Interview by Anthony Pappalardo / Photos by Rob Collins
Skateboarding is a unique culture—it’s happening all the time, anywhere someone imagines it possible. In New York City, you can see it on Times Square billboards, fashion magazines, the mongo-pushing longboarder on the way to the office; it’s everywhere. As a New York resident who co-owns a brand and skateshop, creates art, and manages to put out quality footage, “Lurker” Lou Sarowsky is deep in what draws people to New York—’cool things.’ But for Sarowsky, it’s not as much about vanity as it is experiencing and documenting his first love.
Born in Massachusetts, Sarowsky began skating in 1990s Cape Cod—a tourist haven of beach communities, fried seafood, fishermen, and not much else. It was there that he met Zered Bassett, longtime friend and pro skater, and Broderick Gumpright, co-founder of Orchard in Boston. Unlike Gumpright, Sarowsky wasn’t pulled north. He ended up in Lower Manhattan in the early 2000s, crashing on a couch and skating non-stop.
Sarowsky’s 2015 has been busy, balancing a full-time job, filming for a part for Prize Fighter Cutlery, and operating a retail space called Rollgate Skates in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The latter boasts a well-curated selection of product, vintage items, Iron Claw Skates boards, along with his custom ‘Card Boards.’ The tiny space can quickly becomes chaotic with neighborhood kids, and like any good shop, it’s a place to talk shit. Known for his opinions, most famously when he was edited into the “bad guy,” on Slap’s One in a Million, Sarowsky’s sarcasm and jabs can be misconstrued as mean, but on the East Coast, we just call that having a conversation.
What are some memories of moving to NYC and staying in the Vicious Cycle house? There had to be a lot of characters coming through.
Billy Rohan was constant entertainment to me. Also going out skating with RB and Giovanni Reda was fun, because I learned a lot from those guys—RB was super nice and Reda was constantly busting my balls. I like to earn my keep by cleaning, even though I didn’t have to. The first few months I crashed in the living room, so it was like just keeping my own room clean. But when we had a bunch of dudes staying there I would hate when it got messy with beer cans all over the coffee table and a blooming onion ashtray. Jack Sabback was the best house guest and Tony Montgomery was the messiest.
Right now we’re at a saturation point with brands, shops and parks and that will change for sure. ICS and Rollgate seem to be coming from a totally different place though. What inspires them?
I see Iron Claw in the same sense as my personal skate following—it’s never been so big, and I like keeping it small and manageable. Tyler Mate, my partner, finds his inspiration behind the company through his love for punk and reggae music, and mine comes from my art and American culture that doesn’t always get too much shine anymore–1980s sports icons, cardboard box art, and 50s-70s adverts. Rollgate just tries to stick to the old roots of skateshops—a place where you can sell and trade, provided you have decent stuff. And don’t feel shy about drinking or smoking at the shop either. It’s got a real neighborhood vibe– a mix between punks and Puerto Ricans.I’ve gotten to know the neighborhood freaks. This guy Richie that comes into the alley five times a day has told me everything from his uncle is John Gotti to he has a grenade and is gonna blow up my store.
What got you interested in that juxtaposition of trading cards and skateboards?
Well, I grew up as a heavy card collector then got major into skating in 1995, and after moving into New York City, I got into creating art. So, I took three decades of my life and combined them all into one. Having the storefront just keeps all my art excisable for people to see in the real and gives them a chance to ask me about my process.
There’s a sense of history in everything you do. Why is it important to know skate history—the good, the bad, the ugly?
If you don’t know your past, you have no future in what you’re doing. The past has presence in the future constantly. You see it with all these kids wearing baggy, light-ass denim jeans and basic rubber toed Huf shoes that look like Salman Agah Vans. I liked it back in the day when someone like Henry Sanchez threw your board in the water at Pier 7, but he was still your favorite skater even after that. Now you don’t say hi to some kid and you’re “the biggest dick ever.” I wish the EMB mentality was still around—ugly but true. There’s not enough regulating on dummies anymore.