The City: San Francisco

San Francisco is a true skate mecca. In the summer of ’93 on any given afternoon you could’ve found maybe 70 kids at Embarcadero and hundreds more on the hills and in the schoolyards around the city. Skaters from everywhere–the Midwest, East Coast, England, Europe, Japan–were everywhere. And despite the fact that most were not welcomed by either the authorities or the locals (few lived outside the shadows of T-dog shame), more and more kept coming, many of whom were unpacking their bags for good and settling in among an exploding community of new residents. The first wave had begun, and things would never be the same.
You could’ve blamed Tommy Guerrero or Mike Carroll, who in unveiling S.F.’s unbelievable terrain quickly cast a heavy spell over the globe. But who could’ve known? The San Francisco mystique, together with a near-perfect climate, center of industry, and overall accessibility, made S.F. irresistible to skaters from every corner of the globe. So for many, heading out to S.F. was no longer an option but a necessity.
Over the next several years out of the mass of migrants emerged an entirely new generation: Scott Johnston, Keith Hufnagel, Jamie Thomas, Dan Drehobl, Matt Pailes, Matt Field, Sean Young, and Bobby Puleo, to name a few. All had at one time arrived in S.F. from far away without much more than a little bit of cash and a love of skating. They grew to become the ones to inspire the next wave, sparking a perpetual cycle that’s still strong today.
But although it may sound like paradise, San Francisco can be a highly difficult place to live, with rents in the thousand-dollar-a-month range. It’s the most expensive city in the country, so finding the balance between keeping yourself alive and maintaining some sort freedom is a dilemma. Plus, there are the endless distractions, so keeping a clear head is a necessity. It really takes a certain type of person to survive, so take your time and learn from the words on the following pages. These are people who share a common bond in not only what they do and where they live, but through sacrifice, determination, and a dream.–Greg Hunt

Karl Watson
Interview by Shad

So where are you originally from?
Oakland, California.
Why did you move to S.F.?
Because my mom moved out here. She moved back, but I’ve been living here for about thirteen years.
So you were around during the EMB days.
Oh yeah, definitely. That’s when I started.
Who are you living with?
My wife, my son, and her best friend. We’ve got a big pad.
You came from Oakland, so it probably didn’t take any adjusting.
No, not at all.
What are your favorite spots?
Third and Army, that’s the ledges. The new spot with the white bar and curved ledge.
It’s not a bust or anything?
No, not yet. It’s totally cool, surprisingly.
So who are your favorite people to skate with?
Oh man, I don’t know.
You’ve probably got all sorts of crews up there.
Yeah. I’d say I like to skate with little Alex, Stephan Williams, Marcus Brown, Chris Pastras, and Matt Field, and every other crew in the city, ’cause that’s how it is now. It’s like little cliques.
What do you think makes San Francisco different from other cities?
Oh, you can just skate around–jump out your door and thrash down the hill.
So there’re spots everywhere?
Yeah, the hills are like spots to me ’cause you can just cruise ’em.
Does any other city compare to S.F.?
Oh yeah, definitely. I’ve heard Paris does, but I’ve never been there. To me, Vancouver. I like that place.
Do you plan on stayin’ in S.F. a long time?
No, I want to move to Berkeley eventually, maybe pretty soon. Wlive on a busy street, very unenchanting. Maybe get a house.
So do you have any crazy stories about the freaks there?
Ohhh man! There’re lots. There was this one guy who used to call himself Chad Muska at Pier Seven. You know how all the cars go by there? He would run out into the street, stop traffic, and jump on people’s cars. He didn’t really skate. He had a board, but he was just psycho. He’d always say, “I’m Chad Muska, yo! I’m Chad Muska!” and talk about, “Yeah, I’m filming my part for the new Zero video.” He’d say all these crazy things.
He was just some lurker?
Definite lurker. But I guess he got shot or something. He stole somebody’s bike.

