6th May 2008
All around the World you will find various heads that give everything for the cause of skateboarding. If you point your eyeballs over the pond to New York City you will find that one name will be on the lips of most locals and that man is Steve Rodriguez.
Crossfire spoke to Steve about the history, growth and future of 5Boro Skateboards in the build up to the premiere of New York documentary Deathbowl to Downtown this week.
Photos thanks to Bryan Uyeda, Yuri Shibuya, John Engle and Laurel Axen. Footage thanks to Jay Maldonado and Seamus Deegan and special thanks to our friends at Out of Step.
Hey Steve, what’s been going on in NYC of late?
Transformation and rebirth. Spring is here! 75 degrees today, you could say the first real day of spring. The streets are crawling with skaters, the spots are on fire with all that pent up energy from the winter. We really can’t complain too much it only snowed twice this winter so we got off easy.
Your crew have been out in South America recently, how was the trip?
Those bastards! I unfortunately did not get to go, someone has to run this beast we call 5boro. Since we have a very small staff I have to pick and choose my trips wisely, it was rough because I had never been to Chile and of course when the crew got back the first thing they said to me was, “you would have loved Chile, no driving, only skating from spot to spot.” From the photos of skating and the documentation on the 5boro blog and a sneak peek I got of the footy, I can say that the crew had a great time (and got shit done)
Speaking of footy, how’s the new video coming on? Do you have a rough release date yet?
New video is coming… If you saw NEW YORK, NEW YORK you can tell that we are very picky about what gets in and that the 5boro crew is just as much about the spot as the trick. Tombo (our Team Manager) has his work cut out for him to better NEW YORK, NEW YORK, but I know he will get it done. As far as a rough release date we are hoping for this November??? Maybe… Tombo… get to work…
What else is new in the company?
The real “newness” I would have to say would be expanding and just the incredible growth and brotherhood we have with our international teams and distributors. Just today I got the new SUGAR magazine from France and one of our French riders got the cover. Seeing something like that is new to me and to 5boro, it really shows that we are expanding beyond the US. The whole network of the 5boro extended family from France, UK, Greece, Poland, Japan and the rest of the countries where we have riders seems to be exponentially expanding.
It’s a great feeling to have bros all over the world who represent similar values within completely different cultures. Whenever these guys come to the US it’s like they have been in the van on trips the whole time. So to answer the question I would say global growth and an ever tightening crew worldwide, something that to me just happened naturally because of the great people we work with.
Who is on the current team?
Dan Pensyl, Danny Falla, Joe Tookmanian, Jimmy McDonald, Robert Lim, Willy Akers plus the international team and flow trash here in the US.
How does someone go about getting on the 5boro team?
The eternal questions… Everyone is always asking how we get such dedicated unique riders and to tell you the truth I guess it’s not wanting to have any new riders. Since we have our own thing going and the crew is so tight knit it is rare that someone will make that much of an impression on us that we are like “this guy has to be on” it’s more of an natural process where if someone is hanging out with the crew eventually if things work out it will just be a matter of a formality that he rides for 5boro. At that point everyone pretty much knows they are getting flowed by us. The flow program that we have is a pretty rough one but what better way to see if the person is really into the brand and what we are about. Even thought I own the company I’m so “honored” to be amongst the crew at any session or event we go to. I have a lot of pride in what they have accomplished for 5boro. To become one of those guys is no small feat but I’m sure it’s worth every last second of it.
Who do you reckon will turn pro next?
I guess things like this are supposed to be marketing secrets but I’m going to put it out there. Danny Falla. He’s about due. Like Dan Pensyl before him he has been so dedicated to the brand and his skating speaks for itself. Check out his park from NEW YORK, NEW YORK here:
What is the history of the company?
I guess you could say the history of 5Boro is the history of me as a skateboarder, skateboarding in NYC. Now that the company has been around for 12 years, the whole idea behind the company has been developing since I first skated in the great city of New York 25 years ago. In 1983 my Mom managed a store on the corner of 6th Avenue and Downing St. in Greenwich Village. At the time, I lived in New Jersey and my Mom used to always ask my older sister and I if we wanted to help out at the store to get some extra money. I would go in on weekends and my job basically consisted of skating around Greenwich Village running errands. I would deliver things, go out and get lunch for the employees and I got to explore the village on my way to and from place to place. I started to go into the city more often on and was less interested in running errands and more interested in exploring the city. I would skate downtown and uptown, farther and farther every weekend, and I used to get so lost I would just keep going till I saw something I recognized. I discovered so much that summer. Soho, Tribeca, Chinatown, the financial district, the L.E.S., Chelsea, pretty much all downtown.
By this time skating had gone mainstream and I had met some kids in my school who skated. On the weekends we would all pile into my mom’s car and head for the city. We skated everywhere we looked for stuff to hit and a whole other world was in front of us. The spring of 1985 came and skateboarding was still going strong. Since my mom came into work every day I would come in with my friends as much as possible and we ventured farther and farther with the help of the subways. We would go up to the Bronx and skate the hills people would tell us about. Go into Brooklyn for these weird contests where kids wore costumes. So many cultures, so much to skate. Each borough offered something new. Even after all these years, I find new things to skate almost every time I go out thanks to the never-ending construction and reconstruction of buildings, streets and plazas all around the city. In 1993 I moved to the city (coincidentally in the same building that my mom’s store was in) and in 1996 I decided to make our crew into a company, the name 5boro fit perfectly because we were a reflection of the streets that we skated all around the boroughs.12 years later here we are still stating true with the help of a dedicated and loyal team.
