NYC skate legend Andy Kessler dies

Dogtown does Zoo York: O.G. skate pioneers Tony Alva and Andy Kessler at the Lords of Dogtown art opening in NYC in 2005. Getty Images

It is with a heavy heart that we report the untimely death of NYC skateboard legend Andy Kessler. Kessler, 49, died on Monday night from cardiac arrest due to an allergic reaction to a wasp sting he sustained on Montauk, Long Island.

Kessler was an integral part of graffiti and skate crew The Soul Artists of Zoo York in the late '70s—considered by some to be New York's version of the Z-Boys crew from Dogtown in Santa Monica, Calif.

In 1979, the crew earned its place in history when one member, Marc Edmunds, published the 'zine "Zoo York," in which Kessler and crew were pitted in a fictional championship against a rival skate crew, establishing their outlaw legend. They skated throughout the city from Riverside Park to the abandoned swimming pool in Van Cortlandt Park dubbed the "Death Bowl." The bowl was later immortalized in the documentary about the evolution of the skate scene in New York, "Deathbowl to Downtown."

"Kessler was the last of the true New Yorkers," says Tim Vander, fellow skatepark builder and longtime friend of Kessler's. "Some days you caught him and he was a jerk, some days you'd sit and talk for hours. Whether you liked his opinions or not, he was real. I don't know who I'm going to call now and talk s--- to two or three days out of the week."

After the crew broke up in 1980, Andy went through some hard times, but eventually cleaned himself up and worked odd jobs. He spearheaded a number of skateboarding initiatives in the city, including working with the Parks Department to build the first skatepark in Manhattan, at 108th Street in Riverside Park, earning him the nickname "Grandmaster of 108." He went on to design and build parks throughout the five boroughs and beyond.

"I met Andy skateboarding in Washington Square Park in 1985, when there were maybe 40 skaters total in New York," says Joe Humeres, owner of Bodega Skateboards. "This was right about the time he started taking on the Parks Department. He was the perfect person to do it. To be able to have Parks property allocated for skateboarding in NYC—something he was completely responsible for—is a tremendous gift to skateboarding. No one will ever fill those shoes."

In his later years, Kessler's support of New York City's skate community and culture helped skateboarding in New York progress to where it is now. He will be mourned by the skate community as a whole, from coast to coast, and be remembered by his friends and family.

"He battles hardships for 15 years, gets through things that would kill normal people, and he dies from a bee sting? In 2009? It's unbelievable. He's definitely going to be missed; he's had an impact on a lot of people," says Vander.

Humeres agrees. "He was fun, entertaining and extremely respected. When Andy was there, the session was on. There will never be anyone like him."

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