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JR showing off his latest work I Photo: Jammi York

He went from a New York guy to a Jersey guy, Jersey guy to a Philly guy, then Philly guy became a New York guy again. This guy’s not just another dude caught in the rat race…he’s JR Cronheim, the founder of new brand Hiraeth Skateboards. When he was here the first time he was being cast for an MTV show with the Zoo York heads. Now, at 43 years old JR Cronheim is taking his charismatic attitude and stepping into the local skate scene even further than before. He just started his own board company and we exchanged a few emails in which JR answered my questions at length about being in the magazines during the 90’s and what it means to be starting a brand now, in 2017.

NAME: JR Cronheim
AGE:  I just turned 43.
YEARS SKATING: 29.
HOMETOWN: Staten Island, New York.  I grew up in Great Kills.

CURRENT LOCATION:
Stapleton right now on Bay St. near the ferry.  I’ve been working weekdays shooting and editing at a television station on the North Shore. I’d still be living on Ludlow St. if I didn’t get gentrified out of my building.  LES is where my heart is, which is why I had lived down here for years.  And of anywhere in this city I’ve lived before- Brooklyn, Harlem, SI, Downtown, Uptown, wherever… it’s where I feel that I’m truly home.  I plan on moving back as soon as it’s feasible, and been looking for the right place for a while now.  It’s my stomping grounds and has been since I moved back. 

JR Cronheim, Damian Smith, Mike Bouchard, Matt Reason, Kevin Taylor,  and Serge Trudnowski in front of Sub-Zero I Photo: c/o JR Cronheim

YOU SAID, “MOVED BACK”.  HOW DID YOU END UP IN THE NEW YORK SKATE SCENE?  SO WHAT’S YOUR STORY?
Growing up where I was in New York, no one was really skating.  We were super into racing BMX.  On SI, there were tons of trails and stuff everywhere and that’s just what everybody did.  I had a Nash board and pushed around the streets in my neighborhood sometimes, though.  Tic-tacking around, doing bonelesses.  Kids looked at me like I was some kind of mutant. Definitely got harassed for it.  My family had summer homes in New Jersey near the beach for generations, so it was tradition that the whole family on both sides would go down weekends in the summer to get out of New York for a change of pace and spend time together.  Everyone down there surfed and skated in the late 80s. I wasn’t into surfing at all, so I asked for a legit skateboard for my birthday just so I could hang.  When I was 14, my Dad retired from working for the City of New York and my parents really wanted to move down the shore, so we sold our house and that’s what happened.  I stopped riding BMX and got really into skating right away.  In the early 90s, an indoor park opened up called ‘Bricktown’, which was 15 minutes from my house and was also kind of a midway point between NYC and Philly – about 45 mins from Manhattan and 90 mins from Philadelphia. 

It was kind of the only one of it’s kind around, so on the weekends and in the winter, all the City heads would come down and all the Philly heads would drive up- and all the Jersey heads would converge there.  That, or The Rink sessions in Eatontown.  That’s kind of how I started meeting all the dudes.  Around that time is when we’d start taking the train into the City often to skate.  In ’91 or ’92 , me and Jim Menscer got cast for an MTV show at The Limelight with some of the Zoo guys and it was after that, coming in all the time with him,  and Andre Page, and a rotating cast of Jersey dudes… meet all different homies at the Banks and just head out with whomever.  A lot of times, we’d come in after dark and skate all through the night until the sun came up.  That was the best. It was such a different city back then.  I also used to go up north and stay with Vinny Ponte sometimes, so we’d go skate Hoboken ledges and take the PATH in with different crews too. 

