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Jewish Journal

Skateboard legend Andy Kessler Jewish?

by Brad A. Greenberg

August 13, 2009 | 4:42 pm

Andy Kessler, courtesy photo via New York

Not sure about whether Andy Kessler, a skateboarding legend who died Monday following an allergic reaction to a wasp sting, was Jewish. He’s being buried at Cedar Park, a Jewish cemetery, so it seems incredibly likely. (More like certain.)

What that meant to him, though, who knows. Action sports stars have long been uncomfortable with displaying any religiosity.

Regardless, Kessler, who was born in Greece and adopted by an American family, was a member of another lost tribe: Zoo York.

From a 2005 New York magazine article:

On an exquisite late-spring afternoon, Andy Kessler is leaning against the promenade wall overlooking the Riverside Park skate park, at 108th Street, when a skateboarder approaches and asks him when the park will open. Kessler, who has skated the city streets for most of his 44 years and has the raw-boned build and craggy, could’ve-been-a-Ramones-roadie look to prove it, doesn’t know. The two strike up a conversation, and at one point, the term “Zoo York” comes up. Of course he’s heard of it, the kid says, rattling off the names of riders associated with the skateboard-and-clothing company owned by Ecko Unlimited.

Kessler says nothing, but after the younger skater departs, a pained frown washes over his face. “That’s a prime example,” he says, his voice a sharp rasp. “Prime. He has no clue. No clue whatsoever.”

Kessler has grown accustomed to these reactions. Thanks to the 2001 documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys and now Lords of Dogtown, a new feature film based on it, everyone seems to know about the California latchkey kids who revolutionized skateboarding in the seventies. But what few realize is that during the same period, New York had its own Dogtown: a loose-knit collective of skateboarders and graffiti artists known as the Soul Artists of Zoo York, with Kessler its most prominent rider. This Zoo York—not the Ecko brand—attacked embankments and plazas with the same body-be-damned abandon as its peers on the West Coast. This Zoo York had members with Warriors-style names like Puppethead, PaPo, and Haze. (In fact, the two worlds converged when the movie was filming in 1978 in Riverside Park—the Zoo crew’s Upper West Side turf—and extras dressed as gang members gathered to watch the teenage skaters.) This Zoo York pioneered the art of city skating, and did so in an environment that iconic Dogtown rider Tony Alva calls “f—-ing gnarly. We live in paradise compared to those guys.” The Zoo York riders, whom Alva met and rode with in the seventies, “were one step behind us,” he recalls, “right on our heels, doing verticals as high as you can go, getting as aggressive as you can get. They were super hard-core.”

Sounds like a real Maccabee. Well, except for the fact he was Greek and may or may not have been religious.

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Since launching the blog in 2007, I’ve referred to myself as “a God-fearing Christian with devilishly good Jewish looks.” The description, I’d say, is an accurate one,...

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