February 16, 2011
NYC's OG Skate Park
For the last decade, Tompkins Square Park has been home to skate crews, some occasional goths, and just about any other Lower East Side lurkers you can think of. Skaters refer to it as “the TF,” which stands for the Training Facility. People from all over New York first started skating on the benches and over garbage cans back in the 90s, making it an informal skatepark, and Tompkins makes numerous appearances in early east coast skateboard videos. Eventually some skate shops popped up nearby and with the help of the skate community, built some grind rails, boxes, and launch ramps. Every morning, as the skate shops opened, kids would throw the props on some sketchy dollies and roll them across Avenue A to the park. Since then, the spot has become world renowned and one of the hippest places in the city for skaters, and a place for the rest of the city to post up with an iced coffee on a sunny day.
The name Training Facility gets taken pretty seriously. Every day of the week, skaters spend hours here perfecting their flat ground tricks, challenging each other to endless games of skate, and carting in any skate obstacle they can get their hands on.
Last time I was there snapping photos, I decided to chat with Dito Gil, a member of a skate crew called the Dunions to find out how the younger guys feel about the park. They put in countless hours on the square, working their way up to the top of the game, little by little.
How old are you and when did you first start skating the TF?
Dito Gil: I’m 14 now and I was about nine the first time I went to the TF. I remember being too intimidated to really skate it at first because there were so many people skating and shredding that day. I didn’t want to make a fool of myself. It wasn’t until I was about 11 that I started skating there. Nowadays, I hit it up just about everyday with my friends.
When you did eventually gather up the courage to skate the Tf, what was it like?
Well, it was just fun mainly because the ground was so good. I learned so much flat there, everyday after school. I would go hard, playing skate with my friends on flat ground all day. [laughs]
When did you first start getting up onto the skate obstacles?
After I started skating 12th and A, a spot up the block with plastic recycled benches I began trying my luck on the Tompkins rails and boxes. I liked skating at Tompkins a lot more because it was always a better vibe and motivating because there are different obstacles all the time as it goes through different phases of the skaters building them.
What’s your funniest story from all your time spent at the TF?
Well I think its always funny messing with the softball players. When they try to kick us out and we refuse to leave. I like to move their equipment out of the way, if they won’t let us have any of the area at all.
Do you know anyone whoever got hit with a ball?
Yeah, a bunch of us have gotten pegged. Whenever that happens, we throw it over the fence.
So what’s the story behind your crew, the Dunions?
It’s kind of dying out as time passes. They sort of split up between sorta-hood smoker kids and the non-hood skate rats. [laughs] They are all the kids I originally skated with at Tompkins. Someone came up with the name and we just went with it.