YOU STARTED GETTING RECOGNITION IN SKATING FROM THE MID 90’S ON, GETTING SPONSORS AND COVERAGE IN MAGAZINES AND VIDEOS AND STUFF, BUT YOU WERE KIND OF BECOMING KNOWN AS A PHILLY GUY.
Well, around 1994, a lot of my Jersey skate friends were moving to Philly to go to art school and the scene there was beyond good.  The Sub Zero days.  So I’d kind of split my time between New York and Philly while still living in Jersey.  It was the best of both worlds.  Skate the City at night during the week when I wasn’t in class or keeping it local, then go down and stay in Philly for the weekends.  Such different vibes and styles. NYC was all me back then vibe wise, it was kind of what I was used to- but it was an amazing time and place to be in Philly.  It was so fresh and different.  I was sucked in and totally immersed myself.  Love and City Hall every weekend… That whole town was the sickest skatepark. 

I kind of went from being a weekend warrior to driving or bussing down more and more during the week just to skate or chill.

Gabe Morford shot this Frontside Flip grab of JR for SLAP Magazine in 1998 I Photo: c/o JR Cronheim

Rick (Oyola), Serge (Trudnowski) and Matt (Reason) were riding for Zoo around that time and it was everything.  Menscer, who was my best friend, started riding for Sub.  So getting to skate the streets with all the Sub Zero guys and homies all the time really elevated my skating in a totally new way. I started going down there more and more just becoming part of that city and hanging at Love every day. I kind of went from being a weekend warrior to driving or bussing down more and more during the week just to skate or chill.  The locals really accepted me in and made me feel so at home.  So I decided to make it my home.

SO YOU MOVED THERE OFFICIALLY.
In 1996, I moved down there to finish college, but even living down that way, I’d be back up here staying in the City all the time- basically just staying in girls’ NYU dorms and stuff hahaha or at Steve Rodriguez’s place sometimes… just wherever- skating and chilling and parties.  Or dudes would come down to skate sometimes too, so between that and demos, contests, and touring, everybody used to see everybody all the time.  The east coast was a small place.  When I rode for Screw and later, Transit, we used to go on a lot of our tours and trips with 5boro because we were all so tight and we’d roll tight.  That’s when I really bonded with Alex (Corporan) in ’96- on a trade show trip, and we were just thick as thieves immediately.  But, I lived down there for a long time- the golden years, and on.  10 years in total. 

WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO COME BACK?
I had been really longing to move back up for a while at that point.  I was over it.

When Harold passed away and I came up for the wake… just after all the emotions and being with so many homies that whole day- everybody just kept telling me that I should move back up and I decided at that moment that I was coming home.  Five months later, my lease was up, packed my stuff, and I finally left Philly.  I was DJ-ing in the clubs at that time and making a legit living from it, but skating a lot less.  I started skating hard and full on again.  I saw my name on a board for the first time that summer.  I remember walking into Rival and seeing my board on the wall, and there was a skate-chair made out of my decks with the “Leaving Philly” graphic.  It was a triumphant, emotional and very personal return for me. 

I had endured a lot during those Philly years.  Coming back, after having so many established friendships for so long, it was just felt like a true homecoming and everyone was hyped.  And I mean, I was born and raised in New York, so it’s just in your blood.  There’s a pride and a swagger that’s ingrained in your DNA.  Plus, hanging out with Al, Vinny, and Rodney (Torres) again, was easy to assimilate into the mix and they definitely helped facilitate that, especially Alex.  I’ve been back in NYC for 10 years now.  I was welcomed home with open arms and the rest is history. 

NOW, YOU’RE STARTING A BOARD COMPANY, RIGHT?
It’s called “Hiraeth Skateboarding”. For me, it’s an artistic creation.  I don’t see it as just a board company and don’t want to, although that aspect of it and ultimate admission, is inescapable.

The first batch has arrived I Photo: JR Cronheim

HOW DID THE NAME “HIRAETH” COME TO FRUITION AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN?  AND WHAT THE RIGHT WAY TO PRONOUNCE IT!?
HEER-EYETH. 

It’s an Old Welsh word… one of those words that has a specific meaning in which there is no direct translation in any other language, alive or dead, that describes the feeling and phenomenon.   The proper definition of the word is: A homesickness for a home to which you can not return, a home which maybe never was; the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past.

