For the 100th and final daily installment of Big Wheel Blading’s Inline Skating and Life During COVID-19 series we talk to Ray Mendez. Ray is a 45-year-old inline skater and “Bronxerican” from the sovereign nation of the Boogie Down Bronx, New York City, USA. He founded Go! Sports USA with Jon Ortiz to teach public school kids how to skate.
What is your occupation?
I do as little as possible generally… JK
As a lifelong entrepreneur, I run several of my own companies. As a person that has been involved in skate & action sports culture for nearly 30 years it’s very important to me to share & expose young people to our sports & culture.
With Go! Sports USA we teach nearly 1,000 NYC public school students skate sports & media arts (film/photography) each week (pre-COVID-19). We also collaborate with NYC city agencies (Parks Dept, Dept of Transportation, NYC City Council, etc) to bring skate sports to the citizens of NYC through a variety of events and activations
(Summer Streets, Car Free NYC, pop up skate nights, etc).
I also run my creative agency/production company – Parlour Productions. With Parlour we create short form content for the worlds of: fashion, art, music, sports, and education. Our home base in Harlem, NYC also doubles as a production space for feature film & television shoots. As well as the occasional party – as many NYC skaters know well.
What steps did New York take to battle COVID-19 and how are things there now?
As everyone knows NYC was hit very hard early on by COVID-19. And we aren’t out of the woods yet. That said, I feel that the City of NY did an “OK” job handling the virus. New Yorkers are generally pretty stubborn people and do not like to be told what to do. Consequently, it was difficult to change people’s behavior early in the onset of COVID-19 People were not practicing social distancing and were carrying on with life as normal. That changed a few weeks into the pandemic here and people got with the program.
Still, COVID-19 slammed NYC tremendously hard, especially in areas that are more economically challenged. Things are starting to look a bit better in NYC, but we need to adhere to good behaviors. If what is happening in the rest of the U.S., namely the South & South West, is any indicator we could potentially relapse here locally. I hope that does not happen.
The United States of America handled COVID-19 abysmally! Being a country with the amount of resources and talent that we do America could have & should have handled the virus very differently. We should still be handling it differently until this day. But it is very important that this type of leadership come from the top. And that the right information is disseminated to the public in a concise and timely manner. That still hasn’t happened in the United States. We have been and still pretty much are left to fend and figure things out for ourselves. Sadly, it’s been a kind of “every man/woman for themselves” type of situation largely. And that’s pretty tragic.
Were you skating during the lockdown?
At first I wasn’t skating too much when COVID-19 hit. I mostly kept indoors and hunkered down. Taking care of my family and figuring out next steps with my businesses was a priority. Once that was settled I still didn’t feel great about being outdoors in the midst of the COVID-19 madness that engulfed the city. I did get an electric scooter and rode that around to make essential outings. Honestly, it was a great way to get to where I had to go quickly and get things done without breaking a sweat.
Where are you skating now?
Now that things are better I have been skating a bit. Mostly, I have been teaching (private & family lessons). As we know inline skating has seen a boom during COVID-19. And there is a spike in people wanting to take lessons.
I’m lucky to live by an NYC gem – Randall’s Island. It is a very scenic island park that has some great skating trails and some areas that are great for teaching. This has been my pandemic go to spot to keep my sanity.
Flying Fish at Chelsea Piers (left) – 180 (right)
Is there anything that would make you stop skating?
I haven’t really stopped skating since 1993. So unless my legs fell off I don’t think there is anything that will ever completely stop me from skating. However, I do have to fix my body. 27 years of skating and 25 years of snowboarding has provided a good amount of wear & tear on these bones. And funny enough the 2 worst injuries that I’m currently struggling with don’t come from sport. They are (careless) injuries that I sustained at work. Privately, I’ve been stuggling with a hernia that I got while stupidly moving a piano by myself at my studio in Harlem. And a damaged LCL that I got while working my yearly film job in Switzerland from a camera crane arm that apparently didn’t like me.
As you can imagine skating with a hernia & a bum knee sucks! But I am working on taking better care of my body, even at 45. I’m working on my come back so I can win an Old Man division skate contest next year. 🙂
Are you doing any cross training?
