Keith Hufnagel Remembered
Keith Hufnagel’s influence almost can’t be overstated. In his short-but-momentous life, he conquered both coasts, became an icon of the streets and opened shops on multiple continents with his eponymous HUF brand. Three letters, all caps, the name itself blends simplicity and power in a way that perfectly mirrors the way he lived. Read from his closest friends to fully appreciate Keith's everlasting impact—as seen in our January, 2021 mag.
Left: Varial flip at the Brooklyn Banks for every skater on the East Coast Photo: Wallacavage
Right: Twin Towers X Raw Power Photo: Yelland
One time Keith and I were skating the Brooklyn Banks in early 1990. We were going to go there and then head to Midtown to meet up with a bunch of other people. Right before we were supposed to leave I snapped my board in half. I was so bummed that I‘d have to head back to Brooklyn instead of skating with all of our friends. But Keith told me straight up, “Hey, don’t sweat it. Let’s go to Benji’s. I’ll buy you a new board and we will hook up with everyone.” That small gesture of kindness and generosity showed his true character and what a great friend he was since day one. For me, that was the one true gift above the pop, speed and style that I will always remember—his generosity. Whether it be a place to crash, a few bucks for a meal, product hook ups, an edit of your footage, a sponsor introduction, or a job at his company or store, he was always there for you. That generosity is what made him an amazing human being, a great dad and somebody I was fortunate enough to call a friend for the past 30-plus years. It is the thing that he, and all of us, learned from being part of the NYC skate community in the late ’80s and early ’90s—that even though we aren’t blood related, we choose to be each other’s keeper. At the end of the day, that’s what made him a true New York skater in my eyes. Keith, I love and miss you. If it wasn’t for your generosity, friendship and bad jokes, most of us wouldn’t be where we are today. Love you, brother. I’m going to miss all the texts and laughs.
I remember the first day I met Keith—it was 31 years ago, in 1989, on the corner of 23rd St. and 3rd Ave. in Manhattan. I was 14 years old and Keith was 15. I had just gotten off the 6 train with some friends from Queens. We were in search of a mythical brick hip we’d heard was in the area. When we came up from the subway, it seemed like Keith was waiting for us, even though we’d never met and he had no way of knowing we were going to be there. He saw that we had skateboards and asked if we wanted to skate his “run.” This “run” was a planned-out continuous route of spots he’d hit on a daily basis. You had to skate it fast and without stopping because there was traffic, open businesses, pedestrians and security guards—who knew Keith would be pushing through at some point after 3 PM when school was out. We said, “Yeah,” and then struggled to keep up with him as he took off. We had to sprint across an intersection, through an apartment-complex courtyard where a security guard started chasing us, ollie down a three stair, then back up and as we turned a corner—the brick hip we were searching for was right there in front of us. Security was close behind and we only had one chance to hit it. Of course Keith blazed through and made the ollie over the steep brick hip. He kept pushing down the block as we watched in awe.
That first day we met was like a metaphor for how he lived his life. Throughout our 30-plus years of friendship, Keith was always out in front setting the example—energetic, ambitious and determined. He was a skateboarder, a son, a brother, a husband, a father, a professional, a fighter and he was my best friend and a constant inspiration. Keith was a true leader in this world and no matter what obstacles he faced, he always just kept pushing through, setting the example for us all. I will miss him to no end. Rest in peace, Keith.
Keith and Keenan were staying with me in Long Island one time. I had borrowed my sister’s Jeep and we were heading back to my house after skating when we noticed a van following us. I stopped at a railroad crossing and could see the van’s driver through my rear-view mirror. He was staring me down and inching closer and closer. I decided to drive around instead of going home and, sure enough, the van kept following us. For 30 minutes we sped in and out of neighborhoods, ran red lights and blew through stop signs. We were all shook but also excited and it felt like the chase went on forever. Eventually I pulled into an office-building parking lot and the three of us jumped out and ran. We hid in some bushes and a minute later the van crept by without stopping. We eventually got back in the Jeep and headed back to my house. I’ll never forget that memory and the excitement we all shared. It was nerve-racking! RIP, Keenan and Huf.
