“The city was a ghost town. No one was out.”
“I didn’t leave my apartment for weeks at a time.”
“You could look up and down Fifth Avenue and not see another soul.”
At this point, it’s impossible to talk about the Coronavirus pandemic in New York City without sounding cliché, but it’s true: the past few months were unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. Starting mid-March, the world as we knew it turned upside down as yuppies abandoned the city en masse, storefronts emptied out, and the constant hum of pedestrians, taxis, and subways was replaced by an eerie silence, broken only by sirens in the distance. After spending the spring indoors, the initial anxiety faded, and many of us started to venture out of our neighborhoods (masked up and on our bikes, of course) into a wide open city. Spots that were once off-limits, impossible to skate, or hidden in plain sight become fair game for everyone. But what, in particular, were NYC skateboarders taking advantage of? We asked some family and friends, and as it turns out: wide open plazas, empty basketball courts, and a few gems that we’re still keeping to ourselves.
SAM MCKENNA: Going to shoot this trick with Neil Herrick in mid-April was the first time I had gone to skate spots during the whole lockdown period. This Greenpoint spot in particular is usually flooded with traffic, which means you have to agonize thinking about trying your trick while waiting for the lights to change. Looking down Meeker and seeing one or two cars was pretty surreal. The occasional jogger or car would pass by and we just get these looks like, “what the fuck are you guys doing out here?” After this session we knew we had to just take advantage of the time. We were going out a lot, trying to hit spots that were kind of unlocked by the lack of security and foot traffic. Skating the Museum of Natural History was super fun, it normally would be full of tourists sitting on the steps, but the city seems to just be people that actually live here now. Those first couple months of going out street skating were just so insane, because you’re in one of the biggest cities in the world, you turn around to look and there’s just no one else on the street.
ISAAC WHITE: At the beginning of quarantine in New York, I had just gotten back from a trip to Los Angeles that ended abruptly because all my friends there were let out of school and skating every day, essentially due to coronavirus.
At first, everyone in New York took advantage of the free time but it very soon became a darker situation — we went from skating Tompkins every day to just not seeing each other or anyone else for weeks. Eventually, I started to venture out in my own neighborhood (Ridgewood) for the first time since moving here. I just skated this unopened park by my house and I ended up learning a bunch of tricks by myself. Then, after I got used to going out and skating by myself enough, I would bike past spots that were usually untouchable. The streets were completely empty a lot of the time, and I was the only person in sight.
Eventually, I started hitting up my friend Kei, who was really itching to film. We spent everyday together filming at these spots in Midtown and the World Trade Center you could never get time at, like Zuccoti, the Oculus manny pads, the police precinct wooden rail, the three stair to seven stair on 97th street, and the courthouse drop, because everyone else was too scared to go outside! We took advantage of being left to ourselves in the whole city.
JAMES SAYRES: I just realized I can’t really specify the coolest spots I’ve skated because they’re all hush hush… but we did skate Chauncey a bunch.
AARON HERRINGTON: There’s this wall rail in the Tribeca area that I’ve wanted to skate for a long time - the way it’s set up, it’s like a dream, but it’s at a chain restaurant where you know the people who are working there aren’t stoked to be working that job and they’re gonna be really hyped to kick you out, and they’ll definitely stand their ground because they work a shitty job in a really wealthy neighborhood. I looked at it a couple summers back, I looked at it last summer, I looked at it during the winter, I even looked at it on Google Maps and I always thought “one of these days, I’ll fucking skate it.” Because of the pandemic, everything closed, and that business in particular packed up shop and moved elsewhere or closed for good. Once I realized it was closed, we were skating it two days later.
JIMMY MCDONALD: Skating any basketball court spot during the spring and early summer was pretty crazy, because the city had removed all the hoops. So places like Stroud Playground in Brooklyn totally changed. Instead of skating the ledges on the perimeter of the spot while people played basketball, you suddenly could roll around the entire spot any time of day. People would be sessioning parking blocks in the middle of the courts. There would also be people learning or relearning how to skate, which is something I’ve been seeing all over the city. So awesome to see full on adults who probably haven't skated since middle-school out there solo trying to relearn kickflips.
