Karl Watson, nollie 180 switch crook.
Skate shops have kind of always been in the forefront of skate culture. Shops are a place for local skaters to buy their goods and wares, but on closer inspection, the skate shop is also, often, a cultural hub for skaters. A mecca. A place to meet up before and after a session, share stories, watch the newest videos and keep the skate vibe going even off the wooden stick.
No shop in the 90’s had the vibe going as solid as San Francisco’s FTC. With a team of locals including Mike Carroll, Keith Hufnagel, Drake Jones, Bobby Puleo, Mike York, Jovontae Turner, Henry Sanchez, Brad Johnson, Lavar McBride, Lennie Kirk and believe me, many, many, many more. They were literally the talk of the town. When EMB was the hottest skate spot on the planet and the locals only vibe was thick, it was the FTC crew and the Mayor, James Kelch who held it down. The FTC boys were raw on and off the boards, and rumours of gang wars, binge drinking and general fuckery were just as common as rumours of the gnarly skating that these guys were throwing down on the regular. FTC was the cream of the crop, and the head of the farm was one Kent Uyehara, owner and creative director of FTC.
I caught up with Kent and asked a few things, years after the dust kind of settles. Happy 25th anniversary to FTC! And shout out to Big Joey who used to work the shop and hook me up.
Kent, you had in many people’s opinions, the most dominant shop team in skateboarding. How did it all start? Who was the first link to all that talent and what brought them to you or you to them? What gave you the connection to all these amazing skaters?
Bobby Puleo, front blunt transfer.
I’d say the initial link was befriending a young Jovontae Turner who eventually was asked to put together the first FTC team. Through him and the team we soon met most everyone young and on the come up in skateboarding. And then everyone we knew turned pro one by one. It seemed like it was more of a matter of when you would go pro rather than if. Again, it was the right place at the right time for FTC. We were supportive of everyone we met and they reciprocated by affiliating themselves with FTC.
You had guys like Mike Carroll, Stevie Williams and Keith Hufnagel on the team who continued on to do their own industry thing, but you also had guys like the McBride Brothers, James Kelch or Drake Jones who all kind of disappeared before they truly made the splash in skateboarding many thought they could. Did you see anything in individuals that maybe separated them into two groups? Like, these guys here have a certain work ethic and these guys here don’t? Was it noticeable to you at that time as to who was who?
I never noticed distinct differences or patterns between any of our team riders. To me one’s success had less to do with great work ethic and more based on who got the best opportunities from skateboarding and, most importantly, who took advantage of said opportunities. Each of these guys were in and from completely different worlds except for skateboarding so there were unique reasons why each had varying degrees of success and failure.
Lennie Kirk, ride on 50-50
In the nineties skateboarding was a bit more tense and your team rolled with a certain swagger. Was it ever difficult for you dealing with some of these kid’s egos and how would you do it? Did you ever get the feeling that some of their behaviour would rub off wrongly on your shop reputation?
I can’t say it was too difficult. Growing up in SF I was raised a city kid -meaning you learn how to handle different things and people so I knew how to communicate well and deal with situations as they arose. Let’s just say I feel like I’ve helped raise dozens of younger brothers over the years. And damn proud of them all too!
Do you still see some of these guys? What happened to Drake Jones? It seems to me that one day these guys are the hottest thing in the city and the next day they’re gone. What happens? (Drake, Bobby Puleo, Lavar Mcbride)
Sure, we keep in touch with almost everyone from our long past. For example Drake is living in LA right now still working in professional golf as a caddie. He’s just as happy and “Drake” as ever which is probably why the skate world doesn’t hear about guys like him. FTC released a tribute deck and tee about two years ago to recognize his style contributions to the game. Drake was comfortable breaking out of his skateboarder persona at the peak of his career to fulfil other personal interests. I’m proud of him for doing it even though for years I’d hear complaints of “Drake blew it. He should have never quit.” Then you hear the story of other skaters that don’t realise when it’s time to call it quits and get a real job. Different strokes for different folks, right? FTC has lots of skate family past and present, here and there. We refer to our family as lifers. So then we are family for life!
James Kelch, backside smith grind.
How did you handle the team? I remember hanging out in the shop, guys would come in and boards, wheels and shirts would just start flowing. Did you have a system for the product? Were you cool with guys selling boards or trading boards for weed?
I assume you mean the nineties FTC team. We tried to keep it small and tight for as long as possible but there were just too many friends wanting to get on the squad so it grew and grew. I had to manage it otherwise I don’t think it could work. Our loan/trade program was quite legendary and unique but not recommended for other shops to follow. Our buying and trading product from team riders was our answer for EMB being a skate product flea market. Rather than have team riders competing for sales with us we turned them into our suppliers.
A lot of your guys were into tagging. Little Level had one of the best tags in the city in my opinion. How did you feel about the whole graffiti thing?
I’ve always been a graffiti fan but never appreciated when our shop would get hit up because I was usually the one repainting the walls. SF has been blessed with some past graffiti fame so it’s a natural part of our local landscape. Over the years FTC has worked with several SF-based former graffiti artists who are now dubbed successful contemporary artists, which pumps me up. Today’s tagger may be tomorrow’s…Banksy?!
Jovantae Turner, boardslide.
Which FTC rider put out your favourite video part? (FTC video or other)
I’ve always liked Mikey’s Finally part. De la music. Straight SF and MC. Makes me smile every time I watch it.
Do you have any advice for the skateboarding industry?
No advice from this guy. Our industry needs less advisors and consultants to really make it fun and fresh again!
Copies of the FTC book are available HERE