At one point, young BOBBY PULEO was another little kid from Clifton, New Jersey, who fell in love with skateboarding….
A bit later, he turned out as the new face coming out of the then exploding American East Coast scene that had such a strong influence on many of us across Europe. More time passed, and he ended-up as this pro you rarely see much of but that you actually want to see more of…
More than twenty years of skateboarding later, Bobby Puleo is still the same person, doing things his own way, and living according to his beliefs. The epitome of New York skateboarding to many people, he continues to thrive on progression, memorise facts from very diverse reads, explore the back-alleys of neighbourhoods many would never venture into, and wish that skateboarding wouldn’t entirely turn phoney. And I doubt he will ever change. And this is what makes any conversation with Robert Puleo valuable.
You just mentioned to me not knowing where you’d be living when you return from your next trip. What are the difficulties of making a living in an expensive city like New York?
It’s not that difficult I suppose, I mean it’s just like living anywhere else: you pay your rent, hopefully you have money for food after you pay your rent and you get on with whatever your
hustle is. It just costs more to live in New York. London’s way gnarlier though, I think, exchange rates-wise.
Last time I saw you in New York, you were also in between apartments, but still carrying around a rather large plastic bag full of things you’d been picking up off the ground… Where do you find those ‘treasures’, and what you do with them?
I mean, you make it sound like I was a homeless bag person! At that point, I had broken up with my, ex-girlfriend and was staying at a friend of mine’s house. I had my stuff at another
friend’s house and I was basically couch surfing. The plastic bag was just a way of containing the objects I found from day to day. Luckily I have a bunch of very caring and giving friends who allowed me to crash at their house, and blah blah.
What particular objects attract your attention to the point that you collect them?
Well, a lot of things attract my attention, but my staple categories are post-it notes, playing cards, CD cases, photos, textiles, product packaging, hand-written notes, directions, plastic
bags with objects inside, numbers, letters, words, and uh, God, I know I’m forgetting something, uh… Let’s just say just a lot of other sort of “things”. I call them streetifacts.
How did this start?
No idea. My dad’s a pack rat. Looking at the ground, having an appreciation
for discarded items. Having an appreciation for composition, chaos and order.
What art projects have you been involved in lately?
Right now I’m doing a cast for Keep-a-Breast to benefit breast cancer research and treatment. I had a show in Holland last September. Right now, I’m marinating, compiling…my work is constantly expanding and I’m not really the type of person to ask for or pursue shows.
When it happens, it happens.
During my last visit, I realised, that kids on the East Coast were also into, say, Baker and that whole style, just as they are in the rest of the world. I was puzzled for a second, then realised we all have access to the same type of information nowadays, via Internet, dozens of magazines and hundreds of videos. Do you think that really makes for one homogenous global village, or that local scenes in America, and the whole world, can still develop styles and ways that are their own?
Yeah, I think so, I mean geographic location and the articles that make up that location develop personal style.
How would you describe the New York skate scene these days?
Explosive. Lots of kids from the inner city are starting to skate here. Skateboarding is being extremely embraced by hip-hop culture right now.
How do you see yourself in there? I know you have your own routine and lifestyle…
I’m part of the residue, I suppose. I just go about my business like I always have.
You always seem well versed in obscure points of New York history, and subjects attached to the city. How strong of a bond do you have for the place?
You also have a strong interest in graffiti writing, which is something a lot of people try to tie together with skateboarding on many levels, such as the rebellious aspect, the creation of an aesthetic only the insiders can understand, the endless search for the good spot… what’s your take on that?
Yeah, Well, personally I think graffiti is an unprecedented and extraordinary art form. There is virtually no monetary return and it benefits all, manifested in the form of personal satisfaction and street level credentials.
Can you give me a bit of a history of your skateboarding? As in when did you find out about skateboarding, what was our life then, and how did it change, if it did?
Started in ‘85, got sponsored in ‘90, rode for Nimbus, Zoo, Stereo, Mad Circle, Infamous,
Enjoi and now Landscape. Before I skated I was into collecting baseball cards and Star Wars figures, hockey, you know, little league baseball, typical kid shit. Then I got addicted to the satisfaction that skateboarding gave me and its underground appeal and membership. It was like rebellious cult of hyperactivity and progression. A lot of things in skateboarding hadn’t yet developed back then in skateboarding so being on that wave of development was very exciting. Very fresh, very exciting, even for a little 12 year-old kid. I knew there was something to learn everyday, every time I stepped on my skateboard.
What would be the number one thing you’ve learned since those first days on a board?
You have very strong opinions and you’re not afraid to voice them, whether it is about skateboarding, or other subjects. Has that gotten you in trouble in the usually non-confrontational skateboard industry?
Not really. I don’t have a big mouth. I use discretion and try, if I do have a strong opinion about something and there is need to share it in a public or private forum, to be honest and try to be in touch with my reasoning and why I feel the way do about a particular subject.
How much of playing the game, do you think, might be too much?
Over-saturation and repetition suck. Also, stagnation and obvious milking as well…
What would you say is the biggest misconception people might have of you?
That I’m a nice person.
What’s your sponsor situation these days?
Landscape and IPath. I ride Venture trucks, always will, and Spitfire Wheels when they feel like sending me wheels.
Do you want to elaborate on why you’d shine offers from American board companies to join an England based one?
I don’t think there’s anything good out there. Everything is either too big and stale, or too phony.
Explain how London and Paris actually managed to seduce you, when you always say you could never live outside of New York. What different appeal do those cities have for you?
I mean, it’s not like I don’t enjoy visiting other cities. Architecturally, Paris and London are amazing. I love cities with history. London was a city for 1,000 years before the first Europeans set foot on the island of Manhattan. The language barrier is a little hard for me in Paris… those are the only two cities that give New York a run for it’s money. Personally, though, l feel like they just don’t come close enough to offering the non-stop energy that New York offers.
You have very peculiar tastes in board shapes. How long have you been riding the exact same shape for and why?
Since I’d say around 1999. I “borrowed” a Guy (Mariano) Girl shape – that’s pretty funny, and that’s been the shape I’ve ridden ever since, pretty much.
What’s exactly areyouavictim.com?
It’s my company’s website. Sort of personal crap as well – archives, art, photos, “news” and stuff.
Who would be the individuals skating nowadays that get you inspired or just excited to skate?
Julien (Stranger), Mark (Gonzales) and Guy (Mariano), always were, always will be. Also, I wanna give a shout to Henry Sanchez – very influential to me. I am still transported every time I here “Symptom of the Universe” [The Black Sabbath song was the soundtrack to Henry’s ground-breaking part in the Blind video ‘Tim and Henry’s…’
What’s the most fun thing to skate for you?
Ledges, slanted ledges, ledges to slants.
Well, all in all, why go skateboarding?