What inspired you to start the company?
To be honest – the lack of what I considered a “real” company in NYC. After Brooklyn boards went under there was nothing raw in my mind in the city for the “real” skaters. Just to be clear in my mind, a “real” skater is someone who enjoys skating more than anything else in his/her life. Where the physical act of skateboarding is what connects them to the world. At the time the social aspect of skating gave local skaters more credibility within a dying scene and that just helped it collapse that much quicker.
What separates 5boro from other skate companies around at the moment?
The only way to know is know someone on 5boro or to come skate the city. Chances are you will run into one of the crew and you will have one of those sessions that keeps in your mind for a lifetime. For a “marketing” answer I would say that 5boro is a truly independent collective that puts as much effort into marketing great products and riders as it does in supporting skateboarding and skateboarder locally and globally.
I know you have very high quality control with how your decks are made, could you run me by the process of how and where a 5boro deck is made?
This is usually an “industry secret” and I’ve always been told to be vague but our boards are made in the USA (Alabama specifically) of Canadian Hard Rock Maple – our woodshop takes great pride in the manufacture and screening of the boards and we prefer to spend a little more in the process by pressing the boards with the upmost quality and precision. This choice was rough because to spend this much time on each board individually costs much more but we all know the feeling of how bummed we are when you set up a new board only to break it when you know it should not have broke. I’m not saying that 5boro boards don’t break but I am saying that the craftsmanship is second to none.
This question is for all you ebay heads, how did the Beasties Boy 5 borough album/5boro deck come about? How many decks were pressed?
When the album dropped it only seems right to do a collab with them. We did 500 and 100 were signed by them. I’ve seen the signed ones up on ebay for thousands. I know Zac has one in the Crossfire office and I still have a couple stashed away for a rainy day!
You are starting to run print adverts in Slap magazine, is this the first time you have ran print ads?
This is the first time we are doing a campaign so to speak. Over the years we have had huge favors extended to us by the mags and we have run a couple here and there but we’ve stepped it up and want to see how it affects sales. If it boosts things we will continue, we will see…
How has the reaction been to your Epicly Laterd episodes?
Great! Odell goes way back with the 5boro crew. He used to come on our summer tours to document them for thrasher and he has always been down with 5boro. He just called me up one day explained the concept and when I finally had some time we went out and did it. It was actually great timing because some of the spots are actually gone now. Basically all of Washington square park is being redone and it was great to take one last run through and remember all the history that went down there. People still e-mail me about how stoked they were on the episodes. Odell did a great job.
How has skating in New York changed since you were a kid?
Getting better every time I step outside and roll off the curb into traffic. Nothing is better than pushing down these streets and avenues. For every spot that gets taken away 2 more pop up. Yeah, it’s great to think about the past and those perfect spots that you skated but 10 years from now you will have great memories of the ones you are skating now.
What are your five favourite cities you have skated besides NYC?
DC, London, Philly, Kobe and Tokyo.
We hear you have been interviewed for a new documentary on the history of skateboarding in New York, could give us some details of what the film is about and how you got involved?
“Deathbowl to Downtown” is premiering this month in NYC and it truly is going to be great. Rick Charnowski and Buddy Nichols spent over 3 years working on it and it is a great snapshot of the evolution of skateboarding in NYC. I got involved as I know the film makers personally and they knew I could contribute so when they told me about it, it was on! I’m so stoked for the premiere.
5 things you like and dislike about the current New York skate scene?
1) The new kids coming up
2) The great shops like KCDC and Autumn who are really dedicated to the scene
3) My local spots and local crews I skate with on a daily basis
4) How the 5boro crew is always pushing skating further at spots in the city
5) The support from companies outside the city who really are down
1) That Flushing Meadow park is an hour subway ride from my place, haha!
2) That most of the great new spots are in the outer boro’s (since I live in Manhattan)
3) That even though the parks department has been great to recognize skateboarders and spots more has not been done correctly.
4) That other companies don’t see the value of working together for the “greater good” of the scene.
How did you get involved with the City and making Brooklyn Banks a legal skate spot? Are there any plans to do this with any other spots in NYC?
Skated down to the banks one day and the whole place was fenced in. I asked around heard things about the spot being totally demolished and a non-skateable park being put in. I did some research respectfully contacted all the proper people, worked deals, offered up volunteer hours for other projects and saved 90% of the banks. I wish I had gotten to them sooner because all the red tape takes forever. We lost the small banks (where most of the history was) but the trade off of losing 10% for 90% and the ability to work with the city to make small obstacles was to me almost a miracle. I saw it happen to EMB and have seen LOVE park become a bust. The Brooklyn Banks is NYC skateboarding and as long as I’m here will always be. The one thing that people MUST realize is that if you have ever supported 5boro in anyway you helped save the banks. 20% of my time at 5boro goes to helping preserve and create legal spots to skate. As for other spots in NYC, I’m trying but with the city finally warming up to skateparks most of my focus has shifted to them making them the right way.
What does 2008 hold for you and the team?
For me… lots of work and lots of skating. For 5boro, hopefully more growth, more relationships throughout the world and keeping the crew and customers happy, in the end they are the ones who all make it possible. Thanks to everyone who supports 5Boro.