For this group of Brooklyn friends, who go by the name of the Zero Gravity Skate Gang, skateboarding saved their lives. Growing up in the hood, skateboarding kept them off the streets, taught them dedication and gave them each other, a brotherhood.
Taking us to a couple spots on a sunny Friday morning along Manhattan’s southeast waterfront, we sat down with five members of the crew. Below is part one of two, in which the Zero Gravity crew give us an insight into their lives, their culture and their city.
Lindsey Okubo: Introduce yourself and tell us how you got into skateboarding.
Dejon Allen: Born and raised in the hood. I started skating eleven or twelve years ago. My first skateboard I stole from Toys ‘R’ Us in Queens and my grandma made me take that shit back, dammit [laughs]. So I didn’t really get my first board until I was twelve and it had a panther graphic on it, it was cool as hell. I couldn’t ollie for shit but I was the coolest one on the block because I had a skateboard.
Lindsey: Was it just growing up in the city that made you want to skateboard?
Dejon: I just always gravitated towards shit with wheels on it. I had three different scooters and I broke all of them. I never was a bike person. I like bikes, I have bikes, but I was a normal, school kid who had to start from training wheels and work my way up but I always liked a plank of wood with four wheels on it. It was just always something I pulled towards
Lindsey: Since then how has it shaped your life? I know Deezy was saying growing up in the hood it allowed him to create a space for himself and avoid getting into the gnarlier things that some of his friends were getting into. Was that kind of the same thing for you?
Dejon: Yeah it was because I was born and raised in the hood, I had hood tendencies but I was never a hood individual, a person who got into questionable activities, out at all types in the night. Well, I was out at all types in the night but just skating. I was never a trapper or a typical hood rat.
Lindsey: How did that affect you growing up? Was skating some sort of an escape?
Dejon: Skating was… like I never got criticised for having a skateboard in the hood or nothing, you know what I’m saying? That was just who I was. Yeah I got criticised for everything else, being short, whatever. But for having a skateboard, I never got bothered, or played, or nothing, it was just a normal thing to have a skateboard because everybody had motorbikes or little ATV’s and all the kids had their little hot wheel cars and what not and I had my skateboard. We were cool
Lindsey: You seem like a real individual and have got your own style and know who you are, do you think skating kind of helped with that and figuring that out?
Dejon: Yeah I knew who I was as an individual before anyone else could really figure it out. I knew I wasn’t going to be like baggy jeans, wearing Jordan’s all the time, shit, I only owned one pair of Jordan’s ever and I skated them shits to death. I’ve never been a typical person at all, the typical hood things.
Lindsey: Where do you think that comes from?
Dejon: I honestly don’t know, I was never raised to have a hood mentality, I was always raised with a Southern mindset that as long as you’re cool, you’re cool, that’s it
Lindsey: What do you think skating has taught you about yourself over the years?
Dejon: It’s taught me a lot of patience and it’s shown me how much will power I have to keep going back and forth even if you’re going to miss this shit again and again and again, it’s just like something that I want to get done. I’m a perfectionist, I like to get shit down pact, whether it’s skating, whether it’s dancing, I gotta do it.
Lindsey: What’s your daily routine like?
Dejon: I work at the moment with people with developmental disabilities. I work at Kingsborough [Community College] so that makes me skate Kingsborough and be cool.
Lindsey: What are your plans for the future?
Dejon: I see myself cooking in the future, definitely, but not doing fast-food cooking, Kingsborough have a culinary program and I might get into that. As for a career orient, I’m a handyman, whatever happens, happens, whatever I can put my hands on and learn to work at, I can learn quick. I’m not a desk job person.
Lindsey: Sounds like a real New York mentality.
Dejon: A desk is something that I have feared. That is my one true fear, having an office job, that would explain my mentality and my personality because I’m trying to do everything I can to stay away from that office life so I’m assuming my persona and my general outward appearance kind of matches that because I don’t look the part for an office job, especially with giant holes in my ears.
Lindsey: Hey Mikey, can you start off by introducing yourself and telling us how you got into skateboarding?
Michael Ferrer: My name is Michael Ferrer, I’m 24 years old, born in Florida raised between Puerto Rico and New York. I started skating about twelve years ago. I think it was my birthday, or a Christmas present, and my mom got me a bootleg Pokemon skateboard. I tried to skate it but I fell and was like, ‘I’m never picking this shit up again.’ I don’t know what happened but a couple months later, I started feeling guilty about things my mom buys for me and how some of it goes to waste so I was like, ‘Oh, I better just try and use the board.’ From there I broke the board, ended up getting a new board and it was like an X-Games board, one of those things that you’d get at like Toys ‘R’ Us and started skating in my hallway and expanded to the streets and started meeting people.
Lindsey: How did you end up meeting all these guys and if you were moving between here and Puerto Rico what was that like?
Michael: I mean the whole transition between Puerto Rico and New York was due to money. In Puerto Rico it’s hard to achieve a good sense of monetary stability so we decided to move to New York to try to make more money for ourselves so we could have a better life. The way I met these fine gents over here, well I went to school with Dejon, we went to high school at Freedom Academy and he told me he skated and we started skating with each other and he introduced me to Denzel. From there it became like a social network where we just started linking each other’s friends like, “Oh yeah, I know you, I’ve seen you before, let’s go skate.”
Lindsey: What has skateboarding brought to your life?
Michael: The way I see skateboarding is about pure freedom. I get on my board, turn on my music and don’t even think about the world. It’s just me, my board and the homies. We’ll do our shenanigans here and there but I enjoy every little bit of the journey that skateboarding has taken me on. It put me in a different weight class, I can tell you that much, I used to be a lot chubbier.
Lindsey: I know you’re a chef, your mom taught you, right?
