By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
The low-culture art of the booming modified-car scene competed with the lingering legacy of former resident artists David Alfaro Siqueiros and Stanton MacDonald-Wright, a founder of the synchronism movement in the early 1900s who went on to administer the WPA in the '30s. Muralists Dana Woolfe and Wayne Holwick, whose portrait of Anna on the wall of a house at Neilson and Hart still stubbornly defies urban renewal and acid rain, were igniting a public-art movement. "We were exposed to art and culture continuously," says Engblom.
Another local surfer, named Craig R. Stecyk III, was as attuned to these variant cultural influences as anybody. His father was in the Army Signal Corps (he was one of the first to document the aftermath of Hiroshima), and Stecyk had access to photo equipment not readily available to most young people then. Early on, he became enthralled with legendary beach-life photographers like Peter Gowland and Joe Quigg.
Like many rooted in the urban beach culture of that area, Stecyk's father was into modified cars. For a while he was in business with George Barris, who customized some of the most celebrated lowriders of the '40s and '50s. Through his father, Stecyk met and became friends with outlaw car artists Ed "Big Daddy" Roth and Von Dutch, and later with Roth's art director and eventual founder of Zap Comix, Robert Williams.
When Stecyk wasn't surfing himself or shooting the locals braving the P.O.P. breaks, he was honing his spray paint and airbrushing skills. Having grown up between rival Chicano gangs, he quickly learned to decipher graffiti and appreciate what could be done with spray paint. He started tagging the walls around Dogtown with his own iconography, perhaps most famously his P.O.P. cross and "rat bones" figure. Later Stecyk would be recognized as a seminal graffiti artist. Back then, though, he was a prototypical tagger, an urban art guerrilla whose pranks confused outsiders and delighted peers. In one infamous antiwar stunt, he "rescued" the Independence Day beach crowd from a dummy bomb he had painted to look Russian and buried in the sand at low tide the night before.
Meanwhile, local boy Larry Stevenson started Makaha, one of the first dedicated skateboard companies, on Colorado Avenue and 26th Street, and also launched Surf Guide magazine. Stecyk became one of his sponsored skateboarders. Famous surfboard shaper Bob Simmons had a factory on Olympic. Vans would start a seedling shoe company in the neighborhood. Underground, backyard board shaping was a thriving cottage industry. You'd take your latest innovation out to the Cove, on the south side of the P.O.P. pier. If you looked good, you might have a sale. "It was kind of like stock-car racing," says Engblom. "Win on Sundays, sell on Mondays."
You could make the argument that Dogtown went multimedia before Warhol had his Factory. To Stecyk, surfboards weren't just surfboards. They were "totems. Functional artifacts."
"You can imagine how crossed my metaphors were," says Stecyk, who cites his girlfriend's residence in Stanton MacDonald-Wright's studio as an example of the heady stew they all simmered in. "I sort of had the high-culture and low-culture influences, although I didn't know what it meant. I just knew what I liked."
He had something else, too, an innate grasp of history, of change, and an intense loyalty to the ghosts of Dogtown. "A tremendous sense of propriety, or maybe even stewardship, came with having grown up with all this," he says.ä
SKIP ENGBLOM WAS 18 WHEN HE MET 16-year-old Craig Stecyk at the 1966 Pismo Beach Clam Festival.
"He came crawling out of this Volks-wagen van that eight other people had crawled out of before him. They had all slept overnight there," recalls Engblom. "We started talking and walked up the street to get breakfast. I thought I'd lead him in there and do a dine and dash. Next thing you know, he and I are both on the street. We both dined and dashed simultaneously, and we both looked at each other and laughed, and we became friends."
"He was a crazy motherfucker. He used to ride his motorcycle up the hill outside the shop. In those days, dirt-bike riding was hill climbing. He had a crazy-ass view on life," says Ho. "He taught me how to build boards, to shape, glass, sand, repair, resin, the whole enchilada."
Pretty soon the shortboard revolution was under way, and Ho was on the front lines, as both a shaper and a surfer. The surfing establishment, though, was late in catching on. Ho would take his boards -- prototypes of today's bullet boards -- to sanctioned contests and meet with either puzzlement or prejudice.
"These guys couldn't comprehend it, whacking the lips and doing S turns," says Ho, talking from Hawaii, where he lives on the North Shore of Oahu. Once in frustration he entered the Santa Monica Open and almost won riding a shortboard blank, right out of the mold. "I'm laughing the whole time. I shaped the board with a claw hammer on the beach. That's when I decided contests were a joke."
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