Sort of like, uh,
water-skiing behind a taxi
Report on a strange fad
NEW YORK - "This is my
cab," said Arthur E. Golden, as he glided on his roller skates behind
a taxi stopped at a traffic light. "I will be taking it downtown this
With that, Golden crouched behind the car and grabbed onto its bumper.
When the light turned green, he and the cab accelerated as one, a blur of
exhaust and fluorescent Lycra spandex.
"Wheeeeeee!" squealed Golden, whose shout alerted the driver
to the stowaway on his tail. The cabbie, a native of the Indian
subcontinent, frantically waved his hand by his ear as though trying to
swat a gnat. But Golden remained latched to his bumper as they shot
together down Broadway.
The cabbie, whether he liked it or not, had just been "skitched."
"Skitching" - skating while hitched to a vehicle - is an
underground practice that is becoming ever more popular among the growing
ranks of New York roller-skaters.
Even in New York, where taking a subway can be a death-defying stunt,
tagging along on the bumper of a vehicle moving at 40 m.p.h. is regarded
as illegal, unsafe and foolhardy.
That is precisely why skitchers do it.
"It's sort of like water-skiing on the back of a cab," said
Golden, 24, who works during the day as a computer analyst.
"It's a radical, fun thing to do," said Priscilla Boehme, the
executive director of the Big Apple Roadskaters Association, a 300-member
club. She sometimes skitches during her morning commute to her job as a
New York City police, who have a high tolerance for zany behavior,
generally ignore skitching.
"It doesn't need our attention because it's not a problem,"
said Ralph St. Juste, a Police Department spokesman. He said that no
injuries had been attributed to skitching. Yet.
Manufacturers of in-line skates, whose rollers are aligned in a single
row to emulate the blade of an ice skate, take a dim view of skitching.
"Right now, we're trying to promote a 'skate smart' program,"
said Mary Haugen, a spokeswoman for Rollerblade Inc. of Minneapolis, the
leading manufacturer of in-line skates, whose sales this year doubled to
two million pair. "Obviously, this practice is not something we would
Likewise, Eddie Campos, 19, a salesman at Blades East skate shop in
Manhattan, expressed concern that novice skaters would learn the wrong
lesson from older, accomplished skaters who skitch. In mid-town Manhattan,
this skitching is far different than the games played by children
elsewhere in America.
"You see somebody doing it, and it looks really cool and it's
excellent and you get a lot of speed out of it," said Campos, who
said that he stopped skitching because it was too dangerous. "But
what they don't realize is that the skaters doing it are professional
"Professional kids" aptly describes the group of 19 people
who gathered at twilight earlier this month for the weekly night ride
sponsored by the Big Apple Roadskaters Association.
Most of them were white-collar workers in their 20s, and the group
included several aspiring actors and singers - people with a flair for the
dramatic. They are brash, fearless and, generally, unmarried and
"It's only when I'm hanging off the cab that I start thinking
about the risks," said Alison Sawyer, 26, who works in the photo
department of People magazine.
"I, as the vice president of the Big Apple Roadskaters, cannot
condone anyone ever trying to skitch, nor would I ever tell anyone to try
it," said Michael Jensen, 29, the tall, confident leader of the night
"But for myself, personally, it's one of the best rushes I've ever
Jensen and some of the other skaters explained the rudiments of
skitching on their unfettered night tour of Manhattan, which started at
72d Street and followed Broadway down to the tip of lower Manhattan.
It was a night of nonviolent middle-class wilding: The skaters whizzed
by Lincoln Center, raised eyebrows in Times Square, jumped stairs in Union
Square and performed acrobatics in Battery Park, where groggy homeless men
lifted their heads from park benches to watch the spectacle.
They skitched on an 18-wheel truck, a Range Rover and dozens of taxis.
Near Union Square, five of the skaters, hanging onto one another's waists,
skitched in a chain on a limousine, whose passengers popped their heads
through the sunroof to investigate the commotion.
Jensen said that most of the time he skitched for purely practical
"If you're on skates and you need to get somewhere and you can get
a good skitch, that's great," he said.
Skitchers grab the car's bumper with one hand while placing the other
hand on the trunk to act as a brace - very important when the car slows
down. While crouching, the skitcher peers around the corner of the car to
watch for obstructions.
"Streets are not made of glass," Jensen said, "so there
are lots of bumps and potholes and manhole covers and construction plates
- those big metal plates - and stones and trash in the street. Everything
is an obstacle, including other cars."
Novice skitchers frequently start out on delivery trucks, which offer a
slow, dependable ride. Garbage trucks, although they smell, have a wealth
of handholds - six of the skaters recently skitched simultaneously on one.
Buses are not very hospitable.
"Some people skitch on buses," Boehme said, "but the
exhaust is just too much for me."
The best skitches are taxis - the skater's natural rivals for the road.
"We've always had such a dueling mentality with cabs," Jensen
said. "They think they own the streets."
As they swarmed down Broadway the other night, a few drivers played
along, towing the skaters at an even pace while smiling back in their
mirrors. Other drivers weaved, trying to shake the smart-alecks off their
Some drivers simply pulled over and stopped - and the skitchers got
bored and left.
"Some will try to jerk your arm off by flooring it," said
Jensen, hinting that this is exactly the thrill a skitcher seeks.
"They always speed up if they want to get rid of you, try to scare
you off. Hee, hee."
Speed, after all, is the ultimate allure of skitching - going faster
than human propulsion alone, going faster than the prudent mind should
"When you start off, as you go faster, your brain starts
rationalizing with yourself that you shouldn't be doing this," said
Golden, who cares enough about his health to wear a dust mask when he
"But by the time you agree with your brain, the cab is going too
fast to let go. You have more control hanging onto a cab doing 40 than you
would if you let go. At that point, you're committed.
"It's like parachute jumping," he said. "Once you jump
out of the plane, you're committed."