Justin Strubing
Interview by Shad

Where are you originally from?
I’m originally from the Santa Cruz Mountains, a town called Boulder Creek.
What made you want to move to San Francisco?
Basically, there’s not much in Santa Cruz to skate. It’s a small city. I’d visited San Francisco a lot and was just ready to make the move. It’s definitely better for skateboarding.
How long have you lived there?
Almost four years.
Who do you live with?
Right now I’m living with my girlfriend Tracy, Pete Thompson, my friend Tom just moved in, and then two other girls.
So you live in a big place?
Yeah, it’s a full community house. Up above us are Cairo Foster, Elias Bingham, and a bunch of people.
Did it take any adjusting to get used to the city?
I guess it did because it’s so different. It wasn’t too bad, though. It’s a small city really, you learn it quick. I’m stoked now. I love it.
What are your favorite spots?
Well, there’s not really a lot of spots you can regularly skate, so I’ve been skating that Third and Army spot. It’s like a sure thing– you can go there and warm up. Otherwise, you usually get kicked out. Union Square is so fun. I love that spot, but it’s just sketchy. A lot of the spots that used to be here are gone–EMB, Black Rock, Brown Marble, gone.
Who do you usually go skate with?
Basically just whoever is around. Sometimes I go out with Elias and Cairo because they’re right here. I used to skate with Satva Leung a lot. You’re always skating with different types of people. It’s kind of rad like that.
What do you think makes San Francisco different than the other cities?
The hills, of course, and not having to have a car. Everything is close enough that you can either skate there or just jump on a bus and do whatever. There’re not too many cities where you can take a bus to the top of the hill and skate down it. And there’s tons of stuff on the way down–going up curbs, hitting little ledges, ollieng over whatever is there.
Do any other cities compare to S.F.?
There’s nowhere that really compares to San Francisco, but there’re places that have some hills and a similar feel. Actually Barcelona was kind of rad. I took a train to the end of the line and there was a skatepark on top of this hill. Skate that, then skate back into town, and there’s so much stuff on the way back in.
Do you plan on staying in S.F. for a while?
Yeah, definitely. I don’t know where else I’d go.
Do you got any stories about weird freaks in the city?
I just try to ignore that stuff.
Do you think there’s more freaks in S.F., though?
Oh yeah, there’re so many freaks, but I’ve been traveling and I’ve just seen freaks everywhere. San Francisco has definitely got a ton, but everywhere has their fair share.

