Kathy Hayes | The_ONES
The Photographer Who's Deep in NYC's Skate Scene
For Kathleen Hayes, skateboarding is more lifestyle than hobby. "There's a whole culture and camaraderie that comes with it, from the art and the clothing to the punk-rock bands that have formed through skateboarding," she says. The New Yorker (day job: academic advisor at the School of Visual Arts) has spent the last two decades ensconced in the skate community, both as a member and as a documentarian.
Her photography, illuminating the technical realities of the sport as well as the human moments that happen between runs, looks like a series of intimate snapshots among friends. “I shoot the communities I’m involved in,” she says. “They’re used to seeing me with a camera, so they just let me do my thing.”
Hoping to capture the same rebellious spirit Hayes so deftly portrays, we teamed up with photographer Julia Parris to turn the camera on Hayes during one of her sessions at Chelsea’s Pier 62 Skatepark. Then we sat down to talk about what makes skate culture so great, why old-school skaters are the best subjects, and which shoes help keep her on the board.
You’re a skater who has made a living photographing skateboarders and skate culture. So tell us: What’s so great about the sport?
Kathleen Hayes: Skateboarding is liberating. Sometimes it's a little scary and sometimes it hurts you bad, but when it all clicks it's very rewarding. There's nothing else like it. It's loud; it's breaking rules. It's an obsession and lifestyle that attracts a certain kind of person. The skateboarding community is very diverse; it's generally very open and accepting. The best thing for me is sessioning a backyard bowl with a great crew, punk rock playing, coolers of beer, and a couple of skate dogs running around. I'm hooked for life.
"It's dangerous. You fall. You get dirty. You get hurt. And you keep coming back for more. It’s an obsession."
When she’s not wearing her Vans, her fallbacks are similarly down to earth. Here are her favorite sneakers to skate in.
How did you get into skating?
KH: I grew up in the ocean and was a big surfer. Then, when I was 18, I had an accident—I got a stab wound from a surfboard fin in my belly—and couldn’t surf. That freaked me out, and I needed something to fill the void so I got my first skateboard. I was going to the School of Visual Arts and commuting from Long Island, so I started learning by using a board as transportation. I had a couple of girlfriends who skated, and we would go to a Staples parking lot. There was a bank in the back, and we would just skate around there.
So you had a girl crew?
KH: Actually they both fell off pretty quick, so I just pretty much skated with the boys. It was hard to find girls who skated back then. Mostly it would just be cruising around the city with a group of guys, and we’d skate the Brooklyn banks and different street spots around the city.
Who do you skate with now?
KH: Now I have a ton of girls to skate with—mostly older women in their 30s and 40s. A lot of them are moms! My friend Shannon lives in Charleston, South Carolina, and she and another girl organized this massive girl-crew trip in the Carolinas. We were caravanning from spot to spot; the year before, there was another trip to Colorado.
Do you usually travel to skate, or is Chelsea your go-to park?
KH: My boyfriend lives in Massachusetts so when I’m up there we skate a bowl in our friend’s yard. That would be my favorite. I skate a lot of DIY ramps or keyholes or bowls that people build in their backyards. In New York, there’s a little bowl in Long Beach, and there’s the North Fork skatepark. But if I were to go anywhere in New York City, this is the place I usually go. This is the biggest bowl in the city.
What are your favorite things to shoot?
KH: I shoot a lot of candid documentary stuff, so definitely skateboarding but more like my friends that I’m skating with. It’s the culture and the hanging out. The younger girls and guys are always pulling something crazy off—I'm constantly amazed at the rapid progression and skill level of the groms—but the people who truly amaze me are the crew of skaters in their 40s and 50s. Some have been skating their whole lives while others just got back into it after 20 years. They're my inspiration.
Really? How so?
KH: I don't think any of us older skaters ever expected to be skateboarding at this stage in life and at the levels we're at. Jon Nicolson is one of my favorite Chelsea skaters. He's in his mid 40s. His skate style, unique fashion sense, and big personality make him really fun to watch. He doesn't hold back. He's always learning something new. I love skating with Ian Clarke. He's 55 and, like me, has arthritis, but his passion for skateboarding keeps him going.
"...the people who truly amaze me are the crew of skaters in their 40s and 50s. Some have been skating their whole lives while others just got back into it after 20 years."
What does a typical skating day look like for you?
KH: I work at SVA in Chelsea and usually come to the skatepark after work in the evenings. If I'm skating on a Thursday I'll cruise up 22nd Street after my session and hit up a few gallery openings, see some cool art and drink some cheap white wine. My favorite post-skate bar/restaurant nearby is El Quijote, located at the old Chelsea Hotel. It's like going back in time to old New York. You can sit at the bar and get Spanish tapas and drinks.
We couldn’t help but notice your Vans. Are those good skate shoes?
KH: I love these. The soles are super grippy and they’re thin so you can feel the board a little bit. This is my second pair of these. They’re comfy, and I love the two different blues and the big stars. I’ve never seen anyone else in these. I like high tops but I think they give you a false sense of ankle protection.
It seems like there are lots of women out here now. What would you say to younger girls looking to get into skateboarding?
KH: Get a board and get rolling. It's intimidating to be a beginner, but most skaters are very supportive and welcoming of those who have the desire to learn. If you’re not comfortable going to parks yet, learn to push around in an empty parking lot first. I'm old school when it comes to learning how to skate. You don't have to pay for lessons: You learn to skate from skating around other skaters, your crew. If you don't have one yet, you’ll find one once you start skating.
Written by Jennifer Fernandez. Photos by Julia Parris.
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