It’s undeniable that Supreme is one of the biggest brands in the world, but the story behind its early days are a little hazy to a lot of people. James Jebbia set up a brand that in the beginning had no idea of its future popularity. In the early days it was (and still is) skate heavy and even had its own skate team. Here we pick apart the OG skate team and tell you about its members.
Some go as far as saying that the popularity and influence of the skate team had more of an impact on driving Supreme as a brand in the nineties than even its clothes. The original skate team consisted of six key members who were Ryan Hickey, Justin Pierce, Peter Bici, Gio Estevez, Chris Keeffe and Mike Hernandes. They bonded over a love of music, notably Wu-Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Diamond D, Nas, Fat Joe, Biggie Smalls and Gang Starr, who were all prominent on the scene at the time. They were friends before they became part of the Supreme skate team and so the bond was natural. They became some of the best 90s skateboarders out there.
In 2015 Peter Bici explained that “if we saw a skateboarder we would automatically gravitate toward each other. I remember years ago if I saw someone in the street skateboarding my way I’d go right towards them, boom, we stopped right in front of each other. Now that’s unheard of.”
The skate team was out there representing Supreme – they were decked out in it all the time. In 1995 Alleged Films International helped Supreme create a video which focused on skating and the skate team. The video was called “A Love Supreme” and followed a similar aesthetic to the famous producer Spike Jonze’s 1991 skate film for Blind Skateboards. The film featured original skate footage while focusing on New York City.
Below we introduce to you the original skate team who heavily influenced not only Supreme and James Jebbia, but also future customers and Supreme fans. In 1995 Larry Clark’s popular film KIDS essentially focused on aspects of the Supreme skate team, notably Peter Bici and Mike Hernandes, so these may be names you have come across, especially if you are already a Supreme fan.
Ryan Hickey was a forerunner in ensuring that New York City was we’ll-represented when it came to skaters, notably at a time when all eyes seemed to be on the California skate scene around Venice Beach. Hickey was originally part of the original Zoo York skate team which included fellow skaters Robbie Gangemi, Jeff Pang, Harold Hunter, Chris Keeffe, Loki and Hamilton Harris. Zoo York was founded in 1993 and had one of the most prominent skate teams of the time.
All wasn’t rosy for him at Zoo York though and in an interview with Highsnobiety he explained that there were periods when it was really bad. “I actually rode for another company, 777, while I rode for Zoo back then just so I could have boards,” he said. “That’s how bad it was… and those boards were horrible. I remember having to make Rodney [Smith, Zoo York Founder] recut those 777 boards with his jigsaw into better street shapes.”
After he had a big falling out with Zoo York, Hickey was recruited to ride for Supreme, which at the time was a start-up brand with virtually no presence in New York City. Hickey has explained that apparently James Jebbia would sit and watch the skaters, enthralled by what the skaters could do and their way of life. “We didn’t have ‘skate fashion’ in New York back then either,” Hickey said. “We just dressed how we did in the neighbourhood. You might’ve worn a Powell shirt or something but that was it. You couldn’t really get that stuff because there were hardly any skate shops.”
When he was around 24 years old he began to transition away from professional skating. In an interview with skateboarding shop Muckmouth, Hickey explained that he “quit being pro when I was around 24 or 25. The skate industry kind of killed my love for skating, so many fake people in that industry. I was also dealing with back and ankle problems. I definitely miss it, it was a special time in my life. The original NYC crew was tight, we all looked out for each other like family.”
Today Hickey still lives in New York City, with a residence in Hell’s Kitchen. He has two sons and he now makes a living as a fisherman, but when he has time he still tries to skate.
Justin Pierce stood as the most recognisable member of the original Supreme skate team. This is largely thanks to his role in Larry Clark‘s aforementioned film Kids, where he earned himself the title of being the breakout star. He was a British-born skater and actor who grew up in America. In 2000 he committed suicide in Las Vegas.
He had a troubled start to life when he dropped out of school and was then almost charged with drug possession when he was found with marijuana and heroin in his pants. While skateboarding in Washington Square Park in New York, Justin was discovered by controversial photographer Larry Clark. Larry was working on his future directing debut about the lives of New York street kids. Pierce was cast as Caspar in the film and he became a household name. Clark had found Pierce at a period in his life when not much was going right. Pierce was a frequent skater in Washington Square Park and he was living in the basement of a building on 176th Street, referred to as “the dungeon”, where he resided with fellow skaters.
Harmony Corine, the writer behind Kids, described him in this way: “his style, his swagger, his whole thing was kind of unprecedented. He was supermagnetic, and there was something really beautiful about him. At the same time, he was completely uncontrollable. He went for it all of the time, and that’s part of what got him into trouble.”
