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.
Their friendship has been years in the making. From linking friends of friends in middle school, to turning work at a Brooklyn skate shop into a meeting grounds for after (and during) work skate sessions, to making beats whilst eating pizza, to turning new chapters and eventually moving to different neighbourhoods with their girls, Zero Gravity is more than a group of skateboarders, it’s a testament to the bond that the pastime creates.
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. Last week we brought you part one of two, here we return to the series and get to know two more of the Zero Gravity crew.
Lindsey Okubo: Yo Deezy! Can you talk to us about your childhood a little bit?
Denzel France: I’ve been in Brooklyn all my life, I moved to Queens for like two years but that’s it, I came back. Growing up in the hood was chill for me because I was always to myself, everyone knew who my dad was so automatically they knew who I was because my dad was out there doing crazy shit. My mom is in the music industry, she doesn’t rap or sing or anything like that but she knows a lot of celebrities, she’s working with One Nation Records. I didn’t really grow up with my dad because he was in and out of jail most of the time so as far as me, I was gucci. I stayed at my grandma’s house a lot of the time too and she pretty much raised me and then I went back to my mom and it was pretty chill. `
Lindsey: What impact did your dad’s absence have on you growing up?
Denzel: My dad was somewhat around… but as I got older, I saw him a lot less. I can say the longest time I’ve ever spent with him was probably when I was an infant. He and my mom lived at my grandma’s crib and when he got locked up that’s when I started seeing less of him. But I was young so I didn’t think about it. Nowadays I see my dad here and there, maybe because of my siblings ‘cause three of them live with him. He had hella kids, thank god I’m the oldest [laughs] He’s a good dude. He definitely supports me skating and always asks me about the X-Games and jokes about when is he going to see me on TV and stuff [laughs]
Lindsey: How did you end up getting into skateboarding?
Denzel: I fractured my leg in the 10th grade, I think, and I had nothing else to do but watch TV. I was in the crib just chillin’ and I saw this music video by The Pack and it was the one that goes, ‘Got my vans on but they look like sneakers’. So I’m watching it and these dudes are ollie-ing over banks and shit like that. I thought that was pretty cool, and I’m thinking to myself that I can definitely do it. Once I finished with therapy I got more serious with skateboarding and it took off from there, skating ever since. On a serious note, my first board was from Toys ‘R’ Us, I had a WWF board.
Lindsey: Some Hulk Hogan shit?
Denzel: Hell yeah, some Hulk Hogan shit [laughs].
Lindsey: Do you think skating helped you to figure out who you are?
Denzel: Most definitely. Man, to me skateboarding is kind of like art because it takes a lot of time and patience, it helped me a lot and I got to meet a lot of great people, I got to travel, it’s a good thing to do. I’d rather be skating than out in the streets doing stupid shit. Especially growing up in the hood, it’s around you a lot. I used to play ball and I was in the court all day but I just picked up a skateboard and went a different route.
Lindsey: Tell us about the brand you’re trying to create, France.
Denzel: I’ve been drawing since I was in first-grade and I’ve always wanted to start my own clothing brand but I just didn’t have the right concept. I want it to be a reflection of me, I’m like a laid-back dude so I want the brand to be like… it’s cozy, laid-back, sweatpants, dope shirts, it’s chill. Comfortable shit, I don’t know, it’s weird. I’m still working on it, trying to get it down.
“…to me skateboarding is kind of like art because it takes a lot of time and patience, it helped me a lot and I got to meet a lot of great people…”
Lindsey Okubo: Hey Jason, can you introduce yourself and talk about how you got into skating a bit?
Jason Scoon: I’m from New York, well Brooklyn, Flatbush area. Been skating for about eleven years and loving every second of it. The way I kind of got into skateboarding was after my family moved to New Jersey – because of this crazy incident that we had between us and a few relatives – we stopped by a Modell’s and my parents were asking us want we wanted to do because there was really nothing to do in town, it’s really not like the city. My brother got football and basketball crap and I got two boards, one for me and one for my brother and we originally started learning skateboarding tricks that way. When I was ten I had a crazy, racist ass encounter and quit skateboarding for five years. It wasn’t until I was sixteen that I got back on it and I’ve been in love ever since – met the homies and life is good.
Lindsey: What do you think skateboarding has added to your life in terms of being a learning experience or tool to self-discovery?
Jason: I mean skateboarding’s kind of opened up my eyes towards not really focusing on either similarities or differences between people that I’m with, but really more just to appreciate the fact that I’m able to do this with other people and we have some kind of mutual understanding. I’d say in terms of social values, that’s the main thing for me. For everything else, skateboarding is probably the greatest thing to happen to my imagination, ever. I definitely got far in my regular life just by leveraging the amount of imagination I used to learn tricks and after that just picking up the general skill of tenacity.
Lindsey: Can you give us some insight into your daily life, like what do you do for work and how does skating fit into all of that?
Jason: The day to day thing is right now I’m a freelance cloud engineer and consultant. So what that means in English is people hit me up to stop by their medium-to-large scale companies to check out their systems and I pretty much optimise how things work for them. So instead of these guys spending five or six figures on IT crap, I reduce that total cost, that’s kind of what I do on the day to day. How skateboarding fits into that? I’m pretty sure I couldn’t get any of the work done that I have had if it wasn’t for the same kind of tenacity skating taught me. I’m a super-dropout and studied for two years straight and didn’t really go outside except to skate. Skateboarding has kept me sane in that whole period of studying and interviewing like crazy.
Lindsey: Really sounds like you had to be in the right mindset for all of that, a New York state of mind [laughs]
Jason: Yeah growing up in New York is a trip. New York is kind of an interesting place where in a small space you have a whole bunch of communities cramped together while everything we occupy stacks on top of each other. For skating, roaming around is like going to a big ol’ park. There’s so much crap that’s close together, so many shapes and sizes made out of either steel or stone. Everything is a trick waiting to happen, it’s beautiful! I guess the only downer to New York is that it’s crazy crowded, just because it’s so dope. If you’ve never been, come down to New York. I swear to you, the entire city will be your playground.
See more of Lindsey Okubo’s work here.