The best thing in skateboarding right now is this old green bench
Thirteen feet and 300 pounds of steel painted spruce green, the bench was first installed as part of a set in a Santa Ana office complex in the late 1990s. For skaters who have it first encountered, it was a once-in-a-lifetime obstacle: its progressive arc gave a unique feel to anyone talented enough to grind or slip its length, and its distinct look made for memorable photos and video footage. It was too good to sit there.
The intrepid skaters cut the bench off the ground, both to preserve it and to hoard it for themselves. For a time, the bench was a staple of a DIY skatepark in Los Angeles, where it played a supporting role in some of the best skate videos of the early 2000s, like Girl Skateboards. Yes indeed! and DC Shoes’ The DC video. Then one day he disappeared unceremoniously. It’s normal, spots come and go all the time in skateboarding. But now, after almost 20 years, the bench is back and, thanks to the hard work of skateboarders across the country, it has achieved almost mythical status in its own right.
Professional skateboarder Anthony Van Engelen, or AVE, was one of many to skate on the bench in his heyday, but his name became synonymous with that particular piece of steel when his Fucking Awesome brand was released. Dancing on thin ice in 2020. At the age of 42, the video features some of AVE’s most impressive skateboarding and ends with a switch backside noseblunt slide, one of the hardest tricks imaginable. The seriousness of the tour was almost eclipsed by AVE’s favorite obstacle: that same old green bench.
“I really knew it would trip people up, like, ‘Does the bench The DC video‘” AVE told VICE of his unlikely reappearance, which was central to a Quartersnacks documentary next year. “Going back about 20 years later and being able to film stuff on it which, to me in my 40s, means something.”
When Fucking Awesome opened a flagship store in the East Village in 2021, AVE left the original bench in a Southern California skatepark and brought a replica he ordered with him. For a year he stayed in Tompkins Square Park, until one night in August when a group of skaters from Philadelphia ran away with him in the middle of the night.
They brought the bench to Philadelphia’s Municipal Services Building, one of the city’s most popular skate spots, with big intentions: “Posting a picture of that bench in Muni, that damn picture that looks like a bit photoshopped, would be so funny.” said Harry Bergenfield, one of the Philadelphia skateboarders behind the heist. Then they left it at Cecil B. Moore Plaza. “We were excited,” he said. “It looked good. Philadelphia kids were skating it.
Their photo and accompanying story was a huge hit among skateboarders, spawning memes, replays of stuff filmed on the bench, and an Instagram account dedicated to tracking the whereabouts of the bench. It even provoked ironic coverage from the New York Post and NPR, which fanned the flames while perpetuating the story of a kind of “turf war”, much to Bergenfield’s chagrin. “It was a joke between me and my group of close friends in Philadelphia and our counterparts in New York – all those friends network kids hanging out at Tompkins,” he said. “We didn’t expect anyone other than these kids to care.”
When a grainy video of a forklift removing Cecil’s bench started circulating on Labor Day weekend, everyone assumed the story was over. But on September 7, a group of blue-collar skaters from Richmond, Virginia, known as the the bust crew, posted a photo on Instagram of the bench sitting in a parking lot, with no caption or outside context. Incredibly, they had managed to save the bench from the scrap heap and were dragging it to the nicest parking lots in the area.
“It’s cool that Bust Crew took it,” Bergenfield said. “Not because we’re not hot, but because it’s more widely understood that it’s just a joke, and everyone feels more comfortable being in it.”
AVE is also part of the party. Rather than being upset that the bench was stolen, he appreciates that more skaters can skate the bench now that it’s in motion than when it was in storage. “My experience with this bench is usually that an individual or a small group picks it up and keeps it to themselves,” he said. “But this thing where they let other skate groups across the country take it to hotspots, and people get to do it, it’s pretty awesome. I didn’t anticipate what’s going on right now . »
“It’s just a joke, and everyone feels more comfortable being in it.” —Harry Bergenfield
Until recently, the bench’s origin story was never known to the public – it was either local lore or hearsay in the skateboarding industry – and its second life would never have happened without it. using Internet-age outlets or Instagram, where odd niches can thrive. Now, it’s part of common skateboarding culture, and is especially welcome in a time when any remote sense of authenticity risks being co-opted and sterilized for monetary, branding, or other nefarious ends. After the bench saga, everyone can crack jokes, speculate on their next move, and even watch pro skaters get in on the action, in real time. There’s even a conspiracy theory: it’s all part of an ongoing Vans campaign, since AVE and Gilbert Crockett, a pro skateboarder who’s part of the Bust Crew, both have pro shoes with the brand.
“A big part of being a skateboarder is being impressed by the places and people we see on screens,” said Kyle Beachy, author of The Funniest Thing: Dispatches from a Skateboarder’s Life. “For some skaters, there are places, objects, images, figures that achieve a somewhat sacred status. The great thing about the bench is that it’s mobile unlike hallowed skate spots (obviously), but it’s also bulky and heavy and not the kind of thing that can move without serious effort. Like the skateboard itself, you have to really, really want the bench to move it.
As daunting as the bench is, the physical act of skating isn’t nearly as awe-inspiring – or fun – as simply having the bench in the first place, and where it goes next is anyone’s guess. Even where he is now is a mystery: On Instagram, overlapping posts appear to place the bench in both Richmond and Philadelphia. Another group of skaters are rumored to be planning to take it further south, while the upcoming Dime Glory Challenge in Montreal looks like a great opportunity to sneak beyond international borders.
“Skateboarding needs lore and myths,” Bergenfield said. “We love this shit. We’re obsessed with details, all the bullshit we love. It’s just another silly story [that] a bit blown out of proportion. We don’t often do stuff like this in skateboarding, and the real story is about AVE – how their hard work made that bench feel meaningful and now everyone wants to see if they can grind it through .
As for AVE itself?
“If the skaters can keep it in their possession and not get it caught, it will be interesting to know where it goes. I hope the story will get weirder and weirder.