released online IN 2 PARTS AUGUST 2017
Wings aren't always feathered, white, and fixed to spines. For this group of Brooklyn youths who go by the name of the Zero Gravity Skate Gang, their wings were wooden, their wings had wheels, their wings were skateboards. Skateboarding saved their lives. Growing up in the hood, it kept them off the streets, taught them dedication and gave them each other, a brotherhood. Their friendship has been years in the making. From linking friends of friends in middle school, to turning work at a Brooklyn skate shop into a meeting grounds for after (and during) work skate sessions, to making beats whilst eating pizza, to turning new chapters and eventually moving to different neighborhoods with their girls, Zero Gravity is more than a group of skateboarders, they’re a testament to the bond that the pastime creates. The guys took us to a couple spots on a sunny, Friday morning along Manhattan’s southeast waterfront. During the session we sat down with five members of the crew. Below they give us an insight into their lives, their culture and their city.
MIKEY FERRER, 25
Hero: Hey Mikey, can you start off by introducing yourself and telling us how you got into skateboarding?
Mikey: Hello first off my name is Michael Ferrer, I’m 24 years old, born in Florida raised between Puerto Rico and New York. I started skating about 12 years ago. I think it was my birthday or a Christmas present, but my mom got me a bootleg Pokemon skateboard. I tried to skate it, I fell and was like I’m never picking this shit up again. I don’t know what happened but a couple months later, I started feeling guilty about things my mom buys for me and how some of it goes to waste so I was like, oh I better just try and use the board. From there I broke the board, ended up getting a new board and it was like an X-Games board, one of those things that you’d get at like ToysRUs and ended up getting that and started skating in my hallway and expanded to the streets and started meeting people.
H: How did you end up meeting all these guys and if you were moving between here and Puerto Rico what was that like?
M: I mean the whole transition between Puerto Rico and New York was due to money. In Puerto Rico it’s hard to achieve a good sense of monetary stability so we decided to move to New York to try to make more money for ourselves so we could have a better life. The way I met these fine gents over here, well I went to school with Dejon, we went to high school at Freedom Academy, and he told me he skated and we started skating with each other and he introduced me to Denzel. From there it became like a social network where we just started linking each other’s friends like oh yeah, I know you, I’ve seen you before, let’s go skate.
H: What has skateboarding brought to your life?
M: The way I see skateboarding is about pure freedom honestly. I get on my board, turn on my music and don’t even think about the world. It’s just me my board and the homies. We’ll do our shenanigans here and there but I enjoy every little bit of the journey that skateboarding has taken me on. It put me in a different weight class, I can tell you that much, I used to be a lot chubbier.
H: If you can just talk a little about your daily life too? I know you’re a chef and what not and if you could talk about your mom teaching you
M: With my mom it was more of visual teaching, it was kind of like I would look at her cook in the kitchen and I would pay attention to how she did things. How she salts things, how she seasoned, certain words that she’ll use that I never even heard of; she said the word, “chiffonade”, I was like what the fuck is that. I got more into it though and learned that chiffonade is a type of knife style and I would never have known that. Getting into the whole chef mentality was kind of due to this job that I worked at at a shop called Melt Shop, it was a grilled cheese concept shop. When I worked there, I didn’t really learn that much other than basic prep but it kind of pushed me to learn more about the kitchen field and want to become a really good cook. I ended up getting apprenticed by this guy at a different job that I worked at at this bar called PS150, it was this guy named Brian Scotto and he pretty much showed me damn well everything I know. From there, it transitioned to my mom and him kind of dual-wheeling, helping me out at the same time. It would be like he would teach me stuff in the actual field of cooking and my mom would teach me stuff mentally, she would tell me things that I would not have learned from other people.
H: What are some of the challenges do you think our generation faces as we enter the workforce
M: People often like to judge based off of appearances rather than look at a person’s background and see what they have done. Whenever I went to go look for jobs I have always felt like people see me as some skater kid but I try to show them that I am more than that. There are things that I truly enjoy doing like cooking, or hanging out with friends, or planning for my future
H: What’s something that you live by? Or something that has served as a major theme in your life?
