"Two hundred years of American technology has unwittingly created a massive cement playground of unlimited potential, but it was the minds of eleven-year-olds that could see that potential."
- Craig Stecyk
Dogtown and Z-Boys opens with the above quote, from the Skateboarder article that made Dogtown famous. Dogtown and Z-Boys is a kinetic tribute to what is without a doubt the most influential era of skateboarding: the early 70's, when skating made the transition from flatland and slalom to vertical. Skating's genesis was in the surf scene, something to do on days when the surf wasn't up, and its style was thus influenced by surfing. It was the unique style of the Dogtown surfers that made skating what it is today.
"[Where] the debris met the sea..."
- Nathan Pratt
In the early 1900's, Abbot Kinney created the ocean community of Venice, California, which was destined to become the "Coney Island of the West." Along with Ocean Park and Santa Monica, the area became peppered with amusement piers and resorts, a paradise on the ocean. By the 1960's, all but Pacific Ocean Pier had closed, and the neigborhoods nearby had devolved into slums, creating the Dogtown area of Santa Monica.
"They had this park with all this celebration... and people having a good time... Then, all of a sudden, it turns into the worst nightmare you've ever imagined."
- Tony Friedkin
The deteriorating Pacific Ocean Pier beachfront had become a deathtrap of pilings and rollercoaster debris- a paradise for the fiercely territorial surfers of Dogtown. To provide for the unique needs of area surfers, surfers Jeff Ho and Skip Engblom teamed up with artist Craig Stecyk to create Jeff Ho and Zephyr Productions Surf Shop. They began manufacturing radical and experimental boards featuring the urban, grafitti-inspired art of Craig Stecyk.
"Surfing had everything to do with everything. Skating just kind of went along after, when the waves weren't good."
- Jay Adams
As surfers like Larry Bertelman revolutionized the surf world with a new, agressive style of low-slung surfing, touching the wave and snapping tight turns, the Dogtown surfers began to emulate this style. And on days when the surf was down, they practiced their styles on the asphalt banks surrounding area schools. Treating the asphalt like a wave, they executed low to the ground turns and carves, running their hands along the ground, like touching a wave.
The rest is history. With the advent of the urethane wheel, skating made a resurgence, and the newly formed Zephyr Skate Team blew the doors wide open with their ass-kicking, punk rock style. The Z-Boys: Shogo Kubo, Bob Biniak, Nathan Pratt, Stacy Peralta, Jim Muir, Allen Sarlo, Chris Cahill, Tony Alva, Wentzle Ruml, Peggy Oki (the only Z-Girl), Jay Adams, and Paul Constantineau.
Though the Zephyr shop soon closed and the team split up, enticed by lucrative contracts offered by all the new skate companies created during skating's big rebirth, the biggest influence of the Z-Boys was yet to be felt. 1976 and 1977 were the worst drought years in California history. It was illegal even to serve water in a restaurant, so the areas many swimming pools began to dry out... so the Z-Boys took their skating to the pools, and history was made.
Dogtown and Z-Boys is documentary recounting the rise of the Z-Boys, from their surf roots to their impact on skateboarding. Directed by Z-Boy turned filmmaker Stacy Peralta, it resurrects old footage of the Z-Boys in action and interviews the original crew (minus Chris Cahill, who is said to have been "last seen in Mexico"), their friends, and those influenced by them, including former Black Flag frontman Henry Rollins, Fugazi member Ian MacKaye, and Pearl Jam's Jeff Ament.
The film is divided into several parts, chronicling the history of the Dogtown area and its surf scene, the early history of skating, the rise of the Zephyr team, and more detailed biographies of the crew's most famous members: Stacy Peralta (whose bio would certainly be more involved if not for his part in the creation of the film), Jay Adams, and Tony Alva.
Sean Penn provides superbly appropriate narration for the film, lazily recalling his Spicoli character from "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." Once, he even fumbles his narration lines, with the mistake wisely left in by Peralta. It only adds to the immediacy and realism of the footage. The footage is spectacular, especially the early surfing at the Cove beneath Pacific Ocean Pier. The daredevil surfers dodge pilings, debris, and interfering outsiders in a death-defying dance. Other footage of the Z-Boys' early skating in the Santa Monica schoolyards shows the pure enjoyment of the sport as fun, the pure joy of motion, simply radiates off the screen. Though mostly fast-paced and energetic, there are also moments of sadness as Jay Adams recounts his troubles with drugs, the result of too much fame too fast. The movie tastefully avoids taking the "Behind the Music" route, and Adams' message is one of regret and hope... he is soon to be released from a Hawaii correctional facility, where he is serving time for drug related charges.
Another triumph of the movie is its amazing soundtrack, with the likes of Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Black Sabbath, and the Stooges providing the mood music.
The movie won the Sundance Film Festival's 2000 Documentary Audience and Documentary Director Awards. Skaters and the non-initiated alike should find great enjoyment in this movie, which is guaranteed to make you want to drain a pool and carve some sick lines.