chrome ball interview #119: keith hufnagel (2018)

chops sits down with huf for a bit more conversation. 

So I realize that your crew growing up has been well-covered by this point, but I've always wondered about you having that constant level of talent around back then, did a career in skateboarding seem almost inevitable? Because as most people go through skateboarding not knowing any pros at all, you grew up literally surrounded by future pros and legends. Was there a part of you that thought things just had to work out on some level, at least for a few of you guys…

Yeah, but we were all younger dudes, you know? There was still a long way for us to go. We were still learning and not all of us were there yet.

Plus, the only pros in New York back then were guys like Jeremy Henderson and Sean Sheffey. And we’d only see them every once in a while. Other than those guys, we never saw pros in the city, not until much later. That shit was in California.  

There was just an energy in New York back then around skateboarding. I think because we had so many spots in Midtown, as well as the Brooklyn Banks, people from all over would not only come to skate but also hang out. That’s how you were able to meet so many people. The Keefe bros, Keenan, Mike Hernandez, Ben Liversedge, Gino… we’d all be out at the same spots, all day. Not to mention all the other crews from different boroughs that would be coming through, like Ryan Hickey and the Brooklyn Kids.

It was pretty common to see kids charging through New York City together in big packs, sometimes 30-deep. The energy that creates is insane, and you can’t help but get swept up by it. Everybody’s feeding off it and pushing each other, which I honestly feel was a big contributing factor for all of us progressing so quickly. It definitely creates a learning curve.

For me, my parents lived in Manhattan, so on the weekends, people were constantly staying at my house due to its being close to everything. But it worked both ways, too. Like if we were feeling like skating Long Island, we’d stay at Gino’s or Buscemi’s house. But yeah, it just so happened that my house essentially became the halfway point between downtown and midtown, so we were constantly making pit stops there for food and drinks… Maybe rest for a second and watch a video before heading back out again to skate some more.

But a career in skateboarding never felt inevitable, though. Not at all. I mean, getting sponsored was always a subconscious part of it. Why else would we be filming other than to get sponsored, you know? That was the dream, to be part of the skateboard world out there in California. It just never really felt attainable back then.

Growing up in Manhattan, Shut must’ve been a big influence on you, right?

Shut was a few years ahead of me, which meant it was perfect for when I was a little kid. Watching Sean Sheffey skate outside of Skate NYC when I was younger made such a huge impact on me. He was just messing around but being able to witness that raw power, I knew right away that was how I wanted to skate, too.

I always wanted to get on Shut back then, my skill level just wasn’t there yet. But not only was their style of skating a big influence on me, I gotta say that those guys going out west to make it in the industry was really important for us, too. All of a sudden, those guys are living out in California, just like we talked about. They showed that it was actually possible. To see Coco Santiago and Sheffey in the magazines doing their thing, that hit on a few levels for us.

Your style of skating does fall right in-line with both Sheffey and Ron Allen, was Life the obvious choice for your sponsor-me tape? Were you in it to win it or just trying to get free stuff? And where all did you send your tape?

(laughs) Honestly, I don’t even know how I figured out the whole sponsorship deal back then. I mean, we had a camera and were always out filming. We’d even put together little parts, going from VHS-to-VHS with our own music on-top, but they rarely went beyond our circle of friends.

Basically what happened was one day, I went out to meet Keenan at the Fuji Building in Midtown. I was just out there skating and having fun, waiting for Keenan to show up when unbeknownst to me, Shrewgy was there watching me skate. I didn’t even know who he was back then, but after a while, he came up and started talking to me about possibly getting sponsored by Thunder and Spitfire.

“I want to hook you up. Send me some footage. Here’s the address and phone number.”

I think from there, we just pieced together the whole “sending in footage” thing. But yeah, those were my first real sponsors. Before that, I was getting Toxic Wheels from someone… I don’t even remember who or how that happened, but if fucking Spitfire was gonna send me wheels, I was hyped. That’s way doper than Toxic.

Keenan and I were kind of a package deal back then. I talked to Shrewgy about him and we even sent out our footage on the same tape together. From there, we figured that we needed a board sponsor... H-Street was super cool, let’s send our tape to those guys, too! Turns out that Ron Allen liked it and started flowing us Life boards.

It’s funny to look back on, because it seems like everyone sent tapes to World back then but we never did. I only sent tapes to Spitfire and H-Street. That was it for me. Those 2 tapes covered everything.

Life went on for a bit, until one day when I called for a box and Ron picked up the phone.

“Yo, we’re leaving to start our own company called Fun out of San Francisco. Do you and Keenan want to come with us?”

“Oh… okay. Sure, why not!?”

(laughs) We didn’t really know anything… sure, we ride for Fun now. We weren’t even fully hooked up on Life anyway, we were just getting free boards. So Fun sounded great. And that was really kind of the beginning of everything happening.

It’s weird that you were just flow for Life, which had a million dudes, but then got invited to ride full-on for Fun, which was a much smaller team.

