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
Down there was Del Mar's Ocean Festival, where Bahne and Cadillac wheels sponsored the Del Mar Nationals as a showcase for skateboarding's resurgence. The well-behaved community just north of San Diego was the kind of place that seemed to have a Carpenters playlist in permanent rotation. It appeared to be all that was right about the California Dream. It was a different world from Dogtown, and the Z-Boys were intent on going down there to let everybody know it.
"We had to work these people over," says Engblom. "We had to validate our existence."
SKATEBOARDING HAD GONE BACK underground after its brief fling with mainstream popularity in the early '60s. It was perceived to be too dangerous, and the equipment -- with slippery clay wheels -- wasn't really facile enough for the average dilettante. But it had never let up in Dogtown. Most of the surfers skated around town when the waves weren't up. Particularly the ones who would make up the core of the Z-Boys. Skateboarding, however, started booming again in the early '70s, when Cadillac introduced the first urethane wheels. Technology was finally catching up to the imaginations of Tony Alva, Jay Adams and the others who had long been outperforming their equipment.
Several other factors -- a "disharmonic convergence," in Stacy Peralta's words -- would come together to set the stage for the Z-Boys' assault on the Del Mar Nationals.
One was geography. Los Angeles is full of slopes, canyons, drainage gulleys and all sorts of natural assets civic leaders have historically been wont to pave over. Santa Monica and vicinity was particularly rich in playgrounds with high banks. There was Mar Vista Middle School, Paul Revere Junior High in Pacific Palisades, Kenter Canyon, Bellagio. At these spots the waves were always up, and the Z-Boys found them just right for fashioning a new style of skateboarding that emulated their favorite shortboarder, Hawaiian surfer Larry Bertleman.
Los Angeles also has one of the greatest concentrations of backyard pools in the universe. In the mid-'70s, the worst drought in the city's history drained them in unprecedented numbers. For Alva, Adams, Muir, Biniak and the rest, the empty pools were the crown jewels in their delinquent empire. Steep, smooth, the bowls provided unmatched opportunities for aggressive skateboarding.
The Z-Boys would congregate at these playgrounds and pools and drive each other to new levels, refining a low-center-of-gravity, surf-style attack that featured hard slash-backs at the tops of the concrete waves. They called these turns "Berts" in honor of Bertleman. In the pools, the coping on the lips was the line in the sand they were already starting to cross. Their pool prowess made an in-joke of the 1975 Skateboarder re-launch issue that featured a guy on the cover carving a turn barely four feet up a pool wall.
Jimi Hendrix, Ted Nugent, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin provided the soundtrack to the boys' pool parties and street sessions. The outings were charged with teenage aggression and the adrenaline of dodging the cops as they violated public ordinances or trespassed on private property and even indulged in the occasional breaking and entering. They had a "fuck you" attitude toward authority and convention, and if you fucked with the Z-Boys you would likely get your head knocked.
What do you expect from a bunch of underprivileged, delinquent teenagers? Certainly not genius, but that's what was happening.
The world outside Dogtown would have to wait until the Del Mar competition to get a taste of what the Z-Boys were cooking, but to get an understanding of how radical it was, you have to understand a bit about the accepted standards of skateboarding in the mid-'70s. By and large, it was done on flat surfaces in an upright position. Things like handstands and 360s, tick-tack turns and nose wheelies were the height of proficiency. It looked like synchronized swimming on wheels. It had far less drama than figure skating. It only seems so ridiculous now because of what the Z-Boys did to it.
What they did was shift the paradigm. They took it off the beach strands and competition platforms where it had died numerous deaths before, and moved it into the egalitarian province of the streets. They took it back from white-bread, well-to-do Del Mar and claimed it for the multicultural urban core. They gave it to the people in a way the people could use it.
Craig Stecyk, whose words, photos and art would deftly articulate the larger meaning of what was going on, said it best in a 1980 article for Skateboarder. Under his preferred nom de plume, John Smythe, he wrote:
Forget about the mainline and the fast lane; the edge of the glide is all that is of value. The true skater surveys all that is offered, takes all that is given, goes after the rest and leaves nothing to chance. In a society on hold and a planet on self-destruct, the only safe recourse is an insane approach.
We're talking attitude; the ability to deal with a given set of predetermined circumstances and to extract what you want and discard the rest. Skaters by their very nature are urban guerrillas; the future foragers of the present, working out in a society dictated by principles of the past. The skater makes everyday use of the useless artifacts of the technological burden. The skating urban anarchist employs the handiwork of the government/corporate structure in a thousand ways the original architects could never even dream of; sidewalks for walking, curbs for parking, streets for driving, pipes for liquids, sewers for refuse, etc. have all been re-worked into a new social order.
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