If you don’t live in New York City there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Jerry Mraz. But if you HAVE met him you’re not likely to forget him. Jerry is the type of person that leaves an impression. Whether he’s just passing you on the street in his dilapidated camouflage hunting truck or catching you skating one of his bizarre quick-dry cement skate spots, chances are you’ve wondered what was going on behind that thousand-mile-stare and handlebar mustache. With the disposition of a Vietnam War vet mixed with an extra from “Heavy Metal Parking Lot”, you can’t help but be intrigued and maybe a little intimidated by the dude. But the truth is that if you had a conversation with Jerry Mraz what you’d discover is a skateboarder with an undying devotion to skateboarding and an rigid set of beliefs about the respect with which his beloved sport should be treated. Having been lucky enough to travel the world and meet skateboarders from all walks of life, I’d have to say that Jerry is one of the most motivated and industrious people I’ve met to date. You know those spots you come across every day that have you saying “God, this thing would be amazing if only the runway was cement instead of brick and that handrail wasn’t in the way”? Well, Jerry will not talk about it, he’ll simply come through later under the cover of night accompanied only by a few buckets of cement, his camo truck and a sledge hammer and the next morning the Department of Transportation will happen by the spot scratching their heads wondering if there really is such a thing as a cement-fairy.
In an era where skateboarding has found it’s 15 minutes of pop fame, it seems that the industry has become neutered, once an angry pit bull in the ghetto it has become a docile little suburban poodle. But although most of them have disappeared there are still a few of those bizarre characters remaining who help maintain a little bit of color and life in the “sport”. I think we owe a lot to these dudes who help keep an aura of lawlessness and chaos in a culture that’s become more and more structured and controlled. Jerry Mraz is one of those characters, and he just so happens to rip as well. So let’s take a look at what he has to say and then next time he catches you filming at one of the spots he built you will know whether to walk up and shake his hand or to run for your fucking life.
Alright, let’s get this started…...are you ready?
We’re not getting any younger.
Ok, you’re originally from Michigan, right? What city?
I’m from Jackson, Michigan. It’s about an hour from Detroit. The place has around 50,000 people, a lot of country around a town with plenty of W.T. and a small hood area. It’s home to one of the largest prisons in the U.S. and some of my good friends.
When did you move to New York?
A few of my friends and I moved out about 8 years ago now. I seriously love this place.
Why did you leave Michigan?
I need to be in a big city. I feed off that energy my every waking hour. My town is especially slow, so I’d get violently depressed there.
How was the NY skate scene when you first got here? I assume that it has changed a little bit?
I didn’t really know what was going on when I got here, but I had an idea of what I wanted the experience to turn into…I never visited untill 2000 and then again in August 2001. As soon as I checked it out I knew I had to get myself out here quick. When we first showed up it was amazing because we knew we were very fortunate to be doing what we were doing and tried our damnedest to take everything in and make the most of it. There was a collective sense of that. It was cool to go to Tompkins and see Poppalardo skating. It was cool to meet some of the O.G. NY types who, as a fan of skateboarding, I have a ton of admiration for. I wasn’t here for the first heyday or whatever, but I’m here now for the second. New York is the new skate mecca. I’ve been saying it was about to happen for years. I’m pretty sure it’s happened.
Yeah, it seems like NY went from slept-on to crept-on in just a few years. Well, how would you describe the scene here today?
It’s like a multi headed boyle on the ass of a rabid, worm infested, warthog. It’s about to explode and something smells kinda ripe…Nah, I don’t know. I’m not exposed first hand to a lot of what’s going on because I mostly do my own thing. I know there’s some kids doing some wild shit, and some of em I’m psyched on. I see some preposterous shit and some horrendous lapses in judgement too.
