“Twin Peaks was a place for him to get grounded,” said Loren Michelle, mother of Pablo Ramirez, the 26-year-old skateboarding professional whose life ended in a collision with a dump truck on Seventh Street, April 23.
“I was dreading going up there as a parent…seeing the tags and the shrine…is it real?” said Michelle, a Brooklyn-based chef and owner of a catering and events business.
“When I got up there it’s like, wow, it’s magical. It’s birds, it’s clouds, it’s wind, you can see the sky, the ocean. You feel calm. You feel alive,” she said.
Michelle buried her son in their native New York then traveled west with family, including Ramirez’s father, Carlos, his stepdad, and friends for a second service here last Sunday, attended by about 350 locals dressed in standard issue baggy pants, hoodies and Vans at the Church of St. John Coltrane where Ramirez was known as an accomplished drummer. In words and music, over four hours, his embodiment of the classic San Francisco lifestyle was celebrated, from his belief in peace and love, to his practice of living free and easy (his nickname was PSpliff).
“One of the things Pablo always said was when he came to San Francisco, he was reborn, it was the start of his new life,” said Michelle. In a city of one way streets that some find confusing and others take for granted, Ramirez took on every direction at once, with one foot helping to shape the lives of those he touched, while the other tested the limits of skateboarding itself.
“Very few skateboarders change the way we see skateboarding. Pablo did just that,” said Tony Vitello, publisher of Thrasher, skateboarding’s considered authority and the magazine Vitello’s father co-founded here in 1981. Thrasher hosted the post-memorial block party for Ramirez while its community continued to grieve the loss of another skate advocate, Thrasher’s longtime editor, Jake Phelps, who died suddenly in March (his memorial is this weekend). Phelps and Thrasher fostered the consistent rise and recognition of street skating on the hills of San Francisco but Ramirez and the GX1000 crew he rode with have made street skating here the stuff of legend with their signature hill bombing.
“He studied the hills, he knew the math, the speed” said Michelle. “You can’t go down these hills unless you have confidence. You know you have to make it.”
A former triathlete, hockey player and cyclist, “I bike everywhere in the city. Pretty much like Pablo, I don’t wear a helmet. I guess I’m the female version of Pablo but a little more mature,” she smiled. The appearance of her on a board at Twin Peaks drew cheers from Ramirez’s friends. “She’s flying,” said one boarder, “It’s in the blood.”
Ramirez grew up as a musician, attending conservatory, playing with ensembles. “I bought him a drum kit when he was eight,” said the then-single mom. “He had a sophisticated understanding of music because he studied it, read it, played it. We went to incredible clubs in Manhattan and Brooklyn to see the greats play,” said Michelle.
When Ramirez came of age, he decided he would support himself; she provided him with a cellphone, mostly because he was about to embark on a 1000-mile solo cycling trip from Manhattan to Maine and back.
“Pablo lived this pure and free life, without thinking about money, without thinking about logistics. He had these ideas, like drinking more water, eating fruit,” said Michelle. He wrote a poem, an ode to breathing and planting seeds that has been circulated and is serving as a kind of blueprint for skate life. His sketches and phrases are showing up on t-shirts, water bottles and tags: Life is Beautiful, Away, and Plant Seeds (his work is also on view at Pentacle Coffee Company on Sixth Street).
“There are like 10 people who have gotten tattoos for Pablo. Pablo never had a tattoo,” she added.
“I think the scars are their tattoos,” said Antonia Perez, a friend with whom Ramirez had discussed his near-death experience a year ago, after he fell out of a coconut tree on a remote beach in Mexico.
“He understood deep gratitude especially after the accident,” said Perez. “He appreciated his life. He gave thanks to life.”
Michelle has heard from hundreds of people that Pablo’s death has served as a catalyst for friends and family changing their lives.
“When do you cut the tie. When do you have the guts to say, I’m not living this way, I’m living that way? I think that’s the lesson Pablo’s teaching me and a lot of us,” she said. The Pablo Ramirez Foundation has been established at pabloramirez.org; it’s also hoped The City will cooperate to create a more permanent reminder of the skater’s legacy.
“My dream would be that they make a skatepark up there,” said Michelle of the Twin Peaks road that served as Pablo’s spot. There is talk of a statue or a mural. Perhaps a garden.
Thrasher’s Vitello shared a personal story about the native plants that line Upper Market, Portola and Twin Peaks Road: The abundant lupine, now in its high season, hosts the endangered Mission blue butterfly which just might see a rebirth if enough seeds are sown.
“In a weird way, Pablo is considered almost like a prophet for these guys,” said Michelle of the skaters. “Listen, you won’t hear punk rock up here,” she said, motioning skyward. Between the wind, the birds, the sound of wheels on concrete, “Greensleeves” by John Coltrane’s classic quartet could indeed be heard.
Denise Sullivan is an author, cultural worker and editor of “Your Golden Sun Still Shines: San Francisco Personal Histories & Small Fictions.” She is a guest columnist and her point of view is not necessarily that of the Examiner. Follow her at www.denisesullivan.com and on Twitter @4DeniseSullivan.