Public Housing Skate Team Proves You’ve Been Sleeping on The Bronx
Sometimes it seems like skating is just the newest fling of fashion’s many trendy romances. As the two communities move closer and closer together, there are plenty of brands utilizing skating for its marketability and popularity. That isn’t the case with Public Housing Skate Team, or its founders Vlad and Ron. As a pro-skater with his own label, Vlad is redefining what it means to break free of labels, sponsorship, and his neighborhood by staying true to his roots. Both a serious filmmaker attending Pratt Institute and professional athlete, Vlad has the kind of charisma and never-ending ambition that’s hard to say no to, coupled with a genuine sense of humility and humbleness that makes him instantaneously likeable. We sat down with the Bronx skater to ask about how he got his start and what’s on the horizon for Public Housing Skate Team, otherwise known as PHST.
You’re from the Bronx. How did you first encounter skateboarding?
I’m from Gun Hill in the Bronx, and basketball is really big in Gun Hill. I was taking basketball very seriously, going to all the big camps, and I was planning on playing in the NBA. When I was around 11ish I started watching skate videos, and then I met two skaters from my hood named Bryan and TJ and they started giving me tips and tricks on skating. Basketball is controlling, where the coach tells you what to do, and it’s more of a team thing. You don’t have much creative control. When I picked up skating, I basically stopped playing basketball. I was fully committed. I still play basketball here and there, but I don’t do it professionally: I skate.
When did you start getting more serious about skating?
I can express myself through skateboarding. It’s an art form and a tool to be creative. I was skating the streets, but never really skateparks. That mentality of being in a skatepark limits me, while the streets give me room to express myself through different obstacles. From there I started a crew called Bronxhood riders when I was like 15. All the skaters were older than me, but I was like, “Yo guys, we should start a crew.” We all had nicknames—they used to call me SkyHigh. Neil, who is on Public Housing Skate Team now, was SuperNova. People got older though. Some guys stopped skating, some guys had kids. I always wanted to take skateboarding to the next level professionally, but I didn’t know how to do it.
How did Public Housing Skate Team get started? Can you talk a little about the name?
It’s already really hard to get sponsored but I was in the Bronx, where no one skated, and I didn’t see any sponsors out there who could represent me fully and who I am. My friend Ron and I had played basketball together, and he saw me quit basketball for skating. One day we sat down and came up with the idea of starting something to represent me, from the hood. Nothing fake. I wanted to do something that really represented skaters who come from my neighborhood or can see that vision. We founded it around 2015. Ron and I literally live in Gun Hill housing, and I’ve lived around there all my life. Ron came up with the name, because if we’re from the hood then we should have a name that represents that. Gun Hill has a big basketball team, and Ron started thinking what would that look like if it was a skateboarding team? How would they dress? How would they skate?
Ron came up with the name, because if we’re from the hood then we should have a name that represents that.
How did you first get the message out about PHST?
Ron made a t-shirt, and I was like alright, and put it on [laughing]. We started reaching out and communicating with skaters. Our first shoutout was from ProTokyo, a skate shop in Japan. Then Grind magazine got one of our t-shirts and explained who we are and where we’re from. From there we started doing more designs and embroidery. Rappers started picking it up, and it feels like it became a fashion thing by accident, because it’s really just a skate brand. I design the boards and Ron designs the clothing, and we ship it everywhere now. It’s cool that anyone would see the t-shirt and buy it and support us. It’s cool that they see the vision that I’m trying to create. So let’s do shit.
Tell me a little bit about the target mark on your designs.
Ron and I always say that the inspiration comes from our neighborhood, and we basically started the brand to get out of the hood. Looking outside is our mood board, so it came from minorities being targeted by the police and government. There’s a lot of negativity in our neighborhood, but I try to make the negatives positive. In our first video “Thug” I transformed a gun into a board. The skateboard is our weapon, and we use the board to destroy government property and stuff like that. That’s the point of using the target over the government logo for the New York City Housing Authority.
What kind of response have you gotten from the 14- or 15-year-old kids in the Bronx who skate? What advice do you have for them?
They like what it represents because it represents them. I knew when I started this brand that I wanted to represent someone who deals with the same stuff that I’ve gone through where I’m from, so they could look forward to something in their future. Now it’s not only basketball, it could be skating. I’d tell them to embrace the negatives and the positives. Try to take a step back and look at the bigger picture of what you can take part in, because you have to know how to position yourself in that picture. Really embrace where you come from, and the people you encounter every day, because those people really shape who you are. Try and impress yourself. That’s what I try and do when I skate. It’s important to speak up. I feel like artists are changing the world every day, and artists help people that can’t speak out. We’re leaders.
You’re a film major at Pratt, right? How does your interest in filmmaking connect with your career as a pro-skater?
People get bored when they watch skate videos. If you show a skate video to a normal person, like my mom or grandma, they’re like “ok.” But I want to make videos that are more captivating and have a storyline, where I can be a little more experimental. I want to show stuff that I see on a day-to-day basis. In the first video for PHST there’s a sound in the background of a guy talking, and it’s a Japanese actor from the film A Colt Is My Passport (1967), which is one of my favorite 007 types of movies. So I’m inspired by stuff like that, and that’s why I’m studying film at Pratt. I also do photography, so I’ll go out and shoot black and white, and it helps me to see things in a different way.
Try to take a step back and look at the bigger picture of what you can take part in.
What is your ideal path for the next couple of years? What do you want to be doing?
Skating. I’m also looking forward to shooting my film in the Dominican Republic. I’m writing the script for that right now. It’s inspired by true stories about my family and my uncles. One of them just passed away, but he was a gangster in the DR and the stuff he did was insane. The other one was shot in the face with an AK47. It took his whole jaw off. He hasn’t spoken for five years. So I’m also making a documentary about him. I’m interested in a hybrid of documentary and narrative styles.
I’m also looking forward to the 2020 olympics. It’s the first time skateboarding will be involved. I don’t know if I should do it because skateboarding is really going to change after that, but I think it would be important to be a part of that with the Dominican team.
Do you want to stay in the Bronx?
Yeah. It’s cool to travel too, but I definitely want to own a piece of the Bronx. I don’t think I would make a ton of money and bounce. It’s important to give back to the community, not just by giving money to some foundation, but actually going there and building something. Even reconstructing the way people live and housing, if I can get to that level. Changing the whole thing, and changing skaters’ mentalities there and pushing skateboarding to its boundaries.
Does PHST have any new projects on the horizon?
I’m working on a skate video called “Targets.” For each part of the series we’re going to post it and get public feedback and get comments. That’ll hype the skater up, or get them to go harder. The name “targets” is referencing skate spots. Skating in the Bronx, my advantage is it’s still untouched. We’re exposing these hidden areas through the videos. That’s the mentality of a skater too — going to a spot that no one knows about and doing something that no one’s thought of. Skating is different now with Instagram, and people post all the time, so we might as well participate.
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