Thursday, January 7, 2010

.- curtis hsiang -. 12/4/63 - 1/8/00

my friend

it's been ten years since we
lost Curtis.

this is how i tell it:
i probably met Curtis when i was 14.
he came to skate our ramp in the old
(phoenix iron works building) in w.oakland.
what i remember is him skating a longboard,
it was a schmitt stix yard stick and he had
on some weird rector pads that had a trippy
zebra polka type pattern on em. at the time
both those things bothered me. cause i was
a punk and thought the only reason people
rode longboard was to get attention.
why would you ride a board that made it harder
to skate? and the pads just were too ugly.
anyway.... curtis dropped in and he was
about the sketchiest skater i had ever seen.
his feet were all over the place...he wasn't
cheating with the longboard or trying to get was a tool for survival.
Curtis slammed so hard that day... in fact
he slammed about 5 times that day. hard slams,
the kind that took most skaters out. Every time
he rose from a slam he had this wide eyed,twisted
smirk on his face. he liked it.
So at a time when Jake let no one skate our
ramp, Curtis was always allowed. Because Jake
loved to see people slam and Curtis slammed
everytime! Sometimes it looked like Curtis would
slam just to make Jake happy.... and he probably

About eight years later i built a new ramp.
it was in my mom's warehouse. I was 23 at the
time and all i did was skate. Everyday. In the
bay area at this time there were no good ramps.
I figured if i built this bad ass ramp all these
insane sessions would go down.... nope. The ramp
was too big for most. i was probably to intense
about skating for most and at that time people
were just either not interested or to scared to
skate vert. i mean people came....but not daily.
.....well aside from CURTIS. like loyal dog
he showed up twice a week to get his beatings.
and times had changed he rode a normal fucking
skateboard. It was a strange dichotomy. Ten
years younger than Curtis I'm trying switch kick
flip indys and he trying to frontside airs. Make
no mistake...Curtis ripped! He was a nut and would
rarely bail off his board. He was no pussy. He just
skated his way... crazy frontside grinds, and
disasters and what ever else he could get away with.
In a big session Curtis would get loud screams of
approval from all onlookers and all of us... probably
some of the loudest. mostly because he made it so
obvious that his skating came from his heart. pure and
true. all him, all his style.
For the next four years Curtis and i skated together.
Day in and day out. Sometimes we would just end up
talking for hours on top of the ramp. He became
a friend and big brother to me... in a time in my
life that i was so obsessed with skating i had become
somewhat lost and lonely.. he pulled me out.

On the day Curtis died we had all got together
to skate for a friend matt who had taken his life
a few days had been a rough time for us.
Curtis's longtime friend and one of my east bay
heros Ruben Orkin had lost his life to cancer 11
months before at the age of 29. Curtis had taken
one of his usual hairball runs and was walking
off the ramp.. suddenly he stopped and sank down
onto the ramp. he died right there. in front of
all of us. the bottom picture below: green shirt,
red pool coping.... that's Curtis's last run last
frontside grind, at least here in this life.
something with his brain told his heart to
stop. like so many others i lost my bro that night.
not to drugs,gangs, or suicide, just like someone
flipped a switch. he was gone.

we miss you so much man.
think about you all the time.

curtis called this art

the last one


circus leo said...

thanks for sharing this max. it must be so sad to lose a good friend all of a sudden. my commiseration at the loss of your friend

defstar22 said...

Last year Fuel had a great 2 hr special on Curtis and his crew. They showed them ripping all those lovely pools after the fires came through and burned all the pads down. They lost a couple of friends in a row. crazy shit. All those guys are rippers. RIP!

Daniel said...

Thanks a lot for this story, Max. It's crazy how sometimes we forget how temporary life can be. Every day like it's your last.

bk said...

Thanks for sharing these words with us. Curtis was indeed a free-spirited friend of many in the SF Bay Area during those times and I think about him often. His skating, his laughter, his art and his take on life was truly unique and original.

I'm doing fs grinds in tribute to him on this day of his passing.

Stay up,


Jahluv said...

The dead are always with us - they live on in our hearts.

Excellent post.

Thomas said...

I've always come to the conclusion when it's your time, it's your time. Losing a brother to something so freak is really hard thing to face. Our entire skateboarding scene suffered with the passing of a friend a few years back. More so his close friends suffered. Same deal, freak accident. Think about him everyday. I'll skate for him and Curtis today. Stay up Max.

zach hudson said...

thats true, his skating was...dichotomy personified. he could pull the most hairball frontside grinds and "DISASTERS" and then the next wall was like oh, a 50/50...? and his slams were those that would take out any young kid...and he just came back for more. fucking legend.

