Cycle scoping the Freedom Tunnel.
Photo by Bobby Worrest

NYSkateboarding is excited to introduce a new and exclusive series based on our friend’s, Mike Regan, project in which he interviews graffiti-writing skateboarders. Both cultures have overlapped for decades-especially here in the Empire State; they discuss why that is (and a lot more). We hope you enjoy the first interview with artist/skateboarder Cycle.

Wriders – From Bombing Hills to Bombing Walls

Intro: Skateboarding and graffiti are two subcultures which are often intertwined. From bombing hills to bombing walls, a lot of skaters write and a lot of writers skate. The similarities between the two lifestyles are numerous: both can be done solo or in groups, they often result in creative destruction, and at one point they were both shunned by the mainstream but have now received an unsolicited warm welcome from the masses. What is it about these two cultures that they often end up attracting the same participants? I linked up with a few graffiti-writing skaters to pick their paint-soaked brains about this question and a lot more.

Cycle was the first person I spoke to for this project. When I got home from the interview, I texted a friend telling him I had just interviewed Cycle, and attached to the message a photo of what he did in my blackbook. My buddy replied, “When you first told me about this project, I thought he would be the best candidate.” Ditto. 

 

Which came first, skating or graff?

Skateboarding. It was around 1985. I was BMXing and my best friend at the time was into skating. I’d try his board and he’d try my bike. He had a Vision Shredder, one of those basic completes. Then he got his first board, a Hosoi Hammerhead, so he handed the Visio Shredder down to me. And when I got into it enough, and liked it enough, I ordered my own board.

Cycle throws caution to the wind and ollies a street barrier.
Photo by Dave Schubert

 

When did you get into graffiti?

I want to say officially, in ’89, but I knew about it since middle school. I got into hardcore, and there would be shows at this club in Norwalk called The Anthrax, and people would take tags on the wall. From there I started carrying a marker around and doing a little chicken scratch here and there. But I wasn’t serious about it during high school; I was more about trying to skate some contests and whatever. It wasn’t until later on that I was like, “let me try to do something with graffiti.” So, even though I had known about it, it wasn’t until ’89 that I tried to make it something official.

Who were you psyched on in your early years of skating?

The first video I saw was Future Primitive – my friend got a copy of it somehow. And we also had a 70’s skate video: This guy “Mellow Cat” was driving guys around and going to skateparks. I wish I could remember the name of the video (Skateboard Madness). There was early footage of Caballero in it, and while everyone else is kick turning, Cab, this little kid, was more advanced. He stood out to me. So, the first pro board I got was a Cab because I liked him. As I started learning more and reading magazines, Mark Gonzales started to become a favorite, and this is in his Vision days. From his griptape artwork and doing his own graphics, Gonz just seemed interesting and I became a fan.

Who were some of the writers you were influenced by?

I had seen Style Wars, Subway Art, and Spraycan Art. There were a couple pictures in those books I really liked, like a Bio with a candle for the eye and a T Kid had a guy with a martini glass. But by the time I started skating the city, that stuff was already gone. It’s not like I was seeing Lee whole cars driving by. I was really just looking around and trying to figure out who’s that? And what’s that say? At that point I was being influenced by my friends. It wasn’t til later that I started understanding names and crews – then I started appreciating what people were doing. Like Sento TFP, the RIS guys, Sane Smith, Reas. I’d also say my friends Gaze and Emit. They were influenced by the TVT guys, who were doing chunky styles with thick outlines. We were coming from Connecticut and they (TVT) were top-of-the-Bronx/Westchester, so really the stuff that was in front of me was having an influence. On the way to the city, we’d stop by Pelham Amtrak and see Sento and Cav; I remember a Ghost piece; Pure had stuff. Then we’d go downtown to the Banks and see Bester tags and Sev stuff.

How’d you get your tag?