M: Live life to the fullest honestly. Go out and have fun, don’t be stuck at home honest to god. Don’t be one of those people that just stay home and chill unless you’re doing so much that you’re socially drained then I understand that but go out, the world is big, there’s so much that you could do out there, it’s a waste just staying at home.
H: What’s your favorite part about living in New York?
M: New York? Aside from the skate spots, you meet a whole bunch of characters here, you’re surrounded with all sorts of diversity, different races but all of them end up being the same thing honestly. They all have the same mentally as most of my friends. I look at a lot of my friends that I’m with and a lot of them have similar traits to my other friends and I feel like that’s kind of cool because you’d find that a lot in New York, you can find all sorts of classes of people here but you will always find somewhere where you can fit in.
Greg Lyttle, 25
Hero: Tell me about your childhood
Greg: It was pretty chill. I grew up in Brooklyn, Brownsville side
H: Hmm, that’s interesting. I know Brownsville, is now a super gentrified area, what kind of changes have you seen in Brooklyn and how has that change affected you?
G: More diversity of the people living around the area. I just recently moved out my mom’s place so I haven't experienced anything like rent being raised, or that I was forced to move or something like that. Plus my mom was smart AF and bought out the apt we lived in instead of renting
H: When did you start skating?
G: I didn’t start skating until I was about 14, maybe 15 years old so that’s about it. I had my mom, my dad, my brother, my sister and then we moved over to the Bed-Stuy area which is when I picked up skateboarding in high school
H: So how’d you get into it? Did you have friends in it?
G: No, actually my sister had a fake Walmart board and I wanted to use it and ever since then I just kept skating [laughs]
H: Did she skate?
G: Not quite, she kind of wanted to but never really took one step forward and did it
H: Nice, what about your favorite spots in New York?
G: Currently because work has kind of taken over my life, I kind of skateboard when I can so I don’t really have any favorite spots like I used to, I just go with the flow and if I think I like the spot and can land some things I’ll stick around and do it
H: What do you think skateboarding has taught you or done for you?
G: It’s done a lot, it’s taught me discipline, consistency, staying on track of things as much as possible. It’s more than a sport really, it’s a culture and that’s how I met all my friends that I hang out with today. I don’t know what I’d be doing without it really
H: How does skating make you feel?
G: Alive! All of the serotonin and endorphins flowing through my body makes me feel sane
H: Can you tell us about your daily life and how skateboarding impacts that as well?
G: That’s another thing that skateboarding’s taught me is like staying active and being fit wasn’t really a strong suit of mine. Actually I was really skinny before and then I picked up some weights, started working out and became a personal trainer. I have all my things in my life around steadily being active so like training, skateboarding, riding my bike to work, I’m always on the go. It keeps me alive, fit and well
H: Can you talk a little bit more about your experience being a personal trainer? Seems like an interesting thing just because you're helping people achieve their goals, believe in themselves, you watch them struggle and all these things
G: Being a PT is awesome! To be honest at 25 going on 26 I’m just glad I found something I'm good at and love to do and people actually pay me for my time. I guess that's being an adult right? [laughs] but it's almost indescribable… that feeling of helping people accomplish their fitness goals; whether they want to lose 10-100lbs, get stronger or just learn proper technique so they don't injure themselves. You're with them bonding and encouraging them every step of the way until they succeed, that's all there is too it. I just do my best not to call my clients Daniel-san
H: Do you think because you’ve been learning about the body that you’re skating better?
G: Yeah I’m more aware of what I’m supposed to be doing in terms of my mind-body connection, it’s still crazy ridiculous to bang out a single trick, it still takes hours and hours of practice but I do have that in my head that this is what my body needs to be doing, or this is how I should be feeling in order to land a certain trick. In that aspect, it has helped me a lot
H: What does beauty mean to you?
G: Perspective. Anything that can give me a positive outlook on life and change my perspective of things. That's what beauty means to me
H: So would you ever stop skating?
G: I don’t think so, unless a major injury happened and the doctor told me I had to stop — I would probably not stop skating because actually a doctor did tell me to stop skating
H: Do you ever get scared?
