The site of the former Pacific Ocean Park in the beach district on the Venice and Santa Monica border is something of a sacred legend within the skateboarding and surfing community. The area, which is nicknamed Dogtown, was immortalised in the 2001 skateboarding documentary, Dogtown and Z-Boys, and later in the 2005 feature film, Lords of Dogtown, which was based on the characters and events introduced in Dogtown and Z-Boys.
Dogtown and Z-Boys, directed by Stacy Peralta (himself a member of the original Z-Boys) and narrated by Hollywood star Sean Penn, tells the history of skateboarding. The documentary charts the story of a group of teenage surfer/skateboarders in Santa Monica, known as the Z-Boys, and their influence on the history of skateboarding (and to a lesser extent surfing) culture, using a mix of film of the Z-Boys shot in the 1970s and more recently conducted interviews.
The aerial and sliding skate moves that the Z-Boys invented were the basis for the aerial skateboarding and surfing still popular today. These were just twelve ordinary teenagers who hung out in the Santa Monica neighbourhood of Dogtown who just wanted to surf and skate. They could never have known that they would start a revolution by turning what was a recreational past-time into an extreme sport.
Considered the most influential skateboard team in history, the Z-Boy movement continues to this day as an expression of performance, innovation and style.
Known officially as the Zephyr Skateboard Team, the Z-Boys began when they transferred their surf skills to drain pipes and empty swimming pools with stunning results. Their acrobatic maneuvers inspired generations of teens to join the skateboarding frenzy and catapulted them to fame and fortune; the majority of the original Z-Boys went on to compete professionally. Bob “Bullet” Biniak retired from skating in 1980, but went on to play golf professionally, while the only female member of the Z-Boys, Peggy Oki, rejected skating in favour of surfing, and has competed in surf contests all over the world. Jim Muir and Tony Alva both rejected deals from major skate companies to set up on their own, and were the first skateboarders to ever do so.
In 2005, Stacy Peralta wrote the screenplay for Lords of Dogtown, which dramatically retold the Dogtown days. Starring Heath Ledger and Rebecca De Mornay, and featuring a cameo from perhaps the world’s most famous modern day skateboarder Tony Hawk, Lords of Dogtown focused more on the relationships between the Z-Boys, looking at their friendships, how they coped with fame, and how they grew more and more competitive towards one another. It also focused heavily on the tragic loss of Z-Boy associate Sid, who lost a battle against brain cancer.
Skateboarders or surfers keen to make a pilgrimage to the legendary and iconic Dogtown for themselves can find a hotel in Santa Monica for their accommodation needs, and thankfully, the area has improved a lot since the Dogtown days.
The story of the Dogtown and Z-Boys is an inspiring tale of determination, rebellion, and friendship, and even those who have no interest in skateboarding or surfing, and been won over by this fascinating little piece of American sub-culture.