I wrote a while back that it’s cool to see new companies coming through with their own brand of skateboarding working out, bringing success and making an impact. I stand by that, but after speaking with Mark Nardelli of 5BORONYC I realise how important it is to understand where it all came from; find out about the real OG’s, the raw 90’s era. 5BORONYC is a company with a whole lot of heritage in the skateboarding world, run by guys who have been living it every day since they started, still with so much passion, constantly bringing new ideas to the table. Their experience speaks more than any introduction could.
The last two deck series released on 5BORONYC: The Airline series by Stephan Marx and the VHS series before it; are in my opinion some of the best looking decks out there, and there’s a lot of amazing stuff on the market right now. The decks are super clean, and as Nardelli says, would look equally good on your wall as they would under your feet. Some would argue that a skateboard graphic is just going to get trashed within half an hour of skating it, but for me, these decks represent something more important. The VHS series in particular harks back to an analogue era, which I still cling on to. I’m sure we can all relate to budget airlines and stacks of VHS tapes, we grew up with all this stuff, so I set out to find out more about the inspiration behind the 5BORO decks and ended up with a vivid picture of Nardelli’s nostalgia.
Since ’96 5BORONYC has been crushing it. The scenes back then, described below, sound amazing but the skateboarding now is just as raw as ever. When I first read this interview I wanted to go skate straight away and I hope you will too, especially coming into longer, warmer spring evenings. Get yourself outside and see what’s out there, don’t be afraid of a bumpy road, in the words of Nardelli, ‘after a while everything will feel smooth’. Wise words indeed.
5boro has been going since 1996? How did you guys get started? What was the motivation to start it then? I was 6 at that time, so don’t really have any idea of what the skate scene was like – can you tell me about it?
5boronyc, aka 5boro, aka 5B has been a part of me for half my life. The name represents the five districts or boroughs, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island, which collectively make up The City of New York. Before we had product, we were a crew of about 15 who would skate together on the weekends heading out on skate missions throughout the city. Then we all started pitching in some cash to rent a van traveling up and down the East Coast. We would go to local events, skate with crews in every nook of the North East, then down south through Philly, DC, North Carolina and to Florida annually for Tampa Am. These trips were so insane, there would be so many of us in the van dying to get out and skate that when we showed up at a session it would just be a total raid. Like the long drive from NY to Tampa Am, van doors would pop open and we would swarm into the place skating in other people’s heats, at times maybe just a little too hyped to skate. Some loved us some probably still hate us; we definitely made a name for ourselves. Somehow we had enough support to get started and have been doing whatever it takes to keep 5boro up ever since 1996.
As for our motivation, basically, back then in the early to mid-90’s the East Coast had become a movement in skating and it was an explosion of things coming up – East Coast companies, magazines, videos, pros, very inspiring and motivating times, so that’s really what led to us evolving from a crew who skated together on the regular to a company that supplied boards to shops and family we wanted to support.
Not easy to convey the scene back then without sounding cliché, but it was a free for all. Security guards weren’t on skate duty yet, cameras and skate stoppers didn’t exist, and cops actually had real crime in the streets to handle. New York was a lot rougher then, and the scene made you a lot tougher. Along with skateboarding taking off on the East, there was a rad music and art movement…I remember kicking it with Bobby Puleo at the time who was collecting and assembling collages from found stuff in the streets. Going to art shows and seeing Gonz paintings on the walls of the Alleged Gallery in the Lower East Side. Looking for upcoming bands playing in the back of local newspapers, going to grimy little clubs to see ALL, Dinosaur Jr., Fugazi, Mike Watt, listening to The Stretch Armstrong and Bobitto Show on the radio at my friends place. Funny thing is you really didn’t know what was going on till now, 20 something years later and you look back on it and it’s like damn those times were rad.
How has the crew changed since it started, if at all? Who are the OGs?
OG – Dan Pensyl, has been with 5B before we had boards. There were many riders that had to bounce for a bigger pay check or whatever with bigger companies but Dan dedicated his skate life / career to 5boro all along and still with us today. From the UK I have to say John “The Wolfman” Dalton and Mackey…both maniacs that I am proud to say rode for us. I remember Mackey kickflipping into NY’s Downtown Legendary Courthouse bank to drop at night with no hesitation. Aaron Suski, first nice guy on 5B but could still fuck someone up if they gave him shit, like he did on our UK Tour in 2000. Today we still have the same values within our crew, but even more diverse. We have a melting pot crew of different ethnicities and styles on and off their board. Look at Willy Akers next to Karim Callender or Rob Gonyon skating next Jordan Trahan and Silvester Eduardo. The crew is diverse but a really tight family backing each other just like how we were was in the beginning.
