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Board Bashing: The Long and Short of It

By Brad Williams    

The hum of four soft urethane wheels gliding over abrasive asphalt has become a common addition to the noises on the streets of New York, as longboarding continues to grow in popularity. Far from the stereotype of skateboarders (teenage boys, or young men with long hair and tattoos), the people riding longboards range from businessmen, to young mothers, and even young children. They often ride together in groups of three or more on long-distance cruises. They can be seen nonchalantly whizzing by traffic and pedestrians on the city’s streets without doing a single trick, on boards of various shapes and sizes but longer than three feet in length. One rider might be 5 years old, and the next rider might be 50.

Photo by Brad Williams

Photo by Brad Williams

Many people refer to these boarders as skaters – and that leaves those on the other end of the skateboarding spectrum – trick skaters – fuming. While outsiders might see longboarders and shortboarders as two families of the same clan, the participants see themselves as rivals.

In the past five years, longboarding has reached new heights in popularity. As more and more longboarders coast through the streets of New York City, many shortboarders frown in disapproval.

The basis of the dispute is the style of board used by the rider. In general, there are three types of skateboards:  trick boards (also referred to as “regular” and “short” boards) used primarily for executing numerous tricks; longboards, mostly used for transportation and riding at high speeds, and cruisers, a varying mixture of both.

Longtime skater and Roll America skateboarding instructor John Jackson is displeased with the increase in longboarding. “It feels like they outnumber us now,” Jackson said. “When I would skate around 10 years ago, I’d see skaters everywhere, riding in groups, now I just see a bunch of longboarders clogging up the bike lanes.” Founded in 1988 by Joel Rappelfeld, RollAmerica offers rollerblading and skateboarding lessons and says it works with more than 50 elementary and middle schools to teach students.

Longboards, significantly longer than trick skateboards, require less effort and can reach much faster speeds. Most longboards have wheels twice the size of regular skateboard wheels, to handle rough surfaces and add momentum when in motion. Longboards are primarily used for transportation.

Jackson said beginners were the “most annoying thing” about the rise in longboarding.

“As an instructor, I encourage my students not to start out with a longboard. It’s too easy to reach high speeds, and beginners can’t keep control,” he said. ”It’s like driving a Corvette the very first time you drive a car, you’re a danger to yourself and everyone near you.”

“I can count four longboarding deaths in New York City since 2012. I can’t think of a single person dying from trying a trick here,” Jackson said. “And we skate all of the ramps and rails that most people think are so dangerous! It’s all from a lack of experience and comfort on a board.” According to the Web site Skaters for Public Skateparks, two skateboard-related deaths occurred in New York City in 2012.

By Jackson’s definition, the majority of the city’s longboarders should not be referred to as skaters because they have not spent countless hours bettering their skills through trial and error.

“What can you fail at as a longboarder?” Jackson asked. “Riding down the street? Outside of the hardcore longboarders, who have complete control at speeds above 15 miles per hour, longboarding is not a demanding activity.…Is anyone who rides a bike considered a cyclist? No. They should only be referred as longboarders.” he added, “Longboarding is more like surfing or snowboarding than skateboarding.”

Jeff Gates, an avid longboarder and the founder and owner of Uncle Funky’s Boards in the West Village, said there’s not just a link between longboarding and board sports such as surfing and snowboarding, but that the latter are “the root of all skateboarding”– meaning that skateboarding as a whole evolved from surfing.

“Longboarding is as simple as riding,” Gates said. “You can get the gist of it in a matter of hours, while street skating requires a lot more practice and dealing with injuries.”

Gates said that trick skaters embrace skateboarding as part of their identities, and aren’t happy to see people who just bought longboards being referred to as skaters.

“When a dude who’s been doing tricks for 15 years sees a guy in a suit riding a longboard to work on Wall Street, he’s pissed,” he said.

Unlike Jackson, Gates believes that a longboard is an ideal choice for newcomers for a multitude of reasons: “It’s longer and wider than a standard board, so it has more room to stand on and is more stable. Its wheels are much larger, so riders don’t have to worry about tripping over every crack, twig or pebble, and it’s just easier to turn on.”

