Skating Streets of Southern California. The Dogtown and Z Boys Story

Introducing Dogtown and Z-Boys

Dogtown and Z-Boys is a 2001 documentary film directed by Stacy Peralta that provides an overview of the pioneering Zephyr skateboarding team from the 1970s. It was released in theaters in 2001 to critical acclaim. The film explores the origins of skateboarding in the emptied swimming pools of drought-stricken Southern California neighborhoods and how the Zephyr team, also known as the “Z-Boys,” pioneered a new style of skateboarding in the 1970s that revolutionized the sport.

Dogtown and Z-Boys is significant because it shines a light on the forgotten Z-Boys crew who are credited with creating modern street style skateboarding as we know it today. Though obscure during their time, the film showcases how the Z-Boys’ daring exploits in Dogtown helped popularize skateboarding and establish it as a respected sport and culture. The documentary brought their story to a mainstream audience and cemented their legacy and influence on skateboarding for generations to come.

The Origins of Dogtown

Dogtown refers to a neighborhood located within the city of Santa Monica, California. It spans roughly the area between Ocean Park and Venice Beach along the Pacific Coast Highway. The origins of the name “Dogtown” date back to the late 1800s when the area was largely uninhabited and dogs would roam freely across the land.

In the 1870s, the Southern Pacific Railroad laid tracks that connected Los Angeles to the sea through what is now Dogtown. This brought an influx of working-class residents to the area looking for affordable housing near the railroad jobs. According to the Venice Heritage Museum[1], many residents kept dogs for protection and companionship in the remote area, leading to it being dubbed “Dogtown.”

the dogtown neighborhood history

The moniker stuck even as Dogtown transitioned from a shantytown to a thriving beach community in the early 1900s. Wealthy real estate developer Abbot Kinney sought to build an American version of Venice, Italy along the coast. However, his grand plans for canals and lavish homes only extended as far north as Windward Avenue. The area beyond that remained a middle and working-class enclave of families, many still with dogs.

So while the fancier neighborhoods south of Windward Avenue became known as Venice, the northern area’s nickname of Dogtown persisted into the mid-1900s. The packs of dogs may have dwindled, but the name and blue-collar roots of the community remained.

The Zephyr Skate Team

The Zephyr skate team formed in 1975 in the Dogtown neighborhood of Santa Monica and Venice, California. It consisted of a group of teenage skaters who frequented the Zephyr Productions surf shop. The shop was run by Jeff Ho, Skip Engblom, and Craig Stecyk, who sponsored the team. Key original team members included Jay Adams, Tony Alva, Stacy Peralta, and Bob Biniak.

The Zephyr team, also known as the Z-Boys, pioneered a new and aggressive vertical style of skateboarding. They were inspired by surfing and adapted maneuvers like snapbacks and slashbacks to skating empty backyard pools. Their improvisational style emphasized creative lines and synchronicity between maneuvers. The Z-Boys took skating in pools and ramps to new heights.

The Z-Boys’ unique style caught the attention of the skate world in 1975 after they participated in key competitions like the Del Mar Nationals. Over the next several years, their style heavily influenced skate culture and inspired a new generation of skaters. The Z-Boys ushered in the era of vertical skating and paved the way for the evolution of modern street skating.

Skating the Empty Pools of Dogtown

In the 1970s, Southern California experienced a severe drought that led many homeowners to drain their backyard swimming pools to conserve water. This unintentionally created perfect concrete skateparks right in the backyards of Dogtown, particularly in the affluent neighborhoods of Santa Monica and Pacific Palisades.

The teenage skaters of Dogtown soon discovered these empty pools and started sneaking into backyards to skate the steep concrete transitions. As word spread, more and more skaters dared to trespass in search of new spots. The curving walls and deep ends provided challenges no skatepark could match.

As documented in the film Dogtown and Z-Boys, the Zephyr team became obsessed with mastering pool riding. Tony Alva, Jay Adams, and Stacy Peralta innovated aerial moves and carving techniques fueled by the thrill of skating backyard pools illegally. It was in these empty pools that the radical new style of aggressive vertical skating emerged that would come to define skate culture.


