chrome ball interview #3: keith hufnagel

chrome ball sits down with SF's top ranking dirtbag for conversation.

Let’s get this out of the way… the infamous “helmet hair” was over 15 years ago. Are people ever gonna let that shit go?

Ha... yeah, I think its officially over. There may be a few people holding on to the dream but I am over it. My hair doesn’t even grow like that anymore!

Alright, so on with the standard intro... How’d you start skating and what was your first set-up? Who were your favorite skaters growing up?

I've always had a board since I was 4 years old. It was just a green plastic board that I would knee board all over on. I got my first real board at 13. I was a Vision Jinx, OJ2's and Thunder Trucks. I didn’t have any favorite skaters to start but when I started to follow skateboarding, I was really into Gonz, Natas and Sheffey.

Who did your crew consist of in the early days? How’d you end up meeting Keenan and Gino?
At first, it was just me and the kids in my neighborhood. Once they all stopped skating, I started going out of my neighborhood. There was this kid Justin Stack in my hood. We would skate all over the place. Then I meet Keenan Milton just from hanging out, probably at the banks or somewhere in the city. We really clicked and became best friends right away.

I meet Gino through Ray Mate, Ray used to live in Brooklyn and moved to Long Island. I would go chill at his house and I met Gino and the Long Island crew that way.

Growing up with all these dudes… did you ever think that so many of you would go on to actually turn pro?

Shit, we didn’t know what we were doing. We were just street kids in NYC. We skated around in packs and all loved skating. I guess when we were in our later teens and guys started getting lots of product flowed there was some light of being pro one day.

We all just did it because we loved it and somehow we all made some sort of career out of it. Either being a skater or being part of the industry somehow. Pretty fucking awesome!

How’d you first go about heading west for coverage? Was SF always the destination? How’d you get hooked up with Ron Allen?

Keenan and I used to get flow from Life skateboards. In 1990, Chris Keeffe and I went to SF, LA and SD on a Greyhound skate tour. We basically hit up all the spots and I realized that SF was more of my type of city. Very similar to NYC, just smaller.

So in 1991, I called Life to get a package and Ron Allen told me he was leaving Life to start FUN skateboards in SF with Jesse Neuhaus and JTMR. He asked us if we wanted to come along and we were super stoked to take that ride. So I decided to move to SF to skate. Later, Chris, Keenan and Ben came out.

What thing about the Frisco scene surprised you the most when you first moved out? The terrain is a lot different than NYC. How’d you take the hills at first?

SF in the early 90s was a crazy skatepark. There was EMB, Brown Marble, Black Rock and many other spots. I couldn’t believe how many dope spots were next to each other and you could skate them pretty easy. EMB was a crazy skatepark everyday with hundreds of people skating. So for me it was heaven at that time.

Overall, the terrain was very similar except the hills. I was not used to the hills or the speed. I took many slams then I was addicted to speed forever... And the scars that come along with it.

Fun had one of those teams where so many of their amateurs went on to some real big-time shit. What was it like riding for them back in the day? Weren’t they through Deluxe at the time? How did you convince them to hook-up so many of your friends… or was there any convincing at all? Why’d Gino go to Black Label?

At that time, I think the crew was the next generation of rippers. I feel that Ron noticed the talent in the crew and was trying to hook up as many as he could. He was probably overwhelmed because there was so many of us coming out of NY at one time.

At this time Fun was going through DLX. Gino sent a sponsor-me video to Black Label back in the day and they were stoked on him. So he ended getting hooked up with them. I feel like he was pro for them also. You should see his sponsor-me videos. They are pretty epic

I can’t remember… was Ben Liversedge also on Fun? I know he was on 777 around this time… And speaking of Ben, where is he?

Yes, Ben was riding for Fun. He came over to Real after everything fell apart at Fun. To my knowledge, he is in Vermont somewhere. Everyone asks about him but have not talked to him in some years. Would be dope to reconnect with him.

Were you ever vibed for being an outsider during your first visits to EMB?

I was definitely vibed lightly at EMB. I think most of the kids were just trying to get a dollar off you or trying to sell you some product. They were all cool skaters and once they got to know you, they were down to chill and skate. When I was there in the beginning, I would just skate and leave. If I hung around (not skating), the kids would just harass you.