Keith, Keenan and I jumped in Ron Allen’s Honda in ’93 and went on the journey of a lifetime. Young, full of energy and loving life, we traveled the country together. We were the best of friends and it was a family. We grew and learned together and loved each other like brothers. Ninety-three was infinity. Love you, Keith.
Little wheels, massive ups Photos: Morf
Huf was the most generous, down-to-Earth, good-hearted person. They don’t make them like that anymore. He was one of a kind and everything he did he was successful. Keith was loved by everyone.
The shot of Huf in the crowd was taken in the ’90s during one of many sessions trying to get a trick at Black Rock in downtown SF. It was always a game of cat and mouse with security there—you’d get kicked out, leave and have to come back. We shot this while waiting it out across the street near Kearny and California. The financial district always had a crazy flood of people during lunch and Keith got swallowed up by the crowd in a crosswalk. I thought it looked cool with his blonde hair, so I hopped up on a newspaper box and shot him in the crowd. Keith was such a good sport and always down, so I may have had him cross the street a few times since we had some time to kill. Eventually the financial district missions would turn into the shot of Keith kickflipping on the statue at Black Rock that ran in his first Thrasher interview. Those were some good times. He will certainly be missed.
Dodging security at Black Rock with a beauty of a backside flip Photo: Morf
When Keith came out to SF from NYC he had a goal. He had a mentality that he wanted something from it. As a company owner, that was humbling because he had that drive and he became an example for the company. Most days he’d wake up at 9 AM, take BART to meet up with Morf, get photos and then show up at EMB afterwards. He did this religiously for a few years. When people would ask what it would take to ride for Fun, we’d just say, “Be like Huf.”
Keith was the only guy who could pull off that blonde hair helmet and not get vibed out for it. Also, at that time no one could come down to Embarcadero and be embraced like Huf. Maybe because he was mellow, not a kook and wasn’t in people’s faces. My friends back then were basically the guys I skated with from EMB or the teams I rode for—Plan B or Girl. Huf was the first person I got to know outside of my comfort zone and we just clicked. He played a big part in my transitional insecure teenage years and gave me confidence and hope in being able to meet new people and I’ll always appreciate that about him.
Getting shifty on a plywood pyramid Photo: Morf
I don’t think anyone connected the NYC and SF scenes quite like Keith did in the early ’90s when he moved out to California to go to San Francisco State College. Through him we got to meet, and become friends with, every great skater from New York at that time: Chris and Jones Keefe, Ben Liversedge, Keenan Milton, Peter Bici, Mike Hernandez and Gio Estevez. Jersey, Philly and Boston guys, too. Quim and Mike Cardona, Bobby Puleo, Fred Gall, Jerry Fisher and Robbie Gangemi all stayed or lived at his apartment on (a then very different) Oak and Octavia—all silently vouched for by an unassuming Keith. Just these city kids from back East connecting with some city kids out West. And because of this, Keith was able to seamlessly represent both coasts, where he got some of the most iconic photos of that often un-photogenic big-pants, little-tires era (thanks, Morford, Luke, Tobin and Dawes). He was just a cut above the rest, in general. A solid, dependable friend who opened stores, created businesses, hired his buddies and started a family. He and Anne (his ex-wife) also stepped up in a real big way when Keenan passed. And I think that’s the Keith I’ll remember—stoically handling the harder things that a lot of us just didn’t even know how to do. I’ll love you forever for it, Keith.