Anonymous said...

loss is hard enough, and when it is right in your face 10x, I think about the redeemers all the time, the ones that passed their souls on, it keeps me going it keeps me positive, by the sounds of things I can relate to Curtis's slamming style, your story reminds me of the gifts I have been presented with by the ones that have passed, and these gifts are not material and no amount of money can buy them, the gift of someone passing their redeemed soul on to their family and friends to utilize in our present lives, thanks for reminding me what life is really all about today, it's not easy to put it all out there for everyone to absorb

Unknown said...

Wow Max, this is a side of you I don't think many people would ever hear about. I always thought you were just a badass Oak biker who didn't give two shits about anybody. But after reading this I have even more respect for you. We all lose someone close, we wish for it to never happen but it always will. Curtis sounds like an amazing person to skate with and we would've all been so lucky to have known him.

Chedda Banks said...

I loved how humble and down for anything he was. Didn't know him too well, but the times I hung with him made me want to hang out more. Ruben and Curtis were some of the BEST! When I moved to Berkeley, these guys were down to show me a good time and I appreciated it. TRUE SKATE WARRIORS!

BLKPRJKT said...

Thanks for this Max. Skating and going through art school with Curtis are memories I'll never lose track of. Curtis was always all gas and no brakes on a skateboard. A rare and special human who left us far too soon.

chopretard said...

Henry David Thoreau once said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” How rare is the man that truly lives?....the one that, no shit, for real “sings his song” while alive? The void left in our lives when one leaves us is directly proportional to the space they took in our life and their influence on it. Max - - thanks for giving us a glimpse of your friend, the way he lived his life, and his impact on you. When stripped of all the accouterments of life, how many of us will be able to say we really lived?

Justin said...

RIP Curtis. This is a great story about him. So sad that he is gone.

That Spitfire ad of him doing an edger is one of my favorite photos ever.

bee said...

Great story Max, thanks for sharing it with us.

I met Curtis once at High Speed but never talked to him that day. a few years later we ended up skating some pool in the east bay. I sucked at it but it was fun watching him grind over some broken/wobbly pool coping. I think it even fell in one time during his run. Anyways, after skating we talked for a bit. I immediately got a great impression of him. I guess he connected with me even though it was only for a several minutes.

When I heard of his passing, I felt a deep sadness. He made such a great impression on me in that one short encounter. Your story just verifies in way how rad he was. Everyone probably has a similar positive impression of Curtis no matter how long or brief you knew him. RIP Curtis.

moose209 said...

Thanks for remembering Curtis and sharing with everyone so no one will forget, even about Matt and Rubin.

I happened to be there that night on the ramp having a good time enjoying all the good stories that people had about Matt Neely. Curtis introduced himself to me in the kitchen while drinking a soda. I was in my early 20's an d thought he looked the same, but found out he was at least 10 years older than I. He took care of himself and I was impressed by his style of skating, going for it and not looking back! Good times continued into the night....... then he just fell. We all thought he was play'n around as he lay there while Royce frontsided over him, but he wasn't.
Without sucsess, I gave him CPR till the medics came, but no help there either.
We followd to the hospital, but no good word there either.
I only shared a couple hours of rad skating and laughing with him, but I know just from his first impression, he was a great person and the type of person you would want on any skate trip, session, are just hang'n next to the BBQ.

Thanks for the hours Curtis. RIP

you are now with the skate gods.

Jeremy Doss said...

Curtis was one of the first guys I met when I moved to Berkeley in 1995. I met him at the Tennis court banks and instantaneously he felt like a friend. This was at a time in my life when I had none. Curtis was a skateboarders skateboarder. To the outside world he must'v seemed like a novelty, strange looking and completely socially retarded. But to us, Curtis was the shit. He only cared about skating and his friends. Over the next few years I saw Curtis everywhere around the bay area, always skating. Curtis wasn't pretty, flamboyant, nor could he do a million tricks, but the ones he did, he did with style and with love. Curtis won't be forgotten. Not by me, nor by the hundreds of people whom he knew and loved.

Miss you man.

Unknown said...

This is a beautiful piece of writing. My name is Brian, we met briefly after my brother curtis passed. I still have the T-shirt you printed for My Big Brother hanging in my office. Curtis is in my thoughts every day, and I ache for his advice, presence and guidance. The memories of Curtis' friends and loved ones keep something of him alive for me. Curtis is my Brother and Hero, sounds like that is something that you and I have in common. For keeping his memory alive, you have my deepest thanks and respect.

-Brian Hsiang

Miss Tayva said...

I only met him a few times, and didn't really know him at all, but it was evident that he was a good guy.

