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Skate park designer Kessler dies

8/13/2009

NEW YORK -- Andy Kessler, a trailblazer during New York
City's nascent 1970s skateboarding scene and a designer of skate
parks who was admired by boarders on both coasts, died Monday. He
was 48.

Kessler died after suffering a heart attack following an
allergic reaction to a wasp sting, Moose Huerta, a close friend and
fellow skateboarder, said Thursday.

He was dismantling old wood on a shack in Montauk, Long Island,
when he was stung, said Tony Farmer, a skateboarding friend and
West Coast native who now lives in Brooklyn.

Kessler got his start in the 1970s with a loose-knit group of
skateboarders and graffiti artists known as the Soul Artists of Zoo
York. They skated all over Manhattan's Upper West Side, where
Kessler lived. Central Park's Bandshell was a favorite spot.

In the 1990s, Kessler persuaded the city's Parks Department to
build a skateboard facility in Riverside Park. He went on to design
other skate parks in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Montauk.

Huerta said Kessler also developed a zeal for surfing in the
past decade.

"The two groups are completely different from each other," he
said. "But the level of friends, and how he transcended age and
demographics with the people he touched, was amazing."

Kessler had no health insurance in 2005 when he took a spill on
his board and dislocated his femur. When he was unable to pay a
$51,000 medical bill, several dozen surfers, skaters and artists --
Julian Schnabel, Mickey Eskimo, Zephyr and Wes Humpston reportedly
among them -- helped raise the money with a benefit party, Farmer
said.

When he healed from the injury, he hopped back on his board,
Farmer said.

"Flowing through traffic, timing lights, shooting reds, dodging
pedestrians ... dude just had the streets so wired," Farmer said.
"Suffice to say, he was an amazing cat."

Huerta, who was too young to have skated with Kessler during the
early days, said the sport started as "a counterculture activity"
but never carried the cache that California skateboarding did. But
Kessler didn't care.

"He did it out of love," he said. "He didn't receive anything
out of it. It spoke to him."

In 2008, Kessler was featured in a documentary, "From Deathbowl
to Downtown: The Evolution of Skateboarding in New York." The
producers, NCP Films, described it as "an anthropological overview
of skating's epochal shift from the parks and pools of the 70's, to
ramp skating in the 80's, to the street ascendancy of the 1990's as
seen from a New York-centric perspective.

It is scheduled for international release on DVD on Sept. 15.

In addition to his love for the sport, Huerta said Kessler's
first big success was orchestrating the building of the city's
first skate park, near the Hudson River. At the time of his death,
he was trying to update the Montauk skate park he had designed
about a decade earlier, Huerta said.

On Friday evening, surfers planned to paddle out together and
circle around Ditch Plains Beach in Montauk in remembrance of
Kessler, Huerta said. Friends also planned a get-together Saturday
at the Autumn Bowl, a semiprivate warehouse facility in Brooklyn
that was one of Kessler's favorite hangouts.

Kessler's burial is scheduled for Sunday at Cedar Park Cemetery
in Paramus, N.J.