Hopper’s Hands. Kind Story Of A Metalworker Who Started SF’s Legendary Running Tradition

Many runners of San Francisco have been performing that routine for roughly 15 years. A successful run along the Crissy Field waterfront should be completed at the end of the sidewalk under the Golden Gate Bridge, with a mandatory ritual — giving a high-five to a plaque on the fence outside Fort Point.

The plaque with a pair of hands on it reads Hopper’s Hands.

Photo: thepinkblooms/Instagram

One can see runners and walkers near the plaque every day, as well as curious tourists staring and wondering what is this funny ritual about.

Who is this Hopper, and why are his hands drawn on the plate? The name of the man is Ken Hopper, and he is a former ironworker.

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Ken often worked on the fences of the Golden Gate Bridge in the late 2000s and noticed that runners had a habit of coming up and touching the fence before turning back. He thought that a cold unwelcoming fence probably did not perk up tired athletes.

So Hopper decided to give them something more pleasant to touch.

Photo: SF Adventure Tours/Instagram

Ken shared his thoughts with a fellow worker who was the bridge’s sign maker. Though it wasn’t the official bridge project, the guy crafted a small sign with two hands on it.

San Francisco runners liked the idea, and soon Ken noticed one woman touching her dog’s paws to the fence below the sign. The metalworker sparked with another project — he decided to put another sign with a pair of paws a few feet off the ground.

Hopper asked the sign worker if he could make another sign. Luckily for Ken, his fellow was a dog person: I told him why, and he said, no problem!”

Photo: livelovelaughbark/Instagram

Since then, the plaque has been replaced many times, for it suffered constant hand and fist touches, fog, salt air and winds of San Francisco Bay Area.

“The first one didn’t last very long at all,” Hopper told. The paint wore off first, and then it cracked and broke, and we had to put up a new one. Each time it got better and heavier.”

There were variations that included color schemes of San Francisco Giants and 49ers. The most recent sign is made of highly durable plastic that is used for cutting boards.

Ken often worked on the fences of the Golden Gate Bridge in late 2000s and noticed that runners had a habit of coming up and touching the fence before turning back

Over time, one of the Hopper’s coworkers offered to add the inscription “Hopper’s Hands” to the sign. At first, Ken refused to put his name on, but the colleague just kept trying to persuade him.

“Finally he took it upon himself to write Hopper’s Hands on there,” Hopper explained. I thought it was pretty cool after he did it. But I didn’t mind being anonymous.”

Photo: alaneatsfood/Instagram

Soon Hopper’s name became famous among San Franciscans – not only because of the plaque. San Francisco Chronicle published a piece about the sad story of the bridge. Since its opening in 1937, there have been 1400 confirmed suicides.

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Ken knew that dark side of the Golden Gate Bridge —  he talked dozens of people out of making the fatal step. The article mentioned that Hopper saved 30 people, but the metalworker rescued many more.

“I knew it was as probably three times as many as I told him, but I didn’t want to sound like a braggart,” Hopper said. That’s always been a sore spot for me.”

Photo: Fleet Feet SF/Instagram

The sign brings joy and the sense of pride to the retired metalworker every time Hopper comes to the bridge. His fellow workers regularly wipe down both plaques and correct guides that sometimes misinform tourists. Some of them tells their groups that Hopper is deceased.

San Franciscans prays for good health of the man who decided to make the glorious bridge a more soulful place. Runners who know the story of Hopper’s Hands admit that they get an energy surge near the Golden Gate.

Sources: Roots Rated, Runner’s World, SF Gate, Yelp

Featured Image: Fleet Feet SF/Instagram, thepinkblooms/Instagram

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