(laughs) Right!? And we got on Fun right away somehow! We’d never even met Ron before. I remember being flown out there with Keenan to meet him and Jesse Neuhaus. It was always a good vibe, though. We were so hyped on skating back then, we were just happy to be out there at all.

From there, I remember all of us just hopping into a car and driving cross-country back to New York in the middle of winter, doing demos with the team. Here we are, stopping by random skateparks in Ohio and it’s freezing out. But I was just a kid, man, I didn’t give a shit. This was my dream. I didn’t care how broke I was, I still thought I was making it.

How’d you go about hooking up your crew with Fun? And how receptive was Ron to this Hufnagel/New York onslaught?

(laughs) Yeah, I definitely pushed a few guys onto the team but Keenan and I had this whole crew of dudes back East who were so rad! That was the thing, first and foremost, that they could actually skate. They just happened to be the homies as well. Because they’re seeing us come out to California for skating, they wanted to be in the mix, too. We wanted to hook them up and Ron seemed to be into it… we’re basically talent scouting for him. Let’s make it happen.

Was Gino ever considered to be in the Fun mix?

Gino was already on Black Label by the time we got on Fun, so he was taken care of... He always seemed to be one-step ahead of us back then.

So you just moved out of your parents apartment in Manhattan straight to Ron Allen’s house in the Bay? What was that like?

(laughs) Yeah, we were all staying at Ron’s house… which seems like a weird situation to look back on, but it didn’t feel weird at the time, for some reason. We were barely out of our parents’ house and now we’re invading Ron Allen’s privacy and taking over his place. But that‘s skate-life, right? You’re doing your thing. But yeah, there was a whole crew of us younger dudes crashing downstairs, Ron was upstairs and there’s a mini-ramp in the backyard. Ron was a lot older than us, too, but he wasn’t even there half the time anyway. He was always traveling.

Ron has spoken in interviews about you being so disciplined when it came to your skating and your career. Waking up early and doing the work necessary to make it happen. Have you always been that way? That’s not very common for someone in their late teens.

Yeah, that’s how I was brought up, which is part of it, but honestly, it really came from wanting to accomplish my dream. Skateboarding was what I wanted to do with my life and I didn’t want to blow it. I rarely took any days off back then. Even if I was sore, I still had to go out skating. I was in California, man. I’m gonna do my best with this opportunity.

You gotta wake up, you gotta eat, you gotta stretch… there are so many things that go along with just riding your board. You can’t go out and party every night. I was learning this whole other side of skating and really enjoying it. I was taking photos for magazines, getting footage for videos, on top of just learning tricks. I was getting a taste of the dream I’d been working at for so long, which only made me push myself harder. Because you want to stay in it as long as you can.

What was the biggest surprise for you in coming out to San Francisco?

San Francisco has a very similar vibe to New York, which was good. It still felt familiar somehow. But for me, it was all new terrain. SF had its street spots, which were flat, but there’s also the hills… and there is nothing like San Francisco hills. I mean, we skated hills in New York but you kinda had to know your runs and search them out. In San Francisco, they’re right there in your face. They’re everywhere. And there’s stuff to hit up there, too, not just bombing. So that aspect of it was really exciting… but then we’d totally eat shit. Trying to figure it all out, we’d go way too fast, catch some speed wobbles and just get wrecked.

But you figured it out. A lot of East Coast dudes came out West and never left Embarcadero or Pier 7. Your parts always had stuff in the hills.

Yeah, but at the same time, those hills aren’t for everybody. People like different stuff, too. I just got an adrenaline rush from going so fast. Because we used to do night runs as well, bombing hills after dark for fun. All the time, actually. There’s just a rush you get whenever you hit a certain speed on your skateboard. There’s a feeling that attaches itself to the experience that’s as addictive as any drug.

So you’re starting out on Fun and getting your footing in California, what was the thinking behind turning you pro at this time? Because I remember a few people saying it was a little premature as you were still relatively unknown back then. Did you think you were ready?

Oh, I’m sure people thought that, because it was definitely pretty early on.

My thing was that I was also going to State College in SF, too. That was my deal with my family. To go out to California for college while also trying to do this skateboarding thing. But going pro really came down to Ron and Jesse’s decision. They just came up one day and asked me about it, kinda out of the blue.

“We want to turn you pro.”

What am I supposed to say? I can’t tell them no, you know? I honestly didn’t think I was ready… but at the same time, not only does going pro mean putting out a board, it also means a paycheck and skating for a living. This was during the heart of the Embarcadero-era. I didn’t want to go to class with all that going on. Fuck college, I’m just going to skate now because there seems to be more to come here.

But yeah, it was a little embarrassing for me, because I was essentially putting my money where my mouth was. Putting my name on a board meant something. I now had to go down to Embarcadero and skate with the other pros and local kids. No excuses, I had to prove myself.

Were you intimidated at all going down there? It was Mecca at that point, but very cutthroat as well.