JOSH STEWART: To avoid the train I started riding my bike to do everything in the city. And, to be honest, I started exploring parts of the city I hadn't crept through before mostly to find spots I could film myself skate with my phone. Haha. Since we were still social distancing, even from other skaters and friends, I was riding around solo and trying to find little spots I could skate myself and prop my phone up against a rock or something. Then once we started filming again, I just carried all my equipment on my bike and would ride over the bridge into Manhattan. Being on the bike allowed for me to cover a lot more ground and even creep into some areas that I think I would've gotten security guards tripping on me, had I been on foot. But since I was on the bike I could coast through and check out some service entrances, garages, etc. I actually found several new things including an incredible spot I couldn't believe hadn't been touched yet. Somewhere I never would've gone on foot or on my board. As far as filming goes, I think the most significant difference was the large reduction in traffic and pedestrians. Pedestrians are the most frustrating obstacles for filming in NYC so that was really the main plus. But crowds and traffic have mostly returned to pre-Covid levels by now.
MOOSE: Skating during the pandemic was kinda scary for me because I didn’t want to risk anything happening to my parents, especially since my dad has diabetes and my mom just got out of surgery. I basically stayed local around my area and found some gems. I found a pretty sick curved ledge in Green Acres Mall in Long Island, I found a downhill flat bar spot right next to the Van Wyck, and I found a handicap rail in a park near my crib. I didn’t even get a chance to skate them because I always tend to put stuff off, like “I will come back tomorrow” and end up in the city for the rest of the week. I went to Midtown once, it looked abandoned but the security was still on it. I feel like they were going harder than ever! Security guards need to just chill and stop trying to be super heroes.
DAVE CADDO: At the beginning of the pandemic I was pretty cautious. I was only skating alone around a close vicinity where I live in Greenpoint and occasionally driving to skate the spot by the Kosciuszko Bridge in Queens. Both places were pretty desolate and easy to social distance. But after a few weeks I started venturing out more and skating with a small crew of people. I started skating Big Screen plaza a bit around April. It was amazing. Wouldn’t get kicked out. I would stay there all day. Could drive into the city with no traffic and park in the middle of the week. There would be a range of crews skating there most days too. There would be crews ranging from a group of twelve, thirteen year old kids skating there all the way to my forty one year old self and everyone in between. Everyone had to skate street spots cause all the skateparks were closed. But the spot that really got me hooked was the Chauncey Street courts. With the hoops gone and when cops stopped kicking us out, even though the courts were still technically closed, you could skate there all day with the flatground clear of ballers and the ledges clear of anyone sitting on them. I got obsessed with that spot. Tons of different skate crews would show up to skate Chauncey just like at Big Screen. There’s also a skatepark that was just finished but still not open a few blocks from Chauncey but cops would kick people out of there so you would get those crews coming to skate Chauncey also. Which was cool to watch kids who it seemed mostly skated skateparks since they’ve been skating adjust to a regular street spot. I would just skate Chauncey with whoever was there. Ended up meeting a bunch of different skaters just from skating Chauncey during the lockdown. It was lovely.
Because it was possible to just post up at Big Screen and not get kicked out or skate Chauncey all day and not ever get crowded out by people playing basketball or people hanging out on the ledges I actually spot skated and spot hunted the least I have in decades. I figured I could always go back to spot hunting once the lockdown was easing up and the hoops were back on the courts and parks were open. A lot of spot hunting spots I had found pre-pandemic were house spots in outer borough neighborhoods and it was definitely not the right time to skate those.
I skated SoHo one day, which was amazing. It was almost completely empty. The majority of stores were closed. All the wealthy people that live in SoHo were gone. You could skate all the little diamond plate spots as long as you wanted without getting kicked out or waiting 10 minutes in between goes for pedestrian foot traffic to clear. I should have gone more but I was caught up skating Chauncey. I also skated midtown a decent amount. Got really into skating the CBS ledges. Midtown was quiet and desolate as well. Security was still at most of the spots but the CBS ledges were empty and no bust.
The one spot I skated that is hard to skate during normal times was out by JFK. Whenever I was in that zone I would stop by and try to skate it, but we would always get the boot. It’s three little wheelchair ramps over flat in a row. One of the slants is in front of a salon that always seems to be open, but since salons and barbershops were closed during the pandemic it was a go. Only skated it one day though cause like I said I was caught up in my ledge spot routines. I just ollied into two of them and kickflipped the last one in a line. The clip is on my Instagram.