Michael: With my mom it was more of visual teaching, it was kind of like I would look at her cook in the kitchen and I would pay attention to how she did things. How she salts things, how she seasoned, certain words that she’ll use that I never even heard of. Getting into the whole chef mentality was kind of due to this job that I worked at a shop called Melt Shop, it was a grilled cheese concept shop. When I worked there, I didn’t really learn that much other than basic prep but it kind of pushed me to learn more about the kitchen field and want to become a really good cook. I ended up getting apprenticed by this guy at a different job that I worked at this bar called PS150, it was this guy named Brian Scotto and he pretty much showed me… damn, well everything I know. From there, it transitioned to my mom and him kind of dual-wheeling, helping me out at the same time. He would teach me stuff in the actual field of cooking and my mom would teach me stuff mentally, she would tell me things that I would not have learned from other people.
Lindsey: What are some of the challenges you think our generation faces as we enter the workforce?
Michael: People often like to judge based on appearances rather than looking at a person’s background and seeing what they have achieved. Whenever I go to look for jobs I always feel like people see me as some skater kid but I try to show them that I am more than that. There are things that I truly enjoy doing like cooking, or hanging out with friends, or planning for my future.
Lindsey: What’s something that you live by or something that has served as a major theme in your life?
Michael: Live life to the fullest, honestly. Go out and have fun, don’t be stuck at home, honest to god. Don’t be one of those people that just stay home and chill unless you’re doing so much that you’re socially drained, I understand that. But go out, the world is big, there’s so much that you could do out there, it’s a waste just staying at home.
Lindsey: What’s your favourite thing about living in New York?
Michael: Aside from the skate spots, you meet a whole bunch of characters here, you’re surrounded by all sorts of diversity and different races, but all of them end up being the same thing, honestly. I look at a lot of my friends that I’m with and a lot of them have similar traits to my other friends and I feel like that’s kind of cool because you’d find that a lot in New York, you can find all sorts of classes of people here but you will always find somewhere where you can fit in.
Lindsey: Tell me about your childhood
Greg Lyttle: It was pretty chill. I grew up in Brooklyn, Brownsville side.
Lindsey: I know Brownsville is now a super gentrified area, what kind of changes have you seen in Brooklyn and how has that change affected you?
Greg: There’s now more diversity in terms of the people living around the area. I just recently moved out my mom’s place so I haven’t experienced anything like rent being raised, or that I was forced to move or something like that. Plus my mom was smart AF and bought out the apartment we lived in instead of renting.
Lindsey: When did you start skating?
Greg: I didn’t start skating until I was about fourteen. I had my mom, my dad, my brother, my sister and then we moved over to the Bed-Stuy area which is when I picked up skateboarding in high school.
Lindsey: So how’d you get into it? Did you have friends who skated?
Greg: No, actually my sister had a fake Walmart board and I wanted to use it and ever since then I just kept skating [laughs].
Lindsey: Did she skate?
Greg: Not quite, she kind of wanted to but never really took one step forward and did it.
Lindsey: What are your favourite spots in New York?
Greg: Currently – because work has kind of taken over my life – skateboard when I can so I don’t really have any favourite spots like I used to, I just go with the flow and if I think I like the spot and can land some things I’ll stick around and do it.
Lindsey: What do you think skateboarding has taught you or done for you?
Greg: It’s done a lot, it’s taught me discipline, consistency and how to stay on track of things as much as possible. It’s more than a sport really, it’s a culture and that’s how I met all my friends that I hang out with today. I don’t know what I’d be doing without it really
Lindsey: How does skating make you feel?
Greg: Alive! All of the serotonin and endorphins flowing through my body makes me feel sane.
Lindsey: Can you tell us about your daily life and how skateboarding impacts that as well?
Greg: That’s another thing that skateboarding has taught me, like staying active and being fit wasn’t really a strong suit of mine. Actually I was really skinny before and then I picked up some weights, started working out and became a personal trainer. I focus all the things in my life around steadily being active so like training, skateboarding, riding my bike to work, I’m always on the go. It keeps me alive, fit and well.
Lindsey: Can you talk a little bit more about your experience being a personal trainer? Seems like an interesting thing because you’re helping people achieve their goals and believe in themselves.
G: Being a personal trainer is awesome! To be honest, at 25 going on 26, I’m just glad I’ve found something I’m good at, and love to do, and people actually pay me for my time. I guess that’s being an adult right? [laughs] But it’s almost indescribable… that feeling of helping people accomplish their fitness goals; whether they want to lose 10-100lbs, get stronger or just learn proper technique so they don’t injure themselves. You’re with them bonding and encouraging them every step of the way until they succeed, that’s all there is to it. I just do my best not to call my clients Daniel-san [laughs].
Lindsey: Do you think because you’ve been learning about the body you’ve been skating better?
Greg: Yeah, I’m more aware of what I’m supposed to be doing in terms of my mind-body connection. It’s still crazy ridiculous to bang out a single trick, it still takes hours and hours of practice but I do have that in my head that this is what my body needs to be doing, or this is how I should be feeling in order to land a certain trick. In that aspect, it has helped me a lot
Lindsey: What does beauty mean to you?
Greg: Perspective. Anything that can give me a positive outlook on life and change my perspective of things. That’s what beauty means to me.
Lindsey: So would you ever stop skating?
Greg: I don’t think so, unless a major injury happened and the doctor told me I had to stop… actually I’d probably not stop skating because a doctor told me to.
Lindsey: Do you ever get scared?
Greg: Sometimes, if something’s massive it’ll get me going. It’s either fight or flight at that moment. Keep bailing until it gets less scary and then it’s go hard or go home.
See more of Lindsey Okubo’s work here.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this series.