Pioneer skater Laura Thronhill Caswell, Photo by Jim Goodrich

The city of San Francisco and skateboarding are inseparable ever since skateboarding gained popularity in 1970s California when kids used swimming pools as skate parks. 

In the 1970s, the state experienced a severe drought and as a result, pools were emptied and kids, creative as they are, started to use them as playgrounds to skate. 

Those kids didn’t have the sophisticated laminated boards of today but rusty wooden boards with 4 wheels, still it was thanks to them and the drought, that skateboarding history was born. 

San Francisco can be described as a perfect city for adrenaline filled skaters who love nothing else than hill-bombing down one of San Francisco iconic steep hills. Seeing them without wearing a helmet , makes me nervous. The “skate or die” motto should just be that, a popular skate logo but not a motto to live or skate by. I rather they “skate with style or don’t skate at all” and style means wearing a helmet.

San Francisco is also the home of skateboarding magazine bible, Thrasher magazine, which since 1990 has been naming the “Skater of the Year”, a prestigious accolade announced many times over the years by the great San Francisco legend and editor of Thrasher magazine since 1993, Jake Phelps , who sadly passed in 2019.The first “Skater of the Year” was Tony Hawk, a worldwide skateboarding legend. 

There were also other major skateboarding publications in California, such as the now disappeared “Transworld skateboarding magazine” in Carlsbad.

In the 1990’s, skateboarding experienced a golden era and San Francisco became very popular with skaters. It was here that famous professional skaters, including Zero Skateboards founder Jamie Thomas (aka The Chief), used to practice their skate tricks. Many of the street skate spots 90’s skaters used to frequent, have sadly been demolished but they remain alive in their memories.

Those 90’s kids used to perfect their tricks at these now iconic spots 

The Embarcadero’s Justin Herman Plaza

No Skateboarding? No way

Currently a corporate heaven but in the 1990s pretty much the headquarters for international skateboarders who loved its ledges, stairs, and a curved retaining wall that skaters used to call the wave. 

EMB

Ride hard or ride home

In its heyday this area of the Embarcadero became a skateboarding epicenter when pro skaters such as James Kelch, Mark Gonzales and Mike Carroll began filming their groundbreaking tricks on video in the late 1980s and early ’90s. 

Many videos and skate shoots were filmed here

3rd and Army Plaza

Skaters only: Violators will be ollied

An industrial patch of concrete overlooking Islais Creek and built in 1988. Skaters were allowed to use the plaza freely as long as they didn’t leave a mess. Skate legend has it that should you accidentally lose your board in the water while skating here, to leave it there as the water is toxic.

Hubba Hideout

sk8 don’t hate

The term hubba is used by skaters to refer to any skate-worthy ledge going down a flight of stairs. Hubba Hideout was in the 1990s the best location for ledge skaters bettering their technical tricks and these popular stairs changed the shape of skating history. Unfortunately, back in 2011, the City erected fences and ripped out the spot’s top ledge making it impossible to skate.

What about Skaters in 2021, which skateparks do they frequent in San Francisco?

Hilltop Skatepark or “The Dish”, which is located in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood, this was a legendary San Francisco skatepark built in 1979 and the city updated and renovated it back in 2016.

La Raza Skatepark, is San Francisco’s largest skate park at 16,000 square feet (1,486 square meters). It opened in 2008 at 25th and Utah Streets.

Under the Bridge Skatepark, it opened its doors in 2014 and experts say it is good for both beginners and more experienced skaters . As the name says, it is located under a bridge.

Balboa Skatepark, located near the Balboa Bart station, it offers an all-wooden skate area with different terrains for all skate levels.

SoMa West Skatepark and Dog Park, this is the most recent skatepark added to the SF Rec and Parks system in 2014. Its design pays homage to classic city places, including Justin Herman Plaza. 

d and Army Skatepark, once known as the “Newspot”, is an old-school spot that is popular with local skaters for its open space and chill vibe. It is situated behind the bus depot at 3rd and what is now Cesar Chavez Street. 

A new skate of mind

My time to skate was in the 90’s, and I was doing this in Spain where skate was also popular. My brother was a skater who one day while experiencing teen angst, threw all his boards to a river including mine. 

That aside, as I Iook at skate videos of the 90’s in San Francisco with 90’s kids wearing their skateboarding outfits of loose t-shirts, baggy trousers and Vans, all I can think is how similar 2021 kids look to skate 90’s kids and how avant-garde we were, or at least tried to be, cause 90’s skate kids fashion and take on life, had nothing to do with that of kids from previous generations. 

Also, regardless of where we were in the world, skateboarding culture created a sense of community, a sense of belonging, a shared philosophy and a positive outlook on life because as the famous logo says Skate Boarding Is Not A Crime.

Skating is more than a sport, it is a lifestyle, a philosophy, an art form.Skaters have their own rules, their own take on life and even, their own fashion. A fashion that has gone mainstream just like anything that once was niche. 

The perfect example is that this year, for the first time ever, Skateboarding will make its debut at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, and let’s not forget that it all started here because of a severe drought and California 1970s kids needing to skate somewhere.