Growing up, Mike Saes was a track runner.
That’s not to say that Saes was running on a rubberized oval for his high school. Rather, Mike Saes came up running on New York City’s labyrinth train tracks, often fleeing the cops or other bad actors in the city’s famed graffiti scene of the 1980s.
And it was the intersection of running and graffiti that led Saes to start the NYC Bridge Runners in 2003. In Saes’s eyes, a graffiti wall was a destination as important and vital to the City as a new restaurant, museum, or cultural space. And so, his new group would meet up on weeknights and run from the Lower East Side to check out freshly tagged walls, often stopping for frozen margaritas somewhere along the way.
For Saes—whose group runs have never been as much about running as they are about community—graffiti walls were part of the fabric of New York City.
Which is why the NYC Bridgerunners’ longstanding collaboration with Lower Manhattan’s Harold Hunter Foundation makes perfect sense, even though a running crew and a legendary New York City skateboarder may not seem like an easy fit at first glance.
But just as graffiti defined a subculture of New York, so too did Harold Hunter, the precocious kid who was one of the City’s most visible skateboarders. Though he had already developed some notoriety in the skateboarding scene, Hunter came to wider fame after appearing in the now-legendary Larry Clark film Kids, which followed a group of several feckless Downtown teens over the course of a long summer day near the peak of the AIDS epidemic.
Harold’s magnetic personality and outsized nature jumped off the screen, making his one of the most memorable roles in the movie. Soon, he developed into a minor celebrity in the world of film and television while becoming one of the most recognizable skateboarders around.
And, whether skating for the City’s flagship skate brand Zoo York or being featured on the television show Miami Ink getting a tattoo depicting his love for and relationship with New York City, Harold Hunter always waved a flag for his hometown. Between his appearance in Kids and his all-too-soon 2006 death at age 31, Harold Hunter became, in many ways, synonymous with his hometown.
Shortly after his death, a nonprofit foundation bearing his name was started by some of Harold’s close friends, one of who, Jessica Forsyth, runs the foundation to this day. The foundation aims to provide kids in New York City with an outlet through skateboarding, along with other support, advocacy, and resources for skaters as they transition from adolescence into adulthood.
Skaters have always been a part of Saes’s Bridgerunners, which very much started out as a collection of what he calls “non-running runner.” And too this day, the group welcomes anyone and everyone to run with them. Whether seasoned runners or green athletes, couriers, cyclists, and, of course, skateboarders, all have always been encouraged to join the Bridgerunners. In 2007, one of Saes’s fellow runners—a local skater and fireman named Mike Hernandez—told Saes about the work the Harold Hunter Foundation was doing.
Always in search of ways to give back to his community, Saes decided to bridge the gap between his group and the HHF and immediately began to enlist local artists, many of whom were friends with Harold, to design custom, one-off shirts to be sold as fundraisers through the Foundation.
Artists like Kevin Lyons, SSUR, Love Me, Harry Jumonji, and KCDC have contributed time and work to provide the foundation with wares to sell in order to raise money. This year’s shirt was designed by noted NYC artist Stash, who used bold, black lines to reinterpret an image of Harold. In addition to the shirt, Stash recently finished painting his image of Harold on the exterior of the Bridgerunners’ HQ near the corner of Delancey and Attorney Streets on the Lower East Side.
Like Harold, the painting is larger than life, and beside it is a line that reads, in a classic graffiti hand, “Legends Never Die.”