The man who ended his life in front of the Mission Police Station on Monday was a skateboarding icon and co-founder of San Francisco-based Thrasher magazine.
Skaters worldwide are mourning the loss of Eric Swenson, 64, of Potrero Hill, whose local manufacturing and publishing ventures helped launch a massive and lasting subculture.
Swenson shot himself around 8:30 a.m. without going inside the police station or talking to any officers. Loved ones believe the longtime San Franciscan's struggle with a debilitating motorcycle injury led to the suicide.
A “very private person,” Swenson may have chosen the police station to end his life in order to spare his loved ones from finding him, said Gwynn Vitello, Thrasher's publisher and wife of Swenson's business partner, the late Fausto Vitello.
Swenson leaves behind his wife Linda and sister Rebekah, “along with a tremendous number of admirers,” Thrasher magazine said in a statement.
“Eric was not a person who wanted to burden anybody,” Vitello said. “In my mind this was the most unselfish way he could do what he had to do.”
When he was about 20, Swenson severely injured his leg in a motorycle accident that kept him at Laguna Honda Hospital for more than a half year, Vitello said. Years of pain stemming from that injury might have become too overwhelming for Swenson, she said.
“Toward the end, walking was kind of a struggle for him,” Vitello said, who added that friends and loved ones can only speculate as to why he took his own life.
Swenson co-founded High Speed Productions Inc., which includes magazines Thrasher, Juxtapoz and Slap. He also co-founded Independent Trucks in 1978, the manufacturer of skateboard trucks and other parts that helped launch the sport.
Eben Sterling, advertising director for Thrasher and Slap, said Wednesday Independent Trucks marked a “sort of a BC/AD kind of event in skateboarding.”
The skateboard trucks allowed people to skate vertically, which “moved skateboarding from the sidewalk to what it is today,” Sterling said. Skateboarders wouldn't have been able to scale pool surfaces without the high-performance technology, he added.
Sterling, who has known Swenson for 18 years, said Thrasher magazine, started in 1981, helped establish skateboarding as a subculture.
“Before Thrasher skateboarding was just another trend like yo-yos, rollerblades and Hula Hoops. But now it had its own music, dialect and it’s own fashion style,” Sterling said.
Swenson’s partner in the skateboarding ventures was the more outgoing Fausto Vitello, the face of the company who passed away of a heart attack five years ago.
Fausto and Swenson were motorcycle mechanics hell-bent on figuring out how to offer outlaw skaters more freedom on their boards. Fausto, who had at one point fixed motorycles for the police department, met a skateboarder who complained about the limitations of skateboard trucks at the time, Vitello said.
“They did all of this on their own,” said former professional skateboarder and musician Tommy Guerrero, whose known and worked with Swenson for years. “They figured it out, built it. These guys were just really hard workers.”
The pair manufactured the revolutionary skateboard trucks at a foundry in the Hunters Point Shipyard. The foundry, operated under the name Ermico Enterprises Inc., has since moved to 17th Street in Potrero Hill. They also began the distribution company Deluxe Distributions, which operates adjacent to Ermico Enterprises.
The magazine side of the business was started as a way to advertize the skateboard products, Vitello said.
Swenson was “a doer from the old school,” Guerrero added. Though he wasn't a skater, “he was the guy who would pull out a wrench and fix it or make it. This was his whole approach to everything.”
Swenson was known as a behind the scenes workhorse.
“He wasn’t into the glory or being in the spotlight,” Sterling said. “He was extremely successful, but was a humble guy that didn’t flaunt his wealth. He basically got up in the morning and went to work, and that was his passion.”
The skateboarding world took to social networking websites to pay tribute to Swenson.
“R.I.P. Mr. Swenson, You and Fausto did so much for skateboarding! Love ya,” Steve Caballero declared on Facebook.