From Kingpin Issue 116
Skateboarding has always had its share of interesting stories. The story of Lennie Kirk, the once professional skateboarder turned preacher, now incarcerated scarface, is as interesting as they come. Passionate and raw, Lennie Kirk had it all. Had. But this isn’t the story of Lennie’s fall from skateboarding grace, this is a story within a story. This is the story of photographer Dennis McGrath’s soon to be book, dedicated to the story of Lennie Kirk, through photographs, and letters Lennie has sent him from jail.
What sparked the book?
It’s something I’ve been thinking about for over 10 yrs. I met Lennie through my brother Jon back in the early 90s when he was around 13 years old, probably. In 1994 I moved into a flat in San Francisco with a bunch of guys I’d met at art school along with a few skaters. Lennie was among the many people who frequented our place regularly. I was just getting serious about photography and was photographing the people around me mostly and Lennie was one of the more interesting people around, so I’d shoot him a lot. That’s where it started.
Is this book about you, Dennis McGrath, the photographer, or Lennie Kirk, the professional skater turned religious convict?
I’d say I’m authoring it and, yes, to a certain point it is about my experience with Lennie through the years but it’s actually a collaboration. It’s by me, as in I’m putting it together, but that’s with photos by Gary Van de Griek, Patrick O’Dell, Jonathan McGrath, Keith Hufnagel as well as my own stuff. Photos with ephemera – which is mostly excerpts from letters and so forth.
What’s your relationship with Lennie Kirk?
As I said, I’ve known him since he was a young skateboarder from North Carolina who somehow escaped the trappings of small town America to pursue skateboarding in California.
He was always a bit of a troublemaker, like the kid with a chip on his shoulder for whatever reason. He had an attitude. I haven’t talked to him since he went back to jail over a year ago.
I’m not exactly sure what his situation is but I think he may be up for some hard time. I need to write him soon. He was pretty elusive last time he was out other than being at FTC a lot.
Is this the saddest story in skateboarding?
No not at all. It’s not like he killed somebody, like Gator [did] or anything. I just think it’s an interesting and tragic story in its own right – and it’s all documented in some way. Around 1996 Lennie started to do things on his board that really had a huge impact; he could have had a very successful career. You can parallel him to Josh Kalis, they were close friends back then and still are, [they’re] both amazing skateboarders; Josh went one way and Lennie the other. Lennie had something about him other than just talent, he had a crazy intense personality which shone through once he got saved by Jesus. As far as his skating, the way he did things was like no other. Could be arms flying eveywhere, sketchy foot placement but then just going for it full bore. The switch back 180 nosegrind on Hubba (in Timecode) comes to mind: if you pause it his feet are so sketch but then he lands bolts perfect. No man had been there before, like Shogo Kubo doing a frontside grind in a pool for the first time or some crazy shit.
Did Lennie feel like skateboarding was a sin, once he got saved?
I don’t think so, he was still killing it after he got saved but after a while it seemed to distract him from being super-focused on skateboarding. Like he had a mission to rid the word of sinners or something completely irrational. Being saved helped him stay out of trouble more than anything. He would always talk about focusing on the Lord to keep his head straight.
Do you feel like this book could actually help Lennie in anyway? Is there hope for Lennie’s future?
Yes I think so. I did a little teaser of some of this stuff in Skate Book 2 like 4 years ago and when it came out his lawyer showed it to the district attorney to try to help his situation, so, yeah. I’m not trying to make him look bad in any way. To me it’s about the being human and how it’s not easy. As far as Lennies future, time will tell. I think he’s not getting out for a while so it’s hard to say.