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Skates on Haight

Rolling with the Times

Smack-clack, smack-clack, smack-clack. The sound of a skateboard rolling down the sidewalk still causes me to swivel my head. Though I've never owned a board, and have only randomly ridden around parking lots or driveways, I've always been interested in the sport, not only for the creativity of the moves that the skaters invent, but also for its general edginess.

Although the sport of skateboarding has long held an outlaw reputation, skateboarding has become a multi-billion dollar industry over the last few decades. The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association recently reported that 2.6 million Americans regularly ride skateboards, about the same number of people who play America's favorite pastime of baseball.

With the resurgence of skateboarding's popularity in the late 90's, skateboard shops popped up on almost every main street of America, but San Francisco's Skates on Haight is one of the last remaining local hard goods skateboard shops (decks, trucks, wheels, etc.), as opposed to the more common soft goods stores (clothing and accessories) that might also carry a few boards for sale along with their apparel for those who want to dress the part.

Owner Lee Cole opened Skates on Haight almost 30 years ago on Taraval Street before it moved to its current location close to the end of Haight Street near Golden Gate Park. Skates on Haight's storefront stands out from its neighboring shops, with its sign lettered in colorful graffiti.

Once inside, an assortment of flashy longboards, classic boards and other skateboard decks cover the walls from eye-level to ceiling. Hip-hop beats flow out of the speakers at a mellow volume. Behind the counter near the ceiling is a seemingly arbitrary arrangement of triptych-type wooden panels of religious art. Amongst these more traditionally adorned "boards," there are custom-painted decks for sale, meant more to function as an objet d'art than as transportation.

When I was growing up, all the boys I knew had the Vans or Vision high-tops, and boards like the Vision Psycho Stick or the Gator Hypno, so it put a smile on my face when I turned around to look at the wall opposite the counter and saw reissues of these classic boards for sale (shoes and boards starting at $29.99 and $139.99, respectively).

Beneath the old school boards is a small selection of shirts and hoodies for men and a few baby tees and tanks for women. Most shirts range in price from $9.99 for a Skates on Haight t-shirt to $19.99 for tees from companies such as NorCal. Hoodies go for $44.99 for a pullover, and five bucks more will get you a zip-up.

Though skateboarding is still a mostly male-dominated sport (most of their customers are young men, though, I did see a few moms paying for the purchases of their adolescent sons), I was pleasantly surprised to find Carol Sloan, along with Lee's son Jack, working the counter. Jack started "working" at the store when he was three years old, acting as a deterrent to unwanted customers by just plain annoying them.

Behind the case, you'll find stickers from various companies, ranging in price from $1.25 to $2.25. There are rows of many-colored wheels from companies such as Powell or Ricta, both $29.99 for a set of four, or Bullit, $31.99 for a set of four. There are also wallets for $7.99 and music and skate DVDs starting at $23.99. Along the wall behind the counter, you'll also find trucks from Thunder for $36.99 or Pig Curb Wax for $3.99.

In addition to the popular reissues, longboards from companies such as Sector 9, Powell, Comet, and Greenbrew, are also hot sellers, with complete boards starting around $129.00.

If you are looking for some advice on how to customize your board, the staff at Skates on Haight can also take the time to discuss what decks, trucks and wheels are suited to your body size, riding style and typical terrain, all free of charge.

After all these years, Skates on Haight has weathered the changes of the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, owing much of its success from its ability to evolve with the times and tastes of their clientele. I was disappointed, however, to find out that Skates on Haight is now purely about skateboards, skateboarding gear and accessories.

In the past, you could stop by and grab a pair of skates and roll on through the park. Although the online store still sells roller-skates, and their sister store on Polk Street, Skates Off Haight, does a brisk business in inline skates, Skates on Haight no longer rents roller-skates like they used to. But if it's skateboards you are looking for, that is what you will find.