is here for the long run.
In an exclusive interview for
HYPEBEAST Magazine: The Mania Issue.
Author: Josh Davis
Photographer: Ryan Plett / Zander Taketomo
With his arms victoriously stretched to the heavens, eyes locked beyond the lens and into the viewer’s soul, rolling brazenly out of the frame into some infinite glory, Tyshawn Jones concluded Supreme’s second full-length skate video, BLESSED. He irreverently wore a do-rag and Supreme box logo tee, Jay-Z’s “Hova Song” playing in perfect, glorious syncopation. In that moment, all was right with the world. The best New York skater in a generation, skating for New York’s iconic fashion brand, to the tune of New York’s greatest artist. Young, gifted, and black. As both a skater and a native New Yorker, this was like watching waves align, the summer solstice, and The Resurrection—all at once. I knew I was witnessing history, and that I was a part of it. And that’s because I knew what it took to get there.
I grew up in New York City, downtown, removed from Chinatown’s chaos or Alphabet City’s hustle, in a working-class Jewish-Dominican pocket called Two Bridges. By most comparisons, it’s a quiet area, blissfully stuck in a perpetual Sabbath. Canes outnumber strollers. The closest subway station is a 15-minute walk from my mom’s apartment. But Monday through Friday, I took buses, trains, and, when I was late, taxis to my school on the Upper East Side. It was an hour away, but getting there was important. My mother, put through private school on a receptionist’s salary, knew the power of an education in that zip code. For years, I was a passenger in the city I was born. I watched brown project buildings, clumsily repaired with mismatched bricks, transition into majestic, vine-covered prewars on FDR Drive. On the 6 train, I watched my friends’ custom-stitched L.L. Bean bags go home with their owners, my years-old North Face still soaking whatever lives on a train car floor.
That’s how I saw New York: point A to point B, living life from the cabin—not the cockpit. But when I was 14, that all changed. A friend brought a skateboard to school. Another 14 years later, I’m still hooked. Skateboarding totally changes your worldview. Not just how you dress or talk, but in a way that unlocks the potential in everything from weather to architecture. From what I hear about acid trips, the effects are similarly profound and permanent.
If you ride the 6 train above Manhattan, you eventually reach Soundview, where Jones grew up. It’s a working-class Hispanic and black neighborhood in the East Bronx. He got his first board from Target, a Kryptonics setup, with $60 his mother gave him, his uncle, and his brother. Jones first started skating in Hackensack, New Jersey, while living with his father, but started taking it seriously when he moved back to Soundview. ”I learned the streets and all that in the Bronx,” he says. “I learned how to travel around my city there.” Jones was 10 when he started, but progressed quickly. Although he was skating with older friends, he outgrew the obstacles near his house. A friend drove him to River Avenue Skate Park, near Yankee Stadium, a bit closer to Manhattan. “The people I was first skating with, they wanted to stay in the Bronx—they didn’t want to go anywhere,” he remembers. “I wanted to progress.” People from around the city gravitated to the River Avenue park, and eventually he met kids in other boroughs. By the age of 12, Jones learned to take the train himself and visited friends in posh TriBeCa and Battery Park, hubs for skating in their own right.
And yet, Jones didn’t really participate in “skate culture,” as it is commonly understood. He didn’t watch the full-length videos that many skaters cite as seminal: Lakai Footwear’s Fully Flared or Alien Workshop’s Mind Field. He liked Baker Skateboards, but missed Baker 3, the video that inspired countless quotes, firecrackers (both trick and pyrotechnic), and Google searches for Lou Reed. “To this day, I haven’t seen any of those videos. On God.” And honestly, he’s better off for it. The same goes for his relationship with Supreme, a brand whose inner circle many try to buy their way into. At first, Jones was skeptical of being down—even for free. Impressed by a clip of Jones skating, Supreme family member Ty Lyons invited him to the Lafayette Street store. But Jones didn’t actually visit Supreme until six months later, when his friend needed to pick up some new hardware. Lyons, who was at the store, asked Jones why he didn’t come the first time. “I didn’t want to be that kid asking for stuff. I’d rather just buy it.” But Lyons insisted, and soon, Jones went from receiving small boxes of shirts and hats to featuring in a short clip opposite Jason Dill, titled Buddy. That was in 2012. Six years later, Jones is practically the face of Supreme.