I loved to watch him skate-- he was an absolute fucking madman! If I think back to all the skateboarders I've ever seen and/or known... he stands out in my mind. He was fast, gnarly and... I don't know how to properly describe him. Seeing him on a ramp was insanity!

I know many people whose lives he touched. He wasn't around long, but a lot of people loved him, and he definitely left his mark.

Dan said...

I feel blessed to be one of the guys that got to skate with Curtis. wed. night sessions at andy's ramp were a big deal for me and franco. driving across the bridge from our house in the excelsior, we couldn't get there fast stoked. Curtis lit it up every time as you all know, what a ruler. he always said hi and would talk to me about ermico and ask me how the woodshop was doing- not to shoot the shit but because he gave a shit; and that spoke volumes for his character. he lived for it all day every day a true skate rat. Love & Respect.

kt said...

Thanks for posting Max.

knut eliassen said...

Thanks Max,

Sounds like an amazing guy, he was lucky to have a friend like you!!! Thanks for sharing your experiance with Curtis...

Skate and Share

"Mother" said...

Very sad .....very .......much love to you Guys who carry on ...".ive seen death and he is a son of a bitch ".....

Shrewgy said...

Thanks, that was really nice. Curtis and the Chavez brothers were special, influential players in my life. From back in the Clayton Valley Skatepark days. They would come and I would follow them around and take my rides and listen to them talk and watch them having fun, sometimes I even had enough nerve to ask them a random question, I may have been 10 years old. You know what, they would answer me, honestly, not like a little kid but like an equal. I'll never know, or have enough courage to ask if they remember me, not from back then ('78?) but maybe from Blind School Pool that first magical summer, or all of the Sick Pleasure shows, or Barrington Hall shows, or my vert ramp later on. I am still in awe of my heroes.
We're lucky to have so many special influences in our lives, all of us. It feels great to know someone else you respect had a special connection with someone else that cherish.
Glad you shared with the world and Curtis Ick ne: Hsiang will always be remembered fondly by me.
to MASON: Max is a bad-ass biker and all bad-asses have soul, although not all of them can be as eloquent with words as Max!
I wrote my piece directly without reading any of the prior comments.


skated @ jims ramp with curtis a couple times., always positive, always ripping... rob collinson

Unknown said...

i remember skating San Leandro football pool, so fun. Ruben, Curtis, Royce, and a couple other guys showed up, i sat back and filmed it.. if i find the footage from that day i want to show everyone. Then like a year later, they were both gone. I was trippin. I remember seeing Curtis and he was like this underground mythical skate warrior that i had heard stories about. To see him skate was a blessing. Aloha Curtis.. ryan friberg

max schaaf said...

thanks for the comments,
i got super choked up writing
the piece.
reading the comments did the same.
thanks for taking that time.
time to live.

"Mother" said...

Ya Man ......".Time to Live brother "............Time to live !

norcalbarney said...


Thanks for writing this. I didn't know him, but we've all had fallen skate comrades. Your articles are always inspiring, and this makes me want to go skate.

Thank you for sharing. The sessions must be getting pretty heated in Heaven...

cam said...

I lost my older brother the same way a few years ago. he was also 29. a virus stopped his heart one day while he was telling a joke to some friends. so random. so confusing.

I apologize Max. I don't mean to take away from remembering Curtis, but it hit so close to home when you said this,

"something with his brain told his heart to
stop. like so many others i lost my bro that night.
not to drugs,gangs, or suicide, just like someone
flipped a switch. he was gone."

thanks for the story. and helping me remember.

nomiles said...

Thanks Max

I never skated with Curtis. i'm 68 years old now. i met Curtis when he got clean and sober. Curtis would show up all sore and beat up from falling off his skateboard saying "i'm getting too old for this" he was funny. :-)

i'd stop by the Chinese language bookstore where he worked just to say 'hi'

i miss him, he was my friend.

As in a
of a
Men Go

smorales said...

the sessions are getting heated in heaven indeed. curtis was a good nosepicker! I was just watching the AH cow video last night. Skateboarding man... skateboarders man, yeah dawgs.

Mr. Lentini said...

thanks for making me all teary ..jerk

The Vintagent said...

I knew Curtis only as an artist, when he was sharing studio space with my buddy Chris Johansen. I bought one of his 'whiteout' pieces at the time, which I still think is genius.

His death was shocking, but death is almost always thus, unless we're given the grace of a warning, which means illness. Which is better?

Live Your Life.

Daniel said...

Man,that story got me.Thanks for sharing it and the memory of Curtis. It's raining here in Austin,maybe I'll roll around in the kitchen. "Life is the only thing worth Living for."-Flipper.

dylan said...

tear jerker.
is this him?

Shaun Pantaleon said...

RIP to Curtis...thanks for sharing Max.