At first I was doing some cross training just to stay fit. Honestly, I got bored of it. So I just started drinking a lot instead… that was more fun. But I’m not trying to get “pandemic fat” so I’m chillin’ out on that a bit.
Some classic cover shots of Ray Mendez.
What other activities are you doing to occupy your time?
I am usually not a “home body” at all, I’m always on the go and constantly traveling or bouncing around the city. During these last 4 months however I have become much more of a “homesteader” for obvious reasons. And it’s been fun really. Getting closer with loved ones and getting through a difficult time together is truly the best part of these difficult times.
I’ve actually been hoarding lots of skate gear. I have been tinkering with different set ups to see what I like best. I got a new pair of tri-skates that I really like and am trying different set ups on my Them skates to see what works best.
How has COVID-19 affected your normal everyday life?
Everyday life has changed for sure. School completely stopped for one. And these days that has been mostly my main business so that’s been tough. As a producer, I usually work from home so there wasn’t much of a change there. But I did have to pivot hard to figure out what the next moves were. And we’re still working on solutions looking forward to the next school year. That said, I’m grateful to have the family & friends that I do. It has made everything that much more easy.
Ray and his son Devin.
What are your major concerns right now and looking into the future?
Looking into the future I am really concerned about the youth. Obviously, as a person whose business is predicated on working with kids it is a business concern. But, moreover, I am also a parent. And I hear lots of feedback from other parents about the effects that our current situation is having on kids. As I was writing this I got a call from a parent whose kids we’ve taught asking what is going on this Summer. She says to me that her kids “have been stuck inside for months…” And this is a very common thing for parents of inner city kids.
A current major concern is that we figure out healthy ways for kids to enjoy their summer. And going into the next school year I am hopeful that we will find ways to get our kids into more healthy learning and living environments – even if that means a hybrid structure of both a virtual and in person reality. Having our kids sit in front of computer screens for 4 months doing “virtual learning” was obviously necessary. But kids need to move. They just do – it’s good for their mental state (social/emotional) as well as their physical state.
How is the skate community in New York City responding?
The local NYC skate community is starting to pick back up. I’ve seen some group skates going on and skate park sessions are recently ramping back up again as well. As I’m writing this I just got a message for the Thursday night group skate session so it’s happening. People need to get out there and roll.
We recently had a big memorial session for a longtime member of our NYC skate community – Eric “E Money” Estrada at a local skate park. This was tricky honestly and I was conflicted about it. I have taken COVID-19 seriously and done everything in my power to avoid becoming ill and to protect those around me. But, in a time when we “technically” are not supposed to gather how could we not for a fallen Brother? And then how do you “social distance” from people that you’ve known most of your life? These people are my family. Why would I want to distance from them? I can’t. We didn’t – all 200 of us. Maybe that’s not “right”, but it sure felt like the right thing to do. It’s a very weird time. And people have to make their own choices. But I’ll tell you one thing – I feel a lot better being together with my “skate family” than being around random people at a bar or some other social setting that potentially puts me at risk.
Eric “E Money” Estrada Memorial
Do you have anything you’d like to add?
I want to tell people out there to keep on rolling and to follow what rings true to them. We are living in very divisive times. But if there is one thing that I’ve learned is that our sport/culture has always brought people together. And that is something that we need now more than ever. Sending everyone well wishes and Mucho Amor from the South Bronx, NYC!
With the 100th daily installment of Inline Skating and Life During COVID-19 the series has come to an end. Stay tuned for new weekly series based around current events and their affects on skaters and the industry that will be premiering soon. We also have dozens of new articles, interviews and features in the works. If you enjoy bigwheelblading.com and the content we offer please consider making a donation. It takes a lot of time and work to produce content for this site, which makes next no money, so any contribution will greatly assist in keeping us rolling into the future.
- Follow Ray Mendez on Instagram.
- For more information on Go Sports USA visit gosportsusa.org and follow them on Facebook and Instagram.
- To find out about Parlour Productions visit parlourproductions.com.
- Go to Inline Skating and Life During COVID-19 to read more interviews from skaters from around the world.
- Go to Essential Workers – Inline Skaters on the Front Lines of COVID-19 to read about inline skaters from around the world who are considered Essential Workers.
- For our full COVID-19 coverage go here.
- Contact Big Wheel Blading for any questions, suggestions, story ideas or to contribute content.
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