In the first part of our series spotlighting the creative communities that make up some of the most vibrant American subcultures, we turn our attention to New York City’s parks and playgrounds. New York has played a crucial role in the development of modern sports and street fashion. It’s why we’re showcasing the adidas Originals Forum alongside these communities. Once a hoops classic that dominated the court, the Forum has transcended its athletic heritage to become a sneaker made for all pursuits.
We connected with CODA Skateboards owner and fabricator Pat Smith who’s been actively contributing to building more play spaces for young people in NYC’s public parks. Founded in 2003 in Brooklyn, CODA began as a creative outlet for Smith and a way to give back to a sport and community that gives so much. After nearly two decades in business, his core principles remain the same: support community and creativity without business objectives getting in the way.
Read our interview below to get acquainted with Smith and his work as we document some of the parks and playgrounds he calls home. Learn more about the adidas Originals here and check back here for the next edition in our series spotlighting LA’s bboy scene.
How were you introduced to playground culture?
Skateboarders always kind of want to search out architecture, new stuff, open space. We need a little room to breathe and to escape, where you just want to be outside. You want to explore your environments. And then somewhere in there, you naturally make some of them your home. It becomes a meet-up spot. Here at Martinez playground, like Blue Park, it's a meetup spot. You'd start here if you live in this neighborhood and your crew gathers up, warm-up for the day, and then you go out and take on the rest of the city from here.
The playgrounds here have high energy compared to other cities. Why do you feel that might be?
The energy in all the playgrounds has a lot to do with the population density. I mean, even the buildings we're next to, you can see how many people are packed in them and then to be able to come out and reclaim that space, get out in their environment, interact with other people and just go out and play.
There's nothing better than seeing the people come over and claim their barbecue spaces and have their huge family gathering in the corner of the park, it's that energy level. And then being adjacent to it, if you're in a skateboarding environment or a basketball environment, it creates more energy, which then feeds off each other. It can become a really positive experience.
Can you tell us about any recent projects?
Last year when everybody was locked down and all the social movements were happening, friends and I came together and we wanted to give back in a way that we knew how. Being a fabricator builder I had access to space and materials. We brainstormed a concept to build curbs, then my friend and artist Marcus Manganni came up with the concept to paint the LGBTQIA+ colors on the curbs to communicate these ideas of inclusivity. Skateboarding spaces are inherently inclusive and a curve is a perfect object where you can learn basic moves as a beginner skateboarder.
How do you decide where to place some of these new curbs?
Being a skateboarder you’re kind of just aware of spaces in New York City where there’s likely a need or a desire for that. We work with communities and sometimes the kids will be like, ‘Oh, you make the curves, can we have one?’ We work with the kids and we just know where and have a sense of what could be utilized best in what spaces.
How does the adidas Originals Forum connect with your community and how you express yourself?
The adidas Originals Forum just looks sick. And to see everyone rocking them in the park, having a great time and representing, highlighted the connections we all have as a community and the common spaces we share.
How do parks and playgrounds contribute to your city's culture? On the flipside, how does the city inspire what you do creatively?
One of my joys and is being proactive and contributing back to the communities that gave us so much and you're actually doing it for others instead of doing it for yourself. I'm not of an age where I'm out skateboarding 10 hours a day and I don't have the time to do that, but to see, to be able to give back and see people enjoying things that we've come together and built is just as good as being able to skateboard on it now. I think it's always important to give back to things that you love; the communities, your neighbors — it can be internally fulfilling.
What keeps you going in this subculture? Who is pushing the scene to new heights?
I love New York skateboarding culture. I love the intersections of fashion and music and art and how specifically in New York those things can come together, and how those things can really come together in a playground or park setting. You got the music over in the corner, the volleyball players, random people, the hula hooping, and you have the skateboarders and dog walkers. You've got all these people coming together and mixing it up in these open spaces — just being a part of that is its own reward.