You want me to call some people out? That’s something that should be done outside of the computer only. I ain’t naming no names. All the dogs have to live with themselves and their fleas. But shit, I’ve called a guy to come meet me at a pretty rough project to film. This place had already been skated by a pretty sick local dude, but I had found it on my own after the fact, see. I show up by myself and skate for a half hour. Finally dude shows up, 2 car loads and 8 or 9marshmallows deep. They didn’t show respect to the people who live there and one kid let his board shoot out into a ladies ankle who was pushing a stroller. I went back there about a month ago and talked to my boy who is always hanging out in the courtyard and he told me that those same kids had been back and another person had got hit. All the folks who live there were pissed. That had been the last straw and skating at those buildings was pretty much a wrap. A damn shame I thought, you know? Then there’s been instances of the photo guy who has the terms of the need for discretion directly told to him before taking him to a spot. Upon getting there and trying a move, dude refuses to pull out his gear. We give up and split and then a month later he’s got a sequence of some chomper kid running in the mag. I guess that’s all fairly typical, but still pretty fucking unscrupulous if you ask me. There’s really too much shite to list but those are a couple instances of some classic unsavory behavior.
Soft, sweet, and white. The opposite of me, minus the white part.
Ah….ok. So then, what NY skaters are keeping the NY vibe alive?
I guess that depends on what NY vibe you’re talking about? I guess I don’t know what the NY vibe is…I know the King of New York died a couple years ago. His name was Andy Kessler. He was a friend of mine. His vibe as an entity over the city is just irreplaceable. As for right now, there’s a brand of thought driven skateboarding going on here and all over in little pockets. There’s mass people I’m psyched on here. I’m really psyched on the kids that are from here doing their thing well, because I know that it makes it a lot tougher than someone who figured it out somewhere else and then moved here. There’s also a ton of people that have moved here and contributed. I watch every NY video or clip I can get my hands on. The city has all types of talent all over. That said, I don’t really get psyched on people just because they have talent or whatever. Everybody is good, it doesn’t mean what it used to. I like to see skateboarding progress in it’s other realms firstly.
What do you mean by “brand of thought-driven skateboarding? And what “other realms” do you mean exactly?
This all comes down to people who are putting their skating out there. If you’re just messing around having a good time with your buddies not documenting seriously, good for you. You are the essence of the act. For me thought driven skateboarding is just that. Using your fucking noggin. Putting thought into what you skate, how you skate it, trick selection, trick chronology and spot aesthetics. Speaking without words and shit… And those are the other realms for the most part. Everybody has different things they’re into. For me, the biggest, longest, mostest, flip in/ flip out progression of skateboarding has been burnt toast for years now. It’s probably a shitty thing to say, but I truly believe that everything trick wise that needed to get done on a skateboard had been done by the photosynthesis era, maybe even earlier. Dudes floppin around looking like they’re in a video game don’t do much for me. I’m not looking for shock value. I personally, like to see some shit I can relate to.
What do you look for when watching somebody’s video part? Influences?
I like to see a guy on a skateboard that makes you say “Damn, he looks like a G”, I like to see people who respect and refine the craft. I’m now friends with a lot of the people who were my influences, and it ruins it. I don’t ever want to get to know Rick O…The skating was always brought to me through videos. There was a shop I used to rent ‘Public Domain’ and ‘Streets on Fire’ from back in the late 80’s not long after they came out. Shortly after I got ‘Hocus Pocus’. I was late on ‘Shackle Me Not’. I’ve wanted to skate JFK since ‘Rubbish Heap’ came out. I was late to get ‘Video Days’. After that ‘1281’ was a huge one for me. ‘Eastern Exposure 3’ was tremendous. I was a big fan of Alan Petersen and Cards, I’d always be all over anything they put out. I’ve always been a huge fan of ‘Mouse’ and ‘Photosynthesis’ since they came out…Now I mostly only look for indy videos and there’s too many ill ones to name.
Yeah, speaking of which, you have a pretty extensive collection of independent videos. Is it like collecting baseball cards for you or do you actually watch every one of them?
