Many younger skaters may have never heard of Lennie Kirk, but his story is none the less worth telling. It has proverbial biblical dimensions – although Lennie is more of a sinner than a saint. Those who have seen his Alien Workshop „Timecode“ Part from ’97, know at which level he was skating. For example; the way he skated the Hubba Hideout was way ahead of his time. But at the same time you can see the dawning of his decline. Call it religious mania, psychosis or mental illness – it was the starting point of Lennies fight with his demons. There are different myths, why he transformed from a thug with cornrows and uprising Workshop rider into a fanatic preacher (most of them blame it on the dumpster slam on his head from the intro of the part). However, it’s a fact that Lennies personality had changed. He already preached in his video part and the children’s choir was also his choice, but his enthusiasm for religion went way further. He was convinced to convert every person around him in the name of the lord, which also lead to criminal acts. Unfortunately for him, the American justice saw it differently, sentencing him to prison for robbery and kidnapping. He is still to serve ten more years. However, though a lot went wrong in his life, his story needs to be told. Lennies close friend, photographer Dennis McGrath, who (by advice from Larry Clark) followed him through his life with his camera, is doing so with his book „Heaven“ (with help from DC published by Seems) from which we present some pictures with comments from Dennis.
[Text: Stefan Schwinghammer | Quotes: Dennis McGrath | Photos: Dennis McGrath; Gary VanDeGriek; Patrick O’Dell; Jon McGrath]
Lynwood Allan „Lennie“ Kirk is from a small town on the coast of North Carolina, outside of Greenville. As far as I know he comes from a good family. I knew his Mom, she was a really sweet, nice lady. She was a nurse and I think his Dad was a fisherman and I’m not sure if he was around or not. He is not in any of the family photos. Lennie started skating at an early age and left home when he was 14 to go to California to skate.
Lennie grew up with four sisters in a stable, religious family in North Carolina. He was an energetic kid who filled up his time with Jiu-Jitsu and Football, before he discovered his love for skateboarding. Having nowhere possible to skate, because of the lack of tarmac roads, his parents built him a ramp in their garden. He moved as a teenager to California (first to San Diego, where he lived with Rob Dydrek, then later to San Francisco). Alien Workshop started sponsoring him and he became best buddy’s with Josh Kalis. Cornrows, camouflage pants and golden grills were trendy at that time, as well as smoking weed and partying. He led the life of a sinner which was soon to be followed by his epiphany.
San Francisco, 1995. I moved to SF in 1994 to go to art school and skate. Lennie came to the city with my brother Jon the following year. He had just got sponsored by Alien Workshop at this time and was on fire. He was 16 in this photo. Future is looking bright…
Lennie’s first Alien Workshop ad. This was in the February 1995 issue of Thrasher Magazine. On the cover that month was Fred Gall doing a switch frontside 5-0 on Hubba Hideout. I love this photo. He is so on top of it. Great example of how raw his style was and how progressive he was even as an amateur. Switch backside 5-0 Hubba Hideout.
As skaters we always have dealings with the police and security guards. I love how this cop is beaming at us like we are up to no good. Talk about premonitions!
In his „Timecode“ intro Lennie slams from a dumpster on his head so hard, that he started bleeding from his ears and was blind for two hours. Dennis’ brother Jon, who was filming, brought him to the hospital. When Lennie woke up, he didn’t remember anything about the slam, but henceforth was in a religious mania. A short while after that, he was hit by a van while bombing a hill, but he survived the crash without any harm. He saw it as a sign from god (also cause his Natas Kaupas board, with a black cat on it, broke in two. Natas spelt backwards being Satan…). He also interpreted the 50-50 slam from „Timecode“ similar and thought it was god’s punishment, because he had jerked off in the morning before the trick…
„I was smoking blunts all the time, man. I started thinking about it. I tried to quit for two days. I’m sitting there in SF, took a hit, took a second hit, and something happened to me. I don’t know what I was doing, I got picked up and went directly to my room and I was praying to Jesus to take this confusion away from me. I had no idea what I was saying or why, but I got up, I was completely different. I had to go to court the next day. I was on my bicycle saying, ‘Thank you Jesus’. I don’t even know why I was saying this, it was coming out of me. I thought this was weird. And then I got to court they didn’t have me in the computer so I was let free. It was Jesus saying, ‘This is what I can do and what I will do’. I didn’t smoke weed no more after that, I was just saying „God bless you“ to everybody. I was so happy, I was just preaching automatically. Everything was different, I was seeing things, I was born again, I was seeing things the way God sees things, not the way a normal person sees things. I went to Union Square and saw everybody, Pat Washington, Karl, Gerry, Lil’ Geez. He’s like ‘Here’s a blunt man’, and I told them I wouldn’t smoke no more. They thought I was crazy. I started saying ‘Jesus is real’, and raising my voice and preaching to everybody. I didn’t even know the Bible!“
This was really gnarly for back in 1996. I had never seen anyone grind through a kink like this at this point. The first time he grinded through it I screamed! He yelled at me saying, „Don’t doubt me Dennis!“ He got on his knees and prayed for a minute then made it next try. After this we went to Hubba Hideout and he switch lipslid it… We got three photos this day… Backside 50-50 Castro Street, San Francisco.
