Peter Bici experienced a golden era in skateboarding on both coasts. After getting sponsored in NYC, he made his way to SF. Not only was he fortunate enough to get down with the crew at EMB, but also got hooked up with Think and Venture. After going on tour and spending some time in Cali, Pete returned to New York only to get coaxed onto the legendary original Zoo York team and put out full part in Mixtape. Eventually, Pete retired from professional skating to become a firefighter, but still stays involved through his partnership with Jeff Pang and Peter Huynh in UXA. We recently sat down Peter to get the full story on history in skateboarding.
Interview by Keir Johnson
Keir: How did you first get interested in skating, do you have a specific memory of something that you saw that sparked your interest?
Peter: I was 14 years old, and had just graduated from junior high school. That was the summer of 1987. I was hanging out with my old friend at his house when all of a sudden I see these five skateboarders skating in the middle of the street. They were all wild and crazy doing powerslides. My first reaction was like, “Wow!” They looked like they were having so much fun. I took a closer look, and one of the skaters was my friend Orland Delgado from junior high in Queens. I screamed out his name and he came over with this big smile on his face. I was like, “Where you guys headed?” He said, “Just skating around.” Then, I asked “Can I go with you guys?” He said, “Yeah.” So I ran with them the whole day as they skated. It was incredible. That was the day that I fell in love with skateboarding.
Keir: How did you come up on your first set-up?
Peter: It took me awhile to get a set-up, about six or seven months. I had to save up and beg my grandparents for the money. When I did finally get a board, it was a Mini Rip-Saw Schmitt Sticks with clear griptape, Indy trucks, and pink OJ 2s.
Keir: What was it like learning to ride a skateboard in NYC?
Peter: The first time I stepped on a skateboard, I got on and the board went flying the other way. I was sideways in the air and slammed on the concrete. I got back on and figured out how to push. After that I would try to learn a new trick every day. We lived on the top of this hill in Queens. After I felt comfortable, I went down it. That was fun, but scary. I never went fast like that before on anything. Lucky for me, I had become friends with all the guys that first day. We would skate together all the time. So I would push myself every day to get to the level of skating that my friends were at. We had a name for our crew. We called ourselves the Zoners.
Keir: How did you expand and start realizing there were other dudes out skating in the city too?
Peter: Since the beginning, our crew would skate to other neighborhoods because some of the guys lived in different hoods. When we would hook up one of the guys would say, “There’s this slanted wall by my house.” And we would all go and skate the spot. Then there was one place called the Brooklyn Banks.
Keir: What was it like going to the Banks for the first time?
Peter: I remember one of us found out how to get there, and we took the train. Back then, our parents didn’t know we were going to Manhattan by ourselves. But we did anyway. The train stop was City Hall. We got off and skated down this ramp from the Brooklyn Bridge, and that’s when I saw them. I couldn’t believe my eyes, perfect wave brick banks! I remember going up frontside and carving down. They were BIG. It was incredible! At the end of the day, I did a kickflip on the banks. I was SO stoked! There wasn’t anyone there the first time. My memories from that era at the Banks are Sean Sheffey’s HUGE ollies, Jeff Pang’s ollies over the wall, Harry Jumonji’s layback powerslides across the whole bank with the most amazing style, and Kenny Usanamont’s ollie Japans. Man, there were so many guys.
Keir: How did you get your first sponsor?
Peter: My friend Peter Huynh hooked me with Nimbus Skateboards. It was a company out of New Jersey that Jeff Pang, Peter, Jim Lynch, and Bobby Puleo skated for. It was great getting free boards! It was sick. We made a sick promo too! I still have the raw footage. I think two years later, the company went out of business and I wasn’t sponsored anymore. That was a bummer. I was skating real well, and all these other guys had sponsors. The Banks had a huge contest and all the Plan B guys showed up. So I skated my heart out. The next day I was thinking about quitting skating because I couldn’t even afford to buy boards. I was real bummed. I get home and get a call from Jahmal Williams. He said that he wanted to know if I would wanted to skate for Mike Vallely’s company Television. Of course, I said yes!
Keir: How did you make it out to California for the first time?
Peter: A bunch of the New York guys like Chris Keefe, Mike Hernandez, Hamilton Harris, Harold Hunter, and myself got hired to do this Levi’s skate ad. We got paid $500 bucks each, which was a lot back in 1992! We took that money and bought plane tickets to go to San Francisco to go skate this place that everyone in skateboarding was talking about, the Embarcadero. I stayed with Chris Keefe, Keith Hufnagel, and Keenan Milton at Ron Allen’s place in Oakland. They were skating for Ron’s company Fun, which was a great team. I remember going to Aris and Ben’s warehouse and skating their skatepark that I saw in videos and being like, “Whoa this is sick!” Then seeing all the pros at EMB—Mike Carroll, Jovontae Turner, Henry Sanchez, Rick Ibaseta, James Kelch, and upcoming ams like Mike York, Spencer Fujimoto, and Ben Sanchez. I was very fortunate to be there at that time in skateboarding and meet the locals. I’m still friends with them.
Keir: You picked up a few more sponsors out there.
Peter: I was skating Embarcadero and Greg Carroll was there. Somebody knew him from the crew and we went skating all over downtown that day. After we came back, Greg went into the trunk of his car and gave me a pair of Venture trucks. That’s when I got on Venture first.
Keir: Then you eventually ended up on Think.
Peter: I came back home and Television was disbanding. I got a call from Greg asking me if I wanted to ride for Think. I was very lucky to skate for them because at that time the team was seriously amazing. They had Wade Speyer, Dan Drehobl, Phil Shao, and Matt Pailes. I would get the best boxes filled with boards, clothes, and stickers! I was very fortunate to be a part of that team. I learned a lot.