There was some intimidation but I couldn’t let it bother me. But walking into this legendary spot with a whole crew of people who don’t know you, that opens you up to that same ol’ shit. Dudes asking you for free shit or money... but I never got any harsh vibes. Karl Watson used to try hitting me up for money all the time because I was the new kid but that was about it. I bet he probably got thousands of dollars back then, just by hitting up new kids at Embarcadero. Not from me, though. (laughs)

It was the exact same as hanging out at the Banks. I’d been through a version of all that before so I knew how to act. Dudes harassing you for a dollar or some hood dudes coming through, trying to fuck with you. Because just as the New York kids are tough, so are the SF kids. But I’m out in California now, doing my thing, I’m just trying to skate. You see Mike Carroll or Henry Sanchez roll by, you’re immediately excited and want to be part of that. It doesn’t matter what those other kids said.

I’m sure turning pro put the bullseye on me for a bit. People probably talked some shit but I got through.

Talk about the Funknowns video and what that was like. I’ll be honest, I didn’t even know that video existed. How come that thing was so hard to get?

(laughs) That’s a Ron Allen question. I think he literally drew on every copy by-hand. But honestly, we filmed a few things for that but it was largely a mash-up of old sponsor-me footage. Just kinda everything we had all rolled into one, editing from VHS-to-VHS.

Was that your first part?

(laughs) I guess you could call it that… Ron and his two VCRS. We were always filming back then so he decided to come out with a video. Videos were a big deal by that point but this wasn’t one of them. It was one step past a sponsor-me tape but with some cool shit. So sketchy, man... Filmed sketchy, edited sketchy. It wasn’t fancy at all.

Isn’t your Transworld frontside noseslide cover in that part? That cover had to be a pretty big deal for you at the time…

Oh yeah, it was! Getting a Transworld cover was insane back then. That ledge was back in New York, up the mid-40s and Park Avenue.

But the typical frontside noseslide back then was, like, two inches...

(laughs) It was pretty waxed-up. I actually used to hit that spot a lot, it was part of our run. Grinds and lipslides… frontside tailslides. I’m pretty sure that I’d just learned frontside noseslides around that time and I remember figuring that I’d give it a go. It worked out. But yeah, that Transworld cover was pretty big for my career. That was some good exposure for me, for sure.

So how did the end of Fun come about? I always heard that you were on a tour, Keenan and Pupecki bounced, and that was it? Is that really how it happened?

That’s close.

It was myself, Ron, Keenan and Pupecki on a tour and there was a fight, I can’t remember what it was about, but I feel like it had more to do with the overall status of things and the big picture. People were getting to be a little more in-demand and this tour really wasn’t going all that well. It could’ve been a financial thing, I can’t remember for sure. I just remember Keenan and Pupecki getting pissed at Ron one night in Chicago and being like, “Yo, we’re quitting and going back to LA.”

I stayed with Ron for another day or so afterwards but the tour was done. I just felt bad for him. I didn’t want to leave him necessarily but the more I thought about things, I realized that I had to think about my own stuff, you know? So that’s really when I decided to head back home to SF and start figuring things out for me as well.

About a week later, Ron finally got back. He had to drive back by himself. But that’s when I told him that I was leaving Fun. I didn’t want to be left on this team without my friends anymore. Plus, Keenan was hitting me up at that point, too, like, “What the fuck are you doing? You gotta get outta there. Come with me over to World.”

Keenan got on Blind almost instantly after he left Fun. So with Gino being on 101 down there and now Keenan in the mix, too… Pupecki was about to get on Menace as well. The World Industries camp really seemed to be opening up to us with a lot of opportunities. And while this was after Girl, it still felt like a good time to be in that crew.  

When I quit Fun, I didn’t really have a plan. Those guys were all about me coming down to LA and riding for a Rocco company. They were vouching for me so that we could all be together in this big thing… and I actually did go down there to check it out. I even started riding World Industries boards there for a second, but once I got back up to SF, Jim Thiebaud came rolling up on me. Evidently he’d been driving around, looking for me, which is pretty funny to think about. I guess that he’d always liked my skating and had heard that I quit Fun, he wanted to see what I was gonna do next.

“You need to come to Deluxe and talk.”

Being in SF, I skated with the Real dudes all the time anyway. Salman, Coco and Kelly Bird… it was always a good time. So the team and I were already down. Plus, I really didn’t want to move to Los Angeles back then. San Francisco was more my style. So I decided to just say fuck it and ride for Real.

Choosing anyone else over Rocco at that time didn’t happen very often.

(laughs) Well, I never met Rocco. It was my boys telling me that it could happen down there… which, it probably could’ve. Real just felt like the better option for me.

It seemed like you went on a tear after that… like, how’d the kickflip on Black Rock go down? I don’t really recall anybody else actually skating the Rock itself.

I remember people running up and dropping in on it. Drehobl had a few things on it, just by running up it. But no, not too many people were doing the quick ollie up and then doing tricks. I’d go there and do ollies on it all the time, because you could skate it pretty often back then. People would skate the rock but it was a bit of a harder thing to do things on because it was so steep. Whenever you ollied onto it, it felt like running into a wall. And it’s slick, too.