I came across it in my travels, years, maybe decades ago probably.  Something resonated about it and it went into my back pocket for another time.  And here we are, at an intersection, the word itself being the genesis for this project.  It embraces what skateboarding is, and always was for me.  Doing Hiraeth Skateboarding is a return to that lost place of our past.

THE GRAPHICS SO FAR LOOK CELTIC INFLUENCED.  MOST PEOPLE ASSOCIATE “CELTIC” WITH “IRISH”, HOW DO YOU INTERPRET IT?
Without getting into a deep history lesson- “Celtic” isn’t shamrocks and knot crosses the way it is portrayed in modern popular culture.  There are actually six recognized pagan Celtic nations, which divide into two main groups, the Brythonic, British Celts, and the Gaelic, Irish Celts.  However, the pagan Celtic realms were vast, stretched all the way across Eastern Europe  to Turkey, down through Spain and Portugal, and all the way to Italy, the Roman Empire.  That being said, Hiraeth’s brand aesthetic is inspired by the ancient Celtic culture and belief systems, as they are connected to the “new” enlightenment the modern world is struggling to re-gain. 

Hiraeth’s brand aesthetic is inspired by the ancient Celtic culture and belief systems, as they are connected to the “new” enlightenment the modern world is struggling to re-gain. 

Walking the brand from dream into reality I Photo: Jammi York

A re-awakening, you could say.  Finding connection with each other, with our environment, and within.  Much like skateboarders already have.  Skaters are connected with their environment, each other through our culture, and with themselves.  The word ‘Hiraeth’, in itself, is linked to that by definition.  It’s almost as if something inside of us as humans as a whole, is longing for that lost place of our past- that connection with ourselves and everything around us.  So the material Hiraeth draws on for inspiration isn’t nation specific, it’s the concept, which is universal in the tradition as it mirrors skateboarding and our modern times.  It’s the woven tapestry, upon what which Hiraeth is based. 

Regarding skateboarding itself, it’s not about reviving or reliving the past, but embracing the roots and heart and spirit of what we are and what skateboarding truly is at its core- to create something based on that philosophy, but incorporating Celtic art and mythologies as the brand aesthetic.  Renown Celtic artist Jen Delyth, who is actually Hiraeth’s first guest artist in our guest artist series of decks, put it brilliantly speaking about her own work by calling it , “a marriage of old and new, ancient and future”.  No one should ever think of Hiraeth Skateboarding as, “Oh that Celtic company…”.  It’s like calling Alien Workshop, “That Martian company.”  It’s just the aesthetic of which the entire project was based creatively.  If you look at our social media or website, the branding, and how it comes across speaks for itself.  It has it’s own style, as will our video media, board graphics, etcetera.  Nobody will be dancing around to tin whistles and mandolins.  I dunno, maybe we will haha.

WHAT DOES THE TREE IN YOUR LOGO REPRESENT?
It’s our version of The Tree of Life.  Every ancient culture across the globe has its own version of it.  It’s such a basic, universal concept with us as a species and always was.  Most humans became disconnected from their environment over the past couple millennia and are beginning to realize again what they actually are, where they are, and remember their place in it.  The roots in our logo are woven in the Celtic knot style to symbolize how we are bound to our universe, and as skaters bound to our surroundings.  The fruitful tree symbolizes the bounty that comes when we nurture ourselves, and each other while living in balance.  It’s the nature of our universe and the cycle of life.  Everything is a part of it.  It’s all connected.  Just how every facet of Hiraeth Skateboarding nurtures and inspires the other.  The music, the art, the skateboarding, the visuals…Take one thing away and the system fails.  It becomes sick or broken and it dies.  It collapses.  Every aspect of Hiraeth is connected from the ideology, to the methodology, to the creation, to the dissemination, to its recreation.  It’s cyclical. 

