If you skated Chelsea Piers in the last decade, chances are you’ve seen Andrew out there helping kids learn to drop in. Andrew is a skateboard & surfing instructor who works with kids both here in New York, and on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii. We caught up with him at a NYC Skate Coalition contest at Chelsea where he was Emceeing. He took a few minutes in between heats to talk with us about how teaching skateboarding turned out to be the key to living his dream life.
Name: Andrew Gelles
Hometown: New York, New York
Current Location: Split the year between Rockaway Beach North Shore Oahu
Tell me a little bit about your involvement at Chelsea…
So, I’ve been teaching skateboarding here since the day it opened pretty much, teaching for 12 years. I was supposed to be a lifeguard when I was 16…but I got a job teaching skateboarding. I’ve been doing that ever since. Eventually, I started a full blown summer camp because I was running out of hours in the day. It’s been the best thing I’ve ever done.
I try to make sure I take time away from being at the computer writing emails, and spend time with each student.
What were some of the challenges and what were some of the best things you encountered when you started?
The greatest challenge I had with camp was basically this – I always tell people if I started working at Starbucks tomorrow, I would start pouring coffee and eventually become a manager, district manager and so forth. Eventually, I would stop pouring cups of coffee. But I genuinely like teaching 1-on-1, as the camp grows I play more of a manager role. I try to make sure I take time away from being at the computer writing emails, and spend time with each student. That’s been the greatest challenge. Other than that I have no complaints.
You really get to have a connection with the kids.
Oh yeah, I have a kid skating in the contest today that started with me years ago. Now he’s 17 years old. I’ve gotten to see a lot of my students grow over the years. Seeing someone go from not even being able to drop in, to that kid who is probably going to place today, it’s unreal.
So your bond continues for years after classes?
Yeah, I still coach and go surfing with them and all that. A lot of the kids help me out and inspire me. They will push me on tricks sometimes. The student becomes the master [laughs].
What made you choose to do half a year in NY and pick this park in particular?
Well, I actually do surfing more now. I have winters off, so I may as well spend them in Hawaii. I really like it out here. I’ve skateboarded all over the country but I love it here. The vibes are really good. Everyone really knows each other and trusts each other. There’s a family here that you don’t always find in skateboarding.
Have you gotten to hit up any of the parks at Rockaway?
I helped build the wooden one, it’s literally my backyard. I’ve spent some time at the new concrete ones, they are a lot of fun.
Before you started teaching, what were you doing and what led you to take the leap?
I was handing out flyers for 5 bucks an hour honestly [laughs]. I worked for someone who was more business minded so I learned that aspect from them at a young age. It was like 3 years into it when I realized this is more than just a way to pay the rent every month. It’s a good program. I’ve been street skating for a really long time and we didn’t have things like this when I was growing up. The griminess of skateboarding is still there, but having people around to support you instead of running from cops and security guards kicking you out is just night and day.
The dream isn’t going from teaching 10 kids to a hundred. It’s teaching kids well and making those connections.
Have you gotten any large companies reaching out to offer support or help you out?
Triple Eight helps me out with helmets and pads. Uncle Funky’s supports what I do. As for the big companies… not really. Nike told me what I do doesn’t really fit their brand of skateboarding. I thought that was kind of interesting. It’s pretty much been just on me and that’s fine. I’m riding a Powell right now, not because of any support or hookup but because I like the board and what they do so I’m supporting them.
So what’s your dream of where to take what you’re doing?Honestly, this may sound cheesy but the dream right now is every year when I get on the plane and go to Hawaii I say to myself “man if I can just do this one more year.”
It’s not to grow or expand. The dream isn’t going from teaching 10 kids to a hundred. It’s teaching kids well and making those connections. As long as I can pay my bills on time and keep doing it. Quality over Quantity.
True that. Any shoutouts or thank you’s you wanna put out there?
Huge shout out to Ian from NYC Skate Coalition for organizing this whole event. Shout out to Mark Gonzales for being really cool and bringing us all together. Shout out to Andy Kessler for building so much of the scene and being an inspiration when I was a kid. Shout out to everyone who wakes up in the morning and skates, doesn’t think they can drop in but goes anyway. Those guys make the world.
Follow Andrew on instagram and see what living the dream looks like.