Now, imagine being so obsessed with skateboarding that you not only master tricks, but get paid exclusively to do it. Imagine that you’ve just released your magnum opus—a love letter to your hometown featuring its most famous monuments, signed in blood, sweat, and kickflips. Imagine that it paid off, so to speak. Two months before we talk in a lofted Bushwick photo studio, Tyshawn Jones, now 20, was elected Thrasher Magazine’s 2018 Skater of the Year. It’s the skateboarding industry’s highest honor, and he’s the first winner from New York City. He’s only the second black winner. But when I bring up winning the award, Jones seems tired. Not physically tired, not really tired of talking about it. More like tired of being expected to be excited. “I’m very proud to have achieved it,“ he says. “But at the end of the day, you should just have fun and skate. If it wasn’t an award, I don’t think that would change skating.”
It’s a pragmatic perspective that could easily be misinterpreted as blasé. And yes, in person, he does speak about stuff pretty casually. But here’s the thing: he’s just thrown himself down staircases and over handicap barriers, wrestled with overzealous security guards, and waited for foot traffic to clear out of his landing space. Two years straight. And that’s just on the board. Off of it, Jones opened a restaurant in his neighborhood—Taste So Good (Make You Wanna Smack Your Mama)—and started his own label, Hardie’s Hardware. The brand released its first products in March 2017; the restaurant opened in October 2018. I honestly got tired just listening to his accomplishments, let alone thinking of doing them. “I think with everything, it doesn’t really hit me ’til later… I got on adidas, and a year in, I [actually] realized that I was on adidas. That’s a big company,” he told Thrasher in December 2018. Yes, skaters do tend to have tunnel vision. The mechanics of how a trick should be performed, at what time, and where are all stress points. Clearly, that attention to detail has crossed into other areas of Jones’ life.
“I think with everything, it doesn’t really hit me ’til later… I got on adidas, and a year in, I [actually] realized that I was on adidas. That’s a big company,”
But there’s more to it than that—Jones is hardwired for success. “I’m the type of person where if I want something, I get it. Whatever it takes,” he tells me factually, without refrain or remorse. Growing up in the Bronx as a black skater, there was no room for self-consciousness anyway. “People would definitely try to tease me, but I don’t care. I’ve never been a follower. I feel like that would only affect a weak person,” he said. “I always knew what I wanted to do with my life. Even if it wasn’t skating, I had a vision of what I wanted to accomplish, and how I was gonna go get it.” When he said that, the narrative of growing up in New York City rushed through me. I remembered sitting in Sylvia’s with my dad as a child, seeing a former celebrity shamefully beg for a free meal. I remembered doing homework on the long ride from school just so I could skate as soon as I got off. I remembered a friend telling me he could be a rapper because Jay-Z dropped Reasonable Doubt when he was 26. The feeling is a mix of the optimism and resilience ingrained in New Yorkers. Like Lot sprinting away from Sodom, eyes fixed on the horizon. Like any misstep could ruin everything. Like stagnation, in an unforgiving city, is scarier than any 20-stair.
And so, Jones has kept up his momentum. He began 2019 promoting adidas Skateboarding’s 3ST.004 design. Don’t call it his personal creation, though. It’s not. “At all.” Rather, Jones’ forthcoming shoe design has been in the works for over a year. Working closely with footwear designer and former pro skater Scott Johnston, Jones has worked to develop a mid-top silhouette that draws influence from basketball shoes. Whatever he makes, it won’t be average. “I feel like everybody takes the safe route and makes a low-top,” he says of the skate shoe climate. “Money’s cool, obviously everyone wants to make it. But I feel like if you make something genuine, it shows. And that will make money by translating to skaters.” So far, Jones’ career is entirely based on being genuine—unyielding, even—to his life’s grand blueprint. And so far, he’s been exactly correct. Why stop now?