Pier 7 popped up in the mid/late ’90s, just when San Francisco needed it most.
It appeared near EMB and Hubba Hideout, with its smooth ground, endless blocks of manny pads, and brisk bay breeze. It was later immortalized in classic videos like Trilogy, Mouse, Five Flavors, Nonfiction, and the 411VM spot check.
The Pier was a place where, if you had decent etiquette and good vibes, you could session with your heroes. It was a little paradise, and one could argue it helped develop a school of skating as much as any other spot on earth.
Unfortunately, as time passed, the ledges were capped, uncapped, recapped, plastered with metal brackets, making the manny pads obsolete. People would still skate there sometimes, but it wasn’t the same, no longer a focal point. For years Pier 7 lay semi-dormant.
However, in recent months, an anonymous group of locals embarked on a community action project, tearing out the wood and skate stoppers, filling the cracks with cement, and grinding the whole spot silky smooth. The Pier is back! The vessel of so many memories has been resurrected… for now.
Old heads have been coming out of the woodwork to refilm their tricks and reconnect to a special time in their lives. Youngsters are getting a chance to skate a legendary spot they grew up fantasizing about. It’s like the gap between skateboarding’s past and present has temporarily collapsed. I spoke with some GOATs, local yokels, and new heads about their memories and fantasies of Pier 7, and what it’s like having this sacred ground back in their lives.
What are some strange memories you have from the Pier?
On a few occasions, taggers would start kicking it who didn’t skate. They tagged on the building that allowed us to skate, so when I’d catch them I’d throw their pen in the bay. Don’t fuck it up for us!
For people who haven’t skated it, what makes it so special?
The history of it is special to the progression of skateboarding, but mainly to the history of SF skating. It was where I skated when I filmed Sight Unseen and I wasn’t getting love from skating at the time, so it was a training ground to get my name back in good graces. It was awesome to be back at the Pier and each time I’ve been back there’s always someone there that I used to skate with, so that made it extra special. The spot feels the same but there are fewer ledges and lines are a little more limited. But it still feels like the old Pier. I now have a career and family and am not as carefree, but being carefree is something we all miss…
Any other thoughts you have about the resurrection of Pier 7?
It’s nice to see all these young cats killing the Pier and doing their thing. They go there and may realize some of the stuff we did was timeless, especially Marcus [McBride]’s tricks.
What do you remember hearing about Pier 7 when you were little?
When I was young my older brothers and my cousin used to skate the Pier all the time. I remember hearing crazy stories like when Lennie Kirk showed up with a sawed-off shotgun, or when my cousin got his shoes stolen but then found out who stole them and beat him up. He ended up taking his shoes back and taking the dude’s shoes right off his feet, leaving homie barefoot at Pier 7!
I also remember hearing about how you had to dip from the cops if they rolled up or you’d get a fat ticket for skating there.
What stood out to you in the old videos?
Marcus McBride, Henry Sanchez, Karl Watson, Lavar McBride…
What’s it like to skate a spot that until now mainly existed in videos and your imagination?
It’s dope. It feels like we all went back in time and get to skate in the ’90s. Before they took the wood off, we still skated it as manny pads, but it’s so sick to be able to grind the ledges and skate them like back in the day. Shout out to whoever made it skateable again, you’re doing God’s work.
What was your relationship to Pier 7 as a youngster?
I skated there, a little bit. The first video I saw was Sight Unseen, so I knew about it. I loved Henry Sanchez’s skating in that video. It’s really dear to me. I also loved the footage of Marcus McBride skating it. I saw that when I was eight years old, so I was just thinking like… it’s a movie. I remember when I first figured out that it was a place that I could go to, that it was real life, it was kind of hard to fathom.
One early memory in my head, was when I couldn’t slide front blunt, but I could stall them. I would skate the low side, where people ollie on the ledges to manual. I remember just going perpendicular at all of them in a row and just doing front blunt. I think Nick Matlin gave me his business card and was like, “Hey dude, you give me a call and I can get you some stuff.” I was around 12.
When you think back on old videos, what stuck out about that style of skating or the spot?
I didn’t think of it back when I was younger but skating it now, I realize that I had a misconception in my head. I kind of thought of it as just a spot, but now I realize it’s a plaza. It’s like Love Park. There are a thousand things to skate. You skate in a circle and you want to stay there all day.
There’s no reason for you to leave. It feels you’re like in the midst of the world. You’re in the center of the fulcrum. It’s a complete experience. When those blocks were there, that must have made it so good because you could skate it backside and front, side all the way.
