Dogtown and Z-Boys

In the 1950’s, skateboarding was a fad. Like yo-yos and hula-hoops, skateboarding appeared, peaked, and virtually disappeared from the face of popular culture.

Skip forward twenty-five years. It’s the mid-seventies. Skateboarding is as popular as oral surgery. The kids and teens hanging out the Zepyhr Surf Shop in “Dogtown”, an area of southern California, were much more into surfing than skateboarding. In fact, even when they were skateboarding, all they were doing was emulating the moves of their favorite surfers. “Skateboards” at that point in time were homemade pieces of wood, cut roughly into the shape of surfboards, with roller skate wheels attached to the bottom.

Dogtown and Z-Boys is a documentary that tells the story of the twelve kids picked to form the Zephyr Street Skate Team. Those twelve kids, which included people like Stacy Peralta, Tony Alva, and Jay Adams, changed the face of skateboarding forever, and basically ushered skateboarding into the modern era.

The documentary consists of interviews with all the members of the Z-Boys, plus the Zephyr shop owners, and certain celebrities who remember the team as well (Jeff Ammett, Henry Rollins, and Tony Hawk all appear). The documentary also contains hundreds of photographs and tons of vintage footage which, when combined with songs of the times, really takes you back to that place in time.

It’s hard to imagine a time where skateboarding was unheard of, but the filmmakers really do a good job of setting the stage. Some of the stories and anecdotes really make you imagine what it was like. “Getting paid to skate was unheard of,” says Stacy Peralta, one of the Z-Boys and a founder of Powell and Peralta Skateboarding Company. “It would be like if Nike called a kid up today and said they would sponsor them to paint grafitti all over town.”

Through trial, error, and a bit of luck, the Z-Boys developed a style of skateboarding all their own. In one interesting segment, the guys talk about how they invented vert skating. California experienced an intense drought in the late 70’s. The kids, constantly looking for new places to skate, discovered some — dried up swimming pools. Pretty soon the guys were searching southern Hollywood for houses for sale. Armed with both electric and gas powered pumps, the guys could empty a pool in just a couple of hours. The crew often traveled down back streets and alleys with one of the kids on the roof of the car, scouting for new pool sites. One thing that came out of skating pools for a couple of years — air. Tony Alva would constantly carve so close to the coping that occasionally his board would catch “air”. Remember, this was before backside airs had even been invented. Alva eventually turned this in the “backside air.” Seeing something like this developing on film before your eyes in fascinating.

The documentary moves to the 1977 Del Mar Skateboard Nationals. Most of the contestants showed up and performed old handstand maneuvers from the 50’s; and then there were the Z-Boys. “They were more like a street gang than a skateboard team,” one of the judges said. Dressed in Z-Team shirts, blue jeans, and Vans shoes, the team came in and changed skateboarding in one afternoon, taking home trophies in basically every event.

A couple of other segments talk about the money involved in the skateboarding world at that time. In the beginning, none of the Z-Boys were even paid. After the Del Mar contest, big coorporations lured the kids away with huge sums of money, which caused the Z-Team to break up (two years later, the Zephyr Surf and Skate Shop closed as well). The film also touches on how some of the skaters took the money and turned it into careers (both Stacy Peralta and Tony Alva formed their own companies), while other of the guys didn’t do so well (Jay Adams, one of the most naturally gifted of the Z-Boys, is currently serving time on drug-related charges in Hawaii).

Dogtown and Z-Boys is a documentary that captures a moment in time. The DVD contains a few extras, including some trailers, some extra skate session footage, and a commentary track with the director and editor. The commentary track is interesting to listen to, but focuses more on the creation of the film instead of the content. Anyone interested in the history of skateboarding or guerrila documentaries should check this one out. Very entertaining and informative.

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