G: Sometimes, not anywhere, if something’s massive it’ll get me going. It’s either fight or flight at that moment. Keep bailing until it gets less scary and then it’s go hard or go home
DENZEL FRANCE, 25
Hero: Yo Deezy! Can you talk to us about your childhood a little bit?
Denzel: I’ve been in Brooklyn all my life, I moved to Queens for like two years but that’s it, I came back. Growing up in the hood was chill for me because I was always to myself, everyone knew who my dad was so automatically they knew who I was because my dad was out there doing crazy shit. My mom is in the music industry, she doesn’t rap or sing or anything like that but she knows a lot of celebrities, she’s working with One Nation Records. I didn’t really grow up with my dad because he was in and out of jail most of the time so as far as me, I was gucci. I stayed at my grandma’s house a lot of the time too and she pretty much raised me and then I went back to my mom and it was pretty chill. `
H: What impact did your dad’s absence have on you growing up?
D: My dad was..somewhat around..but as I've gotten older, I saw him a lot less. I can say the longest time I've ever spent with him was probably when I was an infant. He and my mom lived at my grandma's crib, and when he got locked up, that's when I started seeing less of him. But I was young I didn't think about it. Usually when I did see my dad, he was drunk. And I saw how my grandma reacted to it and it used to make me upset. Like, I love my pops but he's not the greatest role model. I chose my own path. I'm the complete opposite of him. He was out doing crazy shit, done been in prison, I think he shot somebody and all that, and I'm just quiet, hella laid back and I just doing my own thing. Nowadays I see my dad here and there, maybe because of my siblings ‘cause three of them live with him. He had hella kids, thank god I’m the oldest [laughs] He's a good dude. He definitely supports me skating and always asks me about the X-Games and jokes about when is he going to see me on tv and stuff [laughs]
H: Wow, Deezy, I respect you a lot, man. How did you end up getting into skateboarding?
D: The way I got into skateboarding was I fractured my leg a while back in the 10th grade I think and I had nothing else to do but watch TV. I was in the crib, just chillin’, whatever and I saw this music video by The Pack and it was the one that goes, “got my vans on but they look like sneakers”. So I’m watching it and these dudes are ollie-ing over banks and shit like that. I thought that was pretty cool, and I’m thinking to myself, I can definitely do it. Once I finished with therapy I got more serious with skateboarding and it took off from there, skating ever since. On a serious note, my first board was from ToysRUs, I had a WWF board
H: Some Hulk Hogan shit?
D: Hell yeah, some Hulk Hogan shit yo [laughs]
H: Do you think skating helped you to figure out who you are?
D: Most definitely. Aww man [laughs] to me skateboarding is kind of like art ‘cause it takes a lot of time and patience, it helped me a lot and I got to meet a lot of great people, I got to travel, it’s a good thing to do. I’d rather be skating than out in the streets doing stupid shit. Especially growing up in the hood, it’s around you a lot. I used to play ball and I was in the court all day but I just picked up a skateboard and went a different route. I think it was the best idea because if I would’ve stayed doing ball, I probably would’ve been doing some stupid shit because the people I was playing ball with were doing some stupid shit
H: What was their route?
D: Drugs, selling drugs, going to jail, shit like that, getting shot. I’m not tryna get shot [laughs] I’m like, I’m going this way
H: Amen! I know we talked a little bit about the skate community but it’s such an interesting thing because class doesn’t matter, where you come from doesn’t matter. You could grow up in a slum in India or Beverly Hills and you’d still have to go through the same process of busting your ass to learn how to skate. Can you comment on this a little? Whatever comes to mind.
D: Skating is universal as fuck [laughs]. Most skaters I've skated by, we always do the head nod or the army salute or some shit that means "wassup homie". Skate code shit! [laughs] Doesn't matter where you're from in the world. We all feel the same way after landing a trick after 20 attempts and 200 scrapes and cuts later, we all go through it, there's no better feeling than landing bolts and rolling away like "shit , I just landed it!" Especially if your homies are there to pump you up! The best. Skating is literally the easiest way to meet new people. Most of us are just hella chill. You'll come across a shit head now and then but that's rare.
