Related Articles: Sports & Recreation, All

FTC Skateboarding

Art Meets Street and Skate

Let's face it: skateboarding, street art and sneakers are each their own nexuses of cool. Stores that specialize in each are certainly not lacking in our wonderfully diverse and artsy city. But if you want to one stop shop or just check out some fresh gear, FTC brings the three elements together with smashing success, and no wonder: owner/founder Kent Uyehara has been in the game for the last 20 years.

Getting an early start at the age of 15, enterprising skater Kent started selling boards to his friends, utilizing his father's resale license. Back then, skiing and tennis were hot and his dad's sporting goods store, Free Trade Center, catered to them. The year was 1986.

A few years earlier, Fogtown Skate Shop opened on Shrader Street in the Upper Haight, later moving to Waller and becoming Concrete Jungle, with a silkscreening business in the basement. The closure of Concrete Jungle in 1989 left a void for loyal skaters and patrons. In 1994 Kent brought FTC to Shrader, wanting to carry on the legacy of the legendary skate shops in the hood. At this point FTC dropped the other sports and became 100% skate.

One year later he opened a snowboard shop next door, called SFO. The two would later relocate to Haight Street proper -- FTC in 2004 and SFO in November of 2005. A whole upper level catering to sneakers brings a well-lit openness to the space, and articulates the skate boutique feel perfectly. In Kent's words, FTC is an "adult urban lifestyle store", not intended for the 12-year-olds obsessed with Tony Hawk. Of course, anyone who practices or appreciates the art of skateboarding will feel right at home gawking at whatever skate video is playing on the old-school TV located above the store's entrance.

There are several things that really set FTC apart from other skate shops: the obvious would be the higher caliber of soft goods offered -- you have your typical Independent, DC and Etnies-branded stuff, but here you'll also find lots of goodies from LRG, Knowledge, Zoo York, Stussy, Elwood, Nikita and X-Girl (one of the hottest brands out of Japan). But even more admirable is FTC's true support and embracing of the skating community -- which includes not only the riders themselves, but the videographers, photographers, team managers, and everyone else who makes the scene possible.

FTC has bailed members of its community out of jail and helped people find housing, elevating it above any other kind of shop. Kent's adoption of the community as family translates down to a shop/gallery that is so much more. Being a part of the scene and having experienced the adversities all skaters face (cops, business owners, pedestrians, drivers all seem to hate you), he successfully drives FTC to stay committed to the sport while encouraging everyone affiliated to pay back everyone who has helped them along the way.

Comprised of approximately 50% hard goods (skate decks, trucks, wheels, etc.), FTC's remaining inventory is related to "lifestyle": artwork, vinyl figures, independent books and videos, magazines and music. "Everybody has multiple interests," Kent said. "Skaters don't just listen to hip hop or punk." In accord, variety is the spice here. For guys there is a wide selection of jeans, distinctive track jackets, t-shirts and of course -- sneakers. Girls will find an original selection sweet streetwear; most notable is the X-Girl stuff; FTC is currently the only dealer in the states, though there are X-Girl stores in New York and Los Angeles.

What really blew my socks off were the two rows of skate decks immediately to your left when you enter the store. The bottom row contains decks that are part of FTC's ongoing Art Collective project in which artists like Keith Haring, Bigfoot, Doze Green, Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara have used skate decks as canvases. Each board is a one-time production run of 100 boards that sell for $100 a pop and usually sells out in a day. Mounted above that collection is something like a mini skateboard art museum: boards ridden by some of the greats and two by the now-defunct Fogtown and Concrete Jungle.

FTC has also launched its own record label -- FTC Sounds. In the works is a compilation titled "Set the Scene" that will include songs by San Quinn, Mac Dre, Heiroglyphics and Goapele, all local artists. In fact, all of the music carried here is local. Similak Chyld's reggae/dub compilation Flavor & Love and releases from the Triple Threat DJ's are some of the titles available.

Additionally, FTC curates about four art exhibitions per year in their space. Yesterday saw the opening of Chubby Killers, a show by Hawaiian artist Angry Woebot. AW's roots lie in west coast graffiti and his mediums include paint, sculpture, illustration, graffiti, wood and clay. He also sews plus figures and ewok costumes, and his works will be on display through April 7th.

Now I understand, you've simply gotta have your Nike SBs and your saucy cap, or maybe it's time to upgrade that used and abused deck. Why not get your gear from a place that really gives back to its community? Not to mention, the selection is dope.