S.F. ‘Wild’ event mostly tame

Concerns over traffic chaos and pedestrian perils proved unfounded as hundreds of rowdy but largely law-abiding skateboarders flooded the streets of San Francisco on the Fourth of July.

Up to 5,000 thrashers were expected to turn out for “Wild in the Streets 2007,” raising concerns over the Critical Mass-type event, which included a noontime gathering and a three-and-a-half-mile ride along city streets.

The route — from the Embarcadero to Market Street to Third Street and ending at Cesar Chavez Street — was announced on the Internet and through text messages that morning, leaving authorities little time to prepare.

As it turned out, closer to 1,000 showed up at the ride’s start across from the Ferry Building. Another 1,000 skateboarders joined the ride along the way or attended the party and barbecue at the ride’s end, according to officials at skateboarding shoe company Emerica, which organized the event.

Former professional skateboarder Brian Kanights, 43, came down from Portland, Ore., for the ride. He said that unlike formal competitions, the impromptu ride represented the independence at the heart of skateboarding.

“Skateboarding is all about how far you want to take it,” he said. “You don’t have to have a coach or a practice schedule or uniforms. I think the big allure is that you don’t have anyone telling you how to do it.”

Emerica has sponsored similar events in Chicago, New York City and Philadelphia. Wednesday’s event aimed to underscore the need for more skateboard parks in The City, Emerica spokesman Brian Jones said. San Francisco has just one small facility near the Cow Palace.

“There are more kids that own a skateboard than a baseball glove, yet cities will support baseball leagues and not skate parks,” Jones said. “Today was a power-by-numbers thing.”

As the crowd swelled, skaters performed tricks to cheers and applause. The celebration turned confrontational briefly when San Francisco police removed a newspaper rack that participants had turned into a makeshift ramp. Skateboarders jeered and heckled officers.

San Francisco police Lt. Mike Cleary said he wasn’t fazed by the crowd’s reaction.

“It’s a peaceful group. We’re going to facilitate their ride and give them one lane of traffic,” he said.

Cleary said officers’ experience with Critical Mass — the monthly “unorganized coincidence” in which bicyclists take over city streets —made them well-equipped to deal with the skateboarders.

While riding on the sidewalk could normally earn a skateboarder a ticket, “We’re making an exception here today, because this is pretty much a spontaneous event,” Cleary said.

tbarak@examiner.com


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