Meza captured Huf's essence in his timeless classic for FTC
In Huf we trust Photo: Morf
Keith only had one speed and it was fast, especially when it came to skating, working and being creative. In the early days of HUF, he operated at a mile a minute, and luckily I was able to come along for the ride. An average day with Keith was intense, but always worth the energy we put in. We’d start each day at 8 AM at his flat in Hayes Valley. Keith would make a couple of lattes (he was obsessed with coffee) and we’d shake off the previous night’s festivities. We’d kick around dumb ideas, bang out a few things on the computer and before you knew it, the HUF shops would be opening up. We’d hop on our boards and check in to help everyone start their days. Then we’d jam over to the print shop for a press check, go pack some boxes, maybe pop into DLX and say what’s up to everyone. Sometimes Keith would throw in a rogue pit stop to visit one of his many artist friends. One day it’d be Barry McGee, another day Ari Marcopoulos. Everyone I respected always loved Keith. That’s just how it was with him—people loved that dude. He showed people respect and got respect right back. From there it was back to the shop to start blazing through our long laundry list of shit to do. Closing time was 7:30 PM and that’s when our night would really begin. We’d hit the liquor store with the guys from the shop, grab a tall can, bomb down Hyde and hit the library to get some skating in. We’d put in a few hours (and a few beers) until we were ready to eat, then it’d be back to the TL for some sushi. He’d invite the shop employees or whoever we were hanging with and would treat everyone to dinner. The bills would get insane, but Keith would never let anyone pay. He was always so generous. He’d rather everyone be together having a good night than stress over the cash. We’d end the night in the back of the shop, laughing, pounding beers and probably not getting much done. The next day I’d be back at his flat at 8 AM and we’d do it all over again—rinse and repeat. I’m forever grateful for these memories. He taught me so much about friendship, hard work and dedication. I love you, Keith.
Left: Classic cover, October, '97 Photo: Morf
Right: Upstream crooks in NYC Photo: Reda
Keith was almost like a skate parent to me. There was no judgment; it was just honest, supportive and unconditional love—always. I’m gonna miss him.
I’ve known Keith since 1988 and from the moment we met we were blood brothers. What was evident to me from the beginning was that he was committed to not letting his parents or his close friends down. He carried that same ethos with him later in life in regards to his sponsors, employees and his wife and children. That is a testament to his parents, Monica and Robert, for instilling values in him. Keith was consistent, courteous, empathetic, classy and had an incredible work ethic. For all intents and purposes, Keith’s character—selflessness and bravery—was that of a firefighter. I’ve witnessed these character traits for the past 19 years as a firefighter myself. He will always be distinguished as a knight to me—not a king—as he always practiced honor. Keith will also always be NYC to me, as he never forgot his roots. He will always be our truth because he never lied.
Left: Callin' the shots in the early aughts Photo: Morf
Right: Keepin' the helmet hair under control Photo: Dawes
One day in April of 2002, Keith and I found ourselves sitting in our car staring at 808 Sutter Street in San Francisco. It was on a little block in the Tendernob that had a special charm to it. There was already a store at the address, but we couldn’t stop looking at it and Keith said, “That should be our spot.” I told him I’d go in and ask the owners if they had any plans on going out of business soon. Keith, eternally kind and always polite, was mortified. He begged me not to go in. “That’s insane. You can’t do that,” he said. I jumped out of the car, went in and came out with a deal for the space. We opened the first HUF store in that spot four months later. Keith and I had a knack for not listening to each other at all the right times. There were so many instances where he didn’t listen to me and it worked to his benefit. He could always see the big picture when I couldn’t. Countless times I hounded him to take one of the more lucrative board deals he was offered. He passed on some wild offers from Zoo York and turned down Chocolate when all of his best friends were there. He never let me wear him down and thankfully refused to listen to my advice—lord knows I tried. He was loyal to the core, so subtly confident and knew who he was from day one. He never went through a phase—he was just always Huf and he knew REAL was his home. He never doubted it for a second. And by staying true to REAL he stayed true to himself. I have so much respect and admiration for the natural instincts Keith had that guided him through his career. He was such a solid, steady and focused human, never seeking rewards, attention or recognition. He was just a man doing his job—one that he felt lucky to have. I’m eternally grateful for the one-of-a-kind life and business adventures I got to have with Keith. Thanks to him, I got a seat in the van. And most of you know that it doesn’t get any better or more fun than that.
