RIPPED RUINS: LOU CUCCARO OF METAL SKATEBOARDS.

Over the last few months, I’ve been trying my best through the written word, to pay homage to the skateboarding culture and history of Asbury Park. As a skateboarder myself, I felt it was something that was long overdue. Instead of waiting for someone else to do it, I figured I would give it my best effort. My second intent is to help inform people otherwise not involved with skateboarding of its value, while also helping push for a DIY park in the city.

To further pursue these goals, I’m interviewing key players in the Asbury Park skate scene from over the past twenty years.

Lou Cuccaro has been part of the Asbury skate scene going back to the hey day of Casino Skatepark and the Deal Lake pool. He has almost single handedly documented and preserved the Asbury skate culture and vibe through his company, Metal Skateboards.

Read on and hear from Lou himself about Casino, Deal Lake Pool, Metal Skateboards and Asbury Park.

ZAPPO: When did you start skateboarding and what was your first board?

CUCCARO: I started sometime around eight or nine years old, I got one of those plastic boards with cheap trucks and wheels. I had that for a few years. Then I got a little more into it, so for Christmas my parents got me a Nash Executioner. They said I could get a real board the following year, if I made good use of the Nash. Well I did, so that next year I got a Powell Lance Mountain. I was stoked, that was that, and to think I’ve been skating for twenty seven years is ridiculous to me. There are days I push down the street and it feels more comfortable then if I was walking down the sidewalk. It’s funny, sometimes you wish you still had your first board, just to hang up and know that’s where you came from. About two months ago I was working down in Ortley Beach and we were digging in the sand. My co-worker yells over and says he hit a skateboard. I walk over and end up digging up the same Nash Executioner I had as my first real wood board. It was the same color and everything, I was taken back! That was some real shit right there, staring at something I had picked up 26 years ago and basically took me to the place I am today. In all that Sandy destruction we happened to be digging right there, it brought a tear to my eye, you know? I picked that thing up and threw it in my truck. Now I’ll have it to hang on my wall and remember where it all began.

ZAPPO: When I was a kid coming up my skateboard heroes were guys like Gonz, Natas, Vallely, Matt Hensley and Ed Templeton. Who were the guys you were digging on back then and whose skating inspires you today?

CUCCARO: Matt Hensley for sure, we all dressed like him, tried to skate like him. Hell you hear this a lot, I must of had about fifteen of his “King-size” decks. It was the best board ever; he was the best skater when I got really into skating. Others were Frankie Hill, Natas, Dressen, Danforth, Grosso, Jason Jessee, and the whole Streets On Fire video was the shit. Those New Deal videos were in the mix too. Once the Blind video came out those were the guys to follow. Jason lee, Gonz, and Guy Mariano. Then in my later teen years, once Plan B hit the scene, that was that! All those guys ripped.

lou2Nosepick at Casino Skatepark. Photo Ryan Gee 1998 

ZAPPO: We lived through a handful of strange trends in skateboarding in the late 80’s and into the early 90’s. A lot of things changed really fast again and again in a small period of time. Big wheels, small wheels, microscopic wheels, and back to big wheels. Big boards, small boards, pop sickle stick boards, and back to bigger boards. Do I need mention the huge pants!? Skateboarding seemed to be trying to find its way so to speak. What are your memories of those transitional phases in skateboarding?

CUCCARO: Well I won’t lie, I went through all those phases, each and every one of them. As a kid I think you just follow the group of people you hang or skate with until you grow into your own. That’s the way it is usually. I wore big pants and shirts. I wore Skidz. I had big bulky shoes, small ass wheels, small ass boards, I had it all throughout my younger years. I think I fell into my own around my last year of high school. Normal pants, normal t shirt, Vans, basically what most skaters wear today. Skate shoes today are what skate shoes were like back then. Thin and no support what so ever. Then in the mid to late 90’s the shoes got real puffy, I tried to transition myself to that and did for a while. But always found myself back in a pair of half cabs or something like that. A few years back that tight pants thing came into play and they were hot at the time and I guess to some they still are. Luckily when your in your mid thirties, six feet tall and pushing two pounds they weren’t exactly my choice skate wear at the time. Thank God! As far as boards I have been riding the same set up since 1996. Nothing under 8.25”, wide trucks, swiss bearings, and 55mm wheels or bigger. That’s the way it’s been and that’s the way its gonna stay for me. There are a lot of trends that have come and gone. I have seen it all. I figure what has worked for me the last twenty years can’t be so bad if it’s still working. The one thing they have now we didn’t have back then are public skate parks. Our park then was a brick with some wood up it and a parking block. If we were lucky someone’s dad would build a quarter pipe, but those were scarce. Kids these days have no idea what it was like to come up skating back then. There was nowhere to go and it was not accepted by anyone. Growing up skating in the late 80’s to early 90’s, you were looked at like some sort of derelict.

