It’s easy, and usually totally appropriate, to celebrate the good in somebody once they are gone. In death, we remember their best qualities and finest moments. We can speculate on the great things that were to come but now won’t happen without having to face the reality that most of our heroes shine much less brightly through their second and third acts. It is safe to say that, while an early demise is always tragic, some legacies clearly benefit from ending before they can be diluted.
Keith Hufnagel‘s recent death after a private battle with brain cancer that lasted several years requires no selective retrospective. His life, his interactions, and his career(s) were simply all good.
Unlike others in the skate-sphere who have passed away, where we have to choose to ignore some of their less savory moments and celebrate their skills and contributions in skateboarding while looking away from their less admirable sides, or having to face the question that if they had somehow altered a couple of decisions they would still be with us. There is none of that. Huf ruled on and off the board.
The fact is that a bad thing happened to a great person and it sucks. Keith, by every account, was cool and humble and friendly with everyone he encountered. He ruled New York and then ruled San Francisco and then, most improbably of all, he dominated the global shoe game. The general rule is that you can’t do that much and be that successful without making some enemies along the way. As far as I know, Huf made no enemies. Everyone admired Huf’s skating and business. More importantly, everyone respected Huf as a person.
And these aren’t just rose-colored glasses looking backwards; The tales of him being a solid dude we’re well known and expressed when he was alive. Huf was beloved, and it helps to think he knew it.
There are a lot of better eulogies happening than what you can read here. My entire knowledge of Keith Hufnagel’s personality is hearsay. But what I can comment on definitively is how much I enjoyed Huf’s skating. And there are a lot of great Huf parts to enjoy. Even better, they are almost all the very best type of skate videos. Not the type of videos where death was narrowly escaped or you can’t fathom how such a trick can be done (although there are a few of those moments), but the kind of skate videos that make you want to get out and skate.
We may not have the talent or guts to take on the biggest of rails or the deepest of ditches, but with Huf in your mind it is easy to feel like you can pop just a little higher and roll just a little smoother.
Keith’s part in Real’s Non-Fiction is my favorite, but it really is a toss up. My favorite Huf trick, the 360-flip from block to block at SF’s Brown Marble (the best trick at one of the best spots of all time) is in the Finally FTC video from 4 years prior. But Non-Fiction just oozes with all the excitement of the mid-90s Bay Area potential. It was a magical time and place to be alive and skating; And Huf’s part captures that and then takes everything up a notch. His Union Square grinds spark, his Kezar Stadium 50-50s go all the way, his SF-cruising hill adventure features pole jams and wallies off of statues.
We also get that fish-eye angle of the Banks line we already loved from Underachievers. As a personal nostalgia bonus, my heart jumps with the clips from the Marin School bank-to-wall (which was in Berkeley, not Marin (it was on Marin street) and we skated all the time) and the Oakland Museum rails (which I skated by regularly but never had the guts to try).
He then fucking does a trick on the black rock at Black Rock! I was lucky enough to have gotten to skate those ledges in 95 and 96 and that was just not fathomable. That spot was a ledge and stairs on a hill. The ‘rock’ was just in the background. They had to build a little plant garden around that huge sculpture because of Huf!
There is a lot Huf will be known for: Obviously the Pop. The plywood ramp ollie over a dumpster. The blond mop-top he rocked for not that long but we will never forget. The best frontside lipslides on ledges. The weed socks trend he inadvertently unleashed on the world.
But for me it’s the 360flips. He gave us a lot of really good ones, but this is just tops. And it was in 1993!
Rest In Peace.