The vast majority of the entire skateboarding world had their eyes concentrated on the West Coast throughout the 1980s and early 90s. This was due in large part to the influence of California's famous Z-Boys who had made names for themselves in the late 1970s. Consequently, the East Coast scene that was developing was largely ignored. It would have to take visionaries such as Rodney Smith, Eli Gesner, Adam Schatz and a little skate video to shake things up and change the lay of the skateboarding land. Shake things up they would, and in a big way. It all began in 1993 when Smith, Gesner & Schatz formed one of the earliest significant skateboard companies coming out of the East Coast: Zoo York.
Prior to Zoo York, skateboarding in popular American culture was primarily associated with suburban south Californian surf culture. This isn't surprising when you consider the monumental influence that the Z-Boys and the legacies of the likes of pioneers such as Jay Adams, Tony Alva, and Stacy Peralta had. Their influence on the evolving culture of skateboarding should not and cannot ever be overlooked.
In spite of the initial shake-up by the Z-Boys - who had been at the forefront of skateboarding's unpredictable sky-rocket in popularity on one hand and a threat to standardized conservative Middle America on the other - by the middle of the 80s skateboarding had caught on as something corporate America could and would accept. Though the very philosophy underlying the act skateboarding was a revolutionary act, as it seemingly defied boundaries set by both the state of the body politik and the state of nature, physics and gravity - the powers that be came to view this newfound popularity with skateboarding in a more pragmatic way. After all, "It's a white suburban thing. It's a sport. It's another example of American culture leading the way." But more importantly, "It can be marketed, it can be used to sell images which in turn can then be used to sell product." And it was.
With that in mind it is very interesting to then see how corporate America would depict skateboarding in children's television shows, advertisements, films, etc. during that time period in the post-Z-Boys period of the mid 1980s on into the 90s.
Hollywood movies such as Back to the Future (1985), Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol (1987), and even Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989) would feature and rely upon a pre-fabricated image Middle America was now being fed of skateboarders and skateboarding in so far as how character traits, plot devices, and/or action montages in mainstream movies such as these were depicted. A film like Gleaming the Cube (1989) would go on to be an example of an entire movie written and filmed around such tropes and pre-established images, all of which were derived out of corporate America's portrayal using the West Coast Cali scene as the hermeneutic to bastardize.
Cartoons such as "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" (1987) would on occasion feature Michelangelo, a character often portrayed as having the disposition of a south Cali "surfer dude," on a skateboard. "Denver the Last Dinosaur" (1988) was a cartoon about southern Cali kids who were into rock music and skateboarding who resurrect a dinosaur out of the La Brea tar pits only to make him over in their image post-punk image. Even "The Simpsons" (1989) often depicts Bart on a skateboard.
Popular media in advertising aimed at children would also often look like this:
It was all safe. It was all sanitized. It was a refined processed vision of what the Z-Boys had established ten years earlier when they revolutionized the American fringe. The radicalized anti-establishemnt spirit associated with skateboarding and born under the California sun was now an emasculated sugar-coated vision of post-punk culture. It was a vision where words like "awesome," "kawabunga," "bogus," and "tubular" were part of the vernacular; colorful t-shirts and hats in zesty pop 80s checked designs were worn; and where the skateboarder was seen as just your typical rebellious kid "going through a phase." All of these were attributes applied from the top on down.
In spite of the waves the Z-Boys had made by blowing people's minds (while at the same time looking bad ass doing it) the skateboarding scene had been manipulated into something it wasn't ever supposed to be. Furthermore, as a result of skateboarding now having a defined image associated with it, it was also now an activity that the media was quick to segregate. Cultural segregation was big during the Reagan reign. For example, pop music was extremely segregated in the 80s and early '90s. Hip-Hop and R&B was black, metal and new wave was white. Case closed. Skateboarding was just another facet of the new emerging mediums to be processed and sorted "int0 its right place." That medium was an emulatation of what had been seen in West Coast half pipes a decade earlier and its new place was to be the heart of white suburbia with a softer and duller edge... where it could be controlled.
By the mid-to-early 90s however that all began to change.
In 1995 Larry Clarke's boundary-demolishing film Kids hit art house cineplexes across the country. The film was based on a culmination of developments in New York which had really begun in the late 70s and early 80s. Hip hop, post-punk and the street art movements of which SAMO and the Zoo York crew were at the vanguard of, had been slowly merging with the "Death Bowl to Dowtown" skateboarding scenes. All of this had been going on beneath radars of the paragons of the Reagan-Bush #1 ideaologies which had been esconced in power from 1980-1992. Due to a motion picture like Kids, for the first time anyone not an active participant in the emerging New York skateboarding scene saw a portrayal of New York's youth they probably weren't expecting. The least of which wasn't that skateboarding could be just as much an urban phenomena as it was a suburban one. In addition to that, aside from the general portrayal by mainstream media up to that point, Kids showed America at large that skateboarding wasn't just for white kids either.
Kids challenged much of what middle America's perceptions were. Such being the case, it wasn't so easily grasped after half-a-generation of hyper-categorization and cultural segregation. As a result, Kids wasn't readily accepted by most critics over the age of 30. C'est la vie. Kids was just a work of fiction anyway. The real shift in thinking was still a couple of years away. But it was coming.
Realizing that the East Coast had no skateboarding companies of its own as the '80s switched over to the '90s, the Zoo York group looked to change that. As mentioned previously, they started one of the first New York skateboard companies as early as '93. In the post-Kids-release days of 1995 into 96 they were establishing their footing. By 1997, thanks in part to the release of Kids two years earlier, they'd change skateboard game entirely.
In 1997 the Zoo York Media Group's released the Zoo York Mixtape skate video. Graffiti, hip-hop and post-punk skateboard culture, though artificially segregated, were now conjoined in a seamless fit. The triangulation was complete. The film remains one of - if not the most - influential underground filmwork ever produced in New York, about New York and for New York. The video's release took the skateboarding scene metamorphosis to a whole new level. Upon its final edit and initial printings, the Zoo York Mixtape video now existed for distribution to show the world how electric such a combination of the otherwise similar -yet estranged- cultural expression dedicatad to "coloring outside the line" could be. It was an East Coast creation, and it came courtesy of Rodney Smith, Eli Gesner, Adam Schatz and the rest of the Zoo York crew.
What Zoo York and the Zoo York Mixtape did culturally cannot be understated. Prior to the widespread distribution of the film, if you were a kid living outside of the New York boroughs and you had a skateboard and a walkman, odds were high it was an audio cassette of Metallica, Anthrax or even The Ramones that you were listening to. Meanwhile, if you resided in California, it was probably the Chili Peppers or Jane's Addiction. If anyone was really progressive they might be listening to Faith No More, but they were few and far between. Skateboards and hip-hop simply didn't go together in the collective conscience of a racially segregated (in mind, at least) America. Today, however, you're just as likely to see hip-hop loaded onto a skaters iPod as you are punk, rock, or alternative.
It took the Zoo York crew to finally consecrate a visual and audio medium that would show the world how perfect the fit of hip-hop and skateboarding indeed were and always had been. It should have been assumed that it would only be a matter of time before someone figured it out. It just so happens that the Zoo York crew was ahead of the curve compared to most everyone else.
"Legends in the realms of hip-hop and Skateboarding – Harold Hunter, Justin Pierce ( both featured in Kids), Jeff Pang, Fat Joe, Vinny Ponte, DJ Roc Raider, Bobbito, Method Man, Busta Rhymes are just some of the names involved in the making of Mixtape. It is pure unadulterated contemporary New York culture. It ascended forth. It create a sea change felt across the entire skateboarding world. It lives forever.