ZAPPO: I felt like I was losing interest in skateboarding when that tiny wheel era was in place. But videos like Blind’s “Video Days” and a few years later Stereo’s “A Visual Sound” made me realize people were still going fast, smooth and skating with style. Then when the whole Philly thing started popping off, I really felt like skateboarding got a jolt of life back into it. How do you feel the Philly scene and its key players contributed to revitalizing and changing how people approached skateboarding?

CUCCARO: Well I am lucky enough to say I was there and saw that with my own two eyes. That for me was the most epic time in skateboarding. It changed the way I saw it, approached it, and molded me for the way I skate even to this day. Back in 1994 Eric Ruwadi brought me and Fred Gall to Philly on a simple weekend trip. Eric lived there at the time and had been telling us for weeks to get out there, but we were kids in school and didn’t travel that far to skate back then. One weekend we found a friend to drive and we went out there to see what it was all about. That weekend changed everything about skateboarding for me. See back here in Jersey we drove everywhere. Spots are so far apart you have to; it’s towns on top of towns. The only cities to skate were Red Bank, Long Branch, and Asbury Park. You sure as hell weren’t skating from one to the other. Plus there were only certain parts of town you could go skate without having problems from all the ghetto rats. In Philly every block down town had a spot, everything in between could be skated. It was like one giant skate park for me. I remember I had small wheels when I got out there and Eric handed me a big set for then, I think 54 or 55mm. He said put these on, your gonna need ‘em. After that I never looked back on wheel size. Now as time went on, I had one last year of high school to go. Fred dropped out and turned pro at fifteen, he just spent most of his time in Philly with Eric. All those guys did was skate. I knew I wanted to be there, it wasn’t until I got a car that I had a chance to go out to Philly every weekend. Things changed a lot at that point. I was meeting all these people like Matt Reason, Rick Oyola, Jerry Fisher and skating with so many different people. It was different than what I was used to back home, it just influenced me to change the way I skated. Everyone skated spot to spot. Everyone! Even film and photo guys, no one pushed switch mongo, you’d get shit talked to hell if you did. This was not only protocol for people like me that would skate with them on the regular. Even when pro’s would come from out of town and wanted to meet up to skate with these guys, they’d do the same thing to them. That alone had an influence on everyone. It was no joke, this was a full blown work out every single day. Now picture this, no internet, all this talk spread by word of mouth. It wasn’t until the Sub Zero video came out, then people actually saw what all the talk was about. From Rick and Sierge’s street skating down every block in Philly, to Matt and Fred’s rail and switch skating. In my eyes, I truly believe the Philly scene changed skateboarding to become what it is today. It changed it for me and so many people out there. You can’t deny that time and that history right there.

lou3Noseslide in Philly. Photo: Kelly Ryan 1995 

ZAPPO: You’re right! That whole Philly scene changed everything. That’s when I started riding big boards, like the Capital “Stamp”. It was about 8.75”. I was riding the Nicotine “Session Everything” 65mm wheels. Skating became riding a skateboard again, not just doing flip tricks. We skated everywhere and everything. It was amazing and those top Philly guys just blew my mind, especially Ricky. They laid the framework for all that, they opened people’s minds.

I was hanging out and skating in Philly a good amount back then. I used to chill at an apartment where a few guys from down this way had moved so they could be close to center city. They were a few blocks from City Hall. I remember seeing Fred Gall skating one afternoon and he had METAL written on his truck in black marker. Then sometime later I remember seeing the Metal Wheels. They were big wheels, bigger than 60mm and had a pretty thin profile if I remember correctly. I was amped on them because I loved big fucking wheels. In any event, what was the next phase for Metal Skateboards? How did it go from being a thought, to a skateboard “gang”, to an actual company?