How else has the Pier changed?
There’s one of the blocks that’s in the dining area outside of a restaurant. They use it to stack plates and it’s under a tent., so that’s gone and that changes the flow, but there’s still enough to be a total plaza. I love skating there. We were there a few weeks ago and we just stayed and skated there four or five days when I was back.
I was watching a little kid skate off one of the pads as a drop and I was thinking, like, imagine the way skaters in the late nineties would have acted. They would have heckled the shit out of that kid.
When I was a kid, I remember Rob Welsh hazing me and having me get water for the crew. I’m watching this little kid with his helmet and his dad letting him sit on the ledge and I’m thinking, “Dude, skating has changed so much.” Imagine being a dick to that kid… No one would ever do that now.
Why is the Pier so special?
So if there were just three blocks in a parking lot, all spaced out in a row, that would really be three blocks, you know? But the fact that they’re laid out like the Verizon bars in the Verizon commercials – You can hit the edge of the middle of one, and then the end of the other. You can skate it how Marcus [McBride] did with the switch ollie over, and then switch back tail.
You can go up the two. You can just hit the ledges three in a row. You can go around the toilets and you can hit the manny high to low, obviously. It’s not a spot where you go to get like one manny trick and leave. There are so many options. There’s still a lot left to do there. It’s so iconic. It’s a beautiful place. We just wanted to be there, looking at the pier and the water and, and the city.
I did that line, switch ollie and switch back tail, because I was thinking about Marcus. I was like, holy shit. This is so hard. This is the quickest I’ve ever had to set up switch with that much speed. Just learning first-hand how hard the stuff that they were doing is so cool.
That’s a really cool point. You’re sort of embodying someone else.
Yeah, I can redo this line and be like, holy shit. It’s really hard even though it’s not like the banger of his part or anything. It’s really hard and you get a first-hand experience of that while you also are in a place that is stimulating for you to come up with your own stuff.
Another fun thing about being at the spot is that the ledges are so old, so rounded, and chunky, and that’s such a thing of the past. When I was skating Love, I had to relearn back nosegrind because you have to get on the very corner since the ledges are so rounded down and you can’t stand on top. You would slip up. It’s the same thing. If you’re trying to crook it, you have to put your entire body weight into it.
You just feel like you’re a part of history when you’re switch crooking through that barnacled ledge. You never forget that this spot is definitely thirty years old, you know?
What are some special memories you have from the Pier?
The Pier was a nonstop movie. There was always something worth seeing, from the most official skateboarding going down with everyone rocking some saucy gear to foos throwing water balloons up in the air nonchalant, but having them land on the super tough super serious army guy walking by. When the army guy turned all mad flexing on about 20 young skaters, nobody told him who did it. We just laughed him off the premises.
For people who haven’t skated Pier 7, what makes it so special?
The chunky ledges and view, constant flow of fresh air from the bay, people rolling by in cool cars, friends rolling by and yelling out the window.
What was unique about the time in your life that you associate with the Pier?
During high school, I lived in the Tenderloin with my dad and part-time with my mom but she ended up moving to the East Bay. Being a teen and not really tripping off of getting money on the block, I would go to the Pier as a fun place to escape all the fuckery, which can be kind of depressing if you let it consume your life.
How has the spot changed?
There used to be more blocks, more space, different crowds. It used to be the same folks down there all the time so everyone kind of knew each other. Growing up, I would see people do all the best tricks and having ADD, I wanted to do all of them. Now, as an adult, I’m able to calm myself for the most part and focus on a chill trick until I land it.
Any other thoughts you have about the resurrection of Pier 7?
I want to say thank you to everybody involved! The city appreciates you! They try to take our spots. We can’t be punks, we’ve got to take them back sometimes!
What are some special memories you have of the Pier from back in the day?
I remember coming down to the Pier with tons of extra product and holding free raffles for all in attendance. Loved those days. The atmosphere. It’s right by the water, people are walking by being active and just a mix of individuals which will make any day there interesting.
I associate that time in my life with being free. Just skating, rolling blunts, and little responsibility. Going back to the Pier really made me remember and appreciate the atmosphere. It’s hard to find a spot like it with so much life and excitement at every moment.
How has it changed?
The spot hasn’t changed much, but my ability to skate the spot like I used to has. The blocks feel so high these days! When you go there for the first time, make sure you watch out for the cross-traffic on the sidewalk and in the street. You will need to heighten your senses a bit while skating there.