Under one of America’s most iconic structures lies one of the world’s most iconic skateboarding spots. The Brooklyn Banks, located in Manhattan’s Lower East Side under the Brooklyn Bridge, have been a staple of the city’s skateboarding scene since the 1980’s. No matter which era of skateboarding you belong to, you will have most certainly heard of this famous New York City skate haven.
The famous spot is steeped in history and is one of a few skateboarding spots with its own Wikipedia Page (bonus points if you can name the others). The computer game ‘Tony Hawk’s Underground' even created an area which was based on the Banks, replicating the red curved brickwork for the Manhattan level of the game.
Whilst we are somewhat spoiled in the current generation of skateboarding, there was once a time when there were no skateparks in New York City. In a time when there were no mobile phones with 12-megapixel cameras or social media, being a skateboarder in the 80’s through to the 90’s meant you would usually meet at a local spot and take it from there. Luckily for skaters from the East Coast and beyond there was a magical and beautifully constructed rustic, red brick plaza with every imaginable section of it skateable. From the transition banks to the high curbs, low curbs, big stairs, small stairs, walls, rails and a perfectly constructed brickwork fly off ramp over a wall. The entire location was perfect for every style of skateboarder and the spot was often really busy with both skaters and BMXers simply having fun learning new tricks and making new friends. The Brooklyn Banks however was not just a place to skate. It was a place to meet up and hang out, even if you did not set foot on a board or BMX.
In the mid 80’s the spot was usually littered with crack viles and homeless people occupying the benches and stairs. This often made the area quite intimidating however it did not stop the likes of Mike Vallely and Mark Gonzales appearing and getting creative on the banks and recording a bunch of footage at the time.
In 1993 there was footage from an unofficial ‘gathering’ at the banks which appeared in an early 411VM issue. This was actually supposed to be a contest, organised by skateboarding and art enthusiast Vinny Raffa which seen skateboarders from all over the country flock to the banks. Unfortunately due to the lack of organisation, the day resulted in total chaos with fights, graffiti tagging and pubic annoyance. On the same day, Harold Hunter (R.I.P) won $100 for a backside heel flip over the wall with Danny Way also pocketing $100 for a board slide on the big rail.
The banks started to become a popular spot as the years went on however at this time the spot was only usually recognised or promoted via word of mouth or from being seen in skate videos or magazines. The great thing about the banks area was that is was so large that it could hold hundreds of skaters. If the kids were skating not bothering anyone, the NYPD didn’t bother the skaters. Skateboarders were left alone with the cops quite happy to let them do their thing. It was quite simply a good deal for all parties involved.
What seemed like the perfect gift from the city to the skateboarders of New York, the spot gradually began to be more restricted by the City. An iron fence was eventually created to stop skaters from doing tricks over the wall and onto the road which was a really popular location at the banks. This restriction only presented a challenge for Mike Vallely who impressively managed to ollie over the iron fence in what is one of the most iconic and gnarliest tricks ever done at the banks. Despite the restrictions put in place, skateboarding at the banks grew more and more popular with footage continuing to appear in lots of skate videos. Local filmer RB Umali was usually heavily involved in any footage of the spot.
In 2009, the New York City Department of Transportation made the decision to close the Brooklyn Banks from 2010 until 2014. The large space at the banks was needed for storage of equipment during renovations of the Brooklyn Bridge which were scheduled to end in 2014. So in 2010, much to the despair of the skateboarding community, the banks were officially shut down and fenced off by the Department of Transportation and were under constant security surveillance. At the time the city gave no guarantees about the future state of the banks once construction was due to be completed, with local skaters doubting the likelihood of the spot ever reopening. Most skaters were worried the City just didn't see the banks as a significant cultural landmark.