Gates admits that the ease of reaching high speeds is a potential danger, but advises that all riders should do their best not to skate outside of their abilities. In addition, he suggests a change in philosophy: “Everybody can skate, everybody should skate. It’s fun, and it’s easy…And I think skaters have tried to keep that secret for too long—to protect it like it’s their own. But it never was their own, and it never should be their own: it’s for everybody.”

One Year Later: Recollections of Sandy

Hurricane Sandy’s impact on the Northeast was so devastating that many people are still recovering a year later. The storm victims tell stories of searching for loved onesrebuilding destroyed businesses and escaping floodwaters. These four New Yorkers talked about how Sandy affected them and continues to affect them to this day.

Rockaway Beach, Queens after Sandy. Photo by Henry Wu

Rockaway Beach, Queens after Sandy.
Photo by Henry Wu

Located in Manhattan’s Financial District, 17 State Street is a 42-story building that houses commercial offices in industries ranging from software to insurance and serves as a workplace for many New Yorkers. When Hurricane Sandy hit in October 2012, the building sustained costly damages. Building Manager Deloy Stoll can recall the experience all too well.

Reporting by Brad Williams

Gary Griffith is a retired New York police officer, but it was his summer house in Brick, N.J., that took a hit. He discussed his Hurricane Sandy experience and where he stands now.

Reporting by Taylor Bilecky

One lesson that could be useful in preparing for future storm was the use of food trucks to distribute hot meals to the worst-hit neighborhoods. The co-owner of the Mexico Blvd. food truck, Jordi Louisa, talked about how he was able to join other food-truck operators to help out.

Reporting by Peter Bell

Just after the storm, Irina Bondartseva’s home in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, seemed fine, but she later found it would need four months of renovation.

Remembering Sandy in Photos 

RelatedRecollections of Sandy by the Editor-in-Chief

Devastation and Dislocation…

Call it a hurricane, a superstorm or a frankenstorm, Sandy ravaged the New York metropolitan area, leaving death and destruction in its wake and many months of recovery ahead. In the photos and unedited blog posts that follow, Baruch students reported on the unfolding horror. Also, Juliya Madorskaya details her escape from the flooding, Malynda Salamone tells of her efforts to get word on the safety of her father, who was in a nursing home in Far Rockaway when the storm hit, and Justin Goldberg and Elisha Fieldstadt recount a Lower Manhattan restaurant’s struggle to reopen.

See more storm coverage here…

Originally published on November 9, 2012.

How ‘Little Ukraine’ Transformed Through the Decades

Story and media by Anastasia Medytska

Little Ukraine

A sign outside Veselka pays tribute to the neighborhood.

These days, the East Village is filled with hipsters slinging back $2 beers at Sly Fox or satisfying a 3 a.m. craving for pierogi at Veselka without any knowledge of the rich Ukrainian history behind these neighborhood hotspots.

Behind the overcrowded bar, above shelves stocked with an array of Ukrainian vodkas, hangs a sign with the words “Lys Mykyta,” or Sly Fox, in Ukrainian. The dive bar resembles a log cabin in the famed Carpathian Mountains, which is why it also goes by a second name, known only to the Ukrainians that frequent it during off-peak hours, the Karpaty Pub.

Just one building over, on the corner of Second Avenue and Ninth Street, sits Veselka Restaurant, open 24 hours to accommodate the merry revelers of Sly Fox and places like it. From movies like “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist,” where the titular characters grab a late-night meal near the end of the movie, to “Gossip Girl,” where Blair and Dan nosh on pierogi, Veselka holds a place in pop culture.

What its multitudes of visitors don’t know is that it opened as a result of the Ukrainian diaspora, when multitudes of Ukrainians fled a Soviet-controlled nation after World War II.

The neighborhood — with its unbeatable nightlife, cheap eats and Japanese markets — has a past teeming with Ukrainian culture. From retro eateries like the Stage Restaurant to kielbasa connoisseurs’ favorite meat market, Baczynsky, first-generation Ukrainians built a neighborhood to carry on their culture. Today, that heritage is sometimes easy to miss, but pockets of the past remain.

