They are on the front lines, keeping the community constantly fueled. As a kid, I’d hang out in skate shops for hours, watching videos and reading magazines – and what skateboarder can resist checking out new shoes? Even if you have no intention of buying anything that day, skate shops always are great places to wind down.
And perhaps nowhere are the shops more vital than in San Francisco. After all, skateboarding as we know it was born here. To quote FTC founder Kent Uyehara, "At one time, this was the skateboarding mecca of the world." It’s fair to say that San Franciscans take skateboarding pretty seriously. With that in mind, I decided to devote an afternoon to the folks who keep us laced up and stocked up around town.
The plan was to start in the Upper Haight and visit the city's four major shops – FTC, DLX, Mission, and Cruz – in one day, and do a little shredding along the way. These stops are all owned and operated by skaters, and are located within three and a half miles of each other.
I was able to round up a motley crew for the mission: myself, ’80s Joe (local skateboarder and karaoke enthusiast), Shane Mendick (a.k.a. Shane in Blood, drummer in the local band Hightower), James Anderson (Tenderloin resident and skateboarder), and Tommy McGuire (Mission local and bartender at Thee Parkside).
We met up at FTC, the grandfather of all skate shops in the city. Its beginnings can be traced back to a ski and tennis shop on Van Ness in 1986. Kent Uyehara was a young skate rat who started a skateboarding section in the back of his parents’ store. Over the years, the brand developed and FTC opened its current location (there are also stores in Sacramento, Tokyo, and Barcelona).
The shop is a huge part of local skate history – it played a pivotal role during the Embarcadero/Hubba Hideout era of the ’90s, and was the first to sponsor Mike Carroll, Henry Sanchez, and Jovontae Turner, and helped out countless others along the way. Skateboarding in SF wouldn't be what it is now without these guys.
When I got to FTC, Joe and James were already waiting, and Shane was on his way. Kent was there, along with Troy behind the counter. We laid out our plan, said our goodbyes, and headed out.
After stopping in for a quick one at Molotov’s, we had a brief session on the Safeway ledge near Church and Market, one of my favorite spots. A security guard initially gave us the boot, but was cool enough to hang out and joke with us for a few minutes and let us get in a few last grinds. Then it was on to the next shop, DLX.
DLX is another company that has done a lot for skateboarding in San Francisco over the years. The 17-year-old shop is located on Market Street and serves as a base for DLX distribution. Dedicated to preserving the skateboarding lifestyle and culture via constant video premieres, BBQs, skate jams, and tours, DLX is one of those places where it's fun to hang out. Plenty of awesome product to check out, friends behind the counter, roots in the city, and solid brands known the world over. Of all the shops I know, it’s easiest to lose track of time here. We said our hellos, caught up with the homies, watched a couple of videos, and were on our way. Next stop, 24th Street in the Mission.
At this point, Joe had to head to class, but not before obliging me for one more quick photo on Market and Dolores. Always good to go out on a high note.
The rest of us cruised down to 16th Street, up Valencia, and then on to 24th. Rolling down 24th – which has a slight downhill – on a skateboard is one of my favorite things about living in the city.
and was established in 2007 by Thorin Ryan. It’s currently owned by Scot Thompson, another local skateboarder from the Embarcadero days. Its location and proximity to the Potrero skate park make it a favorite neighborhood hangout.
Scot was friendly as always when we arrived, and I was psyched to see some pics by old-school skate photographer Tobin Yelland on the wall in the corner. Dave Kaplin, another good buddy of mine, was there, and after couple of games of skate on the curb out front, it was time to press on. We still had one more shop to visit, back up Mission Street toward Bernal Heights. Time to cruise to Cruz.
Cruz Skate Shop, our final destination, is located on Mission just past Precita. Gordon Eckler, one of the owners, was there to greet us.
Gordon and his wife, Sandy Cruz, founded the shop in 2008 as a source for roller derby supplies. It was only the thirdsuch shop in the nation at the time. Within a year, Gordon and Sandy began selling skateboard products as well. In 2011 Marci Daniels became involved as a third owner.
In addition to being part owner of Cruz, Gordon also runs Plaid Again Screen Printing and a new clothing company called Road Soda. To say that he is a busy guy is an understatement. Luckily, he is a true skate rat, and he made time to throw down a few wall rides in front of the shop with us just as the sun came out for one last peek.
By now it was pushing 7 p.m., and we were all pretty beat. It had been a long one, and after a final beer at The Attic we went our separate ways. Our mission had been to visit SF’s four main skate shops, but in the end it felt like just another great day of skating in the city.
The fact that the ones listed here are locally owned just adds to the appeal. These people have done so much for the scene over the years, and some have been around since the beginning. The message of the day is pretty simple: support your local skate shop.