Intw: Josh Stewart
What’s up Billy? Maybe you could tell everybody a little bit about your history as a skateboarder?
I started skating in Gainesville, a small town in Florida. There was no skateparks there, growing up, just a super fun college campus and a bunch of mini ramps in people’s back yards. One skate shop and a bunch of very pros lived there. Donny Myhre, Monty Nolder and Mike Frazier were all guys who skated the legendary Jonesville ramp. I got into skating like most kids at the time: I saw a group of kids pushing down the street and thought that it looked fun, so I got a board and later ended up skating with that same group of kids that I saw that day, for the next twelve years. I got my first sponsor at 12 years old, which was 777 skateboards, then Tracker trucks, and Airwalk shoes. It was fun to be in middle school getting boxes from California at a time when my parents were getting divorced and my family didn’t have much money. I was a pretty happy kid for being in that kind of situation, skating with my friends was an awesome escape from the real world at the time.
How long ago did you move to New York and why’d you end up here?
I moved to NY in October of 2001. Zoo York was on a tour in Florida and I met up with them and skated a demo and took them around Gainesville to some spots and ended up riding with them back to NY to stay.
New York is one of the most amazing cities in the world for skateboarding, possibly the best. But it seems like it was suffering for a while from that classic problem of having nowhere to just meet up and have fun skating flat ground and ledges, etc. Is this what originally sparked you to try to create a spot for kids to meet up and have a common warm-up skate spot?
Exactly, when we started open road park at 12th sty and Ave A, we had no idea it would lead to a skateboarding P.E. Class at the high school and a bunch of other parks going up around the city. We just wanted a meet up lurk spot to drink iced coffee and play S.K.A.T.E when it’s nice out.
How did you make that first spot happen?
The spot started by getting in touch with Nando Rodriquez of Open Road [a non governmental organization, created in 1990, that develops playgrounds in New York, amongst other things, Ed] and asking him if we could put a ramp to wall in the basketball court that wouldn’t get thrown away when we left at night. He agreed and, from there, I went to Mark Gonzales with a drawing of the ramps on a piece of paper and a price estimate of what it would cost to build the first ramp and that my mom would paint the Krooked logo on the wall in return and he gave me the cash we needed. The next day, Nando and me went to the hardware store and got started. Now we have the Lord of the Lines ramps thanks to Matix, the Red Bull Manny Mania ramps and a number of other things to skate, as well a full shipping container for storage.
It’s insane that you were able to talk this school into allowing you to build this stuff in their basketball courts… How did you approach them about it?
The school approached me about it actually. At first they were against it until they realized how many kids from their school were using what we had built. Then, they approached me about teaching a skateboarding class in gym 3rd period 9th grade.
[Laughter] Amazing. So were Krooked and Red Bull the only sponsors?
The sponsors who have helped make it possible are Acapulco Gold, Supreme, Autumn, KCDC [the three major skateshops in town, Ed], Vans and Red Bull along with the people at DLXSF that Gonz got to hook us up with completes for the classes.
How did this lead to the second project, at the New Design High School?
The school heard about 12th and A and had me come by and see their rooftop and see if it would be skateable. I was blown away by the size and the view that the rooftop offers!
The principal of the school didn’t laugh at this proposal at first?
Not at all… They are a very progressive school and have a good idea of what a huge amount of their students do for fun, which is skateboard. So, it was a no brainer.
The spot is incredible… I mean: being able to skate a full spot with ledges, banks, hips, wallrides, etc on the top of a roof in the Lower East Side of Manhattan is a pretty amazing opportunity. Is just anybody allowed to skate it or is it kind of regulated to certain people?
Hopefully, it will be opened to everyone, not just students of the school. But, as of now, we just use it like a private spot for the students and people who helped build it.
You recently had a big contest/skate-jam to help bring some attention to the spot and give kids a fun event to be a part of. It was called the Rooftop Rampage and it ended with a high-ollie challenge. How’d it end up going? Did the world-record ollie go down?
Louis Tolentino has the highest ollie in the world right now and I’m working on another contest that hopefully we can get Danny Wainwright out here to confirm this!
Damn, that’d be really dope. So what’s the future of this spot?
This spot will be open during the school year, closed in summer and reopened in September.
And what plans do you have for winter? We all know how harsh the NY winters are. Are you considering hooking something up in an indoor facility?
That would be nice but it will take some big money to make that a reality, as I think it should be free for all who want to skate it.
And what about yourself? Are you working on anything that will give us a chance to finally see a Billy Rohan full part any time soon?
Yes, I just returned from a filming trip in Japan and I’m going to France, Switzerland and Spain for some more filming in August. So, yeah, I hope to have a full part soon in a major publication.
Well, Thanks for your time and for your energy making this stuff happen. I know that I, for one, have taken advantage of skate the spots you’ve made available to all of us and had a great time as a result!
Here is a better view of the whole park, through an announcement for a Halloween contest. And, yes, Billy is a bit of a nutter!
“Wu-Tang, Free Masons!” as he’s say!