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Skateboarders dream of shredding this famous bench. But first, they have to find it

<em>Anthony Van Engelen skates the bench in this screenshot from a video taken in southern California.</em>
Quartersnacks/courtesy of Benny Maglinao
Anthony Van Engelen skates the bench in this screenshot from a video taken in southern California.

A bench has gone missing in Philadelphia this week – and not for the first time.

For skateboarders, the 13 feet of curved steel isn't just a bench. It's a storied treasure. And it's been on quite the journey.

"It's kind of like one of the ultimate obstacles to skate," said Anthony Van Engelen, a professional skateboarder who says it's just the right shape. "If you can hook into that at the start, take the curve all the way to the end, it's a cool feeling."

Van Engelen, also known as AVE, was Thrasher magazine's Skater of The Year in 2015. He first encountered the bench in Santa Ana, Calif., in 1995.

He said that sliding across the bench is like whipping around a tight corner on a motorcycle. And it wasn't long before his friends realized they could unscrew the bench and take it.

"They just strapped it to the top of a Honda Civic, and I think they used, like, extension cords and wires," he said. "[They] held onto it out the window and drove it to my friend's house."

Thus began a journey that is still unfolding. The bench appeared in a skate video featuring Van Engelen in 2003. It changed hands when, according to Van Engelen, "a well-known pro skater at the time" took it from him. But in 2020, long-time fans were rewarded with another sighting in a new video, with Van Engelen performing a switch backside noseblunt slide. The mythic bench had returned.

Van Engelen carried that buzz – and that bench – to New York City. His company, FA World Entertainment, was opening a new store there and left the bench in nearby Tompkins Square Park for other skaters to use.

<em>Nik Stain skates the bench in New York City's Tompkins Square Park in October 2021. </em>
/ Jared Sherbert
Jared Sherbert
Nik Stain skates the bench in New York City's Tompkins Square Park in October 2021.

It came as no surprise that the bench didn't stay for long. Van Engelen was pleased.

"The first day I was there, I went to Tompkins [Square Park] and was skating the bench. The next day, I went to Tompkins, the bench was gone," he said. "I was like, 'cool.'"

It showed up in Philadelphia's Cecil B. Moore Station Plaza, as earlier reported by the New York Post. A group of skaters drove it down to Philly in a rented truck, according to one of the skaters who spoke to NPR but asked for his name to be withheld.

On Tuesday, a day after it garnered local news coverage, the bench disappeared again.

A spokesperson for Temple University, which manages the ground where the bench was last seen, told NPR that someone claiming to be the owner of the bench contacted campus police to report it stolen.

"After providing evidence of ownership, including a receipt of purchase, Temple University Police assisted the owner with the bench's recovery. With the bench now back in the rightful owner's possession, it is expected to return to New York City," the university said in a statement.

Van Engelen told NPR he doesn't know who picked up the bench.

"For 99% of humanity, it's just a chunk of steel," he said. "I hope as many people who want to skate it, get a chance to skate it, and it just goes forever."

Skaters in Richmond, Va. may get their chance — that is, if you believe this Instagram account that posted a photo Wednesday of the bench near the James River.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Taylor Haney is a producer and director for NPR's Morning Edition and Up First.

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