Tags seem to go in trends. Look at 70’s tags, with names and numbers-Jose 106 or something like that. Then you have the 80’s with Crash and Daze, which were verb names. Then you get to the later 80’s like the bomber names from the BMT line with two-letter names and add a “one” on the end. SPone, for example. By the time it got for me to pick a name, my two friends I had known for years, Gaze and Emit, had already decided upon a name. I looked at their names, something is “emitting,” someone is “gazing.” So I came up with Cycle. Gazing, emitting, cycling – but not like riding a bike. More like science fiction-esque. “Crash” is something you’d read in a comic book, but “emit” is something you’d read in a science fiction novel. So I was trying to come up with something semi-futuristic, but still a verb. And as of now I haven’t seen anyone repeat that name, because one of my pet peeves is too many people having the same name. Now you have the weird hipster names like Toetooth or Footglop – it’s like what? How do you piece with that name? But I guess for the people using those names it’s not about piecing, it’s about doing goofy shit in the street.

I always wondered if your Banks fill-in that ended up in the mags was preplanned?

Yes it was. I knew that the NSA Brooklyn Bridge Banks contest in ’93 was going down. I was painting with Gaze, Vert, and Cromag that night, and I said, “We gotta go downtown and hit this spot.” There was nothing down there; it was quiet and abandoned. So they were like, “what’s so special about it?” They wanted to do spots where they thought they would come off more. I had skated there before, so I was strategic about it, having seen photos and footage in magazines and videos. And it kind of worked out.

John Cardiel 180 flips at The Banks while a strategically-placed Cycle chills in the background.
Photo by Tobin Yelland

 

One could argue that skating handrails is the highest achievement of a street skater’s career. Similarly, an argument can be made that hitting NYC trains is the highest achievement of a graffiti writer’s career. You boardslid the Presidio rail; you’ve also painted NYC trains. There are only a few people who can claim both, but you’re the only one I know that has the pictures to prove it.

Ok! That’s really interesting! (laughter) There’s gotta be someone else. Is there someone else? You know the Gold Rail in DC? I think I’m the third to do it. That was in the early 90’s. First was Sheffey, then Brian Tucci. We were skating at Pulaski one day, and we went up there skating something else. I was looking at the rail, and Sheffey was like, “You gonna try that?” And this is Sheffey asking me, so I was like, “Maybe…” All of the sudden he’s calling everyone over and saying, “He’s gonna try the rail!” So I was like, “I guess I got to do it.” I tried it and eventually landed one and rolled into a fire hydrant and fell over. Then Steve Teague, who rode for Blockhead, came up to me and was like, “You’re the third guy to do that.”

Cycle puts his cans down and boardslides the Persidio rail.
Photo by Nico Berry

Cycle puts his board down and paints an E train.
Photo by Cycle

What do you think it is about these subcultures, skating and graff, that they attract the same kind of person?

Well, there’s been a whole bunch of skaters that have had tags, and there’s been a whole bunch of graffiti writers that have had skateboards, but there have only been a few people I’ve known that have gone hard on both.

They’re both creative. Even the kids who are just tagging and doing throw ups – you gotta have some sort of design sense of something that you want to paint. Both types of people are very environmentally aware. Graffiti writers are like, “If I put my name right there, it comes off right here.” Skaters are like, “Look how long that marble ledge is.” Landmarks to me are different to other people. They’ll know street names, whereas I’m like, “You go down this street and turn left when you see this big straight letter, then you go two blocks till you see the nice waxed ledge…” Both skaters and writers aren’t afraid to explore or color outside the lines; authority doesn’t bother them. They don’t like to be told what to do. They’re like, “I see something over there, it’s interesting to me, and I’m going to do my thing on it.” Whether it’s a handrail or a roll-down gate or train tracks, they’re going to use the environment in their own way. There’s that Stecyk quote, “Two hundred years of American technology has unwittingly created a massive cement playground of unlimited potential. But it was the minds of 11 year olds that could see the potential.” I think that’s a really appropriate quote. So, you got people that want to go on adventures, are creative thinkers, and are not intimidated by authority. They’re rogues, creative rogues. They look at their environment and find alternative uses for what other people don’t notice or disregard. They’re like, “Don’t paint that rooftop!” And we’re like, “Well what are you doing with it?” Or “Don’t skate that bench!” “Why? What are you doing with it?” There are a lot of parallels between skaters and writers with how they think and how they use their environment. Also, we don’t have to pay for a good time; between stealing spray paint and knowing sponsored skaters to get some free product, doing these things wasn’t breaking the bank.

