Keith Hufnagel, a pro skateboarder who founded the skate and streetwear brand Huf, died Thursday at 46 years old.
The cause was brain cancer, according to a statement from the brand, which said he’d battled the disease for more than two years. Huf installed a new chief executive officer to manage the brand in August 2018, about a year after a majority stake in Huf was sold to Japan’s TSI Holdings.
“Though he beat the odds and fought back much longer than his diagnosis permitted, he ultimately and unfortunately lost the fight,” Huf wrote of Hufnagel in an Instagram post Thursday evening. “He was the heart and soul of this brand. He built and brought together a community of people like no one else could.”
“Keith loved skateboarding and the culture around it. He did things his way and did them for the right reasons. He inspired so many of us across the globe,” the brand continued. “But above anything else, Keith loved and supported the people around him. He would do anything for his friends, family and children. He passionately wanted to see others succeed. And we all loved him for it.”
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We are absolutely heartbroken to deliver the news today that HUF founder Keith Hufnagel has passed away. Keith battled brain cancer for the past 2.5 years. And though he beat the odds and fought back much longer than his diagnosis permitted, he ultimately and unfortunately lost the fight. Keith was not only the ‘HUF’nagel in HUF. He was the heart and soul of this brand. He built and brought together a community of people like no one else could. Keith paved the way for all of us – as a respected professional skateboarder, shop owner, brand founder, footwear and apparel designer, creative director, and industry leader. He showed us how to do it, and how do it right. Keith loved skateboarding and the culture around it. He did things his way and did them for the right reasons. He inspired so many of us across the globe. But above anything else, Keith loved and supported the people around him. He would do anything for his friends, family and children. He passionately wanted to see others succeed. And we all loved him for it. Keith’s legacy will continue to live on at HUF. Today, tomorrow and forever. Rest in peace, Keith.
An outpouring of condolences from peers and fans followed the post on Instagram. Rumors started circulating on social media on Tuesday that Hufnagel was not doing well. On his own Instgram account, where he normally posted regularly, Hufnagel’s last post came at the start of August. He’s survived by his wife and two children.
Benny Gold of the eponymous streetwear brand simply posted “I love you” in response to news of Hufnagel’s death. Rapper Lil House Phone wrote his condolences, along with pro surfer Craig Anderson and Guillermo Andrade of L.A. streetwear store 424. Rapper Guapdad 4000 simply wrote “Legend.”
Brands like Obey, retailer Zumiez, magazine Transworld Skate and The Berrics skate park in L.A. also wrote of Hufnagel on Instagram.
“Keith did so much for his friends, family, skateboarding and so many others that may have never been given a chance,” Obey wrote. “A true inspiration for what our industry needs and for what the world needs. Rest In Peace.”
In a post to its site, Transworld wrote: “Keith was the embodiment of raw East Coast power. His pop, style, and speed influenced the 90s generation and beyond. His skate career had no end in sight. He was a global icon. As a veteran on Real and with his own brand HUF, he mentored some of the greatest skaters of our time. Keith, you will be a part of skateboarding forever.”
Hufnagel started Huf in the early 2000s, after more than a decade of pro skating. The line came out of his own skate shop and boutique, which he opened in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco. He was one of the first pro skaters to launch his own brand and a very early purveyor of what has in the last decade become the incredibly popular trend of streetwear. Most of the brand’s retail stores are now in Japan, with one in L.A., New York and Dallas. The brand is also now sold wholesale to a number of major retailers.
In an interview with skater-turned-designer Jimmy Gorecki last October for online retailer Goat’s blog, Hufnagel said he opened the first Huf store with his ex-wife, thinking he needed something else to do after his pro skate career. Although originally from New York, where he became a “street skater,” as he called himself, Hufnagel chose San Fransisco to open up in simply because he wanted to get out of L.A., where he’d been based for a few years. He also thought San Fransisco lacked the “niche” streetwear brands he thought were best.
“We didn’t have a business plan or anything,” Hufnagel said. “We just made it happen and had enough connections in the sneaker and streetwear worlds to carry the right products.”
“We were trying to do something different,” he said of the store, which stocked hard to find international streetwear brands alongside Nike and Adidas. “I was traveling the world and going into skate shops all over the place, and I felt like it wasn’t as cool as skateboarding is and the brands that come out of skate.”
Gorecki wrote on Instagram that Hufnagel was a “the blueprint” in the skate community because he showed those coming up “How to carry ourselves on a skateboard, as a human, and how to take what we do naturally in the streets and transition into business.”
“I absolutely idolized his every move,” Gorecki wrote. “This hurts so bad. Will absolutely take a very long time to digest but there’s no way I could believe someone as strong, and powerful as Keith in so many ways would want us to slow down in any way, shape, or form. He’d probably want us to keep going, just as fast as he skated.”
Real Skateboards, founded by fellow pro skaters Tommy Guerrero and Jim Thiebaud, which sponsored Hufnagel during his skate career, wrote of him on Instagram Thursday evening. They also called him “a blueprint,” adding: “Anything written could never truly describe how much your friendship, influence, everything you did, means to so many people.”
“You showed us that anything could be accomplished if you put your heart and effort into it,” Real added. You were a true friend, mentor, and inspiration. There will never be a day you’re not with us, in our hearts and thoughts. Forever.”
The Real site on Thursday was unshoppable. Vistors could only see a photo of a young Hufnagel in a Real hoodie standing above the San Fransisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.
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Words escape us, and they will never be enough. Anything written could never truly describe how much your friendship, influence, everything you did – means to so many people. You created a blueprint for how it should be done, with power, grace, and respect. You showed us that anything could be accomplished if you put your heart and effort into it. You were a true friend, mentor, and inspiration. There will never be a day you’re not with us, in our hearts and thoughts. Forever. We Love You.