“I’m proud that they are still keeping the culture alive,” said Olha Medytska, a first-generation immigrant and teacher at St. George Ukrainian Catholic School, a K-12 school located on Sixth Street and Taras Shevchenko Place, which was developed for Ukrainian immigrants during times of mass immigration. “Although the majority of my students are not Ukrainian, they are still required to learn the language and they do it great! It’s good that it hasn’t been closed down; I’d be sad to see that.”

As the neighborhood, known as Little Ukraine in the 1950s, has changed and gentrified, its population has changed, too.

Surma Book & Music Company, a Ukrainian shop that opened in the 1800s, has weathered the changes, including several waves of Ukrainian immigration.

“At the end of World War II,” says Natalia Yezerska, a Ukrainian immigrant and active member of the Ukrainian-American community, “thousands of Ukrainians fled a country overtaken by the Soviet Union. They knew they could never come back to their motherland and so they developed their own ‘Little Ukraine’ here in New York to hold onto their culture.”

In the following decades, places like Veselka and the Baczynsky Meat Market opened. “These immigrants worked hard to ensure that the generations to come would know what it means to be Ukrainian, without ever visiting the country,” says Ms. Yezerska. They opened restaurants, shops, bars, schools and after-school activities.

Then came another wave of Ukrainian immigration. “In the 1990s, post-Soviet collapse, Ukraine finally gained independence and with it, Ukrainians earned the freedom to emigrate to America. This caused what is known as the fourth wave of immigration,” Ms. Yezerska says. Many came to Manhattan, which had everything they needed to comfortably settle into a foreign country.

Ms. Medytska, the teacher at St. George, came with her family during the fourth wave. “I was lucky because I had family here already but this community helped me be more comfortable and I know it helped so many people who didn’t know anyone or a word of English,” she says.


Wares inside Surma showcase Ukrainian heritage.

And so the Ukrainian community blossomed anew.

Ukrainians are fiercely proud of their cultural heritage, all the more so that it survived Soviet domination. Even though they may no longer flock to Manhattan, as a result of rising rent prices and falling immigration, Ukrainians still make the trip for a piece of Little Ukraine on weekends.

Every Saturday morning, throngs of Ukrainian parents come to the East Village to engrain some Ukrainian culture into their American-born children. The typical day starts with Ukrainian school in the morning. There are two such schools in the area, one housed in the St. George School building and another, a block away on Second Avenue, in the Ukrainian National Home.

Children learn the Ukrainian language, as well as history and customs in classrooms adorned with Ukrainian flags and symbols. Afterward, they go to either PLAST or CYM, two international Ukrainian Youth organizations. In khaki uniforms adorned with badges and medals, the idea is similar to scouting.

However, instead of selling cookies and tying knots, the children learn Ukrainian songs and poems and do fun activities for holidays, such as Easter egg painting. The day doesn’t stop there for some. Many children also attend dance classes, either at the Roma Pryma Bohachevska School of Dance or with a small group in St. George, where they learn Ukrainian folk dances.

Meanwhile, parents shop at Baczynsky meat market, the only remaining Ukrainian meat market in the neighborhood (once, there were three), and visit the Ukrainian National Credit Union, which has branches nationwide. They might grab a meal at the Ukrainian East Village Restaurant or go to a party in the Ukrainian National Home. Then they drive back to Connecticut, Brooklyn, New Jersey and upstate New York, only to come again for church at St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church on Sunday mornings.

The locals, many of whom are not Ukrainian, support the businesses on the days there are no Ukrainians coming in from the suburbs.

“This is a place for Lower East Side hipsters on weekends. Many of the young people here don’t even know it’s Ukrainian until they spend some time here,” said Ariel, a bartender at Sly Fox. Places like the Stage Restaurant, Veselka and Sly Fox have become culture icons for locals, a reminder of New York’s ethnic niches and of days gone by.

With the support of both visiting immigrants and local New Yorkers alike, Little Ukraine thrives on.

A Skateboard Entrepreneur Draws Inspiration From New York Food Trucks

By Sean Creamer

Tre TruckSkateboarding has enjoyed a boom in New York City during the last decade, as the Bloomberg administration has doubled the number of skate parks.