Keir: What were those old Think tours like?
Peter: I have so many great memories of going on my first national tour with Dan Drehobl, Phil Shao, Matt Pailes, Greg Carroll, and Bryce Knights. We drove from San Francisco to NYC. We skated these downhill ditches in Nevada that went on for miles. I remember seeing Dan Drehobl kick his shoe off after slamming and it flew across the parking lot and hit this kid square in the face! Also hanging out with Phil Shao and watching him skate, so smooth and stylish. Dan’s frontside pivots to fakie on any transition.
Keir: How’d the transition from Think to Zoo happen?
Peter: When I came back from California, all my best friends were skating for Zoo York. It was all the guys that I grew up with. I was really happy with Think, but Zoo kept on pursuing me with money and future pro model offers. I tried my best to be loyal to Greg, but it made more sense for me to ride for Zoo. I’m from NYC, and all my friends were riding for them. One of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to do was calling Greg and telling him.
Keir: When skating started to really explode in NYC in the early to mid ‘90s, who else were you skating for besides Zoo and when did you turn pro?
Peter: Venture trucks, Empire wheels, Etnies, and Supreme. I turned Pro in 1997. I used the Albanian Flag for my first pro board, which is a black two-headed eagle with red as the background. I am American-Albanian and speak the language.
Keir: How did the whole modeling thing come about for you?
Peter: Modeling, that’s funny. I was playing SKATE in front of Supreme and Jeff Pang was talking to this lady. Then, he called me over. She asked me if I wanted to try out for a Calvin Klein Jeans ad. I said sure, and she gave me the information. The address was down the block. Literally five minutes later, they took some photos of me and about a month later my sister beeped me. I called her back, and she said Calvin Klein had called and I got the job. I didn’t know what scale it was on at all, but when I finished it ended up being a global ad campaign, pretty random.
Keir: What are your memories of Harold Hunter?
Peter: Harold Hunter was probably the funniest person that I’ve ever met in my life. We knew each other since 1988. I was very proud to be his friend, and have so many great memories. There was not one day that went by that he didn’t make me laugh. I remember being in Tokyo with Harold and dancing at this club. We were throwing each other up in the air so high and laughing. Harold was great. He would hook up with a hot model one night, and the next night he would hook up with a “thick chick” as he would say. He didn’t care, just as long as he was having a good time. Harold loved kids too. He would always play with them and teach them how to skate. He treated everybody the same, from a 10-year-old skater to a 40-year-old neighborhood guy. To me, that’s what made him so special. He always remembered your name, and where you met. He was family to me. I am very proud to have known him for all those years. One day, I’ll see Harold and then we’ll laugh again.
Keir: What happened after the Zoo days?
Peter: That was a hard time for me. I was going through really hard family problems for a while. I really wasn’t motivated to skate. So it was a weird time. The new Zoo was just the younger guys who were skating with us back then. I was getting prepared for the fire department, and getting into great shape. I worked as a bellman at the Hudson hotel in New York. It was pretty crazy. I went from skating all over the world to getting a real job. I started playing soccer to get into shape, which is one of my favorite things to do besides skating.
Keir: Why did you choose to become a firefighter?
Peter: Back in 1998, I was taking the train to my sister’s place and saw an ad for the New York City Fire Department entry exam. I was drawn to it, and had this really good feeling about it. So I went to the nearest library and picked one up. I took the exam and passed. At the time, I didn’t have my high school diploma because I quit school to go and pursue my skateboarding career. So I needed a GED. I took that test and passed.
There are all these prerequisites you must have in order to become a firefighter. It pushed me to go to college and do all these things that I wanted to do, but wasn’t motivated to do until I had the dream to become a fireman. I have been one for over three years now, and it’s amazing and intense. It’s all I thought it would be and more. I am assigned to a ladder company, which does search and rescue in fires. It’s pretty gnarly and crazy. But we are highly trained and always ready. It’s like doing a skateboarding demo. But instead of skating, I’m going to a fire and have to show my skills! The hardest thing is not to slam in a fire. It’s great. My skateboarding skills definitely help me on the job. I use my balance to climb the aerial ladder up seven-story buildings with about 130 pounds of gear on. The civilians watch you and the pressure is on. But there’s no bank to ledge to skate. There’s only fire! Now I work and live in the same neighborhood in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Keir: How did UXA come about, what’s it all about?
Peter: My old friend Peter Huynh approached me and asked if I was interested in doing UXA with him and Jeff Pang. I was totally down for it because I liked the name and the people involved. To break down the company, basically its three old friends / skaters that each bring our ideas and visions into UXA. It’s great because when I used to skate for these other companies, I would have ideas and they wouldn’t use them. Now, my ideas get to come to life. I can relate to Jeff and Pete because we grew up skating together. So when we have ideas for the company we can all add our styles into one. We all have this common vision, it’s an authentic skateboard inspired clothing company with real skateboarders that have deep roots. We like to share our message though our designs and use concepts with NYC flare and style. We are UXA in the USA.
Keir: Do you have any words of advice for the young bucks?
Peter: Have fun skating! Don’t get caught up with trying to get sponsored and turn pro. Just skate hard and all that will come naturally. Look at the future, you can’t skate like you used to when you get older. Just think of a game plan, because as soon as you know it you’ll be a fireman that has been skating for 20 years doing an interview telling the youth the same thing! But for real, time really does fly by. It felt like a just couple of years ago I was skating EMB. It’s actually been over 16 years now!