By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Jeff Ho's Surfboards and Zephyr Productions would occupy the southeast corner of Bay and Main in Santa Monica, across the street from Sunrise Mission and next to Star Liquor. It was the heart of what they would dub Dogtown.
SEVERAL YEARS BEFORE THE SHOP opened, in a bold move for a 7-year-old, a blond-haired little grommet paddled up to an older dude who was ripping the P.O.P. pier and said, "Oh man, that was a really good ride. Who are you?"
"I'm Jeff Ho," the guy answered.
"You make surfboards, don't you?"
"I wish I could have one of your boards."
"Maybe you will. Maybe you will."
In time, Jay Adams was riding one of Ho's boards as part of the Zephyr shop's junior surf team. In a prescient move, by the early '70s Ho and Engblom were sponsoring not only a men's surf team but also a junior division that would keep the next wave of top talent in the pipeline. Adams was one of the youngest members, who also included Tony Alva, Stacy Peralta, Nathan Pratt, Bob Biniak, Wentzle Ruml, Shogo Kubo, Jim Muir and others.
To get on the team, the kids had to prove their mettle in the water at the Cove -- where guys like Engblom and Ho and Zephyr men's team members Ronnie Jay and Wayne Saunders ruled the waves. Before you could even get in the water, though, you might be required to do time on rat patrol. Rat patrol involved bombing interlopers off the beach with stones, bottles, wet sand or whatever else was at hand. This intense localism, which became a part of the Dogtown/Z-Boys ethos, was born in part from the need to keep kooks away from the dangerous breaks of the Cove, where local knowledge could mean the difference between catching a wave and becoming a casualty. But it wasn't just a safety concern. As surf spots go, theirs was small, gritty and barrio-like, and what little they had -- a block of shoreline and one good wave -- they had to protect fiercely.
"We were aware of it because we'd go surfing in Leucadia or Santa Barbara, where everything was beautiful and the trees went down to the beach and there was no smog on the horizon and you didn't have to worry about getting your tires popped," says Stacy Peralta. "We went to the beach here, and there were certain streets you just didn't go down because of the gangs and stuff like that. It wasn't like that in San Diego or in the South Bay."
Most of the Z-Boys came from financially stressed, broken homes, but the team "gave us a sense of family and empowerment," says Engblom. "We had an us-against-them mentality. It was so much more than just the business." The team was like a secret society, whose headquarters was the Zephyr shop. It was the kind of clubhouse a teenager could only dream of, chaperoned as it was by three barely adults.
"Parents would just drop their kids off with lunches and tell them they'd pick them up at five. We're trying to run a business, and I've got this group of kids who are just hanging out continuously," says Engblom. "The thing is, with me being so young and Jeff being so young and Craig being so young, it's hard to drop-kick somebody to the curb."
Given their lifestyles at the time -- the only 12 steps they were following were the ones that would take them to Star Liquor or into the backroom for a toke -- the shop owners weren't exactly in a position to preach about what not to do. Even so, they provided things that were hard to find at home or on the streets for the kids who were hanging around. Sometimes it was something as simple as shoes -- Ho says he was in a constant losing battle to keep good shoes on their feet. Other times it was something more complex.
"All of us knew we weren't going to get respect playing football. We weren't good enough. Or academically," says Peralta. Earning a Zephyr team shirt "was one thing we could make our mark with, so we all wanted to do that."
As Alva puts it, "If it wasn't for Skip, I never would have known there was any door that was open for me to be a professional skateboarder. Skip gave me that kind of attitude where it was like, 'Hey, you got the skills, you got the talent, you got the drive, get out there and kick ass.'"
That attitude would germinate among the kids as they pushed themselves in the surf and on the concrete, waiting for a chance to show the world what they had going. That chance would come in the spring of 1975.
"I knew it was something, I just didn't know what it was," says Engblom. "I could feel it was something special. I mean, these guys used to go out and practice every day on Bicknell Hill, and these were guys that had no sense of discipline or sense of order. But they all showed up every day because they knew that we had to go do this to excel, because somehow, in the back of everybody's mind, we knew this thing down there was going to be something."
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