After the success of Kids in 1995, he thought about pursuing a career in acting. In 1997 he moved to Los Angeles. After a stint in First Time Felon, Pierce turned his sights away from Hollywood. In an interview with Paper Magazine he said “I’m becoming more and more bored in La La Land every day. People in LA don’t seem real to me. All they care about is fucking movie stars.” While on a promotion tour for the film Next Friday, Pierce was found dead, leaving two suicide notes which have never been released to the public.
In 1987 Peter Bici graduated from high school at the young age of 14 years old. “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, all wild and crazy doing power slides.” he explained to Highsnobiety. His reaction spelled the rest of his life for him. He thought that they looked like they were having the best time and then he realised that one of them was his friend. “I took a closer look and one of the skaters was my friend Orland Delgado from junior high in Queens, N.Y. I screamed out his name and he came over with this big smile on his face,” he continued. Bici asked Delgado if he could hang out with them and he ended up skating with them for the whole day. That was when he realised his passion and love for skating.
Bici found that he was skating everyday after that and eventually, after honing his skills and craft, he received sponsorship opportunities with Nimbus. Television, Think and Venture. He then went on to become a part of Zoo York’s inaugural team, alongside Ryan Hickey.
Not only was he a skater, but he also got to add ‘model’ to his list of accomplishments. “I was playing ‘SKATE’ in front of Supreme and Jeff Pang was talking to this lady and 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” he once explained.
Eventually Bici, like the rest of the Supreme skate team, traded in skating as a profession for something else, which in this case was firefighting. He preaches that skateboarding, despite not a major part of his life anymore, has helped him massively in his new job. “It’s great, my skateboarding skills definitely help me on the job,” he added. “I use my balance to climb the aerial ladder up a 7-story building 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!”
In 2016, Bici got back into a spot of modelling. He appeared in a video and cookbook for HUF alongside Mike Hernandez, and Pretty Sick band member, Sabrina Fuentes.
When James Jebbia first opened the New York City Supreme store on Lafayette street in 1994, which was the first store ever, someone had to be employee number one. That person was Gio Estevez.
When it comes to his post-skateboarding life, Estevez has been somewhat different to the other skaters on the Supreme skate team. He made graphics for the likes of Real, Stereo and Cliché Skateboards, as well as doing spots of freelance work for Supreme, Burton Snowboards, Analog and Number (N)ine. Estevez also owns his own brand called ANX Originals and is stocked in selected stores across America, Europe and Asia. ANX Originals notably collaborated with Converse and produced a reworking of the Chuck Taylor Hi for their PRODUCT(RED) range. For this, Estevez worked alongside Parra and Cody Hudson.
At just 22, Chris Keeffe was riding in New York City with the likes of Wade Speyer, Phil Shao, and Rob Gangemi. He was so good that he could count both Supreme and Vans as sponsors. He explained in an interview that “Supreme was the place we used to meet up before we went skating in NY. My friends worked there, everyone used to come and hangout for hours, drink beers, play games of skate outside. A lot of times we didn’t leave the block, we just hung out and people watched.” He was part of the Supreme 1994 skate team, but eventually retired from pro skateboarding.
Keeffe eventually opened his own skate and shoe store called DQM in New York City in 2003 which sold skate shoes and boards. It is still open today and remains one of the oldest skate stores in the world. In 2011, The Vans DQM General opened in New York’s historic SoHo district and then in July 2013 The Vans DQM General concept expanded to Boston. For Keeffe, life post skateboarding professionally is continuously on the rise and he has essentially stuck to what he loves.
Mike Hernandez was one of the Supreme skate team’s earliest skaters. He became well known in the early Nineties due to a number of projects he worked on, which saw him work with the likes of Peter Bici and Jefferson Pang. One thing that really got him noticed was an advert he was involved in, where he worked with Venture Trucks and saw him doing a frontside 50-50 in San Francisco.
In an interview, he explained how much the Lafayette Street store meant to the Supreme team. He said “We’d skate the banks, financial district [and] make our way back to Supreme. Supreme would close up. We’d get high in the back of Supreme, then make our way to Astor Place.”
When he decided to end his skateboarding career, he embarked on a similar career path as Peter Bici and became a firefighter, as part of the FDNY out in Brooklyn. He works for Ladder 118 which was instrumental in 9/11 and has been applauded for its bravery. Six members of the team lost their lives on that fateful day.
On That Note
As skate teams go, none have been quite as influential or popular as the Supreme skate team. They were the original members of the Supreme crew, wearing a brand that was ultimately unknown back then, but has become the world’s biggest. The team that was made up of Ryan Hickey, Justin Pierce, Peter Bici, Gio Estevez, Chris Keeffe and Mike Hernandes – essentially the founding members of the image that Supreme now exudes today. They were the original Supreme sponsored skaters and became the faces of the brand.