With new parks in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan new businesses have emerged to meet the rising demand, among them the so-called Tre Truck. On any given day, outside the parks, you’re likely to spot the plain silver-sided self-proclaimed “World’s Finest Mobile Skateboard Shop” parked at a nearby curb.

The Tre Truck is owned by Alex Ritondo, 21, a skateboarder and entrepreneur who drew his inspiration from the food trucks that can be found throughout the city. The Tre Truck travels from the Lower East Side skate park under the Manhattan Bridge to the newly constructed Far Rockaway skate park and to points in between.

The goal is to bring hard goods — the skateboard decks (the platform on which the boarder stands), trucks, the turning apparatus and wheels — directly to skaters at prices comparable to those in a moderately priced skate shops. At an average skate shop, decks usually go for about $60 and trucks for $40.

“Skateboarding has always been my passion,” says Ritondo, his brown shaggy hair tucked under a baseball cap. “I originally wanted to open a shop. Me and my friends always talked about it.”

With skate shops, as with many businesses, location is a key element. And “a good location for a skate shop is going to cost a lot of money,” adds Ritondo.

Rent on the Lower East Side, a popular skate location — the Lower East Side skate park, on Monroe Street, is a regular stop for Ritondo — ranges from $2,000 to $3,000 a month, according to Tungsten Properties, a commercial real estate company in Manhattan. (Most local skate shops pay $25,000 to $100,000 a year, or roughly $2,000 to $8,000 per month, according to ReferenceUSA.)

Then, too, in the last few years a few skate shops have closed, in part because of a weak economy, but also because gentrification has pushed the shops’ customer base—typically young 20-somethings—to other neighborhoods in the outer boroughs.

A graduate of Borough of Manhattan Community College with a degree in entrepreneurship, Ritondo skateboarded daily while at school and decided to reimagine the idea of the traditional skate shop to make his dream a reality.

A traditional skate shop acts as the headquarters for a community of skateboarders. The shop typically purchases merchandise wholesale from larger suppliers who supply similar shops all over the country.

The Internet has taken some business away from brick-and-mortar retailers. But for die-hard skateboarders, the local skate shop/hangout is still the preferred locale for buying equipment and accessories, including skateboard brand shirts, shoes and other items that define the lifestyle.

While Ritondo couldn’t afford to open a skate shop, he saw opportunity in the proliferation of new parks.

“I don’t think that Tre Truck would have been sustainable without the creation of all the skate parks,” says Steve Rodriguez, a skateboarding legend in New York City who also owns Five Boro Skateboards. “Tre Truck needs that concentrated audience to do enough business to make it worth it.”

Ritondo bought a used truck from a friend on Long Island with savings and help from his family. He also got help from some of the bigger players in the city’s skateboard industry.

For example, Michael Cohen, shop manager of the Shut Skateboards brand and flagship store in the Lower East Side, agreed to let Ritondo open an account to sell Shut Skateboards.

“It is a win-win situation, people will buy from the Tre Truck and then come to the store,” says Cohen who has known Ritondo for several years. “At the same time we get kids who come here and we will tell them to check out the Tre Truck at their local park.”

The Tre Truck, which has been operating since September, has brought in about $10,000 in revenue so far. Ritondo knows that he will need to increase sales substantially in order to stay in business. He is hoping one day to franchise the operation and have trucks operating throughout Long Island.

Then too, skateboarding is seasonal and there isn’t much business in the winter.

Despite these challenges, Ritondo wins praise from both competitors and customers. “We offer a lot more variety, but what they are doing is a cool idea,” says Lennon Ficalora, the owner of Wampum skate shop on the Lower East Side.

Skaters like Frank Nicado, a regular at the Chelsea Piers 62 skate park, are often on the lookout for Ritondo. “The Truck just always has what I need,” says Nicado. “When I lose a bolt or a bearing they are always willing to hook me up.”