Were you there when Gino b/s heelflipped the Gonz gap? How’d it feel to have one of the kids you grew up with making history at EMB (the Mecca of the world at this point)? At the time, did you realize that you and your friends essentially represented an East Coast invasion to the skate public-at-large?

Damn, I wish I was there. That shit is so amazing. Gino killed it that day. I had no idea we were representing the east... we were just stoked to be skating with all the pros.

What’s your fondest memory of Keenan?

Wow, there are so many great memories of Keenan. I really just like to remember how much of a positive person he was. He always wanted to have a good time and was always laughing. He is missed so much.

Now what happened with Fun? You turned pro for them, didn’t you? I know they were planning on a video… whatever happened with that? Was hopping over to Real the obvious move or did you almost head somewhere else?

Damn, Fun just fell apart overnight. We were on a tour and some bullshit happened. I just remember Keeenan and Eric Pupeki being like. "We quit" and basically took off. I flew back to SF and Ron drove back to SF. When Ron got back to SF, I decided to leave also and was a free agent for a minute. I remember Keenan and Gino talking to me about coming down to LA and riding for one of the World companies. I was super confused on where I wanted to be since I made a home in SF and was hanging out with the Real guys.

Jim Thiebaud ran into me on the street one day and asked me to be on Real. I think a stalled for a few days then made the decision to become part of Real. I am super stoked I made that decision as I am still riding for Real and will always be a part of something there. They are my family.

There is a Fun video from that time. It is pretty bad quality but it is cool to see. Have to get that think uploaded one of these days.

Did you have any idea when you got on Real that you’d end up staying there for the next two decades? You've had to have gotten some pretty crazy offers over the years... what’s been the primary reasons you've stayed with them so long?

Yeah, its pretty crazy. I am really stoked to have been on real since 1992. My 20 year is coming up. How fucking crazy is that!?!

In the end it really pays off to be loyal to one company. I have had many offers and opportunities to leave Real but in the end, I decided to always stay with them. It’s a big family there and I am super stoked to have been a part of it this long.

Skateboarding has changed so much over the course of your career with Deluxe having adapted and grown to become one the most beloved companies in the industry. What do you feel is the secret to their longevity? Being skater-owned is the obvious knee-jerk answer here but that can only get a company so far...

Yes, skater-owned does help but I really think they have always stayed on top of skateboarding. They support some of the best skaters in the industry. They have created 3 totally different types of skateboard companies. They are just in tune with what is going on and always being creative in their brands. I would say Jim and Tommy are the reason that DLX is so successful.

You’ve seen a lot of faces come and go over the years at Deluxe. Was there ever a rider that left the fold who’s absence really shook you at the time?

Oh man, that shit always sucks when you get a call telling you that someone will not be apart of the team anymore. Its hard to single out one person but I used to chill with Matt Field alot so when he moved on, we didn’t skate as much. I still see him... just not as much.

You must’ve spent a lot of time with Drake Jones. Were you at all surprised when he cut out so early from skateboarding to become, of all things, a golf pro?

Yeah, I feel like he left way too early. I think he could have been a huge pro if he would have just kept skating and been himself. I actually ran into him at the last ASR. He was on his way to Pebble Beach to caddy for the PGA. I guess he is on his way... I hope he turns pro. Would be cool to be say that I used to skate with that guy while he is playing the PGA.

One of the most enigmatic companies of the 90s was Metropolitan wheels, which immediately conjures up the amazing black-and-white photography of Ari Marcopoulos back east. Those ads were always so incredible… how would those shoots with Ari go down? Would Ari even direct at all or just stand back and snap? What happened with that company anyway?

Yeah, I think Metropolitan was one of the best companies. The ads were just Ari's photos. He would just cruise around with us for days and shoot all types of things. Skating, hanging out, smoking weed, whatever. He was just a homey taking photos while we were having a good time. So not much direction.

The company just stopped. I don’t really know the reason but I am sure it just was not performing and DLX had Spitfire which they need to focus on.

