach — the sounds of summer in New York City are unmistakable. The other seasons, by contrast, tend to announce themselves much more subtly: Blossoms bud silently, snow and leaves fall without a sound.

But earlier this year, I knew for certain that spring was coming when I heard the scraping of wheels against asphalt and the satisfying snap of a board landing back on the ground. The skaters had returned.

During quarantine in New York City, few activities exploded in popularity more than skateboarding, perhaps second only to baking sourdough bread. Last year, purchases of skateboarding equipment nearly doubled from February to June.

Early in the pandemic, I bought a cruiser board on Craigslist and jumped into the online skate community on Instagram, but practiced mostly on my own, reluctant to have anyone see me struggle. It was the perfect isolation activity: tooling around outside on a skateboard — flying and falling but relatively safe from the coronavirus.

As the weather warmed, I visited skate parks around New York City, following in the wheel treads of Lanna Apisukh, a photographer who’s been capturing skateboarders across the city since 2018.

When Ms. Apisukh, who has skated since college, moved to New York in 2008, she noticed the city’s skate community was far richer than the one she had left behind in Seattle.

“You come to New York City and there’s Asian, Latino, Black, queer, female skaters — the diversity is so eye opening,” she said. “Skating has been so male-dominated for so many years, so to see this change in the landscape has been so amazing, and I wanted to be able to capture that with my camera.”

Akira Billie
Amy Elizabeth Chalán
Cami Best
Amna Masoud
Beatrice DomondPro-skateboarder
Lizzi and Stephanie Reid
Melissa RamirezCo-founder, Bronx Girls Skate
Janae'e Reed
Charlotte TegenFounder, Housewife Skateboards
Kristen MillerGrlSwirl NYC chapter leader
Jalene Garcia
Allie Rappuhn
Helen Warren
Lenna Chisala
Niki and Chris CulmaFounding members, Late Skate
Maggie Ruiz Diaz

As skateboarding has grown more appealing, skaters other than the white, straight men who have traditionally dominated the sport have become more visible. Social media has helped create new versions of skate communities, bringing together women, trans and nonbinary skaters, as well as skaters of color.

This is especially true in New York City, where the rise of new skate parks in underserved neighborhoods like Rockaway Beach, Queens, and Brownsville, Brooklyn, has made it easier for local skaters to ride around without getting into trouble.

And this year, for the first time, skateboarding is part of the Olympics, catapulting the sport beyond the mainstream and onto the international stage. Momiji Nishiya and Sakura Yosozumi, both of Japan, became the world’s first female Olympic gold medalists in skateboarding. Rayssa Leal of Brazil won the silver medal in street skating; some fans remember her from a 2015 viral video in which she lands a trick while wearing fairy wings.

Kava Garcia Vasquez

Co-founder, Bronx Girls Skate

“You can be from Palestine, you can be from Japan, you can be from Chile — the fact that we all skate is something that connects us beyond language. I always got the feeling that it was just this community-building tool.”

The larger culture is also doing a better job of representing a diversity of skaters. Whereas films like “Mid-90s” and “Minding the Gap” have tended to focus on male skaters, the new HBO comedy “Betty” is about a group of young female skaters in New York City.

But though the face of skating may be changing, the sport still presents a barrier for some: proving authenticity. Who is cool enough — or talented enough — to identify as a skater? As crowds returned to skate parks this spring, it wasn’t without anxiety, especially for new skaters.

Adrian Koenigsberg

Founder and Director, Quell Skateboarding

“The landscape is changing. I think that companies started to see the financial value of women-owned businesses, and the skateboarding industry kind of had to get on board — no pun intended — with figuring that out themselves.”

For most new skaters, skate parks can feel like a stage, generating pressure to either perform well or suffer scrutiny.

For underrepresented skaters — who may be the only person of their demographic at the park — that anxiety can be even more intense: “I’m already different,” someone might think. “I can’t be bad, too.” As a beginner, I visited my local skate park in the early mornings, hoping to minimize the number of eyes on me.

“I think it’s a really intimidating process to even go to a park and start learning,” said Adrian Koenigsberg, the founder of Quell Skateboarding, a media outlet with a focus on nontraditional skaters.

“Are you going to go to the park and get made fun of?” asked Ms. Koenigsberg, who started Quell when she was a student at Pratt Institute. “The feeling of wanting to be accepted and also left alone is what we strive for at the skate park.”

Liv Collins

Co-founder, Sk8 Babes

“Skating in New York is a huge change from Connecticut. I had one other girl friend in the scene, but it’s more of a norm here. You still get stares, but it’s more common now to see girls at parks.”

Liv Collins, 24, who lives in Brooklyn, started the club Sk8 Babes in 2016, while she was living in Connecticut. When she picked up the sport, she started posting her skate progress on Instagram, where she gained a following, including people who also avoided going to parks alone out of fear of ridicule.

“I’ve had many uncomfortable experiences at skate parks in the past,” she said, naming instances of sexual harassment and bullying, including seeing her name spray-painted next to slurs.

Organizations like Quell, Late Skate, Sk8 Babes and Skate Like a Girl hold skate events, or “clinics,” with the goal of creating a space for both new and old skaters to find community, as well as supporting the habit, by teaching tricks or providing opportunities to trade gear. For some, the new sense of belonging has extended beyond the sport.

Jada Cooper

“Skateboarding literally saved my life. It showed me that I could have more, and I want more. If I can learn how to ollie, something I’ve wanted to do since I was a child, then yeah, I can do it. And if it makes me happy, then that’s what I’m chasing.”

For Jada Cooper, a queer Black skater, the sport has changed her “not only in my perspective on myself and my role in my community,” she said, “but it’s again made me more confident in my identity.”

“I feel more comfortable having body hair or I feel I’m more comfortable wearing nice clothes,” she continued. “It’s just made me more OK with who I am.”

At a spring Quell event in Brooklyn’s Cooper Park, skaters embraced one another and squealed with joy while seeing their friends, trying out new tricks, swapping snacks and recording people tooling around. Over 100 skaters showed up, some of them locals from around the corner and some hailing from other cities, including Philadelphia. All my interviews were interrupted by hugs.

Yasmeen Wilkerson

“I've noticed a lot of people have been making an effort to switch up their terminology and be more inclusive. There’s this [skate] trick called a ‘sex change’. It’s just like, How can we call this trick such a derogatory term? We had to grow and say, Hey, let’s switch that term to ‘body varial.’”

Ms. Cooper landed her first board slide after a few attempts, and her girlfriend, Anna Giani, captured her victory. “I saw a man do it,” Ms. Cooper said. “I never thought I could do this.” It felt like the entire park burst into applause.

“You don’t have to be good at skateboarding to participate in skateboarding,” said Lizzi Reid, a Brooklyn skate park fixture. “Even if you’re just there, really excited about skateboarding and cheering people on when they get tricks — that really makes a difference. There’s nothing like hearing somebody say, ‘Yeah!’ when you land something. That confirms it for you, too.”