On The Grind: Heavy Metals

Learn about Spencer Fujimoto, one of the longstanding thoroughbreds of a golden era in the Bay Area.

Words Rainey Cruz Photos Peter Pabon 

Run The Jewels

Long ago, before the Internet and any nihilistic blogs about ironic skate spots, there were jump ramps. And they were good. They were the derivative of the declining vertical ramp scene of the early ‘80s. Simple to build, easy to transport and most importantly — fun as hell! Ask Spencer Fujimoto, one of the longstanding thoroughbreds of a golden era in the Bay Area. His gateway drug into the four-wheeled addiction was the local jump ramp convergence. 

Skateboarding had already become a scene twice over. There was the post-polyurethane Dogtown era and the vert ramp era when legends like Christian Hosoi and a young Tony Hawk soared. And after that decline yet another chapter unrolled. It was happening thanks to breakthrough films starring the Powell Peralta “Bones Brigades” crew, when vertically-inclined riders like Lance Mountain, Steve Caballero and the Bird Man himself started taking their boards out of the ramps and into the streets. Truth be told, The Search For Animal Chin put street skateboarding on a national map. It was the first time such a prolific documentation of street style skating hit the masses. Future Primitive shook things up once more over when the California cult rolled into New York City. Skaters were undoubtedly taking note and Spencer was one of them.

Back to the jump ramp. The one piece of democratic and DIY skate architecture that ushered in the spirit of modern skate spontaneity. Once you hit it a few times, it was on. Then you’d want to lay it next to another obstacle of your liking. And once you mastered that you’d try it on or over something else even. It’d become a chain. Skaters began to cherish all of the nooks of public domain. And from this newfound exploration arose the era of skate spots, infamous for the generations of skaters that any given location could inspire.

This is the history that Spencer Fujimoto, now more than 20 years since his first official sponsorship in 1989 (thank you Santa Cruz Skateboards), is hoping to capture with his line of skateboard-centric jewelry, El Señor. Meant for the mister of skateboarding (the English translation), the “7 Wonders of the World Collection” pays homage to the iconic skate spots that he and your favorite skaters earned their careers on. From the infamous Embarcadero Seven of San Francisco to the Brooklyn Banks, Spencer’s metal-based craft encapsulates the relics of skateboarding’s past. Now with his second season complete, the mister of skateboard jewelry speaks with us about his inspiration, the progressive nature of his latest pieces and his bicoastal career.

Mass Appeal: When did you first get into skateboarding?

Spencer Fujimoto: I first started skateboarding in 1985 when I got my first board. In 1986 I got my first real setup, a setup from a skateshop. And in 1989 I got sponsored by Santa Cruz skateboards. 

What was the scene like back then in The Bay?

There was a big scene, especially in my neighborhood. There were a lot of kids that skated; it was the jump ramp era. There was a jump ramp somewhere and we’d all go over there and skate it. Doing all the early grabs and boneless’, hand plants, street plants…and it was a little bit different than what it is now. It was about having fun and hanging out and being a renegade then. It’s more sports-oriented now.

Tell me about Embarcardero. What was that like? Was it much different from the jump ramp era? 

It transitioned from jump ramps to curbs to ledges and stairs. Embarcadero had all the ledges and stairs you could ask for. It was a little far for me, but I would make it there. Any spare time that I had, I had to be there. I didn’t want to miss anything. 

Were you ever signed to Chocolate Skateboards?

No, those were my brothers. I was signed to World Industries. That’s where most of the dudes from Chocolate Skateboards and Girl came from. And Plan B too.

When did you get signed to World Industries? How did that go down?

I was riding for Santa Cruz and it was when Plan B started. I was trying to get on H Street actually. Me and Jake Rosenberg went down to San Diego and I had my sponsor-me tape and met up with Tony Magusson. I gave him my tape, skated his ramp and he told me to call Mike Ternasky on Monday. This was on Saturday. We went back to The Bay and on Monday we heard that a new company had started. These dudes had all quit and made Plan B. It was like, “Wow, what just happened? I just missed my opportunity!” Santa Cruz had already caught wind that I was trying to leave so I ended up getting kicked off and I was kind of left out there for like a whole summer with no sponsors. 

