15 Things You Didn’t Know About Embarcadero

1. For years, the world famous San Francisco skate spot Embarcadero has been wrongly referred to as “EMB.” In fact, EMB is the acronym for the locals that skated there. EMB stands for “Embarco’s Most Blunted.” Confuse the two again, and you’re getting a ‘bow to the head.

2. Furthermore, the locals called Embarcadero “Embarco,” but it is officially named Justin Herman Plaza. Justin Herman was head of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency and was said to have been a racist. Before the cement waves and ledges were built in ’71, the space was occupied by an Italian immigrant marketplace. It was Herman’s plan to build the plaza and push the Italian’s back up to North Beach. Undoubtedly, if he knew who would be moving in 15 years later, he would have left it to the Italians.

3. Besides the cement wave, which was the first attraction for Bay Area skateboarders, Embarcadero was made up of the following obstacles: “the seven,” the stage, the big stage, the medium stage, the little three, the big three, the ledge at the bottom of the big three, the C-block, the fountain curb, the fountain gap, and, of course, The Gonz Gap.

4. In ’86, Mark Gonzalez ollied from the top of the wave down to the big stage. Thus, The Gonz Gap was born. It instantly became a benchmark gap for the next decade, and in ’93 Gonzalez became the first person to kickflip it.

5. “The seven” was actually a six with a lengthened third step, or a three-flat-three double-set. This came from a time when skaters were a lot less obsessed with counting stairs.

6. Long before Trainwreck or Ragdoll picked up their first skateboards, EMB heads had some of the illest nicknames: Bobcat, Wing Ding, Weasel, Sound Off, Jack-off Denis, Nerd, Special K, Big Dirt, Skid, Puppet, Beet Farmer, Bushwick, McDude, Oh Boo, Hurricane Helen, Burger Boy, Geezer, The Hitcher, Big Reeg, Ill Mill, Bong Water, and Whitesnake.

7. Visiting Embarcadero meant enduring bad vibes from the locals. If you weren’t from Embarcadero, you were a “T-Dog.” The “T” was short for “‘tard,” which was short for “retard.” Coined by Jake Vogal, the EMB used this term liberally to describe any outsider. It could be the kid that always got in the way, or the kid that sat and watched like it was a demo. If all you received was a bad vibe, consider yourself lucky. Many T-Dogs fell victim to beatings, courtesy of the crew.

8. Some of your favorite pro skaters were T-Dogs. They drove cross-country in beat-up rides, slept on the wave, and bathed in the fountain. Today they’re grounded in the ranks of professional skateboarding.

9. There were two T-dog traps at Embarcadero, both located at the top of the little three. The first was a small water nozzle cover that acted like a trap door. If skated over, your front wheels would pop open the door, leaving it ajar long enough for your back wheels to be caught by it. Unaware victims would find themselves pitched down the steps, to the bricks below. The second T-Dog trap was simply a crack in the pavement. You could be strikin’ through with some grub from Carl’s Jr., hit that crack, and end up with a chocolate-shake shampoo.

10. James Kelch, aka Big Dirt, regulated things at Embarcadero. You could call him the mayor, but he would call himself the king. If you skated Embarcadero, he let you. Getting “dismissed” was a daily occurrence. Skaters, as well as girls, could be banished if Kelch uttered the word. If drama transpired, James was on the frontline and defended his turf in countless brawls.

11. Fistfights were almost an everyday thing at Embarcadero. In one of the more legendary scuffles, Alphonzo Rawls took a punch to the face at an H-Street demo held there in ’89. While Alf and others were sessioning the seven, his board shot out, barely missing EMB loc Ryan Farrell. Ryan was known to rumble, but let Alf off with a verbal warning. The next time Alf bailed, his board tapped Ryan’s girl on the ankle. Alf tried to pick up his board without an apology. His face met Ryan’s fist at the bottom of the steps. Alf walked off, and the EMB had a good laugh.

12. The San Francisco Police Department went above and beyond the call of duty to keep skaters out of Embarcadero. Walrus Man, Frisco Dyke, Terminator, and Officer Squirrel were a few of S.F.’s finest who were truly dedicated to their jobs. Officer Squirrel would strike from above, dropping from trees and jumping out from behind the wave. Walrus Man was too easily outrun, so he would wear a trench coat over his uniform and creep up on unaware skaters.

13. In ’87, U2’s Bono was arrested at Embarcadero, not for skating, but for graffiti. During a free U2 concert held there, Bono spraypainted “Stop the Traffic. Rock and Roll.” on the fountain’s sculpture. The next day, he was arrested. Bono’s excuse, “I am an artist, and that was not an act of vandalism,” didn’t work any more than the excuses given by the locals when ticketed for skateboarding.

14. During its peak years,’91 to ’94, you could find 100 to 200 kids skating Embarcadero on any given weekend afternoon. The popularity of guys like Mike Carroll, Jovantae Turner, and Henry Sanchez drew skaters from all parts of the globe. Those guys, along with other locals, pushed the limits of technical street skating to new heights. The more coverage Embarcadero got, the more T-dogs it attracted-eventually leading to the demise of the spot.

15. In ’96, the Embarcadero merchants had had enough. The Hyatt Regency, among others, claimed that the skaters had hurt their business for far too long. Together, they hired an officer of the S.F.P.D. to post-up at Embarcadero 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week-making it impossible to skate. It was the end of an era, and the beginning of Pier 7. SB

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