On a warm Wednesday in April, Rich Allen finishes another day at Hunterdon Central High School, where he works as an information technology manager. He drives back to his apartment in downtown Jersey City and exchanges his white, button-up work shirt and tan khakis for a white tee shirt and blue jeans. He kicks off his leather loafers and slips into a new pair of Adidas sneakers. And finally, just before he exits, he grabs his Real brand skateboard.
“It’s an itch,” said Allen, 31. “There are definitely days where I have been at work and thought, ‘Man, I can’t wait to get outside and skate.’”
Allen, 31, who has lived in Jersey City for three and a half years, is one of hundreds of skateboarders taking to the streets to skate the now infamous “Jersey City Junkspot,” a manmade skate park built without permission from City Hall just behind the Liberty State Park Light Rail station.
“Skateboarding is an individual activity but it has to have a community or I’m not doing it.” –Rich Allen
“When I first moved to Jersey City, there were only a handful of skaters. Now they are everywhere,” said Allen. “Skateboarding is an individual activity, but it has to have a community or I’m not doing it. It’s easier when there’s people.”
The Junkspot is a skateboarder’s Eden. It has granite ledges, marble benches, cement ramps, and grind rails set up on smooth, flat concrete. Because the spot is not under government ordinance, skateboarders use the area without the safety equipment and entry fees that most skate parks require.
Jersey City has had a long withstanding D.I.Y. attitude towards skateboarding. There’s never been a public skate park (the nearest is a popular park on Hoboken’s waterfront), and, like many other cities, authorities often frown upon the sport’s sometimes dangerous qualities. It is for this reason that some of the city’s most crafty skaters got creative.
Was D.I.Y project
Built in the summer of 2009, The Junkspot is said to have been erected on the abandoned foundation by Ronnie Campone, Eric Mech and Mike Yanetta, three of Jersey City’s most diehard skateboarders. This newest spot is one of many manmade parks built around the area, although all previous spots have been torn down.
The three men are known for having built an indoor half-pipe downtown on 660 Grand St. that is available exclusively to members willing to pay a $100 monthly membership fee.
“It’s what I like to do,” said Campone, 33, a carpenter by trade. “I’m not going to sit around and wait for a skate park that I don’t like. If you have the skills and the ability to create something and a crew to do it, why not make it happen?”
Campone also commented on the liability danger he faced if he creates these areas without permits or permission. With a shrug and a raised brow, he simply said, “If it happens, it happens.”
The popularity of the Jersey City skate spots is ironic, considering that Campone, Mech and Yanetta first created the areas just for themselves. The last thing they had on their minds was the well being of the local skate community. According to Mech, 29, the three men pooled together just over $100 for the concrete and water needed to build a recent spot, as well as over 12 hours of labor.
Mech said that once the spots get too popular, local authorities and police inevitably step in and order the areas destroyed. The newest junkspot, however, is still thriving with skateboarders and has not yet been tampered with.
On a clear weekday afternoon, an average of about 10 skateboarders rolls through once school lets out; on the weekends, there can be dozens.
“It was just about giving myself and some of my homies something to skate,” Mech said recently. “The more you build, the more you have to skate. I don’t even like to skate my spots anymore once it gets too crowded. I move onto something else.”
The Junkspot has helped to bring in flocks of skateboarders from other areas of New Jersey as well as one of the world’s top skateboarding cities just across the Hudson River: New York.
New faces and new shops arriving
“I came to skate in Jersey City because I have more fun skateboarding here than I do in the city,” said Calder Kollmorgen, 21, who lives in Chelsea. “It’s more of a tight-knit community and less people with egos. There are way more people here who are down to skate.”
Of course, boarders cannot survive on spots alone; they need somewhere to get all of their products. The demand for a local skate goods store was great enough that Josh Dillon took it upon himself to open Nine Lives Skate Shop in Jersey City in the fall of 2006. Since its opening, the number of area skateboarders has increased nearly exponentially.
“That’s going to put a smile on my face, knowing that I’ve turned so many of the kids onto skateboarding,” said Dillon, 38. Dillon noticed that the city’s attitude towards skateboarding is much more positive than that of Manhattan, and that the skaters in downtown J.C. “just stick together more.”
The shop, on Newark Avenue, has everything from boards, bearings, and bushings to jackets, shirts, and shoes for a skateboarder to continue pushing all around the year.
For nearly three years, Nine Lives was the only game in town. However, last month, a new skate shop/vintage clothing store opened just blocks away called Holmes and Co. Outfitters, named after famous American serial killer H. H. Holmes.
“With the amount of spots and the influx of traveling skateboarder on the weekends, there is absolutely enough room in this thriving skate community for more than one shop,” said Chase Whitaker, 28, who opened the shop with his business partner, David “Panch” Brancato. The shop, which is littered with old antiques and large taxidermy pieces of bears and wolf skin rugs, is mainly geared towards the sale of vintage polo tee shirts and flannels. The small amount of boards and trucks was geared for the owner’s friends in the skate community.
“We all skate and we all wear and shop vintage,” said Brancato, 27. “We’re more fashion-sensed than having every new skateboard that comes out.”
The two owners repeatedly stated that they don’t truly consider Holmes a “full-blown skate shop,” but rather a place where skateboarders can come to hang out before or after a skate session.
Both Whitaker and Brancato opened the shop initially to have an office for their day jobs as sales representatives for Converse Skateboarding and Alphanumeric Clothing, respectively. Their passion for skateboarding and clothing is clearly exemplified by their store. It is the same passion that drives Jersey City skaters to mix concrete and build spots, or to simply pick up their boards and hit the streets.
Allen perfectly demonstrates this passion back at The Junkspot. But as the sun begins to set, he is ready to call it a day. He limps his to a wooden bench to have a seat among a few skaters who are sharing a cigarette.
“I’m always hurt at the end of a session,” he said. “I’m in pain. I usually can’t walk or I need to lie down. But I just keep doing it. I consider myself lucky every day that I get to step on a skateboard at all.”