Evan’s Ramp

by

05/16/2003

100 Water Street, Brooklyn, ny,

Neighborhood: Dumbo

Snow and cold are anathema to the skateboarder. The winter in New York can be a frustrating time to pursue an activity best done wearing jeans and a T-shirt. Hardcore skaters still hit the streets to skate midtown’s smooth plazas on frigid nights, but that can be a slightly masochistic and uncomfortable experience. One remedy is to move the action indoors.

Skaters have been taking their obsession inside to escape inclement weather ever since someone broke the handle off of a scooter and rode it as a board sometime in the nineteen-fifties. In cooler climates, ramps and other skating environments have been built in barns, houses, nightclubs, gyms and apartments. In all shapes and sizes, these ramps conform to and use interior architecture to provide a place to skate even if a blizzard is raging outside. In New York this can be difficult because of the compression of multitudes into spaces that would be considered closets anywhere else. Larger spaces are monetarily out of reach for most skaters and wooden structures the size of a dump truck just do not fit into the average Lilliputian New York studio.

But New York does have lofts, and they afford the chance to build on a fairly grand scale. If the tenant has the desire (along with the collusion of a lax landlord) a mini-skatepark can be born. So under the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, along the Brooklyn waterfront on cold nights, with the wind off the East River funneling between turn-of-the-century warehouse buildings, an unmistakable sound can be heard. Spinning wheels rolling on Masonite, a moment of silence, the slap of wood against metal, then the rolling sound again. A rhythmic, booming noise coming from high above.

A skater can roll down Jay Street with the Manhattan skyline in the distance, under the intersecting lines of trucks rumbling to the Brooklyn Bridge below D trains clanking ominously across the Manhattan Bridge; go up an elevator and find themselves at what is arguably the world’s highest ramp – in the sense that it is situated ten floors above the ground. Down long gray hallways and past institutional sinks is a steel door that opens to Evan Becker’s loft. In a raw studio with fifteen foot high ceilings and no bathroom, between the wall and a large supporting column, lies Evan’s creation and playground: a ramp seven feet high that uses the concrete floor between its two curving walls as flat bottom.

Evan explains his motivation succinctly. “I wanted a place to skate and to work.” The smell of paint and dust permeates the air. Evan’s monumental cement and oil paintings lean up against the wall, the room is bare except for an old sofa, a vintage green bicycle, and a plastic trashcan filled with old skate sneakers. When he isn’t painting, Evan skates with a select group who are in on his secret spot. A Slayer or Melvins CD plays, the large windows are angled open to compensate for the building’s uncompromising heating system and a session commences.

Evan drops in from the top, riding over the metal where the ramp meets the floor with a loud slapping sound. His moves include grinds, ollies, fakie ollie disasters, 50-50s and pivots to fakie. Riding to the top he pops the tail of the board and launches four feet above the ramp before grabbing the board and floating vertically back down – his ollies to fakie grabs are the highest. He grinds frontside (the back truck of the board scraping the metal bar at the top of the ramp) and then quickly and smoothly reverses direction, sliding around and continuing his run backwards. He knows the ramp’s kinks and bumps by heart, his mastery of the ramp translates into speed and self-assurance.

The moment Evan finishes a run or falls the next skater drops in. There is an uninterrupted flow of skaters riding and doing tricks, either falling during their attempts or riding out of the ramp after a successful half-minute or so. The wall is barely missed, the column is narrowly avoided, boards fly off the ramp coming close to exiting out the window into the night air. Increasingly baroque maneuvers are tried, like Evan’s kickflip to backside disasters, in which he ollies out of the ramp and spins the board three hundred and sixty degrees with his feet before landing half in and half out on the coping, instantaneously weighting the nose of the board, and riding back down the transition. Perspiration flows, the music plays, verbal utterances are reduced to yells of affirmation or groans when a trick is missed. Laughter and music intermingle with the hanger deck decibel level of the ramp being skated.

The session over, Evan sits on the couch and enjoys a cigarette and a tall can of Budweiser. His female cat Joey comes out from her hiding place among the rafters, nimbly jumps to the top of the ramp (“Her ollies are the highest,” according to Evan) and slides down the Masonite on her paws before casually walking off. Evan looks away from Joey’s antics and says, “This place might be a little crusty, but, it’s me . . . I get a little nervous about bringing a girl here . . . but, whatever.” The ramp and the paintings sum up two years of hard work, they are the fruit of Evan’s impulse to create. Outside the wind blows, the ramp is quiet until the next session.

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