I started fucking around with it one day and learned kickflips on it. I had a few clips and photos of that actually. Both Gabe and Bryce shot it, I think. I guess I ran that one pretty hard.

You gotta maximize that shit. And obviously, this is peak helmet hair-era for you here… which you must be tired of talking about.

Oh, it’s fine. It’s funny that’s become such a thing over the years. The thing is now everyone wants me to grow it back, which isn’t even possible. Not that I’m going bald or anything but when you’re in your 40s and trying to grow your out, it’s not a good look. I’d rather shave it, which is just as easy. That was pretty much the whole point of the helmet hair anyway, convenience. (laughs)

What about the quick-footed 360 flip between Brown Marble benches? Still amazing. You weren’t throwing that one down all the time, were you?

Oh no, that was the only one that I ever made. I used to ollie it a lot and, same thing, I learned how to kickflip it one day, which wasn’t too hard. It wasn’t too long after that when we were out filming one day with Tobin taking photos, we headed over to Brown Marble and found a full-blown session going on. I just got hyped and started trying to 360 flip it, over and over again. It really wasn’t happening for me… I mean, I wasn’t even coming close. But I just wanted it so bad.

So I’m getting ready to go again and just happen to see the security guard on his way out. I know that is probably going to be my last try so I just go for it and it totally worked out somehow. And that was it. No need to go back for that, that was a good one. I’m taking it. (laughs)

Didn’t you trying 360 flipping the Gonz at Embarcadaro, too?

I did try it, but no, I don’t think that ever actually happened for anyone. I know a few people tried it but no one ever rolled away. I just tried it that one day but it was literally straight-through for an hour and a half. I was landing on it with one-foot almost every try. I even landed on it with both feet a couple times but could never get it. I think the height and the compactness was too much for me, I kept blowing up.

I was so sore after that, too. I could barely walk for the next few days. But I’m still bummed about that one, though… that’s actually one of my life regrets, not getting that. It would’ve been a good one.

The alleyway melon for that Cups and Jugs ad, one of my all-time faves. Is that just two pieces of plywood against a dumpster?

Yeah, I was going out with Gabe Morford almost every single day at that point. One day, we decided to break away from the norm and go out looking for different types of spots. Just stuff we thought looked cool. Somehow we ended up in that alley, I think there was a camera studio over there or something. But there just happened to be all this wood and some milkcrates around, so I started messing around with it. Leaning some plywood up against a dumpster that was nearby and putting a few milkcrates underneath it for support whenever I rode up it. It just naturally happened but once we saw that it actually worked, it was honestly pretty fun. That whole thing happened pretty quick. I ollied it a few times and, for whatever reason, started doing backside grabs over it, which really weren’t in at the time. But whatever, I think it’s a rad-ass photo.

What about the making of Nonfiction? Did you feel any pressure with that being essentially your debut part after being pro for so long? Was that just you and Tommy out there?

I just remember Jim and Tommy bringing it up one day, kinda out of the blue, but I was totally into it. I have no idea how long we filmed for that one… it feels like it was a bit on-and-off for a while. I’d just go out with Tommy and a few others and get what we got. Not that I was stressing but I remember always wanting to get better footage, like I was never altogether satisfied with things. I kept wanting to do better and better, which is pretty common. I know that I filmed a lot of stuff that didn’t make it in there but I was happy with how it all came out. I thought that one came out pretty cool.

This is super knit-picky but what about that nollie frontside heel over the bench at Union Square? That doesn’t really seem like a Huf trick.

(laughs) Oh, I used to do that trick a lot actually! For a minute, I swear I had this nollie 180 heelflip power! I don’t know what was going on but those things would just pop straight-up to my legs, no matter how high I pulled them up. They just worked.

We used to skate Union Square all of the time back then. There was that little bump, basically a little wheelchair ramp that we’d set benches up at and do tricks over. It just so happened that one day, I went for a nollie 180 heel and it worked.

But it didn’t even look like you battled that thing. And that was huge at the time.

That’s what I’m saying! I just used to have those things! I don’t know if it was because of the concave or the nose or what? They just became one of those tricks that worked for me back then. I wish I still had them like that!

How’d your clips with Gonz in LA come about for that? You had to be tripping, right?

Oh, for sure. Because I’d never really met Mark prior to him getting on Real. I’d see him around every now and then but it really wasn’t until we became teammates that I got to skate with him fairly regularly. And even then, I still didn’t really consider him a “teammate”… I mean, it’s Mark Gonzales. He’s always been one of my favorite skaters. But yeah, he’s just so energetic, man. He loves to create and do funny shit. He’s fucking awesome.

