It’s late Sunday afternoon in the muggy San Francisco Panhandle. It’s not raining, but it’s not really drizzling either. It’s the mist that floats in the fog when it hovers over the Panhandle every single time there’s bad weather in San Francisco. Bobby Groves, Chet Bentley and their friends Stephen and Chris are chillin’.
Smoking, drinking, observing and skate boarding, even in small amounts, is all the group is equipped to do during a lazy Sunday afternoon at the park. Bentley pulls out a crisp beverage and pops the cap open with the back end of a Bic lighter. “It’s a sport that’s surrounded by a life style,” he says as he watches Stephen and Bobby ride and pull big and small flip tricks.
Later, as we sit in a group on a couple of benches that look over the asphalt blacktop in front of us, a police car drives into the panhandle from Fell. Chet quietly puts his beer behind his leg under the bench as the two officers cruise by, glaring suspiciously. “It depends on the cop,” says Groves toward the question of discrimination by those outside of the skating community. “But most cops are chill and won’t do anything.”
Bobby Groves, 22, a senior at USF has been skating since the age of 11. Groves started skateboarding in the 5th grade in his hometown of Portland, Oregon. During the semester, Groves gets on his board 2 or 3 times a week, not counting riding to class. When he has breaks from school, Groves will skate 5 out of 7 days, meaning that he is actively going outside ‘to go skating.’ “It’s hanging out with friends” says Groves; “It can be looked at as pretty much lurking though.”
According to Bentley and Groves, there are a number of places that skateboarders appear to congregate. The Panhandle, for one, a flat top at 6th and Fulton in Golden Gate Park, the DMV (when it’s closed), and Crocker Amazon Park & Potrero Del Sol that have skate parks with half pipes and rails. Yet, part of skating is finding hills that you like to skate. “If you skate down Rivera late at night you can go from about 25th all the way down until it’s flat,” says Bentley. “You’ve got to know the city if you want to skate.”
Groves and his buddy Stephen decide to skate around a little more. They follow each other from one side of the black top to the other. “This is a game called S-K-A-T-E,” Groves says. “It’s like H-O-R-S-E. People like to warm up on it.”
As the two skate around trying to mimic one another’s kick flips, spins and rotations, Bentley and his friend Chris talk about the skill needed to skateboard. “Commitment and practice,” says Bentley, almost sounding like a mimicry of Al Davis.; “You also need a clear mind.” The physical aspect of skateboarding is also fairly arbitrary according to Chris. “Controlling the board in the air is pretty much the idea,” he says.
According to Bentley getting started with skateboarding will only cost somebody around the ball park of $150: that includes the deck, trucks, wheels, and bearings. There are a couple of skateboard shops, such as FTC in the Haight and DLX on Market.
“It’s his craft,” says Bentley about Groves who is laughing and skating, pulling great moves on the black top, “just like how playing baseball is some people’s craft, this is his.”
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