bk looks back on san francisco's most exclusive club
So straight from the man himself, how would you describe what the Studio 43 warehouse was and what it meant to SF back in the day. Give a little synopsis, if you would, of one of skateboarding's earliest TFs for those in need of a late pass.
Well, due to the lack of decent and accessible transitions to skate in San Francisco at the time, Studio 43 originated as an indoor mini ramp facility and from there, grew and took on a new shape as it evolved over a span of the next 2 and a half years. The few SF Bay Area backyard ramps that were hotbeds of activity just years prior had either been torn down or were teetering on the brink of non-existence.
|Bryce Kanights and the Breakfast of Champions|
Studio 43 filled that void. But how did it all become a reality and how did you fall in the mix as the warehouse's proprietor and head bouncer?
During the first few months of 1989, I took it upon myself to utilize some of my disposable income from Schmitt Stix board royalties to lease an affordable and large warehouse space that would be able to accommodate a mini ramp and perhaps more.
After reviewing several unfavorable listings with a commercial real estate agent over the course of a couple weeks, he finally located a large warehouse that was being subdivided in the Bay View district, not so far from "the plant" aka the High Speed Productions offices. There was a favorable 3,600 sq. foot space located on a side street, free from busy street traffic and it had 40-foot ceilings with plenty of ambient light from the windows way up top. They were covered in translucent corrugated fiberglass panels but allowed just the right amount of light. And to add to this perfect mix - a new bathroom with a shower had just been installed.
While I was the lone leaseholder, Fausto and Eric Swenson generously helped to supplement the monthly rent with contributions from their affiliated businesses: High Speed Productions (Thrasher), Deluxe (Real, Spitfire, Thunder) and Street Corner (Think, Venture and Dogtown). This arrangement reduced my financial burden and allowed the aforementioned SF-based skate brands’ teams and friends to skate. It also kept those businesses off the hook for liability should something happen; I was the only party signed and committed to the 5-year lease! In hindsight, this was a total risk move on my part but I wanted a place to skate. There were door keys issued to each brand with the unspoken responsibility to keep the place from being blown out. It was a “good faith” arrangement and directive. And for the most part, it never got too out of hand... or did it? It depends on whom you ask really.
I know access was very tight and thoroughly regulated. Any now-famous heads get the boot or flat-out denied access? I’m sure there must’ve been crazy kids waiting in the parking lot at all times trying to get in, right?
Well, thankfully the internet and widespread social media norms weren’t existent back then and the popularity of skateboarding hadn’t surged to the extent that it is today, so there wasn’t really a problem with random groups of kids trying to locate the address or gain access. For the most part, the scene at Studio 43 remained semi-secret and low key; if you knew the right people, you could come skate.
However, I did kick out a few people time to time... including one dude for showing up by himself and skating without introducing himself. Basically, he just barged and ripped but I wasn’t having it due to lack of etiquette and respect. That particular lone wolf turned out to be Dan Drehobl. At the time, he had just moved to SF from San Diego. A couple weeks later, we actually became friends while skating at EMB. I ended up introducing him to Greg Carroll and he would soon got sponsored by Think Skateboards.
Another notable skater that showed up unannounced, this time along with a couple of friends, was Salman Agah. He had just gotten sponsored by Powell at the time. Again, I wasn’t having it and he got denied earlier on, although he would soon become a regular at Studio 43 shortly thereafter.
Approximately how many keys were there? And what was the primary or easiest way to go about getting one?
There were six keys in total – my personal copy, Deluxe (2), Thrasher (1) and Street Corner (2). The key thing was used and many times abused but it worked in allowing everyone and their various team riders and friends to skate as needed. Like I mentioned before, this arrangement was run on an honor system. And if you blew it, your privileged access was revoked.
Who came up with the name Studio 43?
I came up with the name. Sometimes it was referred to as “The Warehouse,” but Studio 43 was the name regularly used in our everyday reference and conversations.
FYI – Many years ago, I looked into registering Studio43.com and it was already purchased and parked online without a website. The asking price for that web domain was $8,500. Cyber squatters fucking suck.
This is actually a bit off-subject but while we’re at it, what is the significance behind the number “43” to you and that Bay Area crew? What’s the story there?
Our pal Rob “Orb” Kamm introduced that number to the SF skate crew sometime in the mid-80's. Through an experience that Orb had at a small family-run corner grocery store, this prime number stuck around with us and continues to randomly weave its way through our lives today. As he told it to us, while buying an apple or banana (I don’t remember), he realized that he didn’t have the correct amount of change in his pockets and the elderly middle-eastern guy behind the cash register became upset and shouted at him, “43! 43! 43 cents!” That incident stuck with Orb and from that moment forward, everything became “43 centric” within our skate crew and vocabulary.
This number’s significance and random appearance has grown as a fixture in our lives and numerous other skaters ever since. For example, Ray Barbee’s step hop 180 (no comply 180) is still actually called a “43” as named by Andy Howell. Co-founder of DC Shoes, Ken Block runs the number 43 on his rally car as an acknowledgement to the fourth and third letters of the alphabet. And yes, as Mike Carroll remembers first learning about this number from us back in 1986, when the majority of those at the age of 43 that year were born in 1943.