And I ended up calling Kareem Campbell. I got his number from one of my sponsors and we had some conversations so I just pretty much cold-called him and asked him what was up. He told me he was going to be in the city in a few weeks and to meet him. So he shows up to the city for a contest. He was with Steve Rocco. I was at Embarcadero and he taps me on the shoulder and tells me, “Rocco is here and he wants to see you skate.” I was like, “Oh man!” and dumped a load in my pants. I was shook. Like, “Oh God here it is. This is it.”

So I had a whole plan in my head about starting at the small three then working my way up to the C block then going to the big three and then I’m going to end at the seven. Fuck it, I’m going to even skate The Gonz [Gap] today. I was like, “I’m going big!” So I ollied up the C Block, I did one trick, and fell. Then I see Kareem giving me the sign to come over. So I pick up my board and I go over there and he’s like, “Yeah, this is Steve Rocco, you’re on the team.” My jaw hit the floor. Steve Rocco hands me a piece of paper with a number on it and tells me to call Meagan on Monday. I’m like, “Holy shit, this is it!” I was so psyched. I was telling everybody. “I got on World!” No one believed me. That was 1992.

When you moved to New York were you skating with anyone here or were there any sponsorships that helped you transition?

I pretty much just showed up. I landed at the Brooklyn Banks basically. I had known a bunch of people from skating in San Francisco so I pretty much ended up skating around with Mike Hernandez and Alyasha Owerka-Moore. Alyasha was bringing back American Dream at that time so I got on there and he pretty much helped me out in the city and Alex Corporan too, he helped me out a lot. Once again, it was a little bit different in those days. Skateboarding was a much smaller community. 

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When did you first get into making jewelry?

I first started in high school. I started just dabbling around. I had gotten in trouble a lot as a kid so my stepfather, he taught five classes at a city college and I ended up having to take a few classes there. I was a junior in high school and I had made a few graffiti style links and medallions and letters. I was just bored. I didn’t think it was that creative so I put it down. And I just started bringing it back about a year and a half ago.

You’ve got a new round of pieces coming out like the “Hubba Hideout” and other skate spots. Can you tell me about them?

It’s part of the “7 Wonders” collection. The first round the collection has to do with all these specific spots, and season two has to do with specific spots, but things that are a little bit more versatile to every skater. Like a bench, it’s like a building block to get to a table and the hubba. Without the bench you can’t get to a picnic table. Those two items, the bench and the picnic table are everywhere. Every skater has skated one. The ledges and tables that I made are modeled after Lockwood but it’s just like a universal skate obstacle.

And the “Hubba Hideout” piece, any skater that skates street has skated a hubba. Even if you’ve never been to the spot or have never even heard of the spot, you’ve skated one. The modern skate term for a hubba is a ledge that goes down stairs but not straight out. Now they have hubbas at like every skatepark. People search all over the world for them, but the first [famous] one is the San Francisco one. 

The name comes from crack blunts. A hubba in The Bay is a crack blunt. So that’s where the bums would be at. It was a crack spot. So we would go there and clear out the area. That’s the thing about skateboarding, yeah we do bring a certain kind of element to an area, but we also take away another kind of element. So it’s almost like a service if you think about it.

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The “Hubba Hideout” is actually no more, right?

Yeah, I was torn down a few years ago, I don’t actually know when.

So was the original Embarcadero spot. Just considering that those spots are no longer around, do you consider yourself a historian with your pieces?

Yeah. Definitely. That was one of the taglines in the beginning; I’m preserving the history of skateboarding via wearable art. I might be a bit of an old-timer and back in the days, but these places are really special to skateboarders now and of the past because they are the places where tricks were invented. Where style was invented and all the things people do now, that’s where it came from. I feel like it should be respected. It should be made into metal. It should be around forever so we can sit there and look at it and talk about it and create the conversation. 

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Any special El Señor shoutouts to anything and anyone that helped you get to where you are at now?

My original shop sponsors: Gremic, Sessions, FTC, Ina, Shut and Homage. Skateshops are the basis of skateboarding. It’s always local. You got to support the local shops and the local guys. And Karmaloop too!

This article appears in Mass Appeal Issue 54. Subscribe to the magazine here.

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