Elias Bingham
Interview by Tania

Where are you from originally?
I used to live in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Why’d you move to S.F.?
Good climate, skating all year, and you can skate everywhere. There wasn’t too much to skate back home–not many people to skate with.
How long have you lived here?
I’ve lived here for almost four years.
Where in S.F. do you live and with who?
I live in the Latino district with Cairo Foster, this guy Mike, J.W., Meredith, Dick, Braxton. We have a big flat, and downstairs is Pete Thompson and Justin Strubing. It’s a three-story building; It’s a five-bedroom flat. There’re seven of us on our floor. San Francisco is hard. It’s expensive, and it’s hard to find a place. I lived in a two-bedroom apartment for a little bit with thirteen people. I think it’s about the same as Manhattan.
Did your move take any adjusting?
It wasn’t too hard. There’s a lot of people who skate and you just run into people you’ve seen somewhere.
What are your favorite spots?
Well, Union Square. It’s pretty hard to skate because of the cops. Right now I have four warrants for my arrest for skateboarding. I took care of them yesterday.
Did you have to pay a lot of money?
I got them reduced. They were about 600 and something dollars altogether.
So you just ignored all your tickets?
Yeah, I just didn’t pay them. I only had five altogether. They start at about 76 dollars. So I wrote them a letter–I’m surprised they wrote me back and reduced it to 63 dollars.
Damn.
I lucked out.
What other spots?
There’s this spot called the New Spot; I go out there sometimes. It’s an amphitheater they built in the middle of nowhere, and no one goes there so we don’t get kicked out. That’s a good place to go. It’s along this little river, and there’s all kinds of stuff to skate. But the city is full of spots; you can skate anywhere and find stuff.
Who are your favorite people to skate with?
I like to skate with Cairo a lot, and my other roommates and housemates. I like to skate with Kenny Reed and Shawn Connely. I like to skate with my brother Simon when he’s in town, Ben, Brandon Bishop, and whoever is in town at the spot. Staba and a lot of people.
Do you think there’s another city similar to San Francisco?
I can’t really think of any other cities like it. There’re so many different areas of town. You’ll be in one area and it’s completely different; you feel like you’re not even in the same city.
Do you think you’re going to stay there for a long time?
Probably keep it as a home base. I like to travel a lot. I just got back from Peru, and I was in Europe this summer.
What was going on in Peru?
Just traveling, visiting.
Have you had any weird incidents with freaks or anything?
Oh yeah, in my neighborhood. A lot of times I’ll just go out my door and they’ll be some guy leaning against my door shooting up … needle in his arm. The whole neighborhood is heroin addicts and crackheads.
So then it’s just become normal, like watching someone catch or cab or something.
Yeah, yeah. I see it all the time. We used to live farther in the Latino district, the main gang street in the city. Almost every night there were gun fights right outside or drive bys. We’d just sit up there and listen to it all happen, watch it all happen.
We got attacked waiting for the bus by some of them. But we lucked out, we got away. They were coming out of everywhere. I got heckled. I had a bottle in my hand, and I knocked the guy over the head, then kicked my shoes off so I could run faster. They had guns and stuff. They caught my friend for a little bit and they had a gun on him. The kid’s friends who had the gun were all trying to get hlina.
Why’d you move to S.F.?
Good climate, skating all year, and you can skate everywhere. There wasn’t too much to skate back home–not many people to skate with.
How long have you lived here?
I’ve lived here for almost four years.
Where in S.F. do you live and with who?
I live in the Latino district with Cairo Foster, this guy Mike, J.W., Meredith, Dick, Braxton. We have a big flat, and downstairs is Pete Thompson and Justin Strubing. It’s a three-story building; It’s a five-bedroom flat. There’re seven of us on our floor. San Francisco is hard. It’s expensive, and it’s hard to find a place. I lived in a two-bedroom apartment for a little bit with thirteen people. I think it’s about the same as Manhattan.
Did your move take any adjusting?
It wasn’t too hard. There’s a lot of people who skate and you just run into people you’ve seen somewhere.
What are your favorite spots?
Well, Union Square. It’s pretty hard to skate because of the cops. Right now I have four warrants for my arrest for skateboarding. I took care of them yesterday.
Did you have to pay a lot of money?
I got them reduced. They were about 600 and something dollars altogether.
So you just ignored all your tickets?
Yeah, I just didn’t pay them. I only had five altogether. They start at about 76 dollars. So I wrote them a letter–I’m surprised they wrote me back and reduced it to 63 dollars.
Damn.
I lucked out.
What other spots?
There’s this spot called the New Spot; I go out there sometimes. It’s an amphitheater they built in the middle of nowhere, and no one goes there so we don’t get kicked out. That’s a good place to go. It’s along this little river, and there’s all kinds of stuff to skate. But the city is full of spots; you can skate anywhere and find stuff.
Who are your favorite people to skate with?
I like to skate with Cairo a lot, and my other roommates and housemates. I like to skate with Kenny Reed and Shawn Connely. I like to skate with my brother Simon when he’s in town, Ben, Brandon Bishop, and whoever is in town at the spot. Staba and a lot of people.
Do you think there’s another city similar to San Francisco?
I can’t really think of any other cities like it. There’re so many different areas of town. You’ll be in one area and it’s completely different; you feel like you’re not even in the same city.
Do you think you’re going to stay there for a long time?
Probably keep it as a home base. I like to travel a lot. I just got back from Peru, and I was in Europe this summer.
What was going on in Peru?
Just traveling, visiting.
Have you had any weird incidents with freaks or anything?
Oh yeah, in my neighborhood. A lot of times I’ll just go out my door and they’ll be some guy leaning against my door shooting up … needle in his arm. The whole neighborhood is heroin addicts and crackheads.
So then it’s just become normal, like watching someone catch or cab or something.
Yeah, yeah. I see it all the time. We used to live farther in the Latino district, the main gang street in the city. Almost every night there were gun fights right outside or drive bys. We’d just sit up there and listen to it all happen, watch it all happen.
We got attacked waiting for the bus by some of them. But we lucked out, we got away. They were coming out of everywhere. I got heckled. I had a bottle in my hand, and I knocked the guy over the head, then kicked my shoes off so I could run faster. They had guns and stuff. They caught my friend for a little bit and they had a gun on him. The kid’s friends who had the gun were all trying to get him to shoot my friend. So he had to punch the kid with the gun and fight the other ones. Then he finally got out of there. We were just trying to catch the bus.
Great. At least you moved.
Yeah, after that, we had to get out of there. Now I don’t hear any gun fights.