What ensued were letters and petitions written to the New York City Parks Department, asking when or if the area would ever be open to skateboarders again. Steve Rodriguez, owner of 5boro Skateboards acted as the guardian for the banks and was ever active in attempts to save the spot. Steve has also tirelessly worked with the Department of Transportation and with the Parks Department regarding the opening of new skateparks in the city. In the past decade, an increasing number of Skateparks have began to pop up all over the city. Some would say that this has been helped by the fact that Skateboarding was due to make its Olympics debut this year only to be postponed due to the Coronavirus/Covid-19 pandemic.
In the summer of 2017 some skateboarders gained access to the banks thanks to a hole in he fence however this was quickly shut down by the police. The area of the banks is unfortunately still currently fenced off due to the ongoing construction repairs to the bridge. The brickwork has now been removed from the bigger banks however the little banks area (which was many skaters favourite back in the day) has been completely unskateable for years.
Ultimately, when Skateboarding in the Olympics does happen this will mean the international growth of skateparks throughout the world and we have already seen this happen in the United States. In January 2020 legendary skate brand Vans opened Vans Skate Space 198 which is now the biggest (9000 sq. ft) indoor skatepark in New York. The Vans Skatepark even has a transition banked wall modelled on the curved bricks of the Brooklyn Banks. All skateboarders will know the long cold winters can be tough and so they welcome any free accessible skatepark. Unfortunately this was not a choice skateboarders had back in the 80s and 90s with very few (if any) indoor parks available.
Whether the Brooklyn Banks are restored to their original state and opened back up to the skateboarders it remains to be seen. The hashtag #SAVETHEBROOKLYNBANKS has been prominent on various social media platforms such as Instagram and the 'Save The Brooklyn Banks' petition has been signed by over 40,000 people. The uncertainly on the future of the banks has created much anxiety amongst the skateboarding community as they eagerly await any news or developments. No promises have been made and whilst many live in hope one day it will return, at this stage we fear that the Brooklyn Banks may be done.
The Brooklyn Banks personified everything that skateboarding stands for and should be, and it was here that the skateboarding community found a home for so many years. It was a Mecca for New York City’s skaters and anyone who skated there will have fond memories forever. It was a place which forged friendships for life, each person with their own different story or tale to tell of the banks.
The Brooklyn Banks became New York City’s skatepark by default and a paradise for anyone who was lucky enough to skate there. It will forever be a part of Skateboarding's soul. Mike Vallely once said, “It’s the best skate park in the world, because it wasn’t supposed to be a skate park.”
We pay homage to this iconic spot and get nostalgic with some of our favourite tricks/skateboarders in a ’Best of the Brooklyn Banks' clips as below.
Gino Iannucci - Switch Kickflip
Despite a lot of footage out there of Gino at other New York spots such as the Pyramid Ledges or Flushing Meadows, I don't recall ever seeing too much footage of Gino at the Brooklyn Banks. He has a switch varial flip on the mini banks from way back but this nice switch kick flip to glide down the bank was from his part in Chocolate Skateboards ‘The Chocolate Tour.’
Mark Gonzales - Wall Ride
I am not sure which year this sketchy footage is from however possibly mid to late 90s. A lovely wall ride from the Gonz dropping into steep section of the big banks from the top.
Local Jeff Pang was pretty much part of the furniture at the banks back in the day and the below are a couple of nice backside flips on the banks and over the wall.
Harold Hunter - Backside Heelflip
Harold was a legend of the New York City Skateboard Community. The Zoo York skater was the life and soul of the party, always full of energy and had skills on a board as well. Unfortunately Harold passed away in 2006 at the age of 31 however he is remembered through the Harold Hunter Foundation to this day. Below is a clip of Harold winning $100 from the Brooklyn Banks gathering in 1993 for a backside heel flip over the wall. Rest in Peace Harold.
Quim Cardona - Nollie Varial Flip
Any part Quim Cardona put out was usually filled with lots of footage from the banks which was awesome. He also had a lovely nollie varial flip and this one he managed to pull off over the wall was beautiful and floaty.
Mike Carroll and Rick Howard
Mike Carroll and Rick Howard from Girl Skateboards pulling out some sweet tricks on the mini banks and over the wall.