LA channel hopping—no gap was too long for Huf photo: Reda
Many don’t know, but Keith was a star track athlete when he was younger and was given a scholarship to Manhattan’s prestigious Xavier High School. I was a comic book fan and immediately thought, How fitting. I imagined Professor X was his leader and Keith one of the new X-Men. The gifted NYC street skateboarder with incredible power to ollie—a superhero skateboard mutant: “The Huf.” He ran five miles after school and then skated all night. His calves were huge and stone-like. They could’ve been on an ancient statue.
I knew he was sick, but when I was told he was in bad shape, I got on a flight the next day. There was my good friend. Weak this time, but when I joked he laughed out loud. It was when I helped him out of bed onto a wheelchair for a stroll that I distinctly remember his still-strong shoulders. For two days I sat at his bedside with Chris Keeffe, who had been with Keith for months, and I made him laugh, which made me happy, and then we’d cry. “You were such an inspiration to me,” I told him. “You were the first one to go to California. You were the first one to turn pro. You were the first one to start a multi-million-dollar business. You were a true friend.” All he could do was give me a thumbs up. When I returned home, I found two undeveloped rolls of film and sent them to get processed. One was photos of Keith, Chris Keeffe, Greg CarrolI and I skating in Queens in 1994. It made me so happy to see Keith in his prime, which is how I will always remember him.
Left: Taking flight at JFK with a KF Photo: Atiba
Right: Indoor golf is for the bosses Photo: Reda
It’s hard talking about Keith’s influence in skateboarding because most younger people know him as “Keith the streetwear guy.” But there was a time when Keith was the king of the streets, of skateboarding, the nitty-gritty, down-and-dirty. He was constantly out there, pushing, ollieing, cruising. When he moved to San Francisco in the early ’90s he ushered in the New York/East Coast pilgrimage to the West. After Keith arrived, they all followed—Keenan Milton, Peter Bici, Fred Gall, Ben Liversedge, Chris Keeffe, Ricky Oyola and the list goes on. He lived in a shitty apartment, ate burritos, skated all day and night, went from Fun to REAL, shot photos with Gabe and followed his dream. I had the pleasure of traveling the world with Keith—South Africa, South America, Australia, Europe and all over America. He was the first one out of the van, the first to help his friends, the first one to share what he learned and the last one to let you down. Keith Hufnagel was a rare breed. He was quiet, reserved, humble yet super fun and rad. I’m gonna fucking miss the guy.
Huf always going up, never down Photo: Atiba
In the early 2000s, Keith and I were at his store in SF going over a few designs while a group of Japanese tourists waited nervously outside for the shop to open. As we wrapped up our meeting and the doors opened for the day, the tourists quickly rushed Keith for his autograph. I’d never witnessed anything like it and I was impressed. Keith saw my reaction and humbly brushed it off, saying it wasn’t a big deal. But I saw the kids’ faces and knew that to them it was a big deal. Keith was a big deal—but he remained humble regardless of his accomplishments. I am honored to call him a friend and a mentor. I miss and love you, brother!
Kickflip for the kids Photo: Reda
If you were seeking honesty—and I mean unwavering, dead-ass honesty—you would call Huf. He was a big brother to all of us, even if you were older than him, and he was larger than it all from the jump.
Before his son Keenan was born, Keith used to take care of a bunch of us like we were his kids. We nicknamed him “Dad” and he’s even in my phone as “Papa Huf.” Anne Freeman introduced me to him when I was 15 and he took a liking to me for some weird-ass reason. He proceeded to take me everywhere with him—he’d shepherd me to video premieres, take me skating on the weekends and even let me accompany him to demos and signings. I really wanted to be just like him. I loved his extremely calm demeanor and the fact that he was a business-oriented talker with a dry, shithead sense of humor. Lots of people couldn’t tell he was joking about something until that smirk popped up. He was the tree of life in a lot of our lives—we were the branches and he connected us all. He looked out for everyone and the wonderful experiences he shared with us shaped who we are as people today. We love you, Keith.