WITH THE ABUNDANCE OF SKATER OWNED LOCAL BRANDS OUT THERE IN NEW YORK THESE DAYS, WHERE DO YOU SEE YOUR BRAND IN THE GRAND SCHEME OF THINGS?
I don’t see it as that, so I don’t feel like we’re there in that crowded pool.  Our whole genesis, mindset, and approach isn’t typical.  At the same time, I’m not kidding myself either.  I realize that in part, this IS a skate brand, even if our entire perspective and methodology is matchless.  I don’t even like the word “methodology”, wrong choice.  That would suggest a method or formula. There isn’t a methodology at all!  It’s a flow… and it goes in all directions all at the same time.  We don’t approach this with that universal skate “brand” mentality.  Skateboarding, in it’s purest form and as a culture, IS art.  In turn, this entire creative project is art, and everything inspires everything else simultaneously.  It’s all connected, just as we are all connected.  So during the process bringing us here in regards to Hiraeth, when people are always- ‘You gotta do this, you gotta do that…you’re supposed to be doing it this way’… It’s noise.  I just change the channel back in my mind, and release it back to where it came from.  As soon as I start thinking of things in their way, whatever that may be, I start to lose my perspective on what we are doing.  It’s a danger to Hiraeth to begin falling into that mold and getting lost.  It would be the death of everything we’ve worked so hard on establishing in the last year and a half.  So much work has gone into this and it wasn’t done on a whim.  The concept is so delicate… like the balance of nature is delicate.  If that happens, it’s over.  Then it’s just another board company, and that’s not something I want to be doing.

AJ Back 5-0’s across the median I Photo: @cornphoto

DO YOU HAVE A TEAM OR IS THAT STILL IN THE WORKS?
This was started as a creative project first, not a skate brand.  So as I mentioned earlier, it wasn’t like I was sitting around with the homies one day and said, ‘Let’s start a company and all ride for it’, come up with a catchy name, throw together a couple graphics and print stock shape boards.  That’s how skate brands tend to start and there’s totally nothing wrong with that, it’s just not what this is.  It began with writing in a journal… literally a whole backstory.  An entire philosophy was written around these ideas…things taken from literature, myth and legend, an unfinished feature documentary script, and a lot of essays, notes, and music, and historical research, and art, and just flowed into what is now Hiraeth Skateboarding.  It took a long time and a lot of different people coming and going over 16 months before the right creative pieces fell into place.  The only rider I knew I wanted to include early on was AJ Rodriguez.  I’ve watched him grow up over the past decade and always saw a lot of potential in him.  He’s got a lot of positive energy and good ideas, a sick style and raw power on a skateboard.  I’m happy to announce him as the first official rider.  I feel that the people who ride for Hiraeth need to fit like any of our creative contributors fit.  Some of the artists involved haven’t even done anything in skateboarding before, and this is their first contribution to our culture.  I think Hiraeth will truly resonate with some and they will find us, not the other way around necessarily.  There’s a maturity to this brand.  People will either get it, or they won’t.  There wont be any in between.  I’m not looking to assemble a patchwork squad of skateboarders to post 1000 clips on social media so I can sell a few extra skateboards.   Everyone today is good at skating.  There’s more to it than that;  A creative element, an artistry, a philosophy, a style and a flow…it matters. The right ones will find their way here.  But yes, we will be continuously building and adding the right riders to our clan.

WHERE DO YOU WANT TO BE WITH THE BRAND IN THE NEXT FIVE YEARS?
The hardest part about taking so much time to do Hiraeth the way it needed to be done, was to see all these new brands popping up and doing some of the things that were to be original to Hiraeth.  At first, I started freaking out and was stressing.  I felt like I was losing time and I was watching other people doing things I had planned to do months, even over a year before… but I realized that I was looking at it in the wrong way.  The fact that these ideas I had penned myself were happening on their own, just showed me that indeed, these are things that were missing in skateboarding and they need to be there.  So my mindset was on track and with the flow of things to come.  It’s one thing to believe in something, but when you’re ahead of the curve and start to see it going down, it’s just a reinforcement and empowerment to keep moving forward.