CUCCARO: Well at this point we all were free to travel and do whatever we wanted. So the four of us packed our bags and went to San Francisco. Fred Gall and Jerry Fisher had been there before and knew it was sick. All those hills and spots all over the place. Once we were out there we all had to find spots to stay. Most of the guys stayed with the NYC crew and they set me up at Mike Daher’s house. Each day I’d leave Mike’s and go meet those other guys. I never really hung out there and then one day Mike wanted to know what we were getting into. I told Mike we were filming this video called “Metal”. I explained the whole thing to him. He was stoked and from that point on he came out almost every day, filmed and hung out. Over the short time we were out there Jerry Fisher was talking about doing boards. None of us really had a board sponsor, aside from Mike and Fred. It was a weird time in skateboarding, no one was doing their own shit. No one would just quit a company and take pocket money to start a new brand. The one’s that seemed like they did, back then, had “backers”. The backer was a guy that had money to throw around and skated. He usually wasn’t really caring about skateboarding, this is why most of those “legit” brands back then are no longer around. So when we got home, we had to buckle down and get a product line in order. There would be four boards. Mine, Mike Daher’s, Jerry Fisher’s, and a “team” board. Then wheels and t shirts. Now at the time we all rode abnormal skateboards. Everything was like 8.5” x 34” with a 15” wheel base. We rode Bones “Bombers” that were 60mm to 68mm. No one rode or really sold that stuff, so we had to design our own. People talked shit, saying we road man hole covers. In my mind, why I rode that stuff, I was bred to skate place to place after being in Philly for so long. I wanted the fastest way to get from point A to point B. Looking back on it now, we basically rode cruiser long boards, before there were cruiser long boards. We skated them like a normal boards too. So at this point, it’s 1997. We had shirts, wheels, and boards. The boards were blank at the time because those guys wanted them printed here for some reason. But they never got done, basically everything started to fall apart between us, nothing was getting done. In fact, I never saw nor owned my own pro board with the printed graphic, until I found one on Ebay about seven years ago and bought it. Eventually I spent most of my time with Fred, skating and traveling. We really didn’t see anyone else. Everyone was on their own trip, literally. It just wasn’t fun anymore, that camaraderie we had was gone. Fred, Brian Stevens and I split. We decided to do Metal on our own. I wanted to take what we built out in Philly and bring it home to New Jersey.

ZAPPO: So after things fell apart in Philly, you came back to New Jersey with the intent to continue Metal Skateboards. What was your new approach after some upsets and lessons learned? How did things play out once you settled back in Jersey?

CUCCARO: Well aside from a few new people, we had the basic crew. It was enough to continue Metal, with just a little bit of change. We changed woodshops, print shops, and the art aesthetic. At the time everything in the skate industry was hip hop or rap images. The basis of our company was driven by music as well, but mostly heavy metal music. So we adapted that into the art and lifestyle. Just pure evil graphics, with a taste for Jack Daniels and a wild life. It was different and no other company at the time had that art direction, so it set us apart. The guys in Philly were also still trying to do Metal, with the old graphic and art direction. So at that time there were two Metal skateboards, with different teams. We continued to film for the video when we could, but spent a lot of time going on skate trips and partying. We were just trying to get the name out there. About a year after we revamped Metal, a skatepark opened in Asbury Park. Finally a skatepark opened down the street from where I grew up. It was the best thing to happen to this area since Eatontown roller rink, which at the time I think was closed. I spent almost every day there and filmed as much as I could. That lasted about two years and then Casino skatepark closed. Soon after that, things also started dwindling down for us as a team and for myself in general. Some guys disappeared; most of us drank too much. My living situation wasn’t the best, I lost interest in skateboarding. Things were on hold for the next year or so. I still would print a run of t-shirts here and there, but that was it. I worked when I had a job and skated here and there. It was a shitty time, everyone has a low point and that was it, but as they say, it’s not over till the fat lady sings.

lou6Hurricane grind. Photo: Mike McLaughlin,  Spring 2013 

ZAPPO: I remember when Casino opened – it was huge for the local skate community. I remember taking trips to Hacketstown skate park every weekend in the winter months. It was the closest semi legit park we had and that place was not fucking close! Casino is a huge part of the skateboard history in Asbury Park, tell us more about it from your perspective.

CUCCARO: We went up to Hacketstown a lot too, but that park was more geared towards roller blades and BMX. It was just something you would hit up when the weather was bad or in the winter. Casino opened the doors for so many people. Skaters called it home and some now “local” bands got their Asbury Park start there playing shows. I met so many people because of that place, everything from that point on would not have been the same if Casino never opened. It was the only skatepark geared to skaters first and always. Skaters built the park, skaters made changes to the park, just everything in that place was all about skateboarding. That’s why it meant so much to so many people; to this day it still does. Once that place closed, most of us kept in touch and even worked on future projects. But there are a lot of people from there that went MIA. When you think about it, if that place was still around, maybe these people would be too. They wouldn’t be in jail or in trouble because they would’ve had a place to go. Once the park was gone, they had nothing! To this day, the fact that Asbury has no park blows my mind. With the history behind the skate scene and now that skateboarding is back in full swing, it would be something that would be lucrative to the town in so many ways. Now things are moving in the right direction, a DIY park for and by the skaters is in the works. The city is really backing the idea and they are currently scouting out locations.