Where are you guys based? What’s your work setup like?
Well we started out of Steve’s studio apartment in 1996. That was in the West Village. Then we grew a little and started to “warehouse” our product in the basement of a drug store around the corner from his place. Not long after I moved to the Lower East side and my apartment became the art department basically. We had a small office on Broadway downtown for a few years, but we realized it was better to put the money back into the company and bounced back to working out of our apartments. Tombo Colabraro lives in Brooklyn, but usually out skating with the crew on the daily, running the Instagram, keeping the team together, and getting footy in the bank. Brandon Jacobson runs our sales hustle working from home in LIC near Queens. Brandon and I are on the speaker phone for hours working through biz stuff, sometimes we forget were on the phone and then I go to make a call and I’m like oh shit B are you there still?… My small one bedroom apt in the Lower East Side of Manhattan is the HQ I guess, the team passes through, it’s a few blocks from Labor Skateshop and up the street from LES Skatepark, good location to stay in the mix with people visiting, pop out to meet with people for a coffee, lunch or quick session.
You distribute all over Europe now, how long has that been going on? Were there any challenges in getting that set up? Was there anyone in particular that helped you or that you couldn’t have done it without? Which stores in the UK do you stock?
Honestly, 5B was in the hands of skate bros for years all over the world. We would skate with people visiting NY get down and they would ask if they could sell 5boro in their country. They just saw what we were doing in NY, basically making rad stuff, selling it locally and hooking up our friends and then they just did the same in their country. Wes from Rock Solid is a perfect example of someone we met in New York skating and took 5boro on to grow it in England. The Challenges were always trying to keep the brand direction and sincerity straight as it grew in other countries and cultures which for a while was a little too loose, but now we have it under control. Our first tour in Europe was in 2000, that was insane…it became an article in Big Brother magazine where it even had a photo of this crazy chick I hooked up with, we referred to her as the sea hag – could of done without that in print, thanks Big Brother.
As for stores in the UK, Fifty Fifty is 5B Family, Lost Art because Macky is the man. Big Thank You to every shop that I know of supporting us in the UK cause every board, tee and hat getting stocked, repped, and rocked helps us bigtime. Shout out to Flatspot, Native, Skate Attic, Consortium, Drug Store, Yeuk, Bored of South Sea, Scene, Decimal, June, Projekt 21, Note, Magic Toast, Parlour.. So sick that we have luv in the UK. Thank You.
What are your favourite spots in NY to skate?
Was this brick bank with the flat rail next to it at St Vincents Hospital off 7th Avenue, but that just got demolished a few months ago. I’d say Flushing Meadow Park in Queens is probably one of the most epic places to skate. I still like skating these perfect granite ledges that kinda suck because the ground is so rough, they are near the Courthouse downtown and across from a place we used to call the new spot back in the day… if you skate rough spots enough it makes everything else seem smooth (opposite effect of skating skateparks). These empty basketball courts down by the projects next to the Brooklyn Bridge. Duane Reade ledges in Battery Park are fun to loop around with some flat tricks in between. If I convince myself to go to a skatepark, the LES Park under the Manhattan Bridge is fun when it’s not crowded. Most of all just cruising around the city, skating whatever feels right at the moment.
What are some favourite spots in the UK?
I remember skating and learning switch crooks on these stairs called the cheese ledges with Macky from Lost Art skateshop, that spot was sick back then. Jordan Trahan who was just in the UK and posted up in my apartment at the moment said the Glasgow Red Banks and New Bird in Liverpool are his favorites. Shout out to all that saved the South Bank! Loved following the save SouthB rally on Instagram.
You just released the Airline series, which is dope. How did you get together with Stefan Marx on that? What was the inspiration behind that series? Was it a shared concept?
Yes I agree, Airline Series came out so sick, simple graphics in a good style…Stefan’s drawing style gives things such a rad character…those boards have just enough graphic to make your board feel right, and still more than worthy of hanging on a wall. I’ve known Stefan for about 10 years, but he became one of my best friends a few years back while visiting New York staying at my place. Hurricane Sandy hit and knocked the power out in the city for almost two weeks. Living through that together wasn’t easy, could have really sucked, but we just made the most of the experience hanging out, surviving, which led to Stefan becoming a bro.
The inspiration to the series was easy, Stefan is an airplane nerd, and he always draws planes. I was just in Japan with him and he went to the airport 4 hours early so he could hit the observation deck to get a drawing session in. He has been drawing planes forever, but together we worked through the rounds of design…Stefan would draw the plane and I would work on the color, placement, branding details etc. We actually kicked it off while he was here in NY, taking a couple trips to JFK airport with the team to skate the banks out there, draw planes and a few portraits of the crew on the subway back. The Rob Gonyon portrait is right on the money.