We should bring it back one of these days!

Every thing I saw of Jones Keefe was top shelf. What happened to him? Chris had a good run but Jones kinda fell off the radar after a minute…

Yeah, Jones is a beast. I am not really sure why he fell off but I think we all moved out of NY and he had to start being a grown-up. Since skating doesn’t pay the bills, he had to get a real job and skate less. I know he does real estate in NY still. I talk with Chris a lot but have not talked with Jones in a few years. Hopefully he still gets on the board...

DLX tours are notorious for always having some real crazy shit go down.... from vans flipping over to riders getting stabbed by their team managers. What’s the hairiest tour situation you ever found yourself in?

Ha. Damn, I am stoked I left that tour before they flipped the van. Tours have just turned into one big tour now... I have been doing them for way too long. Craziest shit is probably just doing them for 20 years and still going. Fuck it.

Which leads to my next question: Gotta ask about one of my all-time favorite dudes… give us your best Mic-e Reyes story (that he’ll let you get away with telling us).

Yo, I lived with Mic-e for 2 years in Tobin Yelland's house. All I can say is: booze, strippers, drugs, and skateboards. Shit was craze.

Who’s idea was it to skate to “Uptown Top Ranking” in the Penal Code video? Such a perfect match for your style…

We used to listen to that CD everyday in my car when we where making that video. It was the best thing. So when Meza was asking me for a song, I suggested that. He wasn’t even into it at all. I finally convinced him to use it and it was made. Imagine if there was a different song... would be so weird. I still get hit up to this day about that song.

What’s the video part you’re most pleased with? Its not uncommon for your parts to include lines that take out entire city blocks at speed... often downhill. Is it difficult to get the type-footage with the look you want? Do most filmers hate you? (laughs)

I just have to give the filmers shoes now. I like all my parts... its really hard to choose. I just wish we had all the cameras that kids have today... would be stoked to have my first real part in HD, haha... Skatemore may have been my favorite part.

I think filmers hate Dennis Busenitz.

How was it filming with Gonz in Nonfiction? You guys had some double lines in there with his first full-length part since Video Days… did he really film all that in three days?

Shit, I was like a kid in the candy store. One of the dudes that I looked up to just wanted to skate and do crazy shit all day. It was really an honor to be in that part with him. I am sure he did film it in 3 days. It’s the Gonz! He is the best.

Where was that gnarly double kink you grinded in your ender for Kicked Out? Did you get that in one trip or did you have to go back? Shit was colossal.

That was in Columbus, Ohio. Danny Gonzalas was trying in and it was backside so he was having some troubles with it. I was just chilling and then got super stoked for some reason. Went up to the rail and grinded down to the kink a few times. Got broke off a few times, then had to learn how to pump though a kink on a crazy rail. Shit just worked out and made it that first time there. I think that was the biggest rail I have done. DC ran an ad with it also and cut off the kink. I don’t think they thought I made it or some shit. Oh well...

NYC or SF? EMB or the Brooklyn Banks?

Damn, always a tough one. Right now... SF and the Banks.

Top 5 skate shoes of all-time?

DC Howard
Airwalk Enigma
Converse Chuck taylor
Nike Air Jordan 1
Vans Half Cab

I got a thing for that Enigma as well... What’s worse: an 11-year-old asking for your board every 5 minutes or a grown-ass man complaining incessantly about there being no more straps on Nike Dunk Mids?

I think an 11-year-old beating you at a game of skate.

Down to business… tell us about the new shoe line. What can we expect to see?Any secret collabos up the sleeve? Ray Fong?

Yes, we will have many collabos. And hopefully, Mr. Ray Fong will be apart of it. The shoe line is really an extension of our clothing brand. We want to build shoes for skating and support skateboarders. They are all super clean and great for skating.

Half of me wants to ask “what took so long” while the other half is wondering, with this economy, “why now?” What made you finally decide to do this? What’s the team gonna look like? Is there a Huf Super Tour in the works?

Ha, yeah that would be funny. Really it is not easy to just start a shoe company. It takes a lot of balls, support and cash flow. So the time for me is right now. I am working on the team and when it is right, it will be fucking awesome. I will get the jerseys made and we will be in Europe on our Super Tour in no time!