What’s the point in having em if you don’t watch em? It is collecting little windows into other peoples interpretations of skateboard riding. I think skate videos, especially independent, homie, and shop videos are dope and very important. They are the back bone of the underground element of this culture. It’s also sick because every person who puts out a video part has their little say in how they want the movement to go forward. It’s a democracy of sorts and it’s an integral part of the process of the next progression of skateboarding. At least that’s what I think. Skateboarding is subjective and I thank god for that. It is a shame though, when video makers get their video done and just sleep on it. I see that happen all the time. It’s tough and expensive to get hard copies out all the people that need to see the video, but it’s important to try. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to do something on your site. Because I feel like it could turn into a major hub for these underground videos. The internet just isn’t cutting yet as far as a one and done outlet for this shit. I always look at like “Look, this is your big movie premier…you can have it play at one theater or have it open worldwide.” To all the video makers out there holler at me, let’s trade works. I do zines too.
Yeah you know eight and a half by eleven pieces of paper folded in half with xeroxed pictures and shit on em. I can’t really just put my photos and such up in a big mag so I just do my own shit. I got no blog and my social network is the people who I call or see on the street. Same rules apply, the internet just isn’t cutting it as a one and done outlet for the magazine either. My last zine was ‘No Harm No Foul’. I won’t ever do two with the same name though and It’s putting me on the spot to tell you the name of the new joint. It’ll have some boisterous shit in there though for sure, believe you me.
I didn’t ask for the name of the new joint. Out of everyone I know and skate with in the New York scene, I feel like you might put the most amount of effort into your spots. There have been several spots that you’ve built like the DIY skatepark under the BQE Brooklyn Queens Expressway) in Williamsburg. Do you build spots like that for your personal use or as a diversion for other local skaters to stay away from street spots?
A diversion? That’s absurd.
Well it seemed pretty ingenious to me. Build a bunch of cement playgrounds to keep the kids distracted and then you can skate street spots with less clutter
Working on spots is my big hobby outside of skateboarding so I spend most of my time off in the streets tinkering with em. The BQE is for everyone though. I keep that BQE spot going, as shitty as it is, just because it’s close to my house and I need to skate everyday. I love skating and I need to do it everyday. That said, I also have to work to pay rent. Frequently I have to work beast long days and need somewhere close that I can just roll around lightweight just enough to remember how and then pass out for the night. I’ve kept it just shitty enough, where it’s still fun, but not good enough to attract a ton of people. It’s gotten out of hand in the past. If you build it, they will come. And then your shit gets blown out and they tear it out, is usually the way it works. I got a couple new ideas for the place that may come to fruition in the near future though.
Do you get stoked when you roll up on one of your spots and find local kids you don’t know skating there? Or does it make you wanna wall them up with cement?
That all depends. I spend a shit ton of time, effort, and money to execute my spot ideas. I build spots for everybody to fuck around on and also do a lot of modifying spots for me and my own projects. If a local kid is there skating a spot I just finished, that’s fine. It’s their hood so it’s their shit. Usually I’m in some tucked away cut where there isn’t too many skaters anyway. It’s not like I’m building shit in the East Village. But there’s always a grip of non local, chomper kids who show up like a pack of roving, feral dogs trying to take whatever they can away and I can’t help but scratch my head. I can’t get too butt hurt about it, but in my humble opinion, it is unfortunate that the guy who builds or makes a spot skateable by himself, can’t get a chance to get his interpretation of that spot out first. It’s no big secret see, I’m no natural at this skateboard riding shit. My angle is simple: I usually, but not always search out architecture; primarily in grimy neighborhoods that I find aesthetically pleasing…usually, but not always it is architecture that is so rugged that it can not be skated the way it needs to be skated without putting in a grip of work on it. That is my craft. And that is the only way I can be sure that I did something original. Like I said I’m not going to get too butthurt, but I’ll also tell a disrespectful prick to his face that he is just that. People always take this subject the wrong way, I’m not in anyway saying you shouldn’t come here and skate, but using a little discretion is always a solid thing to do. I know the nature of the beast and I know the way the game is played. I’m out here in the streets of my favorite city doing what I love to do you know? So it is what it is, I really ain’t even mad.
