By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
"The movie Amadeus, when Amadeus comes to the court where Salieri is and Salieri plays a piece and then Mozart sits down and says, 'I think I can do this,' and he plays the piece so much better than Salieri could have ever conceived -- he starts playing it, and he adds all this stuff to it without really knowing what he's doing, it just starts coming through him -- that was Jay Adams," says Peralta. "Most people have a 20-amp plug in them. This guy had 100 amps. All the time."
Every time the boys skated together -- especially in the pools they were so fond of crashing -- it seemed like there was a new breakthrough. During these sessions, they started laying down the basic language of modern skateboarding. Pushed by Peralta, Biniak finally nailed a frontside kick turn at vert. Not long after, Peralta started stringing them together from tile to tile and a frontside forever was invented. Today, kids take this stuff for granted. It's part of the lexicon. Back then, it was almost unimaginable.
Not everybody saw what the Z-Boys were doing as progress. In a now-celebrated remark, Skateboarding Association executive director Sally Anne Miller told People magazine that Tony Alva represented "everything that was vile in the sport." This was after Alva had appeared as Leif Garrett's thug rival, Tony Bluetile, in the 1977 movie Skateboard.
The assault on polite society didn't stop with Del Mar. In a series of stories and images that appeared in Skateboarder and then other magazines like Thrasher, Craig Stecyk and his young protégé, photographer Glen E. Friedman, began building the legend of Dogtown and the Z-Boys. In stark black-and-white that fit the mood of their beachside dystopia, Friedman introduced teenagers to Tony Alva flipping them off as his kicktail perched incredibly on the lip of a pool. There were shots of bombed-out buildings and graffiti-splattered walls. Then there was Jay Adams grinding the coping of some fat cat's pool with such disdain it looked like class warfare. Stecyk and Friedman created a raw, unapologetic style of documentation that put the boys' skating in the context of their hardcore, uncompromising lifestyle. It became the aesthetic template for skateboarding and other X-Games staples like snowboarding and BMX.
The Z-Boys' style and attitude resonated across the land. Kids in Michigan spray painted their own versions of Stecyk's Dogtown graffiti -- the notorious cross and "rat bones" that would become as well known as Big Daddy Roth's Rat Fink -- on their homemade halfpipes. San Francisco artist Barry McGee, a.k.a. Twist, is said to have tagged his first wall with the Dogtown cross. In D.C., Ian MacKaye of Fugazi fame was dressing like he was from Venice. (MacKaye, Henry Rollins, Jeff Ament and Sean Penn -- who narrates -- all eagerly signed up to contribute to Peralta's documentary.)
Today, hip contemporary galleries like L.A.'s New Image and New York's Alleged are dominated by skateboarder artists such as Ed Templeton, Mark Gonzales and Thomas Campbell. Rich Jacobs, who curated a show of his peers' work at New Image this summer, explains the impact the Dogtown aesthetic had on him and friends like MacKaye. "I remember going to the skateboard shop in Long Beach and getting Skateboarder and being amazed at what they were doing. Stecyk was really good at documenting what was going on with his friends," he says. "In my personal opinion, it was the spirit and the energy as much as anything, going a little beyond being a rebellious teenager. They were attacking life with a vengeance that seems more raw than just the average teenager.
"Everything else seemed so mellow and laid-back in the '70s. They weren't that way. They seemed crazy to me."
If Sally Anne Miller was trying to protect the sanctity of organized skateboarding, she was fighting a losing battle. Posters of Alva and Adams were being pinned up on teenagers' walls almost as fast as those of Farrah Fawcett-Majors. To not understand why is to not understand the heart of male adolescence. As a young boy in 1976, you may have dreamed of being with Farrah Fawcett, but you dreamed of being Tony Alva or Jay Adams.
THE BUSINESS END OF SKATEBOARDing wasn't as slow on the uptake as was Ms. Miller.
"After we made the scene in Del Mar, there were skate companies coming after us and offering us things. People started turning them down at first, but then, after a while, the team started to unravel," recalls Bob Biniak over coffee at the type of shop that wouldn't have been seen within miles of Main Street back in the day. Compact and still athletic-looking, Biniak is one of a handful of original Z-Boys who never left the area. "We all came from nothing. We wanted the BMWs and we wanted the stuff, and that was partly how we got those things, and it was kind of a sad story."
Jeff Ho did his best to keep things together, but the Zephyr shop just couldn't compete with big companies like Gordon & Smith and Logan Earth Ski. Adding to the uncertainty, there were production problems with a signature line of fiberglass-deck skateboards the shop was trying to roll out with Jay Adams' stepfather, Kent Sherwood. That partnership dissolved and Sherwood started his own Z-Flex label. Adams and others went with him. The shop closed down soon after the team split up.