One project I really dug last year were those 5 legend boards you put out. How’d that come about? Will there be more of those in the future?

Yeah, I really want to do more projects like that. I think that one took a few years. You know how hard it can be to get art from 5 different busy artists... But that one was a classic, for sure. I am glad it happened and honored that they all did it. All legends for sure.

Did you always picture yourself with your own store and line? Is this something you’ve always wanted and planned on?

No, never. I actually never thought about it til I just randomly started the shop. I was just a skater with only skateboarding on my mind. I really just started the shop to have something to fall back onto after skating was done. It has grown into so many things since 2002. Its crazy how shit works out. No business plan, no line or credit and just a dream.

What’s your favorite thing about SF? What brought you back and what keeps you here? All-time favorite spot in the city?

SF is just an amazing city. Good weather, good skating, good food and easy access to everything. Fed Banks is my favorite. It is like my version of the Brooklyn Banks in SF.

All-time favorite skater?
Gonz. He is the innovator, creator and the craziest skater that ever lived. Love that guy.

Last but not least… is the Gino comeback real?

I hope so. Everyone in the world loves to watch Gino skate. He has an amazing style. I heard he has been skating a bunch. Go get 'em Gino!

Can I get an ollie pop lord?

Ollie pop.

Anything you’d like to add?

Go skate and get off your computer.

Special thanks to Huf and Jon Constantino for making this happen.


Royce said...


Unknown said...


Great job E! Fun was so awesome!

Anonymous said...

chrome ball once again proves to be one the best things going in skateboarding. thank you.

Cheaps said...

God damn! Again struck by a master post. Great work bro. Thanks

ciaran said...

Epic, well researched & knowledgeable interview, props!

Always stoked on anything from Huf. He's one of the few timeless skaters who have always stuck to their guns and not followed trends, just doing their own thing. Mike Carroll & Kalis would be of similar stock in that regard. If it weren't for old cameras, you probably couldn't tell when his video parts were shot and that for me is a good thing.

It always amazes me to hear kids whining about Huf that "he's not tech enough, he only does ollies and is shit". Bollocks. Everything he does is high, fast & stylish and that 360flip over the Meanwhile gap in London from the cover of Big Brother some 13 years later is still one of the all time gnarliest things ever done there.

dylan said...

awesome. love that you asked about drake jones and ben liversedge!

Anonymous said...

Thanks a trillion

Anonymous said...

"or a grown man complaining about no more straps on nike dunk mids?"
haha seriously
great interview

dedleg said...

Awesome - this was a good read. Huf is one of my favs, and it's always nice when pros give thoughtful answers rather than single words and grunts.

Tim said...

With his own shoe line coming does that mean him and dvs are done ? Will he revive cupsoles ? Is this what Bobby Puleo has been waiting for so he can get out of those old ipath locusts ?

Anonymous said...

This is the best interview I have read in the last 5 years. The interviewer and the interviewee taking time to do it right. Good inquiries, real answers, and no gimmicks. The type of thing skateboarding needs; history, substance and productivity, Thank you Chops.

Old School Sammy said...

Epic Interview, Chops---VERY well done!

That FTC clip was awesome!!!

Anonymous said...

Great interview. I'm also hyped on the Drake,Jones and Liversedge q's. Maybe one day we can get a Liversedge interview. I'd love to know what that guy is up to these days.

Anonymous said...

I love me some Huf! Wow, it's hard to believe he's been pro for almost 20 years. We are about the same age, so it makes me feel a bit old to read things like this, but I love to hear about him still keeping it REAL on the stick, and I am still out there trying to pop as high as I can manage as well. How long can we keep this party going, is what Im wondering. I hope I can still sk8 when Im in my fifties. Wishful thinking maybe? Keep going strong Keith, Im with you.

PS: Great job by the interviewer as well. I could tell you had some real thought out questions on your mind instead of just some average shit.

chops said...

thanks guys. truly appreciate the comments. thats what really keeps this thing going.

and thanks again to huf for taking the time and doing such amazing job with the questions. he really made me look good on this one.