Mexico? Coca-Cola? Steve Berra? Fire stunts? I just got back from a Coca-Cola commercial where they lit my back on fire while I was skating. Steve Berra hit me up about it and I went to Mexico for a week. We shot an internet commercial. I got kind of burnt on my leg—a guy had to extract the fluid with a syringe. But yo, whatever I got to do. I always go to the Berrics and skate. I skate there and I don’t bother nobody. I’m cool with Steve—I have mad respect for him. I guess he sees that I’m really serious about my skating, and he wanted to help me out. I appreciate that so much. He knows that I’m kind of crazy, too—like a stunt man in my own way. I be doin’ stupid shit. So he Twittered me and asked me to go to Mexico. They put kerosene on my back. The worst part about it was the wet shit.
The flame-retardant stuff? Yeah, it was so cold. They would light my back, and then I’d go jump down a gap and some stairs.
What was it like the first time they set you on fire? I thought it was ill and that it would look good for the camera. I wasn’t worried about getting burned because I was dealing with professionals. When I got burned I gained a little more respect for the fire.
"They lit my back on fire while I was skating"
In the end, did they douse you in Coca-Cola? Naw.
Were you born around here in Queens, NY? I was born in the Dominican Republic, but I came here when I was a year old. That’s why my English is real good. First we moved to Mott Street, in The City. It was in the ’80s so it was mad ’hood. My dad gets rent control because he still lives there, but that shit is old. They need to do renovations.
When did skateboarding come into the picture? That was out here in Queens. We moved here to Richmond Hill when I was eight, and I’ve been here since. I’ve lived right on Jamaica Avenue with all the noise from the fuckin’ train.
Did you get used to that? At first I was like, “Mom, Mom! We can’t live here. The whole house shakes.”
Back tail. Photo: Krolick
How do you describe your neighborhood to people? It’s nothing. It’s the middle of nowhere.
It’s in the middle of New York City. Yeah, but I tell people where in Queens I’m from, and they say they’ve never heard of the place.
Are there any good skate spots over here? Hell yeah. There are spots everywhere.
When did skateboarding become something you wanted to do? I saw this skateboard on the wall at Sports Authority. I was like, “Yo, Mom!” She told me she didn’t have the money. I was like, “OK, whatever. I’m never going to have a skateboard.” Then I saw somebody—I think it was Huf—pop mad high, just keeping it moving. “That’s what I want to do. That ollie.” Finally my mom came home with a skateboard. She says to this day that was the worst mistake she ever made.
Was she worried you’d hang with the wrong kids? My mom would be like, “Why do you want to be like that? Why do you want to keep skateboarding? You just keep falling down.” I was like, “So what?” I’m not a bitch. My father always used to tell me to be a man. You got to be tough.
"Jereme would come up to me and start rapping in my ear"
You’re also a boxer. Naw. A year or two ago I went to the gym a little bit and I was trying to learn, but I was like, “Fuck! That world is nuts—I’m just a skateboarder.” I just wanted to learn something that would help me in a situation. There are so many things in life that are unstable. I was getting hyped on boxing, but lessons cost too much fucking money.
Did you use a speed bag? Yeah. The thing I learned the most from that wasn’t fighting—but that I could push my body to that limit. I used to think that my body was kind of weak. Boxing builds your stamina.
We just got out of a rough winter. Did it slow down your skating? Yeah, but I’ve been traveling so much with the Famous. Holler. They look out, so I never stop skating. This winter I went everywhere. I went to Cali, I went on the Rick Thorne tour. He’s a famous BMXer on Famous Stars and Straps.
Boardslide up. Photo: Krolick. Click image to enlarge.
What skateboarders are on Famous? There’s Aquil Brathwaite, Kurtis Colamonico, Darren Harper, Manny Santiago, Felix Arguelles, and Andrew Pott. He’s a machine. Am I missing somebody?
You had Jereme Rogers. Oh, Jereme was there. He’s a cool guy, doing his thing.
Is his music anything you’d listen to when you skate? I don’t know about all that. But if he wants to do his thing, I respect it. This here is some funny shit: Jereme would come up to me and start rapping in my ear. He’d keep rapping the same thing. I guess he expected me to have a response where I’d be like, “Ooh!”
What was your first video? Misled Youth. I remember my mom seeing the slam section and being like, “Is this what you want to do?” When I went to school, I used to wear dress shoes. I went to a public school.
And there was a dress code? No, but I had to because my mom didn’t want to buy me clothes. I had to wear private school clothes to a public school. All the kids and teachers knew who I was, and I was the worst ever.
But dressed to impress. Dressed real nice.
All mafia style. I was fuckin’ retarded, man.
Half-Cab heeelflip. Photo: Krolick
Is that how you got into boxing? People messing with you for your outfits? Naw. Everybody wanted to be my friend. One time I tried to take my dress shirt off and put it in my lunchbox, and just wear a white t-shirt. The teachers would tell me to put it back on. I’d be running in gym class and my teacher would have to tell me to get sneakers.
Was the ollie something that came naturally to you? I used to be on lock-down. My step dad would let me out for 10 minutes every day, and I’d try to ollie. One day I looked at myself in the glass and saw that I’d left the ground. Then I ollied over a Pepsi can. I was so hyped that day.
How many stairs can you ollie up? One time I ollied up seven.
Do you think your name is still associated with those high-ollie contests? Yeah. I’m hyped on that, man. I feel blessed that people got to see me do that. That helped my skateboarding career—that’s me putting my foot in the door.
Did you learn switch ollies right after you learned regular ones? I didn’t even care about switch that much. I do skate switch, but I have more fun skating regular.
What’s your switch ollie like? It’s a’ight. I can switch ollie some shit, but it’s not like my regular ollie.
You don’t drink. I don’t like drinking. I don’t like none of that shit, because it brings problems and you don’t know what’s going to happen. Not having control is kind of scary. I’m already a human, so why would I want to bring extra drama? You’re going to have obstacles anyway. I’m just trying to do my thing and avoid shit.
That’s a mature perspective at 23. I’ve seen so much shit happen right in front of my face that I’m tired of it. I don’t want to fuck up yet.
In This Issue Classic power meets innovation on the March front as AVE goes over the back to switch 5-0 in NYC. There's 14 more pages of Van Engelen inside, so don't sweat it; Cyril Jackson talks about skating the streets (and sleeping in them), the Naawwsty Crew rolls deep from ATL to FL; Krooked krushes Korea; the Deathwish team spreads some love on the East Coast and Shane O'Neill has a killer ten-page feature. You heard what he did at Wallenberg, right? Add this one to your collection.