I was lucky enough to be with Keith’s brand since it was just a store in SF. I remember the day he called and asked me to come by his office because he wanted to show me some sample shoes. I couldn’t believe he wanted me to be a part of it. I was so down. He had an idea and fully made it tangible. He paved the way, showed everyone that it could be done and how to do it. And he always made sure that everyone around him was taken care of. When I was staying in LA working on a welcome-to-Huf part, he’d give me the keys to his car every day and let me stay at his apartment—just me. There was a jacuzzi on the roof! He also helped my whole circle of friends—from jobs to connections to sponsors. These were important stepping stones that have helped them get to great places. And he did all of this with such style and ease—just like how he skated. I’m forever thankful for him and all that he did for me. He is a true inspiration, an absolute legend. Love you, Keith.
'Til infinity Photos: Atiba
Rest in power Photo: Kelley
One day in Japan I watched Keith sell a pair of Reese Forbes SBs off his feet to a fan. He told me he was going to open a sneaker store in SF that would one day turn into a multi-million-dollar brand. Keith connected skateboarding and streetwear in a way that was impeccable to all of us. The last time I heard from him was this past Father’s Day. He congratulated me on becoming a dad and told me some baby weed socks were coming my way. If I’d known that would be the last time I’d hear from him I would have told him how much I loved him, how much our friendship meant to me and how the memories we made together in the streets have been some of the best times of my life. I’m truly honored to have been there to document his greatness for everyone to see. We love you, Keith.
5-0 in The Bay, Keith casually crushed both coasts Photo: Morf
When faced with trying to write about a loved one’s passing, you’re not supposed to make it about yourself. But that’s impossible here. I can’t write something about Keith without making it a little about me, because of how much he brought to my life. He was incredible—a constant North Star. My life is better for knowing him and I’m incredibly thankful for the time we shared. From that first day, frantically speeding through SF in my beat-up Honda, trying to find Keith to ask him to ride for REAL (I finally found him at nightfall, in the foggy avenues skating a spot), it’s been an amazing journey. And through all of it, Keith wrote the blueprint for how things should be done. Every time he went shooting with Gabe, they created timeless images that shaped our culture. Keith saw opportunities no one else did and worked tirelessly to achieve his goals. From coast to coast, early on and all the way through, he brought us together. He included friends, opened life’s doors for people and helped as many as he could. He cared about skating. He cared about people. He got it, and he freely passed it forward to all who wanted it. When someone like Keith passes, someone who brought so much to our lives, how can we not make it a bit about ourselves? Fuck it. It is about us. It’s about ALL of us. We’re better people because of Keith. Thank you, Keith. We’re all going to miss you terribly. Know this: you will be with us all, in our hearts forever.
Huf didn’t let words get in the way but his power and style spoke enough to fill a damn library. His HUF brand was seemingly built on whispered stepping stones—a Lego of shops until a fortress appeared. I never heard him shout about any of it. He was never self-congratulatory or boastful. He was just Huf—quiet, kind and stoic beyond compare. There’s not many like him out there.
Huf was unique because he came from the East Coast and went to live in SF to be a part of the scene out there. And because he was such a rad skater he was accepted right away, and that’s all he wanted to do—skate. People gave him respect because he put in the time. Jim, Tommy and everyone at DLX helped shape Keith and when he started his company he gave so many people opportunities to better themselves, work hard, prosper and become part of the HUF family and brand. He opened countless doors for people. He also had another side of him—he was a loving husband, father and friend. We all love Huf. Fuck cancer. It sucks.
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