ZAPPO: I skated the Deal Lake pool or the “Blue Pool” back in 1995 with Donny Binaco for the first time. I would have never expected at that time that the pool would become world famous in the skateboard community. Tell me about the scene there in the mid to late 90’s.

CUCCARO: Well once Casino closed, there was nowhere to go. Donny and Beaver were always talking about this pool they skated. I don’t really remember how it went down, but those dudes skated it. Then Donny moved in with a girl that lived next to it, once that happened, we were always over there skating. That pool was hands down the best pool on the east coast. It really didn’t get abused until one of our friends brought some girl there and she told all these heads in NYC. Then the secret was out, that’s when it started becoming a bust from time to time. It got to be a bit much with so many people coming from all over the US to skate this thing. The pool lasted a good five plus years. Then one day Beaver went there and saw a bulldozer. He called us immediately and that was it! He talked to one of the workers and they said it was getting torn out the following Monday. So we planned one big last session there for the Sunday before. Well word got out, the cops staked out the place, and took any locals they caught to jail. They let all the out of towners go free, it was fucked up. Eric, Richie, Eli and myself got away. Donny, Beaver and that crew got caught and booked for trespassing.

lou5Frontside blunt. Photo: Pat Malpass 2008 

ZAPPO: After the Casino and “Blue Pool” era, sometime around the early 2000’s the Metal graphics were inspired by Asbury Park iconic landmarks and images. Tell us about that chapter of Metal Skateboards, leading up to the release of “Decade of Destruction”.

CUCCARO: At some point near the end of the Casino days, I was hooking up Donny Binaco and Beaver with Metal shirts. That’s all I was really making and they were into that shit, so I gave them a bunch to wear when I had them. I knew Donny awhile at this point, since well before the skatepark was around. So we were building this crew with us, Beaver, and Frank Soles. We always skated together. It was weird because it had that feeling of what it was like when we started the company, but I didn’t really see it at the time. It was hard for me to see outside what was that original crew of skaters from the early years. Donny had a deal going with a company called Bad Apple. He had Mike Schweigert and Dan Mitchell work something out to design a deck, it was to pay homage to Asbury Park for his pro model. So one day he comes to me and says he has this graphic for Bad Apple and have I thought about doing boards again? At that point I really hadn’t thought about it much, the company was in limbo and there was no motivation for me to take it anywhere. He laid down some ideas, showed me the artwork. I agreed to do a run of boards and have a team again. I didn’t know what would happen or if I’d even follow through. This went on for awhile, maybe a year or so. I wasn’t putting into it what they expected me to. It just wasn’t a priority in my life at the time, so I didn’t care. At this point Donny pulled me aside and said they weren’t pleased with the way things were for the most part. They were gonna walk away, if things didn’t change. He suggested I work on the company for a little bit. Things started to happen again, work got done, graphics were coming out left and right, the company took a turn for the better. This was around the time I met Bobby Brown, our then new artist and he has been my artist ever since. We worked on a lot of my ideas, but I also listened to the team. I followed their ideas to also include Asbury in our graphics, to remember where we came from. After all, the product was in order, we all sat down and agreed to make a video. Yes, another dream of a video, because the first two times it never happened. But I was motivated and I said let’s do it. For the next 3 years we traveled and filmed all over the country, getting as much footage as we could for this thing. On Halloween 2005 we released the first Metal video named “Decade of Destruction”. To think it took ten years, three teams, all the ups and downs. Finally ten years later, it was done.

ZAPPO: So after “Decade of Destruction” was finally completed, shown and released, what was the reaction?

CUCCARO: It was good for the most part. A lot of people reached out and asked for copies and said they were hyped, not only on the video but the sound track. I know Donny spent countless nights getting the songs laid out to perfection. I was stoked. I could finally see something finished that I had been working towards and dreaming about for ten years. I think everyone that had a part of that video was stoked. They should be. They all worked real hard and were a part of something that a lot of people will never get a chance to experience. I still get a request for a copy from time to time. I usually have copies in my car, so there are still some going around.

lou4Frontside Ollie. Photo: Jonathan Mehring 2009 

ZAPPO: What is the current status of Metal skateboards?