So as 43 became such an engaging and magnetic number to us and others, it became a no-brainer for me to name the warehouse space Studio 43 at that time.
Now that the number 43 has been disclosed to you, it’s a safe bet that you will begin to see and take notice of this number as it appears randomly upon the streets and sales receipts, with newspaper headlines, clock displays and more. So is the number 43 a blessing or a curse? That’s up to you, but most of us continue to smile and roll ahead with its repeated and random coincidence in our lives.
|the Young MC|
So good, man. Back on track now, who would you consider the Studio 43 “locals”? And who, in your mind, absolutely owned that ramp at every session?
The locals were Tommy Guerrero, Jim Thiebaud, Kevin Thatcher, Rick Blackhart, John Dettman, Wade Speyer, Ray Dillon, Brian Frostad, Mike Johnson, Mike Archimedes, Aaron Astorga, Don Fisher, Keith Cochrane, Brian Brannon, Royce Nelson, Steve Ruge, Jake Phelps, Coco Santiago, Danny Sargent, Stacey Gibo, Mark Oblow, Max Schaaf, Curtis Hsaing, Ruben Orkin, Shawn Martin, Noah Peacock, Luke Ogden, Joey Tershay, John Cardiel, Lance Dawes, Dan Drehobl, Dave Metty, Salman Agah, Jeff Klindt, Lavar McBride, Mike Carroll, Greg Carroll, Justin Girard, Billy Deans, Jim Muir, Dave Warne, Wheatberry, and a few others.
Everyone ripped in their own right and had unique style, creative lines and powerful tricks. But over the short span of years that those ramps were there, I’d say that Wade Speyer and Max Schaaf held down the MVP spots. Those two guys progressed quickly and nailed it during each skate session.
What was the original layout like and how did it evolve over the years? I know at first it was just the mini and the ramp to wall on the deck, right? But then I know there ended up being a vert ramp in there where people were parking prior and a few other goodies.
The original build of the mini ramp was 24 feet wide with 10 feet of flat bottom; it included an 8-foot wide extension with an opposing 4-foot wide roll-in from the 9-foot wide deck. Upon that deck, there were the 4-foot transitions along the back wall and sidewall that went up to 5 feet tall.
A few months later, we widened the ramp and replaced the metal pipe coping on the extension with pool block coping that was salvaged from an empty unskateable pool in Walnut Creek. Then I constructed a corner pocket on the deck to tie the tight 4-foot transitions together. The mini ramp and the surroundings of the warehouse space became an ongoing project during its life.
The adjacent open area near the large roll-up door was used to house a significant portion of Fausto’s car collection for the first year. Then, in 1990, we rallied for a vert ramp with Fausto’s support. He obliged and we arranged to have the mini's original builder, Tim Payne, come back out. This build happened soon after the NSA’s Pro Mini Ramp contest in San Jose, CA. Fortunately, after that event, we were welcomed to salvage and repurpose a significant amount of the wood for our construction needs. With our help, Tim began to orchestrate and construct the 36-foot wide vert ramp, which had 9.5-foot transitions with a foot and a half of vert. This large structure took up the remaining open area of the warehouse space and connected to the original mini ramp with a spine to a 5-foot transition.
For close to two years, the entire space was filled with skateable wood and masonite from wall-to-wall. It was a fire inspector’s nightmare if you will, but luckily, we never had to use the fire extinguishers!
What would you say were some of the more common pitfalls of “owning” Studio 43? Gnarly neighbor complaints? Trash being left? General assholery? Is owning a ramp for mainly pros any different than owning any other ramp, just with a more elite-clientele driving you nuts?
When you’re a ramp owner, you soon become everyone’s best friend while also being considered by just as many other skaters as their worst enemy. You’re also the janitor, the security guard, the repairman and the babysitter. The responsibility is weighty. You learn to have patience and become lenient. But more importantly, you have access to an amazing facility to skate 24/7, whenever you damn well feel like it.
For example, I would skate at 3am sometimes just for the fuck of it, because I had the desire to learn a new trick or couldn’t sleep. Or when we needed a detour before heading home from a live show or club, the after-party often became Studio 43.
In regards to assholery, (I love that word!), there really wasn’t much drama and Studio 43 was a great place to skate, progress and get creative.
The large accumulation of trash each week could’ve yielded a full-time janitor to keep it under control but looking back on those years, I have no regrets really. It was an awesome time for everyone involved, regulars and visiting skaters alike.
What’s the craziest thing you ever walked in on there?
I never walked in on any hijinx, but while I was out of town on business, Deluxe’s Jeff Klindt and Dave Metty took it upon themselves to host an overnight party and sleepover with several ams from the Real team and their friends in lieu of paying for hotel rooms. It was later disclosed to me that Edward Devera knocked himself out while attempting to ollie the staircase from the chill zone/lounge area up top down to the ramp below. Luckily the situation wasn’t worse and Edward didn’t end up in the hospital.
