If someone asked the average person who Keith Hufnagel was, they would likely reply with a simple no or display a confused, curious look on their face. Replace the name Hufnagel with Tony Hawk or Rob Dyrdek and they would likely get the opposite response.
Although popular professional skateboarders like Hawk or Dyrdek have transformed the skating world, they have often overshadowed Hufnagel and his unique style. Despite being overlooked, he made a massive impact on the world of skateboarding but hardly received the recognition he deserved.
On Sept. 24, Hufnagel passed away at the age of 46 due to brain cancer. He left his mark on the skateboarding community with his innovative skating tricks and the creation of his streetwear company, Huf Worldwide.
During the ‘80s, Hufnagel grew up in New York where he and his crew of friends would skate the steep slopes and stairs at the Brooklyn Banks, under the Brooklyn Bridge. From the beginning, he was ahead of the game and eventually moved to San Francisco in the ‘90s, where he joined Real Skateboards and introduced California to his unique New York skate style.
Hufnagel’s style was unmatched, with a simplistic yet graceful flair to his tricks. If it weren’t for him, there wouldn’t be skaters like Grant Taylor, the 2011 Thrasher Skater of the Year, said Justin Eldridge, a pro skater, on his podcast, “The Nine Club.”
Videos like “Real to Reel” and “Skate More” are what made Hufnagel known for his high pop, quick feet and speed skating. Even during his early career, he was still overshadowed by Rick Howard, Dyrdek and other pro skaters on D.C. shoes.
Fast-forward to 2002, his exploration into the fashion and branding side of skate culture proved to be just as influential. Alongside Anne Freeman, his ex-wife, the brand Huf was created.
The store's first location in San Francisco carried lesser-known brands at the time like Stussy, Supreme and other small New York brands to introduce its street culture to California. Today, Supreme is wildly popular in California, where a majority of the younger generation tends to attribute the brand’s status to rapper Tyler, the Creator.
Once again, Hufnagel failed to receive recognition for his impact on some of the biggest skate and streetwear brands.
What started out as a store for rare sneakers and clothing grew into a skate brand and shoe company, with notable skaters like Austyn Gillette and Dylan Rieder. What made Huf different from other brands was that it did not have a corporate owner.
Nowadays, skate brands such as Vans Corp., Nike, Adidas, Zoo York and countless others are all owned by corporate owners who profit off the skating community without having any background in pro-skating or skating in general.
Hufnagel hand-picked his skaters based on their style, not by the amount of revenue they can bring in. He let skaters like Rieder have creative freedom with their shoe designs. Hufnagel’s presence showed why professional skaters should be the ones with skate brands, not corporate businessmen.
As Hufnagel was building the Huf brand, he also started Zac Clark’s F--k The Population brand. While Clark worked as an intern, he and Hufnagel worked together to do a F--k The Population collaboration with Huf. Today, Clark’s brand has become well-known mostly in the rap industry, but Hufnagel never once took credit for giving FTP its start.
Hufnagel’s humble demeanor may have been a reason why he was overlooked compared to skaters like Koston and Dyrdek, yet it is the same reason why he had such a positive influence on skaters young and old. It’s evident that Hufnagel’s peers remembered how kind and humble he was from their conversations since his passing.
Hufnagel embodied originality and focused on building up the skate industry in terms of both clothing and skating. His style dominated a business where the payoff shouldn’t just be about money, but also about keeping it authentic.
Hufnagel left behind a legacy that impacted and evolved the skate industry with his work at Huf. No matter what, the three letters will always be a staple in skateboarding and pop culture.
Legend is always the first word to come out of people's mouths when a celebrity dies; nowadays “legend” is just another empty word. But Hufnagel’s legacy is anything but an empty expression. He represents what it truly means to be a legend both in and out of the skating industry.