I’ve been seeing Kaz up for years, but I never knew he skated. This is a testament to the low profile he keeps; Kaz is a writer’s writer. I learned about his skate history through the graffiti grapevine while doing research for this project. So I contacted a mutual friend to see if he would relay a message to Kaz about possibly doing an interview. A few days later I received an email from a name unknown to me saying that our friend told him about the interview and that he was down. The rest, as they say, is history.
Which came first: skating or graffiti?
Skating. I got a board in 1979. It was a Free Former. And I actually still have it. It’s an old plastic board. I use to knee board down a hill near my house, but that was it for a little while.
Then there was this guy in my building named Alotio; his sister was actually Lisa Lisa from Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam. He had an old bullet-shaped Steve Steadham board. I thought it was the raddest thing, with the dreadlocks and the skull and the ace of spades card. Then this kid Scott would let me cruise around on his old Powell board, which was probably around ’86/’87. Then there was this store in my neighborhood called Peck & Goodie which sold ice skates to people that would skate up at Wollman Rink. But they also carried skateboards. So around ‘87/’88 I bought a Mike McGill and I started skating full on after that, going on excursions up to Mullaly’s and things like that. And it was at Mullaly’s in ’88 that I met Ojae, and we became friends right away. So from then graffiti and skating kind of became hand in hand because they were both of an outsider/renegade mentality.
From there, we started going downtown a lot. The guys that started Skate NYC had a booth in the parking lot of Tower Records, kind of like a weekend flea market thing. Then they opened up a shop 9th St and Avenue A. So we would hang out there and skate Tompkins Square Park.
I got sponsored by Peck & Goodie around ‘91/’92, and then got my ESA card which allowed me to enter Banks contests. That’s how I met Harold and Alyasha and just a ton of people.
I remember the ‘88(?) Shut/Skate NYC contest at Tompkins, which was monumental. Mike V. Sean Sheffey, Christian Hosoi – all these pros showed up.
We were mostly midtown cats, but we’d go down to the Banks, and up to the Harlem Banks; we were always looking for things to skate. It was about the exploration of the city, which ties into the graffiti thing, because at that time, there was a purity about it. Things weren’t overly manufactured, you made do with what you had. You’d make a marker at home, flood it with ink, and put it in your pocket and take it with you skating. There was a very basic and pure element to the whole thing at that time.
Then came OD’s Skate Shop on 10th Avenue. That was when I met guys like Mike Hernandez, Keenan Milton, Keith Hufnagel, and Bobby Puleo. And that was a whole scene with chapters of stories. But there was lots of skateshops in the city that had their own scenes. There was Larry and Jeff’s on the east side; I got a job at Blades back in ’94 at their first shop on 72nd Street. Then around ’97 I needed a job, so I started working for them again at their shop on Broadway right off of Bleecker Street.
Who was in your skate crew?
Ojae, Dear, Deter. There was Sean Kelling, who I gave the name, ‘the Flyin’ Hawaiin.”
I remember Sean Kelling; he did a lot of finger flips, right?
Yes. He learned finger flips from me. When I saw Sal Barbier do a finger flip, I was like “I gotta learn how to do this trick.” There was a curb cut right outside the UPS building off the West Side Highway, that’s where I learned how to do them. There was also Andy Henry who was from Hawaii. My friend Greg, who was a break dancer, he was one of my first skate friends. And this kid Sonny from my neighborhood, who we used to call Sundoola. We had a nice little clique.
How did you get into graffiti?
When I was a kid, my bedroom faced an old tenement building. And on the roof there was a piece that read “Dose.” My older sister hung out with people from the neighborhood that wrote. There was Roz TC5; there was a kid across the street that wrote Image KKB. I always liked graffiti. And when we got into skating, we would do the Ratbones logo with a marker and practice the Alva letters. Or do punk rock stencils with spray paint and cardboard. Maybe around ’88/’89 I started giving myself a tag and trying it out on the street. But then when I became friends with Ojae, he showed me hand styles and things like that because he was already way into it well before I was. So I probably didn’t start gettin’ rockin’ and rollin’ with it until ’90, when I was actually out and doing stuff. Then around ’91 to ’92, that’s when me and Ojae were up and going and doing stuff all the time.
How’d you get your tag?
There was a place that repaired cabs, it was on the west side between 10th and 11th Avenues. The name was like Kashmere Brothers or something like that. I used to ask them for spray paint, like, “Hey I’m trying to paint my bike.” And they would give me paint. I’d use it for my stencils or whatever kind of stuff I was doing. Back then it was like three-letter tags – like Zip, Zap – were catchy. So it just evolved, it was three letters that I liked, and I just took it from there. But little did I know, there was a guy not too far from me that had the same tag. He probably had the tag a year or two before I did, but he was cool with me taking over the name.
Who did you look up to in skating?
When I started getting good and developing legit tricks, Brian Lotti was great; of course guys like Natas; I liked a lot of powerhouse skaters like old G&S guys like Duane Pitre; old H-Street, the guys from Hocus Pocus and Shackle Me Not were a big influence; Bones Brigade Video Show was a huge influence; Jason Lee and the Blind Video was phenomenal; later on was Plan B with Mike Carroll and Rick Howard, then Jeremy Wray – they were incredible. Then coming up with Keith and Keenan, you know, it was a real fascinating time to be involved in skating.
Who were you influenced by in graffiti?
Of course I remember JA, who I was fortunate to become very close with. Then older guys from my neighborhood like Roz TC5, Image KKB, those guys influenced me a lot; Ojae; I remember old Dr. Revolt tags on the west side from the early ’80s that were still floating around. In Hell’s Kitchen there was a lot of good graffiti that was still there even into the ’90s. There was a lot of old graff from the ’80s that was still runnin’ on walls. It was great to see it.
You’re down with XTC, which to me is the Plan B (old Plan B) of graffiti crews; how did you get down with them?
JA and I became friends, we were like minded, and both had a passion for a lot of the same things, so we just kind of hit it off as friends. We were out one night, with a bunch of friends, having a good time, and he pulled me to the side and said, “you know you’re down,” and gave me a formal induction into the crew. To me it was big. I was blown away, because the guys that came before me like Omni, Veefer, you know, it was huge to be considered part of that realm.
What is it about these two subcultures that they attract the same kind of people?
It’s the outsider element, like the renegade spirit; just being on the outside of the mainstream of society; just being a little bit off the beaten path. The areas that nobody tends to go, also tend to be the best skate spots. Or with graff, that spot you want to hit. They both have that sense of adventure and that spirit of wanting to explore, and explore places that your average person wouldn’t want to visit.
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?
When we were skating, we never brought a camera. If we brought anything, we brought a radio. It was just for the pure thrill of it. You never documented it; it was in the moment. And with graff, we never really got flicks. But for the most part, it was in the moment, a moment that you carried with you, without the proof of it. It just was; it was the memory. As for the legal walls, a lot of people are doing brilliant art work, and in order to push certain things you need the time and the space without having to look over your shoulder. But it’s always debatable; the art form versus the raw bombing element of it. They’re two different things. I think they both have their respective places. I have some great friends who only do legal walls, and they’re good people, and I’ll talk to them day and night about what they’re doing.
Ojae, Dear, Sean Kelling “The Flyin’ Hawaiin”, Andy Henry, Sundoola, Deter, Gizmo, Alex Peanut, Bobby Puleo, Foe, JA, Noah TFP, Matt Terwillager, Chibone. And XTC, KSA, FYC crews.
Last question: will you hit my book?
Yeah, I’ll definitely hit your book.