Shred of Evidence
Police Chief Gascon would whole-heartedly love to hear you say that there's nowhere to ride a skateboard in San Francisco. And that's half true. The half-lie is that what you see is what you get.
I know that parties end and movies get boring and sheesh, that one bar down the street just isn't as fun as it was when you first moved to the neighborhood. Yeah, things get old. Stuff gets boring. That's when you find some new stuff. And if you can't find it, you make it, build it.
The city told us that we couldn't skateboard in any of the places we liked to skateboard, so some skaters started casually and slyly making their own spots. I wanted in. I wanted to make somewhere in this city of ours a little more skate-friendly.
There was a time when San Francisco was the Mecca for anyone who wanted to ride a skateboard. It was impossible to open a skate mag and not see photos of Union Square, Herman Plaza or any of the blocks along The Embarcadero.
As it became popular in mass culture, skating became furiously unpopular among San Francisco's officials and shop-owners, who felt that skaters were scaring away their tender clientele. It wasn't long before San Francisco as an entity collectively hated skaters, making it a personal agenda to keep the little rat bastards away from downtown. You know those infuriating little tacks they put on every single squared-off piece of cement along The Embarcadero? Those damn things sing the city's chorus of contempt for all who live to shred.
So skating became this game of cat and mouse. Skaters would find a spot, their welcome would run dry, cops would be called, skaters would flee and find another spot. Shuffle, repeat. This led, among other things, to them going to the far reaches of the seedier areas of town to find spots that were just enough under the radar to skate in peace. But some decided to take it to another level. Enter: The Vigilantes.
This here is the way they work: Get together some tools and find a spot where eyebrows aren't likely to raise, then go build some rad shit. Don't tell too many people about your spot or it'll get blown up – neighbors will notice, inevitably get pissed off and before you know it some kook is out there with a jackhammer. Then it's officially time to go find a new spot – these operations are a flux of bust and bail and so on, for eternity.
I figured it was time to get my hands dirty. I knew just who to call; my friend George, who is kind of a local messiah of vigilante skate spots. As luck would have it, there was talk of a cement pour going down at the fabled Flower Shop, a vigilante plaza that is kind of an epic best-case scenario as far as renegade spots go. But it couldn't go down for another week or so because of the crazy rain we'd been blessed with as of late.
But my feet were itching and I was hell-bent on taking advantage of this winter-induced hiatus from my skateboard to learn how to build something sweet the moment those billowy crappers called off their dogs. So I scouted my neighborhood for any neglected and overlooked crannies that could house a few bags of concrete. I was quickly reminded that my particular area of town, where the land ends and the water begins, has been thoroughly stripped of any easily-accessible open space. I would have to dig.
And I'd obviously have to get pretty damn creative with my mission. Outside of working with George on a project in Auburn a couple weeks back, I didn't know the first thing about pouring concrete. Luckily, I was born on a ranch, learned to skate in a barn, and am no stranger to a little sweat equity.
Finding some broken and neglected ledges on the brink of the main path, I decided my best option would be a makeshift grinder. I figured it would be good to start simple for my first solo go at renegade spot building. Going on a hunt near my house, I chose a ledge that was sufficiently tucked away so that people might not even notice an innocent piece of angle iron. Now we play the waiting game.
I figured during half-time of the rainy waiting game I should get myself prepared. I called up my old friend Kirk 'cause he and I used to build all kinds of silly shit to skate back home. Turns out he knew a gent (who shall remain nameless) who had built a grinder extraordinarily similar to the one I had in mind down in South SF. He then gave me my shopping list and I headed out.
I went to Robert's Hardware on Haight Street (conveniently right across the way from FTC Skate Shop) to get my supplies: some Liquid Nails, a couple plastic putty knives and a piece of angle iron.
I asked Kirk how this buddy of his had gone about his mission. He gave me the details, and henceforth, my game plan. At home (his home being just a few blocks from where he aimed to make the grinder), he applied the Liquid Nails to the inside of the angle iron, spreading it evenly with his putty knife. Once that was all prepared, he dressed in shades similar to the cloak of night; then ventured out once said cloak had descended.
He walked nonchalantly yet briskly down to the ledge, casually waited for the streets to be clear of cars, then placed his angle iron down on the ledge. After maneuvering it around to gain confidence in its security, he put his hands in his pockets and strolled on home like nothing happened.
Kirk then told me to my dismay that I'd need about three days of dry weather to properly secure a piece of angle iron. It looked like it might be a spell before my own renegadery. He suggested we go and skate the rail his friend had made once the weather dried, as a sort of consolation prize. I joyously agreed.
It was high time to introduce that new little creation to the beautifully destructive horrors of our shred sleds. We partied that ledge like it was 1999. We had so much kooked-out fun skating that thing. There's just something really bad-ass about skating a ledge that's not only janky as hell but home made to boot. It sure as hell beat skating in a barn.
So although I wasn't able to get involved in a big cement pour right away, it was really great to get the wherewithal for making my own little heavenly piece of crud to help rad-ify the city. It became very obvious how fun and easy it is to get out there and do a little something. And of course, I will never see any stretch of San Francisco again without the vision of what a little cement and angle iron can achieve.
My whole point here is that it's easier than you might think to get out and make a something simply because you think it's awesome. If you're looking to build a spot, Robert's Hardware on Haight Street has everything you'll need—except skateboards, but you can get one of those things across the street at FTC Skate Shop. Have fun and if you get caught, you and I never met.