I also really like the VHS series, definitely one of my favourite deck series I’ve seen for a while. Could you tell me a little bit about that series? Who designed it? What was the inspiration behind that?
The inspiration of the VHS series came about after I went home to visit my parents’ house and rescue my old VHS tapes from getting thrown out as they had already tossed a stack of classic decks. So I had all these VHS tapes that I saved, some were copies of my sponsor me footy and bootleg copies of classic skate videos from getting thrown out. I scanned the blank tape sleeves with all the 90’s techie graphics, then mocked them up on boards in Photoshop. The colors and all the type lock ups looked so sick. I was showing them to a design friend named Matt Tapia who lives in Hawaii but was in NY at the time and super into the idea. Matt is a master of type, logos and figured out how to authentically flip each one bringing the 5B VHS Series to life. Glad you like them, I think a lot of kids don’t know what they are but just like the aesthetic, and then there are a lot of people my age who do know what they are and got hyped as they remember the days of stacking blank VHS tapes.
What do you use to film? What do you prefer, digital or analog?
The first 5B promo dropped was on Super 8, transferred to video by projecting it on a wall while recording it with a camcorder on tripod, then made copies on VHS tapes from VCR to VCR. We’ve had our share of different formats to film with. Speaking for Tombo Colabraro who has a VX Camera tattooed on his arm, that’s probably our all-time preferred format, you can’t beat that classic skate video vibe, the square-ish format, the de-saturated hues of color, the trembling raw sound of skating, it’s how you want to feel skating down the street. Our last video Join or Die was all on a VX so we felt like changing it up this time working in HD, present the city, the skating, and our new generation coming up as crisp as possible.
Was the VHS series meant to be like a kind of homage or tribute to older filming methods?
The VHS series was honestly just design inspiration from my old tapes, but I had the idea sitting for like a year and never did anything with it. I revisited my mock ups looking through some folders on my computer and recognized its importance beyond its design strength, realizing its relevancy to the era of skating we all loved so much. As I we started to work on it I was thinking why hasn’t anyone done this yet which lit a fire to hustle on it hoping no one would do it before us. So yeah it’s a graphic design’s way of paying homage to the epic era of VHS footage and my generations’ blank tape technology branding memories.
How was this winter for you? We heard loads in the UK about all the storms and snow over in the US, what was it like? Where did you skate? Has it opened any new avenues or pushed you to find new and different spots at all?
Every winter I always tell myself this is my last winter here, but then you have a rad summer skating, Fall feels good, Holidays come and go, next thing you know you find yourself freezing our ass off again. I pushed myself all the way into January skating the coldest weather, but then we got hit with a solid 8 weeks of snow, rain wind and knocked all of us out for a minute. Spring is here now so we’re good again. I am sure the UK is no better, East Coast and Europe share the weather & raw terrain struggle.
As for new venues, there’s a handful of private bowls and mini ramps indoor but I just like skating ledges, flat and banks so I never feel motivated to go. If 5B was some big ass company and NY’s rent wasn’t so inflated I would totally open an indoor street spot. I always wanted to rebuild the Brooklyn Banks from scratch somewhere, can’t believe no big money company like Nike or someone hasn’t done that yet, guess it’s not practical and I am still looking for those spots from back in the days.
What’s high quality / low standards all about? Could you explain that a bit more?
Well it could mean we try to overachieve and put out stuff that is above the necessary par, which I believe we do or it could mean we appreciate the good shit but down to get down with whatever…you know what I mean.
What’s next for 5boro? What are your plans for spring / summer?
OK here’s my line up of projects and ideas to keep chasing the dream. To start I am working with an amazing painter in Brooklyn who paints these topless babes on beaches, so our summer series will be HOT. I have an idea for a series to follow up on that with some real classic shit, but I can’t let that one out yet. There’s a design storm on new 5B Hats, a bangin’ coaches jacket in the works and our very own cut & sew fleece coming sometime early Fall. As for filming, Tombo Colabraro has been smoothing out a first edit of our next video called 5BNY dropping this June, straight street skating from NYC, no bullshit. Also, been thinking to take my apartment rent and open up a small store somewhere far out in Brooklyn, move all my shit there including myself and call it Apt. 5B, just live and work out of the shop. We’ll see if I can afford a spot worth taking the plunge on. Maybe a radio station called W5BNYC, so many ideas but most importantly to stick to quality over quantity formula with no bullshit and take care of our crew.
Words: Will Sleigh
Images: Akiko Higuchi, Graham Tait and Zander Taketomo