Adapt or Die
When I was 15, I started bringing a camera along on skate missions and realized pretty quickly that there was something to taking photos. I remember reading an article by Ed Templeton about the importance of documentation. His attitude was basically, "The next time you go skating with your little buddies, bring along a camera because one day soon you are going to be an old man and these pics will mean a lot to you."
All through college I came to San Francisco to skate on trips, crashing mostly on the couch at the late, great Culture Cache Gallery/apartment on 17th and Bryant in the Mission. It became apparent that this was where I needed to be – skateboarding in SF is just too good. You can drop your board and hit the streets all day long.
The great thing about skateboarding is the element of adaptation: taking an object and using it for something different than it was originally intended for. There are no limits, no rules. There are two sides to skating, the physical and the theoretical, so it isn’t a sport, it's an art. It's interpretive. Once you start looking at the world like that, there’s no going back.
The spots you pick to skate say as much about you as what you do there, and if you do things right, the place and the action complement each other perfectly. It's tough sometimes to find places that haven't been skated a hundred times before. Secret spots don't stay that way for long. But there is new stuff out there every day, and you never know what you’re going to come across.
With that in mind, here are some photos of mine that span about three weeks’ worth of skateboarding around the city. Some of these places you might recognize, others not so much. They aren't secrets, they’re more hidden in plain sight.
I was at Thee Parkside for a quick beer on my lunch break when I ran into a couple buddies, Shane and Dave of the SF-based band Hightower. I was telling them about this article when Dave mentioned he had a quarter pipe stashed in his workshop near Third St. He suggested we meet up after work for an evening sesh. It ended up being a blast. He had one simple prop stacked against a loading dock on a random side street in an industrial area. Sometimes it doesn't take much to have a good time.
Fort Miley is hard to beat. This spot isn't exactly unknown in the skateboard community, but it’s remote enough to keep you secluded from the general population. You’re in the remains of an old military bunker, but it's hard to imagine the area was designed for anything other than skateboarding. The number of tricks that have gone down here over the years is ridiculous. We drank beer and skated with friends here until the sun went down and then we were forced back to civilization. We were kings among men.
We were skating these metal stacks one weekend when all of a sudden a guy drove up in a tractor beeping his horn. “Party's over, dudes,” he said as he got out and began to attach a chain to one of the metal sheets. We watched, puzzled, while he proceeded to drop and lift the sheet in the middle of the street like he was operating a lowrider with hydraulics. We were able to keep skating most of the afternoon anyway, except he would come back every 20 minutes or so to take another sheet away – which actually made the spot better because one of the stacks became flush with the sidewalk. While my friend Jeff was filming a trick, my buddy Rick and I were able to sneak around the corner and shoot this ollie frontside wallride he had been eyeing for a couple months. Gnarly.
We were rolling down Valencia on a sunny Saturday when Ty came across this massive piece of construction equipment parked on the side of the road for the weekend. He proceeded to climb it, and the bulk was just wide enough to roll on. Strangers began to stare at the crazy skateboarder who seemed intent on breaking his neck. A fire truck passed by and stopped half a block away so the firemen could get out and watch. Finally, Ty dropped in, snapped an ollie, and rode away, first try. Everyone on the block went nuts for a second. These are the best kind of spots – sketchy and original. On Monday construction would resume and who knows where this thing would end up. Odds are no one else will be riding a skateboard on it anytime soon, that’s for sure. This ollie set the tone for the whole day. Priceless.
Show Place Plaza popped up a little while ago. I think the city funded it as a sort of mini-park. It’s mainly a bunch of black marble ledges, the same kind that used to line Market Street a few years ago. This place is so fun it got a little blown out last year. People started complaining and the ledges got skate-stopped. A few of the stops have been strategically knocked off, though, and it seems pretty mellow now. For as many incredible spots as there are in this city, in can be tough to find a good old-fashioned ledge.
This spot might actually be a secret. My buddy Shane and I spotted it randomly one day and I ended up coming back to it a few different times. It's a warped foundation surrounded by water, with a nice mellow bank up to a barrier on one side. So far, the murky water has claimed two skateboards; god only knows how many are next. A couple bags of cement and some tender loving care could go a long way here. Keep an eye on this place.
I often start out skating downtown and head north. I like Stockton Street because it takes you straight though Chinatown toward North Beach, and you can bomb through the tunnel toward Market on your way back, one of my favorite pastimes. The view from above the tunnel is great, perfect for an aerial shot of some flat ground trickery. As you can see, the style shines through.
Skate spots are everywhere, and if you can’t find one, you can always make one. Impose your will on the urban landscape and embrace your creative and destructive nature simultaneously. Make sparks when you grind. Bomb a hill and irritate a cab driver. You don’t know when your number is up – a massive earthquake could level the city anytime. Adapt or die.