H: Tell us about the brand you’re trying to create, France. It’s your namesake!
D: I’ve been drawing since I’ve been in the first-grade and I’ve always wanted to start my own clothing brand but I just didn’t have the right concept. I want it to be a reflection of me, I’m like a laid-back dude so I want the brand to be like — the way I see it, it’s hard to explain, it’s cozy, laid-back, sweatpants, dope shirts, it’s like chill. Comfortable shit, I don’t know, it’s weird. I’m still working on it, trying to get it down.
H: What does dreaming big mean to you?
D: For me, dreaming big means doing what you love to do and pushing it to the max! Wake up and go for what you wanna go for, even if it means losing a lot of sleep. I believe it'll all pay off in the end. You gotta go through the storm to see a rainbow at the end [laughs] aka if you fail, and fail, and fail, eventually you'll succeed. Giving up can't be a option. I feel like all skaters feel that way, we've all failed, you know, we've all gotten injuries, hospital visits, fractured shit broke shit and we still go hard for what we love.
H: Hell yeah! What do you think you’d be doing without skating?
D: I have no clue, I probably would be like a Hypebeast or something, buying Jordan’s and shit.
JASON SCOON, 26
Hero: Hey Jason, can you introduce yourself and talk about how you got into skating a bit?
Jason: Alright, this is going, to be cool. What’s up folks, this is Jason Scoon if you give a shit about my last name. I am from New York, well Brooklyn, Flatbush area. Been skating for about 11 years and loving every second of it. The way I kind of got into skateboarding was after my family moved to New Jersey because of this crazy incident that we had between us and a few relatives. We stopped by a Modell’s and my parents were asking us want we wanted to do because there was really nothing to do in town, it’s really not like the city. My brother got football and basketball crap and I got two boards, one for me and one for my brother and we originally started learning skateboarding tricks that way. When I was 10 I had a crazy, racist ass encounter and quit skateboarding for five years. It wasn’t until I was 16 that I got back on it and I’ve been in love ever since. Met the homies and life is good.
H: What do you think skateboarding has added to your life in terms of being a learning experience or tool to self-discovery?
J: I mean skateboarding’s kind of opened up my eyes towards not really focusing on either similarities or differences between people that I’m with, but really more so just to appreciate the fact that I’m able to do this with other people and we have some kind of mutual understanding of the come up. I’d say in terms of social values, that’s definitely that for me. For everything else, skateboarding is probably the greatest thing to happen to my imagination, ever. I definitely got far in my regular life just by leveraging the amount of imagination I used to learn tricks and after that just picking up the general skill of tenacity, it’s very rare to see people who enjoy eating shit and getting back up to lock in a trick. We’re a rare breed, nobody does that.
H: If you could give us some insight into your daily life, like what do you do for work and tell us how skating fits into all of that
J: Oh alright, cool. The day to day thing is right now I’m a freelance cloud engineer and consultant. So what that means in English is people hit me up to stop by their medium-to-large scale companies (yay capitalism), to check out their systems and I pretty much optimize how things work for them. So instead of these guys spending five or six figures on IT crap, I reduce that total cost to probably figures so that’s kind of what I do on the day to day. How skateboarding fits into that? I’m pretty sure I couldn't get any of the work done that I have had if it wasn’t for the same kind of tenacity skating taught me. I’m a super-dropout and studied for two years straight and didn’t really go outside except to skate. Skateboarding has kept me sane in that whole period of studying and interviewing like crazy. I guess just for reference, in that two year period I think I had clocked like 3,000+ interviews because every day I averaged like six interviews plus tests and stuff
H: Damn that’s crazy. Really sounds like you had to be in the right mindset for all of that, a New York state of mind [laughs]
J: Yeah growing up in New York is a trip. New York is kind of an interesting place where, in a small space you have a whole bunch of communities, cramped together while everything we occupy stacks on top of each other. For skating, roaming around is like going to a big ol’ park. There’s so much crap that’s close together, so many shapes and sizes made out of either steel or stone. Everything is a trick waiting to happen, it’s beautiful! I guess the only downer to New York is that it’s crazy crowded, just because it’s so dope. If you’ve never been, come down to New York. I swear to you, the entire city will be your playground.