That whole thing went down kinda random. Somebody just asked if I wanted to go to Los Angeles for a few days during Nonfiction to skate with Gonz… of course, I’m going to go! And it’s funny because while I’m skating with him in those clips, I’m still kinda watching him, too. I want to see what he’s going to do just like everybody else. Because you always have to watch that dude, he’s always doing crazy shit. I just happen to be on camera, too. (laughs)

Give us your best Gonz story.

Oh man… that’s a hard one. Because Gonz loves to push buttons. He’s the best dude to skate with but then he’ll do something crazy to get people upset. He loves that kinda shit. (laughs)

The one story that always comes to mind, and I wasn’t even there for it, but it’s Mark putting himself through an x-ray machine at the airport. The ones for your bags... I honestly don’t know if that’s really true but I think about it every time I’m in that security line and it makes me laugh. Because you know they’re going to bust you after that, for sure. Everybody’s getting delayed when you do that.

So was your Penal Code part just Nonfiction throwaways then?

No, that was a separate thing with Meza. I had completely different things going for each project, it just so happened that I had lot of extra stuff for Nonfiction. They were both happening around the same time but yeah, Penal Code was Aaron’s project and he kept all the footage that was filmed specifically for him. It was its own thing.

But how serious did you take Penal Code? Because after all, no one else was fighting over their song…

That’s a good point, because I definitely fought for my song. I don’t think anybody else really seemed to care. But any video was a big video to me, especially back then as I hadn’t been in too many videos up to that point. I was definitely taking it pretty seriously. I always liked FTC, too, so I wanted to do my best.

Things weren’t as crazy back then either. Footage of an ollie was still acceptable... thank God. (laughs)

So its well-known that Meza didn’t like “Uptown Top Ranking” but you were still able to get it in there. Because, like you said, you hadn’t been in many videos up to that point, did you have that song in your pocket for a while?

Oh yeah, I’d actually been planning on using that one in a part for years. Because we used to listen to that song all the time. We had these classic Jamaican mixtapes that I was super into back then. That song always got me hyped so it was definitely always in my plan. But yeah, I remember giving it to him and he wasn’t feeling it. I had to fight for it, for sure.

He was probably gonna try making you skate to Rush or Stryper. (laughs)

(laughs) I don’t think he had another option, I think he just hesitated because I brought it up to him as “reggae”. I’m sure he was wondering about what the fuck I was about to give him.

Which part do you like better, Nonfiction or Penal?

Oof… I think the song does it in Penal. No matter how good your skating is, it’s always the song that tells the story. If the music is able to stick in people’s heads, they’ll remember the whole thing better. I like both parts a lot but that Althea Donna song really makes it.

By comparison, your Nonfiction song has, like, tribal drums in it, right? Was that Tommy’s choice?

No, I gave that one to Tommy. I actually like my song in Nonfiction. It was more of a licensing thing that came into play. Real was tripping on stealing music. But that was Theo Hand’s dad on that song. I liked the whole vibe of it, too… it’s just not "Uptown Top Ranking".

What about you and Carroll sharing the board for Penal Code? Was that just for the camera or would you two do that a lot?  

(laughs) Nah, I’ll be honest, we were just fucking around for the camera. Just battling flip tricks, you know? Like how you play games of SKATE and all that. Having fun. But no, I think that was probably the only time we ever did that.

Weren’t you asked to get on Girl at one point?

There was some talk at one point but it wasn’t until a little bit later, after I had moved down to LA and was skating with that whole crew a lot.

I remember there being a Girl trip out to New York and I asked to get in the van for a ride, just to go back home and skate. It wasn’t like I was actively trying to get on the team or anything. But they let me come along and I ended up hanging out with those guys for the entire trip, which meant that I basically skated with the Girl team for 30 days straight. So after a while, of course, Keenan and Gino start bringing up Chocolate to me, trying to get in my head.

It would’ve been awesome, for sure, but at the same time, it would’ve been like breaking up with a girlfriend when there’s nothing wrong. I did think about it for a while and was actually going to do it at one point, I just couldn’t pull the trigger. Real has always taken care of me so I had to stick with them. There was no reason for me to start any drama. As fun as it would’ve been for me to be with my boys, I had my crew at Real, too. So I stayed.

I’ve learned that you were a pretty big filmer back during the bro-cam era. Like, you filmed Freddy’s Hubba stuff for Timecode?

Oh yeah, totally!

I didn’t even know Fred at all back then, he just got dropped off at our house. That was the thing, if you were from the East Coast and were cool, you could stay at our place. And Freddy was always tight.

But yeah, I filmed a lot. Even growing up, we had a camera and would take turns sharing filming duties. I was always cool with it. Every time I got hurt, too, I’d help guys film. That was all good until the Death Lens came along, I couldn’t film anymore after that. Quick touches with that thing would change the whole deal. I was more of a shitty old-school filmer, where you really didn’t have to know what you were doing. Just push record and make sure it was in focus.

We were all tripping on Freddy at Hubba, though. It was insane. Because here he was, just this young kid who showed up out of nowhere one day… he did everything on that trip! He destroyed San Francisco! Switch grinding everything. Switch crooked grinding everything… we couldn’t believe it.