Jamie Thomas - Benihana over the wall
Benihana's are not everyones 'cup of tea' and are a trick you don't really see so much these days in skateboarding. Despite this the Zero boss rips out a solid Benihana over the wall back in the day.
Zoo York's Peter Bici with a hanging nollie frontside flip revert on the mini banks. This was from Bici's part in Zoo York's 'Mixtape.'
Robbie Gangemi - Hardflip
Robbie Gangemi with a text book hard flip (the vertical way) on the bigger banks whilst Busta Rhymes freestyles the track.
Rodney Torres - Nollie Backside Flip
New York's own Rodney Torres with a nollie backside flip over the wall from his 'Wheels of Fortune' section in 411VM issue 14 in 1996.
Quim Cardona - Frontside 180
Another trick from Quim Cardona at the banks. As if the transition on the bank wasn't steep enough, Quim somehow managed to frontside 180 ollie over a trash can and roll down the bank.
Anthony Correa - Nollie Cab over the wall
A floaty Nollie Cab over the wall from Anthony Correa.
Fred Gall - Varial Heelflip
Fred Gall Varial Heelflipping his way over the wall from Transworld Skateboarding's 'Interface' video in 1997. Edited and Directed by Ty Evans and Jon Holland.
Maurice Key - Switch 180 Heelflip
Maurice Key had some amazing tricks throughout the city of New York in his part from World Industries 'Trilogy' video from 1996. This switch 180 Heelflip was one of many from the banks in his part.
Javier Nunez - Switch Kickflip
Hood up, cargo pants and a perfect switch flip over the wall by Javier Nunez
Spencer Fujimoto - Nollie Backside Flip
Spencer Fujimoto with a nice nollie backside flip into the big banks from Transworld Skateboarding's 'Transmission 7' from 1999.
Andrew Reynolds - Backside 180 Heelflip
The Boss exploding some pop on a backside heel flip on the stairs at the Brooklyn Banks.
Danny Supa - Switch Frontside 360
Zoo York's Danny Supa was one of the masters of this trick and displays this in the below clip from the big stairs at the Banks.
Stevie Williams - Switch 360 flip
Stevie Williams with a nice switch tre into the banks from his section in Transworld Skateboarding's 'The Reason' from 1999.
Tim O'Connor - Double Flip
For me, Tim O'Connor and Kerry Getz have the nicest double flips in Skateboarding and this one from Tim O'Connor was perfectly caught on the stairs at the banks. Bolts!
Chima Ferguson - Switch Kickflip
Beautiful Switch Flip over the rail at the big banks by China Ferguson. Effortless!
Zered Bassett - Rolling Up Switch & Flip Out to Fakie
Inventive one from Zered on the pillar at the big banks
Mike Vallely - Over the Wall
Mike Vallely defying gravity and making it over the wall and fence onto the road at the mini banks in 1999.
Eric Koston - Nollie Backside Heelflip
The legendary Koston with a nollie backside 180 Heelflip over the wall in 1997.
Keenan Milton - Backside Heelflip
Keenan Milton (R.I.P) with a bangin’ backside heel flip over the wall at the mini banks.
Josh Kalis - Switch Backside Flip
One of the nicest tricks done over the banks wall was this switch backside flip by Josh Kalis from Transworld Skateboarding's 'Interface' video in 1997. Edited and Directed by Ty Evans and Jon Holland.
Rob Welsh - Switch 360 flip
Rob Welsh always bust out quite a few perfect 360 flips in any part he had. Here he is switch three flipping his way over the wall
Brian Wenning - Brooklyn Banks
As well as tearing up Love Park, Brian Wenning has done pretty much every trick possible at the Brooklyn Banks and it is fair to say he used to rip the place up back in the day.
Keith Hufnagel - Brooklyn Banks
Last but not least, another skater who has shredded the banks is Keith Hufnagel. Huf always went at everything full speed and has collected some nice lines from the Brooklyn Banks over the years, particularly his ollie over the wooden NYPD Barrier midway up the big banks.