Despite living in the Big Apple for five years, former South Australian resident Clement Oladipo had never skated the Brooklyn Banks until this night. Breaking the ice with a classic frontside pillar ride – like so many legends have done before – he ticks a spot off the bucket list.
Three decades of progression on those sacred red bricks.
Words & Photo by Riely Walker.
If skateboarding had its own Seven Wonders of the World, the Brooklyn Banks would feature prominently at the top of the list. Steeped in history and laden with legendary tales of street skateboarding’s rugged beginnings, this dark and damp corner of Manhattan’s Lower East Side is more iconic to most skateboarders than the world-famous bridge it resides beneath.
The Banks became a bubbling hotspot for skaters in the mid-’80s, advertised prominently by the Bones Brigade in Future Primitive and subsequently becoming a home for constant progression in the fledgling world of street skateboarding. The ramp-like nature of the Banks attracted skaters who might otherwise be reluctant to migrate into the streets, bridging the gap between vert and street skaters to create a melting pot of creativity and technical advancement.
The likes of Mike Vallely and Mark Gonzales shaped the spot into an icon through their creative approach to its terrain, regularly inventing tricks on a whim and making use of obstacles in ways that had never before been dreamt of. For years, the Brooklyn Banks personified the anarchic nature of skateboarding, constantly injecting fresh ideas into the imaginative minds of skaters worldwide through its prominent coverage in videos and magazines – not least us, watching on from a world away in Australia.
In 2009, however, the New York City Department of Transport announced that the Brooklyn Banks were being shut down. According to them, the area under the bridge was to be used for construction storage until 2014 while the bridge was renovated – although the city gave no guarantees about the state of the area once construction was complete. Locals doubted the likelihood of the spot ever reopening. Particularly after countless delays and the complete reconfiguration of some sections under the bridge, along with the long-term storage of heavy machinery, which threatened to render the fragile bricks unskateable for good. Protests and uproar ensued.
Blasphemous as it may sound, this news wasn’t such a devastating blow to most skateboarders in New York City, at least in practice. As iconic as it was, the Brooklyn Banks had become a tiny speck on the radar of most skaters in the Big Apple; a spot to be deeply respected and occasionally sessioned, but far from the bustling habitat of constant progression it had been throughout the ’80s and ’90s. In many ways, the spot had found itself in a lull; fun, but stale and played out, unattractive to those seeking something fresh in the ever-growing Manhattan metropolis. And as it turned out, this temporary closure may have been for the best.
Earlier this year, the Brooklyn Banks made a triumphant return to our Instagram feeds and computer screens. Though still officially off-limits and fenced off, the construction equipment has been cleared, allowing the spot to be skated for the first time since late 2009. It was perfect timing for a group of travelling Aussies like ourselves who’d never had the chance before, and feared we may never have the chance to skate the Banks at all.
Word of the spot’s reemergence spread quickly in the social-media-driven scene of 2017, attracting skateboarders from far and wide within days of the news – not unlike the heyday of the ’80s and ’90s. The Banks have awoken from a coma to discover a completely different skateboarding landscape to the one left behind eight years ago. That’s a long time in the skate world – enough to usher in an entirely new generation of skaters who have never set urethane on those sacred red bricks. It’s these wide-eyed young creatives who are already beginning to interpret the hallowed turf in previously unseen ways; naturally reigniting the spirit which made the Brooklyn Banks the most loved spot in skateboarding all those years ago – a spirit which had been somewhat lost in the years before its closure.
Sometimes a spot needs to be replenished in order to stay alive. We’ve seen it time and time again; spots are capped, modified or shut down regularly, but skateboarders constantly find new ways to interpret them, to keep them conscious. The closure and subsequent reopening of the Brooklyn Banks hit a much-needed refresh button, and as the spot gradually re-enters an almost unrecognisable skateboarding landscape, we can look forward to seeing it blossom once more in the months and years ahead – this time with a new generation at the wheel. Long may it continue.