Haha….well, you’re pretty notorious for your creative use of quick dry cement. I’ve heard of you using up to 1,200 lbs of cement on just one spot. True of false?
That would be about the most I’ve done myself in one night. You can do a lot with the stuff if you have the right equipment and some motivated people, but I usually work alone.
Some of the spots you’ve taken me to are in straight up HOOD-ass neighborhoods in the Bronx or in sketchy corners of Queens where the mob probably goes to drop dead bodies. You have to have had some bizarre or scary moments while working on these spots alone late at night. Anything stick out?
Sure, there’s always plenty of awkward moments where you’re out there doing some weird shit in a place where you probably shouldn’t be at. I have to embrace the awkward moments in life. I kind of just like to see what kind of bizarre situation I can get myself into or out of as another hobby. One time I got rolled up on by the police in east New York at 2 in the morning by myself with about twelve buckets of wet concrete. I told them, “look I can explain!” I’m pretty good at talking to people in those situations usually. Yes sirs, and no sirs go a lot farther than you might think. Another time I was working on this ladies stoop in Staten island, also late at night. She thought it was great that the city had finally come out to fix that one crack only by her stairs. She offered me weed and wine coolers. I took the wine cooler.
How much time do you think you spend each month searching for new spots?
I still get out quite a bit. I’ve been driving around bored looking for some shit to skate since I got my license to drive. Even before that my older friends from Jackson and I would drive around for hours going behind all the businesses in my outlying area. I was trying to get down every street in New York for years…now I just try to catch things that were overlooked.
Do you think there’s still much to be found in this city?
I found a spot that is right under a lot of kids noses just the other day. I had passed it and skated right next to it myself for years. I was trippin when I realized what it was. Of course I had to cut down a couple fairly large trees that had been covering it, do a little patch work, and uncobble a fence, but that was the easy part. Now to get you away from your beloved corporate teet to come and document it…That’s the real challenge.
Had to get one jab in there, didn’t you? That’s cute. Well, to volley one back at you, word on the street is that you skated Tampa Am in the late 1990’s with hair down to your ass and a rocker belt. How’d that work out for you?
Shit bitch, you think there’s any shame in my game? Think again…I’m still a rocker I just ain’t got the belt. I seen a guy get a toilet smashed on his head right next to me at that contest. Clyde told me I looked like Milli Vanilli in the middle of my run, so I went and got a haircut. I never had no tight pants though. As a youth I went from being a milk chicken to being a metal head and back a few times before I realized that I could just be both. Look at me now, ho.
That’s a sad story. Well, I also heard that you edited the first Coda video yourself. True or false?
Yeah I did that. What’s it to you? They got a new editor now, I guess I was too hard to deal with. Coda made a new video a couple months ago, even got some hard copies floating around.
I know you’re currently working on a new side project for Coda. Care to highlight on any of that?
Yeah, well right now we’re totally focusing on our new line and our lookbook for our fall collection. Sike. We got some skateboards for sale, probably will have some video stuff wasted on the internet to go with it.
Big shot to my family. They’ve basically sponsored me by sending me a box of all types of vitamin pills ever since I moved away at 18. Im the tallest person in my bloodline now. My girl Sara, I’d be in the gutter without her. New York City, all the outlying areas, my friends here, Dobbin people, my friends back in Michigan and the good people I’ve run into all over the cities of the US and the rest of the world, Coda, Premier skateshop, anybody whose got me Lakai Telfords, I’m throwing in the towel when they quit making that shoe, straight up, all the video makers and photo takers especially my homie Pepsi who took time away from his pregnant wife to shoot these flicks. Any editor that’s ever put me up in their mag especially the good people from SLAP, and Skateboarder. Anybody who films me, Andrew Petillo and especially Joe Bressler. Look out for Joe’s new video, which also doesn’t have a name yet. Were putting in all types of work for that. Thanks for lining this up Stewie, and most of all thanks to the people taking the time out of their day to give this a read. Peace