Back in the 80’s and 90’s, skating and graff weren’t accepted by the mainstream. Nowadays they are a lot more so. How do you think this warm welcome from the masses has changed these subcultures?

I liked it better back then. It’s like what I was saying about rogues. Rogue status. Years ago, you got run out of spots. Places were regulated. Graf spots and skate spots. If you’re a kook, don’t come around. You’ll get your board broken or your paint taken. I like that it regulated itself. It was knowledge for the people who deserved it. You had to take your lumps and earn your stripes and show that you had heart. In order to obtain that knowledge, you had to work your way up to know the right people to gift you that knowledge. Now that knowledge is free. Google it. Here’s a tutorial on how to do switch tre flips. Here’s a tutorial on what caps to use with what cans. The accessibility has watered down the culture. I liked it back when you had to prove you deserve what you’re getting. I liked it when it was more underground and you had to prove yourself. It built character. Now it’s like over stimulating with the internet and Instagram. There’s no way to know if they got lucky or if they are really putting in the work. You used to have to go into the streets to experience it, now you can experience it from the comfort of your couch.

Cycle slams, then gets up and wins the battle:

 

In skating it’s not cool to film at skateparks. In graff it’s not cool to paint legal walls. So are legal walls the graff equivalent of skatepark footage, and vice versa?

Yes, I do see the parallel. And I’ll take it one parallel deeper: In the 80s, skating was mostly confined to skateparks, and writing was mostly confined to trains. Then the skateparks died and skating leaked out into the streets. Around the same time, the MTA cracked down on writers and the trains died and graffiti leaked out into the streets. But it goes back to earning your stripes. If you show up and just do legal walls, it’s like, “Who the fuck are you?” You’re not proving to me that you’re really, really doing it. Because it’s really easy to show up to a legal wall with 200 cans and take three days to do a piece. Try doing that at night, under pressure, looking over your shoulder, after climbing through a hole in a fence, with only 45 minutes to do what you gotta do and get the fuck out of there. That’s how you learn your craft. Legal walls are cool to think of concepts and see if you can pull them off. But you have to go out and earn your stripes, too. That’s how you defend those legal walls. Looking back, no one ever fucked with my legal walls. I think that’s because I went out and bombed. I had a mind-state that you had to do this in order to do that. And if you didn’t do this, that was of minimal importance.

Now with skateparks, if you got a perfect run-up to a 12-stair with a smooth landing, you can sit there and start crossing tricks off your list. But if you try to do that in nature, you got time constraints: Is security coming back? Are cops around the corner? Is some civilian gonna try to be a hero? Are there cracks or gravel at the top or bottom of the set? And it goes back to environment: Take a photo of somebody backside lipping a ten-stair handrail at a skatepark, and there’s little Joey with his helmet on, riding his scooter in the background. But the same trick (backside lipslide down a ten-stair) shot with a cityscape behind it and business people walking around, that’s gonna make a much more interesting photo. It has to do with environmental context showing what that person is going through to achieve what he did. Same with graffiti: Compare a photo of a piece on a legal wall versus a rooftop. The rooftop is more interesting because it shows that he had to climb up something, watch for headlights, cross tracks, etc. Now I understand what this person had to go through to achieve what they did.

Last question: will you hit my book?

But of course.