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'Dogtown And Z-Boys'

'Dogtown' looks back at Santa Monica skateboard scene

Friday, June 28, 2002

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

In the hazy, crazy oblivion of the 1970s, a multicultural gang of urban punks from the seedy Dogtown section of Santa Monica rose from the sea on surfboards and kickflipped the evolution of the sport into its dry-land equivalent.

'Dogtown And Z-Boys'

RATING: PG-13 for language and some drug references.

NARRATOR: Sean Penn.

DIRECTOR: Stacy Peralta.

WEB SITE: www.sonyclassics.com



"Dogtown and Z-Boys," now at the Harris Theater, recounts the birth of modern skateboarding through archival photos and film images and the recollections of the Z-Boys themselves -- one of whom, Stacy Peralta, directed the movie.

You can't forget you're watching their version of their story, and their fervency tends only to emphasize the movie's lack of objectivity. In the manner of middle-aged men recalling the glory days of their youth, the film contains much joyful reminiscence and only a little ruefulness.

Still, there's no denying that the movie is a visceral and kinetic artifact of cultural history. The Z-Boys were precursor to the X Games, for good or ill. Maybe we should blame them for all those idiotic extreme sports-oriented Mountain Dew ads.

But "Dogtown and Z-Boys" also proves that as time flies above us, the shadows it leaves behind often defy both logic and probability -- even given whatever mythologizing may be going on here.

These aggressive kids seemed to be wasting their lives and even risking them, by surfing amid the broken pilings of an abandoned pier or urging skateboards to fly from vertical surfaces made of concrete that could break your head open if you fell the wrong way.

They surfed or skated for fun, for the exhilaration of it, for the sense of accomplishment, for a sense of family -- they hung out at Jeff Ho's skateboard shop on Main Street and became part of his Zephyr team, billed here as the best of the best.

The Zephyr Team's success at the Del Mar Nationals competition in 1975 caused its breakup as many of the Z-Boys accepted lucrative offers from other companies. It seems like the West Coast version of the co-opting of rap music, which also began as a street phenomenon. Still, many of the Z-Boys not only survived but prospered.

Much of what they accomplished was a product of serendipity. If someone hadn't thought of using polyurethane to make skate wheels, the sport would be impossible. Several Los Angeles-area schools had sloped cement parking lots that gave the kids a place to work on their moves in an era when skateboard parks didn't exist.

A severe drought forced people to conserve water and leave their swimming pools empty. The Z-Boys used their deep, rounded contours to perfect the vertical style of skateboarding, including the momentous day when one of them flew his board above the rim.

Peralta captures their exuberance through fast editing, a mix of film stocks, in-your-face transitions and an absolutely killer hard-rock soundtrack featuring the likes of Ted Nugent, Blue Oyster Cult, the Stooges, Led Zeppelin and Alice Cooper. The photos and footage of the Z-Boys in their prime was taken by Craig Stecyk (the film's co-writer) and Glen E. Friedman, both of whom chronicled the Dogtown scene for Skateboard magazine and thereby created their aura in the first place.

The greatest irony -- and the surest proof that times have changed -- lies in the fact that "Dogtown and Z-Boys" won the award for best documentary at this year's Independent Spirit Awards, which take place in Santa Monica. The beautiful people gather in a giant tent near the beach on the very parking lot where the Z-Boys first skated.

So maybe we're not in Dogtown anymore and the Z-Boys (which included one girl, Peggy Oki) have grown up. But their sport -- and their legend -- lives on.

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