CUCCARO: We’re all busy with so many things, but it’s still kicking on more of an adult level I’d say. About three years after the video, everyone just went their own way with family, having kids, relationships, work, and other skate ventures. I revamped the company, had all the art work redrawn by my artist. All the stuff we did just didn’t hold up to what it was in my eyes, so I had all the Asbury art work redone with a more gritty look. I also did some new stuff and now I just let it ride. We’ve also been involved in collaborations with a few companies out there. I think we had three collaborations with Habitat skateboards over the past few years. I’m working on one with Fred Gall right now for Domestics clothing. I always wanted to get more involved in soft goods and clothing design. So now this gives me a chance to do that and still keep it under the Metal name. I still try to get in as much skating as possible with work and weather. I took a few weekend trips up to Connecticut last summer which were awesome. One of our friends just built a private ramp inside for the winter, so I skate from time to time. But the most I skate is in the spring/summer when everyone rides bikes from place to place. I just grab my board and push, it’s the only way to get around.

ZAPPO: Tell me a bit about the construction/destruction of the recent waterfront DIY park in Asbury? Now we are moving towards an actual city sanctioned location for a DIY park built and funded by the skaters, how is that currently developing?

CUCCARO: Well that DIY part on the beach was what is was. People went down there and started building whatever they could with the trash and made a jankey DIY park. It was sick for the few weeks it was there, but most of the smart people knew it wouldn’t be there forever. The last day, when the Madison Marquette people showed up, we were actually finishing up a parking block spine that would have been real good. We got the last layer of concrete on there right when the cops came and they had no idea what was going on. They thought we worked for M.M. because it looked like we were actually working there, while the M.M. workers were just standing around bitching. Most of the kids that were there chicken shitted out and ran. But James, Cory and myself just said fuck it, let’s stand our ground and finish this last bit. The cops were cool, they didn’t care. They just told us if they got a call we would be asked to leave. My big problem with all that, people pointed fingers at the town. It had nothing to do with the town, the cops were just doing their job and we were doing something illegal in the first place. So why blame anyone? Even Madison Marquette, why blame them? It’s their property, so they had all the right to do that and I’m super stoked they did, if anything they did us a favor. If that place was still there, we would have not already had a meeting with the town about building a park. Once we knew that was a no fly zone, Pud worked out a meet up with the town officials and they were into it. They were stoked we went out and tried to do our own thing and realized now would be a good time for this to happen in Asbury. Now we’re here, working out a legal DIY park. This is the best way in the end, we could get a spot and take our time to build it up, make it good from the opening day instead of doing it like other DIY’s where any random person will just show up and build random shit. That never works and always looks like shit. I’ve been drawing some ideas and I am getting people together to help that understand what a real skatepark could and should be. We’re gonna build it somewhere on the west side, which I’m even more stoked about. Those kids need something and after seeing what happened to people like Richie, I think this will be a good thing. So many people have come forward and said they want to help with donations and we don’t even have a spot yet. A lot of times you have to work hard to get donations for stuff like this, but this town is so good like that, this park is gonna happen and be better than anyone thought because everyone is so supportive and willing to work hard for it. I can’t wait to get this show on the road.

lou7Madonna to tail. Photo: Mike McLaughlin Spring 2013 

ZAPPO:  The lessons we learn from riding a skateboarding can almost always be applied to a variety of lessons in day to day life. The simple perseverance of falling and getting back up, over and over again is a great example. What would you say are some of the most valuable lessons you learned from riding a skateboard thus far?

CUCCARO: The lesson of pain for sure, lots of pain. You can be the best skater out there but if you can’t suck up the pain, you’re just wasting your time. I also think you learn the lessons of life, I did, from traveling, meeting people, seeing different things in the world, you just learn from all of that. Without skateboarding, I honestly have no idea where I would be right now. All the people I know are because I was a skateboarder. Ninety percent of the people I hang out with daily, it’s all because we ride skateboards. Each person will take something different from it. Skateboarding will give back as much as you put into it, as long as you believe in it and believe in what you’re doing with it. 2015 is twenty years Metal has been around. If I didn’t believe in it, nor have faith in the people involved in it, we would have never made it this far. It was about doing what we did and having a good time along the way.

ZAPPO: Any last words, thanks, or shout outs?

CUCCARO: Yeah. “Enjoy life, have fun, but most important- be yourself and stay in school” – Eric J. Ruwadi (RIP)

Photo credits: At top: Nosepick. Photo: Matt Price 2012

Matt Price

Jonathan Mehring

Ryan Gee Photography

Mike McLaughlin Photography

 

One Response to “RIPPED RUINS: LOU CUCCARO OF METAL SKATEBOARDS.”

  1. kiersten says:

    There’s certainly a great deal to learn about this subject.
    I really like all the points you have made.

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