At Chelsea Piers, the NHL Seems Very Far Away

By Alex Mikoulianitch

The year was 1994. The New York Rangers eliminated the New Jersey Devils, their cross-river rivals in the Eastern Conference finals, advancing to the Stanley Cup finals, where they beat the Vancouver Canucks for their only Stanley Cup since 1940.

For Elvis Tominovic that was enough to spark a passion in the young Croatian immigrant that would lead him to play for his country’s national team.

Paul Durante

Paul Durante, goalie for the Steiner Stars, follows the puck as it circles along the boards to his left. Photo by Carlos Mendoza.

And there his dream ended. Like Ivo Mocek, Tom Lambertson and Paul Durante, his teammates on the Steiner Stars of Chelsea Piers Division 1 adult league, their dreams of playing in the National Hockey League were not realized.

Even making the national team was long and arduous. From learning to skate, to learning the mechanics of the game and developing “hockey sense,” (the ability to make fast decisions on what to do when) Tominovic stood out. “Hockey was fun from the start, it was fast paced, lots of hitting and a lot of hard work,” Tominovic says. “It came to me naturally, even though I played it from sunrise till sunset as a kid. My first position was defense because I was a big kid growing up, and the coach put all the big kids on defense. I played defense until I was 14 and moved to Long Island, then the coaches put me at forward. I can play both defense and forward in men’s league.”

When he was young, Tominovic’s family wasn’t financially well off, and playing hockey is expensive, because of the cost of equipment.

For a good hockey stick, prices start near $100, and skates and protective equipment are far more. Because of his talent, Tominovic was helped by some of his coaches, and was able to get equipment and start training.

“The coaches started taking me under their wing and gave me old equipment to use and let my mother only pay half the fee for ice time,” he says. “Sometimes they allowed me to work at the rink in order to receive free ice time in return. Without their help I would have never played ice hockey.”

Tominovic developed into a strong, effective skater and played in college at SUNY Fredonia, in Division III of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Succeeding there was the key to Tominovic’s invitation to play for Croatia’s national team.


Opponents line up for a post-game handshake after the game at Chelsea Piers. Photo by Carlos Mendoza.

“I moved on to play for the Croatian National Team and from there they offered me a contract to play for Medvescak of Zagreb in Croatia,” he says. When he returned to the U.S., he played in the Eastern Professional Hockey League, a minor league. There, he realized that he didn’t have what it takes to make the NHL, that “the dream was fun, but hockey will not pay the bills.”

His teammate Paul Durante made it much closer to the NHL. Durante was a late bloomer; his mother didn’t want him to play hockey, saying he was a “china doll.” Only after his parents divorced was he able to play. “In order to get custody of me, my dad told me, ‘Hey Paul, if you come live with me I’ll let you play hockey’,” says Durante. “So I ended up playing hockey because my father wanted to spite my mother.”

He started to play ice hockey at the age of 11, though he says he “played street hockey since he could walk.”

Durante played in a bunch of junior leagues until he finally was invited to training camp by the NHL’s Hartford Whalers (now the Carolina Hurricanes). But injury intervened. While wrestling for his high school team, “I badly dislocated my shoulder and it ended my hockey career,” Durante says. “So I stopped playing when I was about 18 or 19.”

Another Chelsea Piers teammate, Tom Lambertson, came closer.

Growing up in Texas, he and his brother decided to stray from football and took up hockey. Living close to the rink helped.

From a young age, Lambertson attended a regional camp, played in high school, then at Buffalo State University, also in Division III. He left school and was noticed by a coach in the East Coast Hockey League.

The team was linked to the Montreal Canadiens, and some players who didn’t perform well in the NHL were demoted to where Lambertson was playing.

It was there that Lambertson concluded he wasn’t good enough to move on. Among the opponents he played against was Sidney Crosby, now with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who is among the three or four best players in the world when he’s healthy.

“He would just win the faceoff to himself, one guy would slash him on the hands and he would just be like ‘Okay, no,’ I’d try to grab him, he would be like ‘no’ and he’d go down the ice and score a goal,” Lambertson recalls.

Even though the players’ dreams didn’t turn into reality, playing at Chelsea’s Division 1 is more than enough now.

“You know it’s all about having fun,” said Mocek. “And I have that here, at men’s league.”