“Who is this kid!?! He’s going switch down Hubba Hideout like it’s nothing!?! Alright, whatever!” (laughs)

He seriously handled all that Hubba Hideout stuff in one day.

Didn’t you film Welsh’s switch tre over the Brooklyn Banks wall, too?

I think so! I don’t want to piss any filmers off but I think that was me. Reda took the photo so I must’ve filmed it. Welsh just had it like that. He had that switch pop so good. It didn’t take very long for him at all, for how big of a trick was. I remember him coming pretty close for a minute then he fully made it.

It’s kinda funny that I didn’t even remember that until you brought it up. I’ve always tried to help out, but it’s not like I was ever very good at it. Mostly just for pure documentation. Pretty cool it’s worked out like that over the years.

Weren’t you also there with Phil Shao and Dawes at that Las Vegas ditch? Is there any video of that?

Yeah, that was just a road trip for Slap. I don’t think we brought a video camera on that one, but if we did, we weren’t using it. We just happened to see that ditch on the side of the road. And not only was Phil Shao ollieing off that thing into the ditch, like in the photo, he was ollieing up it, too. It was unbelievable, man. So gnarly. To be honest, I was scared shitless with that thing. It was rough. It was high. It was downhill… everything that’s wrong. But Phil just handled it.

You didn’t even fuck with it?

I tried to ollie up it… I think I got up it once. But I was too scared to go back in. No way. (laughs)

Phil did it a bunch, though. He was just cruising, man. Phil had such crazy skills… that thing was pretty easy for him somehow, which is nuts because of how fast it is.

One thing I’ve always noticed about your career is that you’ve always seemed to go back to New York for coverage, much more than most Cali transplants. You even moved back for a minute there, why was that?

Yeah, I moved back from around ’96 to ’98 or so.

For me, I knew that whenever we had a video project to work on, New York was always a good move. I feel like there’s something about New York footage that you can’t compete with. It always looks so amazing. And while it is harder to skate weather-wise... and how rough it is with so many people, I still knew all the terrain so well. I had all these spots that we’d skated over the years that I wanted to get footage at. Plus, I always had a place to stay.

I feel like my move back came from getting burned out on San Francisco. I’d been skating there almost every day for years and was looking for something different. Things were really starting to happen back East and New York is always an amazing place to skate anyway. The weather sucks but hey, let’s give this a shot.

I’ve always wondered how you dealt with hardline East Coast politics in the late 90s? Dudes that left to make it versus those who stayed. I know you lived with Hickey for a minute and he was always pretty outspoken about it. Would that ever get brought up to you?

I never really heard that stuff… maybe a little bit at the time but it really wasn’t until I read his interview that I realized it might’ve been a thing. At the same time, I was just so focused on skateboarding. That’s all I wanted to do. Anyway, it’s not like people saying that kinda stuff is actually going to affect where you live, you know? I’m very proud to be from New York and it is a part of my history but at the same time, I have also been able to skate the entire world. That was largely due to my taking an opportunity to move out to San Francisco. That’s what I had to do at the time. But I’ll keep coming back to New York because I love it.

He spoke a lot about you in that interview, even down to people stealing your boxes back in the day when you lived together. Anything you’d like to add?

(laughs) Oh yeah, I remember people stealing my boxes. I used to get pissed about some shit, for sure. I mean, if my box is getting stolen at the house, of course, I’m gonna be pissed… then I’d hear that they were trying to sell it at Supreme afterwards. (laughs)

But yeah, that’s just little shit that I hope we’ve all gotten past. Shit happens, man. I get it. It’s the city. People are trying to live.

Speaking of East Coast, weren’t you supposed to start Vehicle with Gangemi and Freddy?

Yeah, there was talk early on, back when Gangemi was just getting everything going. We talked about potentially partnering up for it, which I did toy around with a while. There were a few other dudes involved as well. It was a rad concept and everything… but it’s the same thing as the Chocolate thing. I couldn’t give up Real, man. They’ve done so much for me and stuck by me all this time. I still ride for Real to this day. It’s a life commitment.

Part of the Vehicle thing was also that I just didn’t think that I was ready to go into work mode yet as a partner. I was still very much in skate mode at that time, if that makes sense. Vehicle didn’t have any real structure yet and becoming a partner would’ve meant a lot of work on our parts, outside of skating, to really set that up. As it was, at that point, an opportunity to make boards. But it didn’t have the money, structure or experience behind it yet to really become something more than that. In the end, I just wasn’t ready for that type of responsibility yet, either. Real was already established and still helping me grow.

It was a bummer declining Gangemi’s offer. I know that he was pissed for a long time, maybe he still is. But it is what is. These types of things are always very hard decisions to make.

You’ve always been known for those quick set-ups but you really started going for them around 2000 or so, especially in Real to Reel but also with Skate More as well. What was the inspiration there?

