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Skateboard Activist Wants to Decriminalize Sport for SF Youth

YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia , News feature, Words: Donny Lumpkins // Photos: Sebastian Lumpkins Posted: Jun 07, 2009

Editors Note: According to 20-year-old skate-activist Justin Marks, skateboarding isnt really accepted in the streets of San Francisco, and he decided to do something about it. Donny Lumpkins is a contributor to YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia.

Backside flips, smith grind, inward heel flip, nada spin, activism. Which one of these doesnt belong? If you ask 20-year-old skate activist Justin Marks, he would tell you these things go together as well as metal bolted to wood.

Im about 10 minutes late meeting Marks in downtown San Francisco, but in the laid back way only a skater can pull off, he tells me not to trip when he picks me up. He is a redhead with freckles and a ginger beard growing around his chin, skinny like most hardcore skaters. Were on our way to Treasure Island, where he is going to show me the site of a future skate park.

What struck me most when I first met Marks a few weeks back is how excited he seemed to be to meet me. He didnt know me from Adam, but he made me feel very welcome. He somehow bypassed the normal f--k off mentality most skaters push around on their boards, but who can blame them? In a city with so many beautiful rails, ledges and staircases that are off-limits, telling skaters they cant use them is like telling a fat guy he cant eat at a buffet.

Another thing that separates Marks from his skater counterparts is that instead of just saying F the cops! and skating the steps of City Hall until he gets kicked out, he decided to go inside and try a different approach. He began by starting his own politically minded skateboarding company called Left Side Skateboarding.

"Left Side started out with just a group of skaters dedicated to skating the city and not getting harassed," he tells me. Basically, he and his friends got sick of the lack of legal spots in the city.

"Skateboarding isnt really accepted in the streets, he says. Its kind of a battle to find a place to skateboard that was legitimate. I was getting really frustrated with it and took it upon myself to do something about it."

He decided to go to all the city meetings to see why the law hated the thing he loved so much.

"It was really hard, cause no one wants to hear a kid talk about skateboarding and the need for it. There arent very many of us, Marks tells me. Skateboarding isnt very organized politically.

But some of the few skate organizers present recognized Marks passion and diligence.

"Justin came to a meeting up at the court authority about a skate park in Warm Water Cove [on Treasure Island], said Bryan Hornbeck, president of the San Francisco Skateboarding Association. He just kind of joined in. He started taking an active role.

Justins interest led the Association members to put him in charge of the park. Some people want to know whats happening and others want to change whats happening, Hornbeck said. "I have a saying: If it doesnt come from the heart its not gonna work. What Justin does comes from his heart."

At the park on Treasure Island, there are only a couple of ramps and a handrail or two, but soon there will be a full-on park, and Marks couldnt be more excited. The details and entry cost havent been worked out yet but the project is moving forward.

He sees the tides turning in skateboarding's favor in San Francisco. Potrero Del Sol, a park in San Franciscos Mission District off of 25th Street, is the first real skate park thats funded by the city. Its always packed and has created a nice outlet for the youth in the Mission. Marks is hoping the "the man" is taking notice and is willing to make more.

When Marks isnt trying to change the system to benefit skateboarders, hes an undergraduate architecture student at California College of the Arts. Skateboard activism isnt a very lucrative business, and Marks makes Left Side T-shirts and stickers using his own money. Right now, Marks is pretty much a one-man skate team: running the Left Side website, managing the Treasure Island Park, going to City Hall meetings and trying to get skateboarding laws changed. Hes hoping more people will get involved.

I think theres probably a couple hundred people who know about Left Side, Marks says. If you look at all the skate videos we make on YouTube, some of them have 500 or 600 hits. "

Justin Marks and fellow skateboarder

Halfway through our interview on Treasure Island, a young man came to the fence that surrounds the half-completed skate park and called Marks over. They spoke for a bit, then went over to Marks trunk. I cynically thought it just another Job Corps drug transaction known to be extremely common but when Marks popped his trunk he didnt go for a brick of cocaine, but a couple of beat up skate decks. The guy took one in his hand and explained that he skated a seven-eight deck and his broke. Marks thought for a sec and reached in to his trunk and produced almost magically a scratched up Alien Workshop seven-eight skate deck. The guy thanked Marks and took off. For outsiders, this may seem like a mundane moment between two dirty skaters, but for Marks and the guy he gave the board to, skating isnt just something to do for fun on weekends. To them, skateboarding is the hub of their identity. Its the one part of their lives they have complete control over. For Marks, giving this guy a new deck is like putting his life back in his hands.

On our way back to the city, I asked Marks what exactly makes skate activism so important to him.

"I think it could really change a big part of the lives of youth who are into this, but the people who run everything dont understand that, he explained earnestly. They want to block it out when really they are just holding us back. Skateboarding for kids is such a great way to go about life.

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