I recently received an intriguingly abstract mail-out into my inbox entitled ‘How does it feel to be off the wall?’ The Email was from a certain Jason Greendyk, who, up until this point I knew nothing of. The Email showed a photo of Jason skating the concrete bowl at the ‘House of Vans’ in Brooklyn, NYC accompanied by a paragraph or two of poetic text. The House of Vans is a private skatepark/bowl and gig space which has certainly always been off limits to rollerbladers, so what was this rollerblading vigilante doing there! The Email was mysterious in it’s content so I set about trying to find out some more about possibly the first person ever to ride the notorious skatepark on inline skates. Jason seemed like a free spirited, free thinking type so I was certainly interested to delve a little further… JE
Hey Jason, you sent me an email recently about how you were recently allowed to skate (rollerblade) on the bowl at the House of Vans in New York. Firstly… who are you? A roots New York skater?
My name is Jason Greendyk, also known as Jay G in the blading community. My roots are in the shadow of New York. That is, New Jersey. For most of my life I heard the continuous hum of the Big Apple Symphony from a distance. An observer. Now I dwell in the music, also known as the atheist’s prayer. A branded world.
And for those reading this, why is it unusual that you were able to skate the House of Vans bowl?
The Vans bowl is notoriously a sacred space for the skateboarding community. It is a private set of beautiful concrete waves owned by Vans, a brand that endorses skateboarding. Rollerblading is taboo in the resultant community of boarders. To blade in the Vans bowl is to be a free spirit in a branded world.
How did the whole thing come about? How did you get to be there? Was it an open session or were you invited?
The House of Vans held a series of private events this winter that involved a skate session in their bowl and skatepark, as well as drinks and an open mic. I caught wind through a friend and RSVP’ed to the event. I invited a homie who skateboards as well.
Did you get attitude off the people at the store/bowl?
I showed up with my blades in hand and after my ID was checked by security, I was informed upon signing in that I would be permitted to enter but I could not use my blades in the facility. I proceeded to enter and met up with my skateboarding homie at the bowl, where, I discovered, it would be rather difficult for the check-in staff to notice if I threw down some lines. The rest of the skatepark was out of the question, but the bowl is raised off the ground enough to be mostly out of sight from the front door. It was very crowded with boarders, many of whom I recognized from summer sessions at the Chelsea Piers skatepark in Manhattan. As I bladed the bowl I heard someone say, ‘how’d he get in here?!’ This reflects the general vibe. As I got into the flow, the photographer there took note and came through with the great shots you see here, which he followed through on and sent to me. He recognized an adventurous spirit. Thanks, CharleyQ. I wrapped up and as I departed, one boarder stopped me and told me, though not in an antagonistic way, that I had a lot of balls to blade in that bowl, knowing that everyone was hating on me. He explained that he also hated rollerblading and did not condone what I was doing, but that he gave me props for having balls. I smiled and thanked him and called it a night.
I’d also be particularly interested to know your opinions on the whole skateboard/rollerblade segregation thing. Do you think there is discrimination and why?
I do not think that discrimination or segregation is the appropriate term. I think the exclusive behavior is a branding, image and trend issue. A company like Vans has made a formative marketing decision to endorse skateboarding. They have no obligation to acknowledge rollerblading in their corporate activities. As far as individuals adopting and acting in the public sphere as vessels of a corporate philosophy, it is indicative of a much broader and more significant concern of the psychological underpinnings of corporate culture and the cultural politics of branding in general.
What’s your opinion on companies like Vans (core skateboard brands turned successful / mainstream)?
They are a material and real representation of the philosophical problem of authenticity. Vans, in branding its own authenticity in the style of copy and image of that which resembles in generalization the in-authenticity of capitalist marketing, forces the question: what is authenticity? What is the value of authenticity? A free spirit in a branded world has no price. It is worth nothing unless it chooses to sell itself and sacrifice the open plain. This is, pure and simple, the existential reality of human being in a capitalist lifeworld.
Jason Greendyk is a writer and blader in Brooklyn, New York. You may see more of his work at www.jasongreendyk.com.