One of the most interesting things about Lennie at this time was the fact that he learned to speak and read fluent Spanish within a few weeks. One day he showed up at my house with a Spanish bible preaching in Spanish… When I asked him how he learned the language his response was, „the Lord gave me the language“… From then on he was preaching in latino churches all over San Francisco.
Lennie’s intense personality came through in his belief in the Lord. I truly think he believed he could help save the world by preaching the word of God. Once Lennie got saved by Jesus he was so intent on saving every other human that crossed his path. Always preaching the word of the Lord. One night he came to my house with a christian friend talking about they were about to go „battle“ some mormons. The same type of intensity and passion that came through in his skating was now being channeled through the bible in whatever ways.
Lennie Kirk „saved’“ a lot of people including our art director Oliver Klobes, who remembers exactly: “1997 I was on my way home from X-Tra Sport in Bochum, when our crew wanted to have a break at a gas station. The Alien Workshop and Invisible teams, also coming from the X-Tra, had the same idea so there was Josh Kalis and Laban Pheidias squeezing past me while I was on crutches with a torn ligament. American skateboard stars within my reach – sometimes I guess you are just lucky, so I thought at that moment, until someone tapped on my shoulder – Lennie Kirk. With a smile on his face, he asked how I was and reached for my hand, which he didn’t let go for quite a while. He wanted to know if I was a son of the Lord and I knew straight away what it meant about „getting caught by God’“. I looked around, searching for help and saw Josh Kalis, who walked up next to Lennie and me on his way out. He gave me the most pitiful glimpse that one can imagine. However Lennie didn’t let himself get discouraged and tried to find the reason for my spiritual disaster relating to my torn ligament. And just as he uttered his assumption that I surely „pleasured“ myself the night before the accident, the rest of the Alien and Invisible crew passed by us. If I wouldn’t have been the victim of the situation, I would have also had a mixture between suppressed grin and pure pity on my face, like Laban and the rest did. But that’s not all: Lennie wanted to release me and my tainted soul from all corruption and so another 15 minutes passed, hand in hand with Lennie in the gas station while he insisted talking to me in English and Spanish, until finally he placed his hand on my head and blessed me, finishing his benediction with a kiss on each cheek.”
Lennie went to prison in 2002 on robbery charges and served a partial sentence. This was after he got out in 2006. Haight Street San Francisco.
Lennie was already described by his friends as bipolar before he even started preaching. There are countless examples which tell the same story: He always had an extreme personality and was much crazier than most other skateboarders (he revenged himself, for example, with molotov cocktails when he was beaten up at a party). But after the slam on his head, he turned completely and tried to convert everybody he met. Some shops even cancelled Workshop boards because Lennie told the kids at the demos that they would go to hell. He lost his sponsors and started to rob people (in the name of the Lord) with a sawed off shotgun, for which he went to jail at the end of 2001. He was released in 2006 but two years later he was sentenced again, because of domestic violence against his girlfriend. In 2012 he kidnapped his ex-girlfriend (in his mind, he just took her for a ride in his car) and because of Californias three-strike-law, in 2012 he went to prison for a further 13 years. Lennie is now 37 years old.
This was the last time I saw Lennie. San Francisco, ca. November 2011. He got arrested in February 2012 and is currently serving a 13 year sentence in California State prison.
Letter from Lennie, written in the La Palma Correctional Facility in Arizona: