Billy Rohan

December 20, 2010

The New School

How cool is Manhattan’s New Design High School? How about this: They offer skateboarding as an alternative to gym class. Part of the reason they can do that is they have an awesome skate park on their roof, which is used for contests and after-school programs. The skate park probably wouldn’t exist without the support of pro skater Billy Rohan, who has been spreading the gospel of skateboarding to the kids for years and working with non-profit organizations and schools. We met Billy on the roof and chatted about, basically, how awesome everything around us was.

How did the idea of skating on the rooftop come about?
Billy Rohan: Well, The Rooftop came about when I started working for Open Road of New York, a local non-profit organization. The founder, Paula Hewitt asked me to come and check out the rooftop of a high school. She did not know if we could actually use it, but thought it would be great to turn it into a skate clinic. So we went and met with graffiti artist Jesse Piaz who happens to be the dean of the school who agreed that it would be perfect for a skate park. When we opened the door to the roof, we were blown away by the size of the space. It was one full city block on a rooftop, completely safe and caged in.

How did you get all the materials up there to build the thing?
BR: We reused ramps from our first contest, The King of Spring, which was at 12th and A, a different high school where we have a skate program going on. We transported all the pieces downtown to New Design and literally, like army men, one at a time we brought each piece of material up to the rooftop. The older dudes were not as motivated to do all the heavy lifting, then the high school students who were just like, “Man I wanna get this piece together and skate it.” We all really wanted to skate it before summer came so, we had the whole set up on the rooftop within 3 days.

So what is the high school like? What’s the class like that you teach?
BR: Since we have been skating the rooftop, four different high schools have formed in the building, three of which have begun to skate the roof. I teach an after school skate class two days a week up to them in the spring and the fall. We are working on getting sponsors to make having it open every single day of the year possible. It would be awesome to raise enough money to hire a skate life guard to be on duty, kind of like when you go to the swimming pool, there is a life guard there, instead of some kind of nanny. Adult supervision will be provided, so that anyone who wants to come up and skate can, whenever. Show an ID, sign in and just do your own thing, you’ve got this awesome skate park on the roof to skate at, that looks like the old World Industries skate park.

That’s a sick idea. You would be giving back job opportunities to the skate community out here and the opportunity for anyone who wants to check it out to be able to just hit it whenever.
BR: That’s the big hope because it’s no good when you have parks and places that have somebody that doesn’t skate in charge that you have to listen to all day, yelling at kids to put a helmet on. Obviously, kids are going to choose to go and skate anywhere they want, where they don’t have to deal with that. Imagine how cool it is to have someone cool–like say Rodney Torres running the Maloof Park in Flushing Meadows, or us over at 12th and A–in charge. Kids feel like they are part of their scene. It’s kind of like a basketball thing up in Harlem where kids’ coaches all used to be the ones they looked up to who used to play ball.

What’s in store for New York for the future with more spots to skate?
BR: We have all these parks popping up. You’ve got Maloof Park, the Tribeca Plaza in the city, the Astoria park, and the one in the Bronx. There is such a large number of ever-growing parks popping up around the city and we are keeping up with our contests. I think you are going to start seeing a lot more kids coming out in the skate scene.

Playground Design

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