Stunning photos capture San Francisco’s underground skateboarding culture

For Andrew Caulfield, skateboarding and photography intersected at Embarcadero Plaza

Skateboarding is both a celebrated and despised part of San Francisco. On any given day, skaters will be found along The Embarcadero, hurtling themselves and their boards up, onto and over various ledges, stairs and other objects to the cheers of their fellow ‘boarders and, perhaps, the scorn of pedestrians.

For photographer Andrew Caulfield, who goes by the nickname Ando, skateboarding and photography intersected for him as a young teen at Embarcadero Plaza.

“We would buy these little disposable cameras from Walgreens and shoot skate photos,” he said.

It was the early 1990s, and hundreds of skateboarders would convene daily at Embarcadero Plaza, then known as Justin Herman Plaza, turning The City into a mecca for street-style skating.

“The skating that was happening here changed the way that street skateboarding was — it progressed at such a rapid level here,” he said, sitting at a table overlooking the plaza.

Skateboard photographer Andrew “Ando” Caulfield with his dog, Douglas at Embarcadero Plaza, once home of a legendary skatespot. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)

Skateboard photographer Andrew “Ando” Caulfield with his dog, Douglas at Embarcadero Plaza, once home of a legendary skatespot. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)

Growing up in S.F. in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Ando kind of happened his way into the skateboarding lifestyle. He began frequenting a skate shop, FTC, in one of its early incarnations on Bush Street.

“I basically just hung out there and then I started working there,” he said. “I just like worked my way up through them. FTC being what it was at the time, I basically met every amazing skateboarder.”

Being a part of the scene also meant being around hard-working photographers documenting the trials and tribulations of skating. After getting his first 35mm camera at 16, he started to pay more attention to what they were doing.

“I was around all these photographers, who were people that shot all these iconic photos of skateboarding that I always looked up to,” Ando said. “I was like, ‘This is about as good as it’s going to get as far as learning experience, so I should take advantage of this and pick these guys’ brains.’”

Skateboarders hangout at the island at Harry Bridges Plaza near the Ferry Building and Embarcadero Plaza. (Photo by Ando)

Skateboarders hangout at the island at Harry Bridges Plaza near the Ferry Building and Embarcadero Plaza. (Photo by Ando)

Ando also credits the friendships he’s developed through skateboarding over the years as aiding his abilities as a photographer.

“I’ve developed these interpersonal relationships with skateboarders that go beyond actually taking photos of them,” he said. “They feel a little more comfortable with me, so I can get a good mix of the technical skating stuff, maybe some lifestyle stuff and also maybe even some moments that most people might not be around for.”

His work has been featured in numerous skate magazines, including Thrasher, probably the premiere skateboarding magazine that has called San Francisco home since its founding in 1981, as well as Transworld Skateboarding, Slap, German ’zine Pocket and a few Japanese ’zines.

Despite being immersed in skateboarding and having the skills, Ando initially balked at becoming a skate photographer.

“I never thought there would be room for me in the skateboarding industry for me to even take photos,” he said. “To be honest, I always wanted to work for a newspaper. That was kind of my dream because I love shooting photos of people in The City.”

But it was his love of the skate lifestyle that ultimately persuaded him to get back on the board with his camera and make it into a living.

“It’s an interesting subculture of society that I think is fun to be around,” Ando said. “It keeps me young.”

Skateboarder Nico Haraga backside kickflips over a construction barricade. (Photo by Ando)

Skateboarder Nico Haraga backside kickflips over a construction barricade. (Photo by Ando)

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