Dogtown and Z-Boys
by Del Harvey
Documentary of how skateboarding became an extreme sport rivals earlier genius of Endless Summer.
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Dogtown and Z-Boys was playing at a college-area arthouse multi-plex, and the 4:30 show was packed with sidewalk surfers of all ages dying to see this tribute to their favorite sport. Having once been a surfer, and a skateboarder back in the 70’s (before it was cool), I wasn’t sure what to expect. We all piled into the theater, nearly filling it, a rumpled and scruffily happy crowd of folk bound by one common thread - the joy of zooming around town on a sliver of wood or fiberglass, much freer than anyone we zipped past on the street.
Dogtown and Z-Boys tells the story a group of eight teenagers in a combined area of Santa Monica, Venice Beach, and Ocean Park, lovingly known to the locals as ‘Dogtown.’ Here a mismatched gang of kids (and not all of them boys) from broken homes formed a “gang” known as The Zephyr Team - or, as they came to be called, Z-Boys. They rode surfboards in the morning and skateboards in the afternoon, crafting a technique all their own.
Because skateboards were considered ‘toys’ to most of the public, the Z’s were eager to ride, so they used guerrilla tactics such as skating illegally in abandoned swimming pools in upscale Los Angeles neighborhoods. And by the mid-70s the skateboard trend finally caught on, and some of the Z-Boys were grabbed up by corporations and offered large sums of money to skate under their sponsorship. Suddenly the Z’s were elevated from freewheeling street punks to celebrity skaters; went from local heroes to world travelers, showing off their cutting-edge moves. And sport would never be the same.
The film is directed by Stacy Peralta, one of the original Z-Boys, who lovingly reunites the original crew 25 years later to tell, in their own words, what it was like in the “old days.” Time has shown that these skating pioneers were instrumental in the birth of a sport that has helped keep kids off drugs, from becoming vandals or spending time in juvenile halls.
Peralta takes old still photos, 8mm film footage, and weds them quite cleanly with contemporary video and film to create a documentary experience that has universal appeal for its affectionate portrayal of a positive experience that has had a profound impact on the lives of many.
The film was great and the audience certainly seemed to love it. The music and soundtrack keep the energy level high, and the comparison of the Z’s 25 years ago with the individuals of today is impressive as a statement of American dedication and willpower and how they can affect a life. Their story has much deeper meaning than just a bunch of kids skateboarding.
But, perhaps the best thing about Dogtown and Z-Boys is that you don’t need to know or care much about the culture of skateboarding in order to enjoy this film. And by the time the film is over you will have a much different perspective and respect for that kid you glimpse flashing by on a skateboard down a side street.
Del Harvey is a writer and the founder of Film Monthly. He lives in Southern California, is a devout Chicago Bears fan, and recently taught screenwriting at Columbia College for giggles.
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