Disclaimer: This post is a personal essay that may not have much to do with New York. This essay is an homage to the shop employee who gives a shit. That shop employee who introduces you to what it is to be a skateboarder and influences you more than most because they become your friend. In the age of Zumiez and mall/department stores, in the age of big corporate names in skateboarding, I know that shit doesn’t matter because this dude is still out there, influencing the next generation. For me, one of those dudes was Chris Yonkers and I’m drawing from my own experience growing up.
Lesson 1: Be Accepting of Others
Although I was born in Rockville Centre, my family moved us to Lake Worth, Florida in 1989 for my father’s job. When I got into skating down the line, there were two main shops around town: Shred Shed & Island Water Sports. You never know when you first walked into these shops, but the people behind the counter of a core shop will become your friends and grow to be huge influences on your skating and life in general. Walking into a real life skateshop for the first time (not a Pac Sun where my dad brought me for my first board) it was like being let into a secret club. I was really nervous that I’d be found out as a dork and not be let in. Much to my shock, they quickly found out I was a dork but still welcomed me and let me lurk fairly often.
I started off going to Island Water Sports with my friends from middle school. It was a surf shop/skate shop that was close to a bunch of spots and we could catch a bus to from our even more suburban neighborhood. Yonkers was that shop employee who had this casual cool about him. He would fuck with you, but with this coy smile that made you feel like you were always in on the joke…even if the joke was you. Of course, my 13 year old self knew this was who I wanted to be like when I grew up and became cool (I’m still waiting for this to happen).
Lesson 2: Help those in need when you can.
He knew I was a lower-middle class (aka broke) kid who always bought his shoes off the sale rack. Between showing my group of friends the latest videos and defining what was cool and what wasn’t, he’d hook us up with discounts or free promo gear where he could. He’s also the reason I got sponsored by the shop and got a few of us the hook up with Fallen Footwear. I’ll never forget when that first box that came and he pulled out a brand new hoodie and handed it to me. I couldn’t believe he just gave me a $30-40 hoodie. It’s hard scraping up cash for skate gear as a kid, I used to hand out flyers for people to earn $10 per job, so for me this was a huge deal.
I could only afford to skate at Ramp 48 on Bible Study nights because if you sat through the religion, you could skate for free.
I think a majority of people identify their childhood and mainly their teenage years as their golden era. Skateboarders even more so because of how our bodies stop letting us jump down shit everyday and get away with it. For me, these early days at IWS were some of the purest for me. Going to a skatepark like the YMCA or Ramp 48 was a once in a blue moon treat. I could only afford to skate at Ramp 48 on Bible Study nights because if you sat through the religion, you could skate for free.
Lesson 3: If it’s worth it, it won’t be easy. But you better remember to have fun along the way.
Yonkers pushed me to skate more and more stuff. He’d always push me to the next level. It was never about getting sponsored but just getting better. His crew took my friends under their wing and gave us equal amounts of shit-talking and encouragement. I learned nothing worth doing comes easy, and you can’t take things too seriously because life is too much to handle without laughter every so often.
Yonkers made that abundantly clear later on when he helped me get a job at the shop. The shop was two stories and the second story overlooked the main counter downstairs. When there were no customers in the shop, it was WAR.
Lesson 4: Work hard. Play Harder
All of the employees would tape up the paper that comes inside the shoes and compress them into little balls. We’d hide these all around the store and as soon as that door closed behind the customer leaving the shop with just us inside we’d start hurling them at each other. As soon as the door would chime as the next person entered the store the game would pause and we’d pretend to be going about business as usual. It was a perfect job for your late teen years.
He along with his friend and co-manager Cory Krieg were the older brothers I never had. Equally picking on me and showing me the way of the world.
Lesson 5: Stay true to yourself and don’t follow trends too closely.
They showed me how to be a buyer and know the difference between what was worth a damn and what sells. Sometimes, those two things are found in one product but more often than not the customer has no idea what the hell they are talking about. I was thankful for the lessons they taught me, even if they only let me control buying the boogie boards, it was mine and I grew proud when the stuff I ordered would sell. Later as the co-owner of a skateboard company, I still get that pride when the stuff we designed sells and people like it. God I only hope people think our boards aren’t as lame as I think boogie boards are though.
I watched him spit the shrooms back up into Chris’ hand who immediately ate them.
I guess that’s the point of this whole essay. I see a lot of kids skating around following the trends and I often wonder why they make the choices they do. I’ve been around long enough to see dudes have amazing talent and opportunity go and blow it. It’s one of the saddest things to watch. I think of that and I wonder who is guiding some of these younger skaters. I hear people complain about the cliques of cool guys that descend upon Cooper and LES. It makes me hope there are more people like Yonkers and Cory are out there guiding the next generation. Along the way of writing this I realized how thankful I am for having people keep me out of trouble but teach me to raise just enough hell to get away with. I once saw Chris call out our friend who had eaten his share of the shrooms they brought with them. I watched him spit the shrooms back up into Chris’ hand who immediately ate them. It was one of the grossest things I’ve ever witnessed but even then Chris taught me a lesson: If you’re gonna call someone out, you better not be wasting your time or theirs. You gotta do what you gotta do. That’s just the kind of guy he is. Thanks Yonkers, wherever you are.