There are many different ways to immerse yourself in the cosmos of a foreign city. Getting some umbrella-holding tourist guide who maneuvers you from one attraction to the next would be one of them. Unfortunately, you will probably miss the real life of the city by doing so. You could also just step out of your hotel room into the streets and wander around aimlessly, letting yourself be carried away as far as your feet will take you. Certainly a thrilling way of discovery, but maybe not the most effective when you’re supposed to gather everything you need for a full issue in two weeks time. We decided to just follow our friends around and let them show us their hometown – in the end, that’s probably always the best decision when you want to get to know a place and its history, no matter whether it’s San Francisco or Brunsbüttel.
Near Fisherman’s Wharf on the northern coast of San Francisco, an area filled with tourists and city tour double-decker busses, you can find Newell Street hidden like a small pirate’s cove. It’s quiet in the little dead-end street. Initially, we just wanted to meet there and then go on a mission with Daan Van Der Linden. But after a short trip to the bar, it was decided that it would be much more natural and relaxed to spend the afternoon with beer at the slappy curb in front of the house instead of visiting some huge spots. Six Newell is one of those legendary skate houses that could fill entire books with stories if their walls were just able to communicate. Although it was originally constructed as a duplex house, a sheer invasion of skateboarders happened in the mid-nineties. The rest is history – partly told by Frank Gerwer and DLX team manager John Alden.
Nowadays, even though Google Maps shows you the way to the remotest corners without any problems, the boarding ticket is sent directly to your smartphone, and an Uber takes you comfortably to the Airbnb you booked in advance, only few would dare to leave school at 16 and try have a successful skateboarding career in a city on a different continent where you don’t know anybody and don’t speak the language. JB Gillet already did that in the ‘90s – a time when California was central to skateboarding and nobody was waiting for Europeans – and he succeeded. He got on New Deal and numerous other sponsors followed. We returned with him to San Francisco, where it all began.
We meet Ian in the legendary FTC skateshop, where he has a tiny office just up the stairs behind the counter. He is responsible for all the graphics that come up in the shop. He also runs Western Edition, a company strongly influenced by his love for jazz. He founded it at the end of the ‘90s just as he came back to SF from a one-year trip to the Pratt Institute in New York. We have long been fans of the company and Ian’s work, which is far more mature in style than what you usually find in skateboarding.
The name is well-known from corner stores, the logo from a cigarette brand – Snack Skateboards instantly feels like a day in the streets. We spent plenty of these with Adam Egre aka Bonesaw (no, there’s no funny story. His roommate just randomly named him after a wrestler from Spider-Man) and his boys in San Francisco. Kick-out spots in the middle of downtown, chop suey and tea in Chinatown, angry as well as fascinated passersby, blunts, beers, and this layer of sidewalk patina over everything. Welcome to the world of Snack.
Karl Watson is a true San Francisco legend. He’s one of the guys that built the foundation of SF skateboarding. But he isn’t a man of the past. He’s looking forward and passes the torch, trying to help the younger kids grow. He’s managing the next generation team at adidas and, right before we went to San Francisco, started his board company Maxallure to also give newcomers a board brand to make their first steps. We spent some days with these fine young gentlemen and “Uncle Karl”.
Although skateboarding is primarily fueled by individuality, there has always been a surfacing of certain personalities whom others gather around and who unleash creative forces by leading as an example. Jim Thiebaud is undoubtedly such a person. In 1990, he founded Real Skateboards together with Tommy Guerrero and has been the vice president of DLX for many years now – the company that is next to Real home to some more of your favorite brands. He welcomes us to their headquarters with a gentle handshake, calmly takes a seat at this office desk, and answers our questions thoughtfully and with a soft voice. Yet you don’t need a deep understanding of human nature itself in order to realize that he still takes a clear stance in times like these, when most people confuse political action with lip service on social media, and is willing to stand up for his opinion. Skateboarding could use many more individuals like him.
You might not know the name Andy Pitts, but you sure know his graphics. Or at least the artworks he oversees as the person in charge. Andy is the head of the DLX art department, which means that he is responsible for the visual appearance of Real, Spitfire, Antihero, Krooked, Venture, and Thunder. Of course, every brand has its own graphic designers, but he’s the one coordinating all the creative output. We wanted to know what it’s like to constantly develop new ideas for several brands at the same time and, therefore, ventured into the slightly chaotic art room, which gives the impression of a collision between a comic book store, the bedroom of a 14-year-old skater, and a thrift shop.