Photo of Jacob Tillman via SK8108 facebook page.

The skateboarding park in Riverside Park on 108th street recently got a big makeover and is getting a new name to honor Upper West Side skating legend Andy Kessler.

City skateboarding enthusiasts have been rebuilding and rehabbing the park’s light blue ramps, pipes and other obstacles for the past few months. The city has also changed the policies at the park, making everyone wear helmets and knee and elbow pads. You also need to sign a liability waiver. The park has a nice mix of obstacles, from a 10-foot half pipe with vert to more gradual obstacles for younger skaters.

The plan is to name the park for Kessler, a skateboarder who helped design and build the Riverside skatepark in the mid-90’s. He died in 2009 at the age of 48 from an allergic reaction to a wasp sting.

Kessler grew up on West 71st street, and was one of the leaders of a group of skaters and graffiti artists known as the Soul Artists of Zoo York. The Zoo York crew is credited with reinventing urban skating, setting up crude obstacles and ramps with old wooden boards they salvaged from throughout Riverside and Central Parks and elsewhere in the city. “When other kids saw Kessler carving around the Upper West Side on his board — which would’ve been three inches wide with metal wheels — they followed, and just like that, the East Coast skate scene was born,” a piece about Kessler in the Times noted.

New York magazine published an article about the Zoo Yorkers a few years ago. It’s worth reading the whole thing, but here’s an excerpt:

“Everyone remembers the wood planks, especially Catalino Capiello Jr., known on the then-dodgy Upper West Side streets of the late seventies as PaPo. One day in 1978, the genial half-Italian, half–Puerto Rican teenager was roaming his ’hood, skateboard in hand. At Riverside Drive and 95th Street, he came upon a construction site at the off-ramp of the West Side Highway. But something was missing—namely, large chunks of the plywood barricades. Peering inside, PaPo saw them for the first time: grubby kids like himself. Skateboarding. In the park. On a ramp.

I thought it was phenomenal,” Capiello, now 41, recalls of the first time he saw the Zoo York skaters. “I’d never seen anything like that.” Actually, “ramp” was too kind a term for what Kessler, who was skating that day, calls “rickety pieces of shit.” They were the most basic of eight-by-four planks, usually purloined from unattended construction sites on weekends. (One night, the skaters found a good stash at a site outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, then had to haul the wood across Central Park and into Riverside.) First at the 95th Street off-ramp and later at 116th and Riverside, the skaters shoved the wood up against whatever structure could sustain it and battered it into place with bottles and rocks. Then they would toke up and, with the Hudson River providing as much of a scenic background as they were likely to find, push off on their boards and aim full speed at the concave wood: Up the ramp . . . almost to the top . . . back down. Try again!”

There’s a Facebook page chronicling the rebuilding effort here. The park is currently open from Thursday through Monday, 11 a.m. until 7 p.m., but hours change often so check the up-to-date hours here. Its closed on Tuesday and Wednesday. Despite the big-air photo above, there are lots of small kids who skate there too.

NEWS, OUTDOORS | 6 comments | permalink
    1. wombatUWS says:

      This sounds like a great addition to a rather boring part of the city. Nice to see the restoration and the building of Skate enthusiasts for years to come. Bravo !

    2. NikFromNYC says:

      Learning to fall when young or even not so young, is prudent.

    3. Drew says:

      A fitting remembrance for Andy, if he were still with us, he would be honored.

      RIP KESS

    4. Ben Austin says:

      Thank you for remembering Andy. RIP KESS.

    5. ian says:

      Great story, great exposure for Riverside and great pic of Jacob, hope to see more skaters at Riverside.

    6. Ruth Kessler says:

      Enjoyed the lovely article you wrote about my son. Thank you