As I remember, I wasn’t impressed with their lack of judgment and responsibility at that point in time.
Speaking of the Real team, didn't they shoot the photos for one of their more infamous series of boards within the Studio walls? How'd that go down?
|"Our Slip Is Showing"|
Speaking of the Real team, didn't they shoot the photos for one of their more infamous series of boards within the Studio walls? How'd that go down?
The early 90s ushered in a new capacity to apply photo realistic graphics to the slick bottom layer of a skateboard and soon enough Jeff Klindt came up with the idea of putting photos of the Real team in costume on the bottom of their respective signature boards.
I set up the shoot at Studio 43 and this photo of Sluggo, Jim, Tommy and Salman was taken a few minutes after we wrapped for the afternoon. It had never been done and it was a bit cornball - yet Tommy endured it while standing upon a destroyed ankle (post-surgery), Jim had us laughing hysterically, Sluggo was stoic, Salman manned up, and the rest is history.
I know Tommy shot some stuff in there for Ban This and its all over Reason For Living... what are some other parts that the warehouse was featured in?
Yeah, besides the clips of Tommy skating the mini ramp in Ban This, The Dogtown Video had some clips in it and there are others from Thrasher's The Truth Hurts. Perhaps H-Street’s Shackle Me Not contained some clips as well? I plead the fifth on all of the details.
What’s the gnarliest thing you remember ever seeing go down there?
Well, the gnarliest injury was when my friend Noel Murphy came over to skate the mini ramp after being sidelined for months from a previous skateboarding injury. He had broken his leg and had a titanium rod inserted in his femur a year prior. With his doctor’s permission, and physical therapy behind him, he was getting back on his board once again. Long story short - while he was skating on the mini ramp with us, Noel stepped off his board and his leg folded beneath him and stuck up at a right angle. He was screaming in pain as we all briefly froze in disbelief and shock. We dialed 911 and waited for what seemed like an eternity. After an ambulance ride to the hospital and another surgery, that was the end of his dedicated years of skateboarding. It was very, very tough to witness.
Other notable moments or heavy tricks included Bill Weiss’ McTwist on the mini ramp extension, Noah Salasnek’s frontside transfer up the offset transition on the vert ramp, Chad Vogt’s Cab pivot revert, Remy Statton’s flawless and stylish seatbelts and Steve Schneer’s enigmatic ho-hos.
In truth, it’s due time to dig deep and put together a video to reveal many of the epic sessions and stunts that went down at Studio 43.
Count me in. Is there a particular song you remember as almost the anthem of that place? Was there even a stereo system or was music played through parked cars there?
Yeah, up in the chill zone and spectator area that overlooked the mini and vert ramp, we had a stereo system with a dual cassette player. “Waiting Room” by Fugazi was often on repeat as was Ice T’s “Power” and Mercyful Fate’s “Abigail”. Other hits included those by Thin Lizzy, Van Halen, Venom, Adolescents, Public Enemy, and, of course, Motörhead... the “Hell Ride” actually originated at Studio 43 sometime in 1990, which quickly became a regular heavy skate session on Fridays after work from around 5pm – 9pm.
Legendary shit. So what ended up happening to it? Why did Studio 43 have to shut its doors? Was it strictly financial or had it just run its course?
It had just run its course. For the most part, skateboarding was shrinking in popularity at the time and vert skating was dying due to lack of accessibility. The abundance and wide range of urban skate terrain was pushing skateboarding in a different direction. As skateboarding began to go dark for a couple of years, Studio 43’s demise was not immune to this dimming process.
In addition, my professional skateboarding career was at its end and I continued to put more of my energy into photography, video editing and my numerous responsibilities with work at Thrasher. In addition, those large Schmitt Stix board royalty checks ceased as Paul Schmitt bailed on Vision and started New Deal with Andy Howell and Steve Douglas. So, with my income reduced and transition skating taking a dump, time was up. The worst part was tearing down the ramps with very little help from those that skated there and finding a suitable tenant to sublet the space for the remaining 18 months left on the master lease.
Much of the wood from the vert ramp was repurposed and relocated across the bay to Emeryville where it was cut down and reconfigured to become known as Wiggy’s ramp. This was the ramp that featured the photo of Cardiel threading the needle through the beam, shot by Tobin Yelland. It still exists today. Sadly, the mini ramp didn’t find a home and sat in the Hunters Point shipyard for a few years, before it decayed and ultimately became landfill.
Do you still have anything from the Studio as a souvenir?
I held onto a few of the wood panels that Barry McGee painted on the decks of the mini ramp as well as the bikini girl created be Kevin Chang. I have them in my garage here in Portland.
I guess I could’ve held onto the numerous duct taped socks that Natas tossed under the mini ramp following his visits there. Instead of wearing an ankle brace, Natas would regularly tape up his socks and then cut them off after each skate session. I found close to a dozen of them while dismantling the ramp. I’m sure that they would’ve sold quite well on eBay had I known to hang on them. Maybe next time!
It’s all history now.
can't thank bryce enough for taking the time to do this.
(Bryce Extras and More...)
(Bryce Extras and More...)
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