FTC Skateboarding is San Francisco’s longest running skate shop and has been at the center of the city’s skate scene for the better part of three decades. The shop was founded in 1994 by Kent Uyehara, just as skateboarding was evolving beyond its surf-inspired roots and exploding into a new style of city street skating. According to Kent, street skating really originated in San Francisco in the 1980s, and it was dubbed the Mecca of skateboarding in the 1990s.
The business started out as an offshoot of Kent’s father Lloyd Uyehara’s business, FTC Ski & Sports, which opened in the late 1960s at 1586 Bush Street. “FTC” originally stood for “Free Trade Center,” but in the new business it now stands for “For The City.” In the 1980s, Kent started selling skateboards to his high school friends, eventually creating a catalog so people could choose what to buy from him. Orders became regular, and Lloyd let Kent start selling skateboards in the store. In 1994, Kent moved FTC Skateboarding to the Haight, which had a rich skate shop history.
Over the years, FTC has evolved into a brand known for its authentic, grass roots innovation in apparel, design, video, art, and music. Since the shop opened its doors, it has been well-recognized within the skateboard industry for its longevity and contributions to skateboarding, and the family-owned business continues nurturing generations of skaters to build successful careers in business and skating.
“FTC Skateshop is one of those classic icons that represents San Francisco to the world,” artist Jeremy Fish told SF Heritage. “Like the Golden Gate Bridge, the Burrito, or the Seagulls on our waterfront. Forever timeless.”
SF Heritage asked Kent to answer a few questions for our Heritage in the Neighborhoods: Haight-Ashbury spotlight month:
FTC’s legacy business application mentions that you started out in the business by selling skateboards to your high school friends from your father’s store on Bush Street in the 1980s (FTC Ski & Sports). What was it like turning your love for skating into a business in these early years?
I am very fortunate to have turned my youthful love for skateboarding into my lifelong work at FTC. In the beginning I did not think of it as a real business that would continue past the ’85 school year, but thankfully I figured things out fairly quickly and here we are today — year 37.
The Haight Street business corridor has changed significantly over the decades. What was the neighborhood like back in 1994 when you first opened FTC Skateshop?
Our first shop in the Haight was at 622 Shrader Street, half-a-block down from the present Mi Familia Taqueria corner. Overall the Haight has always retained the same uniqueness and character both good and bad that we love and hate. The stores may come and go signaling change, but the ongoing community of neighboring merchants continues strong.
FTC is well-recognized within the skateboard industry for its contributions to skateboarding, helping to nurture generations of skaters to build successful careers. For those who don’t know, tell us about San Francisco’s growth into “the Mecca of skateboarding” back in those days, and how you feel FTC played a crucial role in this growth. How has this role changed over time?
San Francisco was considered the “Mecca of Skateboarding” back the early to mid-’90s as skaters from around the world fantasized about coming to the city and living out their dreams of skating at Embarcadero Plaza (formerly Justin Herman Plaza) and getting sponsored. FTC was in the right place at the right time as we grew together with a new generation of young SF skaters, providing family love, support and guidance along the way in both their skateboarding and personal lives. Our “family first” ideal continues to this day.
What are your hopes for the business and for the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in the years ahead?
I hope the Haight-Ashbury continues to recover and prosper with more visitors, more occupied storefronts, more events, and more community energy. Positive initial steps are underway, such as the return of the Haight Ashbury Street Fair later this fall. As for FTC, we hope to be here in the Haight for years to come. Thank you to all for the years of patronage and support!
For our Heritage in the Neighborhoods: Haight-Ashbury month, we partnered with manufacturer PSA Press to produce a set of three new legacy business pins featuring Aub Zam Zam, FTC Skateboarding, and Piedmont Boutique. We were very lucky to have San Francsico visual artist (and former SF Heritage artist-in-residence) Jeremy Fish create a special FTC design to represent the business!
Each week in the month of August 2022, cast your vote for the Haight’s next legacy business for a chance to win a pin set. Public voting ends on August 31 at 5:00 PM PST.