It’s just that you always go to spots and see everyone skating things the same way. How do you find something different? For me, I always had this quick pop that I could work with… You always want to make the most out of stuff like that. Take advantage of things that not everyone can do. I’ve always enjoyed doing that stuff anyway.

At 3rd and Army, I always used to do that one ollie to lipslide at the end there until I realized one day that I could ollie and ollie and ollie then hit it. A new challenge, you know? It’s almost like you’re a fucking horse at some point… jumping fucking hurdles, but it’s fun. (laughs)

Skate More was fun because not only was I going to Barcelona a lot, I was also back up in SF more for that. Felt good being back there, trying to skate some of those older spots a little differently than I had in the past. Messing around with longer manual stuff and ledge stuff. I've always liked how that one came out. 

How long did that Car Wash gap take?

I think they’re actually tearing that down now because the land is so valuable. I saw it boarded up a while ago. But yeah, that gap took me a while. The biggest problem was landing all 4 wheels on the ramp without hanging up, because it’s only about the length of your board anyway. I had to go back something like 3 times for that one. And it was this whole thing where I had to run across the street, jump on my board, ollie up a curb and then trying to ollie that gap… and a fucking cop gave me a jaywalking ticket one time for it. Because I was running across the street.

No way!

Dead serious. But that one took a while because I was landing a lot with two wheels on the bank, two wheels on the sidewalk. You couldn’t roll away like that, you just stopped immediately. So I had to keep pushing myself back up and trying it again until I finally fucking got one with all four down without locking up. 

I think you’re the only guy to have ever skated to Heart.

(laughs) Yeah, I always like that song. It was something different but still worked somehow. But yeah, that was my choice. I think just about every big video part I’ve ever had was my song choice.

How much do you skate these days? And how do you see yourself fitting in on Real?

I’m just cruising now and having fun. I don’t skate every single day but there’s always a board with me, even if I’m just going down the street or whatever. I take my kid out to the park these days as well, so I get to skate around while he’s riding his bike. That’s what my skateboarding comes down to now.

Well, I think you’ve more than proven yourself over the years… and while you’re not technically OG Real status, you’re pretty damn close.

Yeah, I’m just having fun, man. It’s hard because I feel like for street skaters, you can’t keep improving after a certain point. There are obviously a few rare exceptions but it’s a lot on the body. You end up skating a ledge or some flatground after a while.

So are you comfortable being seen as a “businessman” in the skateboarding industry yet? Or do you still see yourself more as a pro?

(laughs) I see myself more as a businessman these days, which is weird to say but that’s what it is.  I’m still all skateboarder at heart… and I’ll always be a skateboarder, it’s just that the business part has taken over things for me, which is good. Because through all of this, I’m happy to giving back to skateboarding as well.

How much of the day-to-day of HUF do you touch?

It’s not like I have to run the office or anything. I don’t really touch most of the day-to-day anymore, I’m in more of the creative side of things. I talk with our marketing people about different ideas and I deal with the roster. I’ll be in budget meetings and even go out to certain events whenever I can. But I’m not ordering office supplies and shit like that now. (laughs)

What’s your relationship with Lakai?  

So, a while back, we got a partner by the name of ACP. They were also partners with Girl and Chocolate. At some point, ACP decided to take Lakai out of the Girl camp and place it under our roof in order to combine production and a few other reasons. So yes, Lakai does sit with our partners in Huf under the same roof… I was about to call it a portfolio! (laughs)

Yes, Lakai is part of our group.

Because I’ve seen where Carroll has called you his boss on social media and I wasn’t quite sure how to take that.

I mean, there are a few bosses but I am part of being the boss. Lakai is under our company and we handle all the production, pay the bills and take care of the riders. All that stuff… so yeah.

Not to minimize what you’ve done with Huf because it really is incredible but it has to be frustrating being up against these billion-dollar athletic brands, right?

For Huf and Lakai, we just have to keep doing it. We’re all skateboarders at our core and it’s skateboarding that what we need to look after and support. Because what other option do we have? This is what we want to do so we’re going to keep finding ways to continue doing it. We realize that we’re up against huge competition and it’s always going to be that way. Hopefully, we can maintain what we have and keep it going. Because we’re never going to beat those people. We’re just not. You can’t kid yourself. So we just have to keep making cool shit and supporting skateboarding.

But how do you respond to the critics that say Huf “sold-out” and is no longer "skater-owned"?

(laughs) Well, it’s not true. I’m still an owner of the company.

I don’t know… they’re probably wearing Vans or Nikes anyway. But really, what does “skater-owned” even mean? At the end of the day, I feel like the people who typically say that stuff really have no idea who actually owns any of this stuff. They contradict themselves with that stuff all the time.

I think that the more important thing is if a company is giving back to the skateboarding community. Do they put on events and put out videos? Are they adequately funding people to skateboard, which keeps professional skateboarding growing and moving forward? I hope so. I know we do.

What was your thinking behind putting out Dylan’s updated take on that Gravis shoe? Because this was before his passing when that shoe was still quite a source of controversy. I feel like you guys putting that shoe out was making a statement.