Hiraeth as an art project and skate brand- my only real goal was sustainability.  Although we are obviously based in New York, our brand isn’t region specific.  The City itself isn’t a marketing tool for us, although it’s totally an influence.  I think the long-term, main goal is a true international reach – a global connection. That’s the whole point of this project and what the message embodies.  “We are all connected” isn’t just our Instagram hashtag.

The young clan I Photo: Jammi York

IS THERE AN OFFICIAL RELEASE DATE/PARTY YET?
The official launch party is going to be Friday, May 19th at Sensei on 135 Eldridge Street in the Lower East Side from 6-10pm. Alex, Joe Latimore and I are putting the final pieces together as we speak to lock everything in.  Keep you updated on that, the flyer is in the works and we’ll begin promoting the event the week of.

WHERE CAN PEOPLE PICK UP YOUR BOARDS?
The line of boards and apparel will be available at select shops worldwide and also available through the Hiraeth Skateboarding website.  Any shops or distributors interested in carrying Hiraeth can contact us through the website (www.hiraethskate.com) or through any of our social media pages on Facebook, Instagram, etc. 

ANYTHING WE DIDN’T GET OUT THERE THAT YOU WANT TO LET THE KIDS KNOW ABOUT?
Pretty much everything that we will be putting out into the world is a collaborative effort.  The skateboarding, film, music, art… pretty much all of our content is connected to the others.  Always looking for creatives to contribute that would be a good fit with our brand.  I’m especially looking for contributing skate videographers right now.  Although I’m a camera guy professionally, there just aren’t enough days in the week to be everywhere at once doing everything.  And I don’t want to be that guy.  I want to encourage to contribute to this. Send us a reel and links to your work.  Definitely down to check it out and if you’re filming style is on point with what we are looking for, we’ll give you a shot.  There’s also a lot on the horizon; interactive gallery shows, events, musical performance, films and video, apps, etc.  We’re excited about the things we are working on together.  I can’t even mention some of it just yet.  Exciting concepts, doing things in ways skateboarding hasn’t seen before.  Some ideas are too precious to throw out into the open too soon. 

THANK YOUS AND SHOUT OUTS?
I want to thank Michael Cohen and the Shut crew for all of the guidance since the very inception of this project, as well as Gregg, Glenn, and the whole Chapman Skateboards family for their hard work and dedication to helping me see this vision through to fruition.  Nothing but love and deep appreciation to Clan Hiraeth- Our creative contributors thus far; Mark Sisom, Babs Webb, Jen Delyth, Shanda Woods, Jammi York, Los Estrada, AJ Rodriguez, Cornphoto and all of our ‘yet to be named’ contributors currently working on what’s coming up… and also those on deck heading into the near future! It’s been an exciting and fulfilling journey thus far and more of the same on the way!  Thank you, of course to you Chris & Rick, and everyone at NYskateboarding for not just this interview, but for all the support you’ve given me since day one, from skateboarding, to my documentary films, to this amazing journey we’ve embarked on!  Thank you with all my heart to Alex Corporan, Joe Latimore and the Sensei fam for providing the perfect  location for the launch and helping to make it real. Also Shout out to my homies, my brothers for all of their support and encouragement- Alex, Big Jim, Sam Parks, Gizmo, Gnarmads, LES crew, Slappy Sunday crew, Ben Ritacco, Tariq at Richmond Hood, Adrian and Rockstar Family, everyone I’ve met and built friendships with through skating, all my sponsors and supporters over the years…too many to name but you know!  You all motivate and inspire.  East coast skate family past and present!  Love you Dad & Mom.  Thanks to the supporters, the creators, the dreamers, the shops, distributors, and skaters that support Hiraeth Skateboarding now, and in the future. #Weareallconnected!

Pushing I Photo: @cornphoto