26 skateboarders in five days, my brother kept count.
As I brought my skateboard into the shuttle that would take us to the Hyatt at Fisherman’s Wharf, the Israeli driver asked how long I had been skateboarding for. I told him since I was thirteen, and he smiled while enthusiastically sharing that his son of 7-years-old had just started skating. We discussed my fascination with the historical San Francisco skate spots, Potrero Skatepark, EMB, and Third and Army. He took out his cellphone, and showed me a video of his son tic tacking on flatground. That day I knew I was going to like this city.
I had never been to Northern California, just to Huntington Beach, which is a fantasy world. The surfers and beach babes are perfectly tan and ripped. GTL, “Jersey Shore“ fans. As much as I loved Huntington, I stuck out like a sore thumb. Here’s this chick from Illinois who is pale as hell, thinks 60 degrees is warm, does not have blonde hair and a yellow polka dot bikini to match.
If you thought the driver’s hospitable act of giving me a personal tour of the city, was a coincidence, you are mistaken. What sets this place apart from other destinations is it’s people. Everyone here appears friendly, love his or her job, skateboards, and is non-judgmental. The homeless can walk around with their dogs (Yes, they had pets.) or sit at the local McDonald’s. Nobody kicks them out for loitering because they are peaceful. They all know each other somehow, having a certain camaraderie.
Skateboarders were dressed in Vans authentic shoes, flannel shirts, and a beanie or San Francisco Giants hat. Each one drifted on his board through the city like in the EA SKATE video game, using every ledge as a manual pad, and each crack on the uphill sidewalk as a gap to kickflip over. A musician put six buckets full of drumsticks on his skateboard, and used it to move his equipment, clever eh?
Unfortunately, this family vacation was not going to turn into my personal skate trip. This was due to the Pier 39 streets overcrowded by tourists, and I am the only skateboarder in my family. I did explain to my mother that I must visit the famous FTC (For the City) skateboard shop in the Haight-Ashbury district. I brought this crappy board my cousin gave to me as a gift because my longboard was a no-go on the airplane overhead. The griptape was decorated with paint pen graffiti that was just as colorful and vibrant as the San Francisco I imagined. I knew it would do some grom well. My mom suggested that I go to FTC, donate the setup, and grab a new board. She is a genius, sometimes, just sayin’.
I was pretty nervous about going into the shop. This was the place where Professional Skateboarder Mike Carroll hailed from. It was the breeding grounds of the natural-born rippers who made San Francisco one of the skateboarding meccas of the world. Everybody knows that walking into a skateshop can be an intimidating experience. The locals lurk at you, while they are watching the latest Thrasher “King of The Road” video. It is no fun when you are a foreigner to the scene.
When I walked inside the shop, I introduced myself to FTC Skateshop Manager Ando and two other guys. My mom blurted out, “Do you have any skater mommy stickers?” Um…news flash mommy dearest, we are dealing with straight up bay skateboarders. You don’t mess around like that. The joke was on me because Ando thought it was funny. He insisted on hooking up my mom with a bunch of stickers, and a Fourstar air freshener for her car. For real, who are these dudes? Straight off the bat, they were such gnarly guys, asking me about Chicago and helping me pick out a longboard-esque setup. I wanted Ando to create a cruiser masterpiece that felt as much like a longboard as possible. What did he hook me up with? FTC zip-zinger deck, Independent Trucks, Kryptonics wheels, and double risers (for less wheelbite and more fun). Hey Ando, I just wanted to let you know that all the homies here in Chicago think my board is the perfect ride. It carves like a longboard but has the steadiness of a skateboard. Not only did he give me 10% off of my purchase, for donating my old board, but my bill was only $115! Also, FTC gives old boards to schools who distribute them to children who cannot afford a skateboard.
One similarity I found humorous, was the anatomy of a skateshop does not change city to city. There is always one guy reading Lowcard Magazine talking about how Chris Pfanner landed this trick switch, a local wanting to hit up Potrero Skatepark, someone asking the filmer or photographer for some slappy boardslide footage at the curb spot down the road. What does change is the mentality that each employee has, and I was feeling the strong positive vibe of For the City. In order to be a core skateboard shop, you must live your brand. It appeared to me that FTC is really for their city. Especially when they sponsor amazing best trick contests for their community, literally in their shop.
Proof is in the pudding.
I have heard of other skateboard shops that charge you $15 per board assembly! When you ask for a 7.5 deck they have no clue what you are talking about. When customers walk in, workers look the other way instead of greeting them. And worse of all, they play Nickelback songs in their establishment. No self-respecting skateboard shop plays that kind of music. They might as well add Justin Bieber to the mix; although, I heard he skates.
The Final Verdict: When you come to San Francisco check out FTC Skateshop if you want to go to a real skateboard shop, with real skateboarders who are down for the cause. The cause being skateboarding, of course!
I asked Ando why everyone there seemed tolerant of skateboarding, despite the massive amount of skatestoppers? He told me that people in San Francisco let you do your own thing, as long as you are not hurting anyone.
I asked my brother if he noticed that the skaters coasting on the streets of SF were not doing any tricks. He said they appeared to only care about riding, not worrying about what others thought of them. Today was the first day my brother picked up a board in six years. San Francisco opened his eyes to what skateboarding is really about.
P.S. Ando is a dope photographer.