Yeah, but that was all Dylan. He was just such a special breed, man. All I did was give him whatever tools I had and all the support I could give, but that was really it for me on my end. But I backed whatever he wanted and never really questioned him. He knew exactly what he wanted and I didn’t want to get in the way of that.

He designed everything and made sure that it was all to his liking, even down to picking between all the different colors that we’d mock-up for him. We just helped him get it there. And I’m proud to say that the only things we make with his name on it are the things he wanted. We won’t make anything else.

Amazing. So talk about the relaunch of Metropolitan. I always loved that brand and was so happy to see its resurrection. I know you rode for it during the first go-round, too, with those incredible Ari shoots…

Oh yeah, Ari was always so amazing at capturing that stuff on the side, you know? Whatever was happening behind the scenes. He wasn’t that motion photographer lying down in the gutter to get some angle for a trick. He hardly ever shot action. I mean, If we asked him to, he would and it would always come out sick because it definitely didn’t look like anybody’s else photos. I loved that he always had his own individual style.

When I first met him, he was just this funny-ass dude following us around on a bike while we skated. He was always incredible at capturing everything that was going on around a session, besides the actual tricks. I always loved that. The black-and-white, too… he really captured a great era of skateboarding in this almost cinematic way. He did all those ads in the beginning of the company, which really became a large part of its legacy, along with the logo. And we still use Ari for stuff. He’s done some things for the new cycle of the company as well. It’s only right.

I loved Metropolitan and was stoked to be on the team back then. I just always felt like it had so much more to offer. So four years ago, I talked to Jim about it and ended up taking over the company and its copyrights. I wanted that to be my next project. I mean, Huf is still my main focus, Metropolitan is more my moonlighting passion project, if that makes sense. I’ll work on that at night or possibly hire some people to do things for it on the side. But I like having fun with it. My aim is to always keep everything more limited and do higher quality goods. Low-key and elusive, not really trying to sell it everywhere. Because I think it’s fun for people to have a brand that they know isn’t gonna be blown out. I like that it’s a bit harder to find.

Huf is just a different beast now. I still have my say but it's just so much bigger now. There are rules and goals that need to happen. Metropolitan has none of that. It’s basically whatever I want it to be. So I can now work both sides of this equation with two very different companies. I feel like it keeps things fresh.  

Super good, man. So as we wrap this up, what’s next, Huf?

Honestly, I’m just going to continue building these brands.

Huf still has a lot more things to do. Right now, it’s this kinda funny balance for me of watching it grow while also making sure that it’s still on the right track. Because it’s pretty easy for a growing company to lose its way. So I do a lot of policing my own brand these days to be sure that doesn’t happen. We just have a lot going on. We’re opening up more retail stores and doing more events… trying to make our brand better. But that’s where my focus is, maintaining that right vision while helping out with the process as much as I can.

Lakai is right there in the mix, too. We’re trying to help them grow as much as possible as well to become a bigger brand. It’s gone through a lot of changes over the years but there’s still so much value there.

Metropolitan will continue on its path as well. We’re gonna probably make some wheels soon because people keep asking us to, but that’s not going to be Metropolitan’s focus anymore. I’m not trying to compete with Spitfire but we do want to honor our heritage with some limited reissue wheels or whatever… which is pretty funny to say. (laughs)

I have a lot of stuff going on, for sure. But I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Big thanks to Huf for taking the time once again. 


Anonymous said...

I love you both.

Anonymous said...

Westgate skated to "Magic Man" in the State of Mind video - I always wondered if that was some reference to Huf's Real to Reel part...either way "Crazy On You" definitely worked better. Great interview as always, thank you!

Anonymous said...

Always the best interviews. Keep 'em coming.

Warm Up Zone said...

The Brown Marble 360 flip, Black Rock, the Sight Unseen ad, the alleyway dumpster ramp to ramp... I never realized until now how many iconic and memorable tricks Huf had. That Roy Lichtenstein space shuttle Real graphic is also timeless.

Anonymous said...

Westgate and Joslin have also skated to Heart.

Charles Klossner said...

Rest in peace HUF

Anonymous said...

super inspiring to me. I learned about this legend too late. 2020 took a lot of good people away aside from the pandemic. Rest In Awesomeness HUF you really lived out my childhood dreams but i'm happy to be able to see where you've been both through the stories you told in these interviews and in person physically being at some of these locations. i love NYC and i love SF very much. Thank you guys for making this interview happen with such nice questions. keep going 💪

Katrin Lime said...

It's fascinating how the city's unique locations and diverse mix of skaters from different neighborhoods have fueled this energy and progress. Your home, which is a central hub for skaters to gather, recharge, and plan their next moves, adds another layer to the story. It's like your home has become a base camp for skate adventures across the city. Speaking of adventures, have you ever thought about documenting those experiences in writing? Maybe even turn them into essays ? ThesisLeader can offer valuable insights and perspectives on skate culture and urban research.