DEJON ALLEN, 24
Hero: Yo homie! Introduce yourself and tell us how you got into skateboarding
Dejon: Born and raised in the hood, nigga what’s good, but uh, yeah. I started skating 11 or 12 years ago. My first skateboard I had stole from ToysRUs in Queens and my grandma made me take that shit back. [laughs] Dammit. So I didn’t really get my first board until I was 12 and it had a panther graphic on it, it was cool as hell. Couldn’t ollie for shit though but I was the coolest nigga on the block because I had a skateboard
H: Was it just growing up in the city that made you want to skateboard?
D: I just always gravitated towards shit with wheels on it. I had three different scooters and I broke all of ‘em. I never was a bike person. I like bikes, I have bikes but I was a normal, school kid who had to start from training wheels and work my way up but I always liked a plank of wood with four wheels on it. It was just always something I pulled towards
H: Since then how has it shaped your life? I know Deezy was saying growing up in the hood it allowed him to find his own, create a space for himself and avoid getting into the gnarlier things that some of his friends were getting into. Was that kind of the same thing for you?
D: Yeah it was because I was born and raised in the hood, I had hood tendencies but I was never a hood nigga, or hood individual, a person who got into questionable activities, out at all types in the night. Well, I was out at all types in the night but just skating. I was never a trapper or a typical hood rat and how ironically everybody in my hood was.
H: How did that affect you growing up? Was skating some sort of an escape or what were some of the emotional things you were dealing with?
D: Skating was — like I never got criticized for having a skateboard in the hood or nothing, you know what I’m saying because that was just who I was. Yeah I got criticized for everything else, being short, whatever but for having a skateboard. I never got bothered, or played, or nothing, it was just a normal thing to have a skateboard because everybody had motorbikes or little ATV’s and all the kids had their little hot wheel cars and what not and I had my skateboard. We were cool
H: You seem like a real individual and have got your own style and know who you are, do you think skating kind of helped with that and figuring that out?
D: Yeah I knew who I was as an individual before anyone else could really figure it out. I knew I wasn’t going to be like baggy jeans, wearing Jordan’s all the time, shit, I only owned one pair of Jordan’s ever and I skated them shits to death. I’ve never been a typical person at all, the typical hood things, I don’t like
H: Where do you think that comes from?
D: I don’t honestly know, I was never raised to have a hood mentality, I was always raised with a Southern mindset that as long as you cool, you cool, that’s it
H: What do you think skating has taught you about yourself over the years?
D: It’s taught me a lot of patience and it’s shown me how much will power I have to keep going back and forth even if you’re going to miss this shit again and again and again, it’s just like, oh well, it’s something that I want to get done. I’m a perfectionist, I like to get shit down pact, whether it’s skating, whether it’s dancing, I gotta do it
H: What’s your daily routine like?
D: I work at this moment with people with developmental disabilities. I work at Kingsborough [Community College] so that makes me skate Kingsborough and be cool and not really everybody has a skateboard so it gets me from point A to point B. It’s better than food, god knows it's better than fucking food. Being a cashier for four of five years really it’s like you get tired of people who have common sense that don’t use common sense
H: What are your plans for the future?
D: I see myself cooking in the future, definitely, but not doing fast-food cooking so I would get into school in Kingsborough because they have a culinary program and I might get into that. As for a career orient, I’m a handyman, whatever happens, happens, whatever I can put my hands on and learn to work at, I can learn quick. I’m not a desk job nigga, I’m not a desk person
H: Sounds like a real New York mentality
D: A desk is something that I have feared. That is my one true fear, having an office job, that kind of more so would explain my mentality and the way it is and my personality because I’m trying to do everything I can to stay away from that office life so I’m assuming my persona and my general outward appearance kind of matches that because I don’t look the part for an office job, especially with giant holes in my ears