Dustin Dolin
Interview by Skin

Where are you originally from?
The Blue Mountains, New South Wales, Australia.
Why did you move to San Francisco?
It’s easy to take photos there with Gabe Morford. I lived on Andrew Reynolds’ couch for six months in Orange County. I don’t stay at my house in San Francisco too much. I couch trip a lot.
Who are you living with in S.F.?
Gabe Morford and Frank Gerwer.
What are your favorite spots there?
Presidio rail, gnarly hills. Pier 7–not. You can always find new shit. As skateboarding gets more difficult there’re new spots.
Who are your favorite people to skate with?
Everyone. I guess Frank and Gabe.
What makes it different?
It’s the gay capital of the world.
Is there anywhere that compares to S.F.?
I’m not saying that San Francisco is the best city in the world. I don’t really care where I am.
Do you plan to stay there long?
Maybe, maybe not. Wherever my skating takes me.

Matt Field
Interview by Pete Thompson

Where are you originally from?
Edison, New Jersey.
Why did you move to San Francisco?
I didn’t really know too much about skating. I skated every day, but I came out here to see some Grateful Dead show and cruise around. I was just kinda of exploring the Northwest: the trees and the food–and it was just a nice place to be, coming from the East Coast. I wanted to experience it. I went back to Colorado where my girl was going to school, and we found out we were having a kid. I didn’t want to go back to New Jersey and just get a job–start the rest of my life being a shipper or a packer boy.
From the last experience I’d had in S.F., the freedom I felt skating in the city, it was like no other experience in my life. I felt like I didn’t want to shut that door yet. So we jumped on a train when she was eight months pregnant and moved. We moved out to the end of Balboa by Ocean Beach and lived there for about a year, and then moved down to Santa Cruz. I lived there and commuted back and forth and skated the city a lot. Then we moved back to S.F. ’cause it was just a feeling that kept calling me back. It’s constantly moving and constantly being inspired by different new individuals coming here and coming up. People like Cairo Foster, Kenny Reed, Justin Strubing, inspiring everybody to just come here and feel it.
How long have you lived here?
I’ve been on the West Coast probably now about seven years. I’ve had the vibe and the spirit in me for the past eight-and-half-years or so. Since I was twelve years old, I had the visual experience of flying down the hills and being Tommy Guerrero in my dreams. The freedom I saw when I’d see Bones’ videos of Tommy skating around S.F.–that was my original calling. It was just like this forbidden city; some Eastern, Tibetan-looking city, but it was built for skateboarding, and it was our spirituality for skateboarding. I used to skate in New York City every day, and that was awesome, but it was just happening out here.
Who do you live with and where?
I live with my wife Tina, my daughter Decoa, and my dog Flower, Lotus Flower. I live out in Marin. I just moved there from the city. I got over living in S.F. It’s beautiful but things can get hard, and I really enjoy living by trees and redwoods. Now when I go to the city it’s a better experience, because I don’t live within the gates.
When you first moved from New Jersey, did it take any adjusting?
It took some adjustment, but I was into yoga back then and and natural foods, so it was always a calling. I knew if I got here it wouldn’t be hard to feel right at home, that’s kind of why I’ve stayed. Good food, good skating, and mellow weather all year round, close to the beach, and good air.
What kind of skaters do you recommend move here?
Skaters with an open mind.
How long are you going to stay here?
I’ll probably always stay in Northern California. I’ll probably just move further north eventually, buy land, and make a cabin or something. But I always want to be in driving distance of the city. I’ll probably just move further north.
What are your favorite spots?
Definitely just free-spirit missions with friends and going off skating, hitting anything downtown through Union Square to Black Rock to China Banks, any of those downhill runs, anything at the beach in the avenues is fun, anything where you can just keep the vibe going and hit as many things as you want. My favorite spot right now is probably the