The Z-Boys’ Skate Style

z-boys skating style overview

The Z-Boys developed a skate style that was uniquely their own. Drawing inspiration from surfing, they adopted a low, crouched stance on their boards that gave them increased stability and better board control (SurferToday). They rode low to the ground with their knees bent deeply, placing their weight directly over the trucks for tight turns and aggressive carving.

Unlike the upright, dance-like styles that were popular at the time, the Z-Boys went for a more radical, dynamic approach. They skated fast and hard, slashing and sliding their boards in sharp, snappy maneuvers. Their low-to-the-ground style was perfectly suited for shredding the curved walls of empty backyard pools, which they pioneered as skate spots.

The Z-Boys also incorporated body English and arm movements inspired by surfing into their skating. They would swing their arms and lean into their turns, bringing an expressive, flowing component to their raw and aggressive skating. Their unique style left an indelible mark on skateboarding culture and redefined what was possible on a skateboard.

The Impact on Skate Culture

The Zephyr skate team, known as the Z-Boys, had an enormous influence on skate culture around the world. Their unique surf-inspired vertical skating style spread rapidly in the 1970s and inspired skaters globally (The “Z-Boys” and their Impact on the Skateboarding Sub-Culture). The Z-Boys pioneered aerial moves and vertical skating using the empty backyard pools of drought-ridden Southern California as their playground (20 years of Dogtown and Z-Boys: “It documented a revolution”). This distinctive style of innovative vertical skating propelled the sport forward and influenced generations of skaters.

z-boys influence on skate culture

Prior to the Z-Boys, skateboarding consisted mainly of flatland tricks on sidewalks. But the Z-Boys saw opportunity in the empty pools and started dropping in and carving the vertical walls. Their athletic surf style translated seamlessly to skating vertical surfaces. As word of their boundary-pushing style spread, skaters everywhere began emulating the Z-Boys and seeking out new terrain. This appreciation for vertical skating fundamentally altered the landscape of skate parks and competitions.

The growing popularity of vertical skating drove demand for purpose-built skate parks. In 1976, the Del Mar Skate Ranch opened in California with the first in-ground concrete skate pool. Skate parks with vert ramps and pools soon popped up across the country. With designated parks catering to this new style, vertical skating progressed rapidly. The Vans Skatepark in Orange, California became a mecca attracting pro skaters like Tony Hawk. The X Games and other competitions added vert events to showcase these gravity-defying aerials. The Z-Boys inspired a vertical revolution still influencing skate parks and skating style today.

Del Mar Skate Ranch

In 1978, Eddie Crail opened the Del Mar Skate Ranch in Del Mar, California, not far from the original Dogtown area of Santa Monica and Venice Beach. The skatepark was located on Via De La Valle near the Del Mar Racetrack and Fairgrounds.

The Del Mar Skate Ranch, also known as the DMSR, quickly became a major landmark for skateboarders. It featured one of the first keyhole-shaped pools in a skatepark, which was based on the empty backyard pools that the Z-Boys were skating in Dogtown. According to Wikipedia, “the Del Mar bowl became known as one of the best skate spots in the world” in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Professional skaters like Tony Alva, Jay Adams, and Jerry Valdez were regulars at the Del Mar Skate Ranch. The iconic pool was featured in numerous skate videos and magazine photo shoots during this era. For nearly a decade, the skatepark served as a major hub and influence in the evolving sport and culture of skateboarding coming out of Dogtown.

The Evolution of Dogtown

Over time, the distinctive Dogtown neighborhood began to undergo major changes. Gentrification took hold in the area, with many new developments and revitalization efforts.

As the neighborhood transitioned, there were concerns that the rich history and influence of the Z-Boys would be lost. However, traces of Dogtown’s skate roots can still be found for those who know where to look. The Zephyr Skate Shop, opened by Z-Boys founder Jeff Ho in 1975, still operates in its original location today. Pieces of the emptied swimming pools the Z-Boys skated still dot backyards around the neighborhood. And the skatepark at Venice Beach serves as a modern monument to Dogtown’s skateboarding legacy.

While the neighborhood continues to evolve, the rebellious spirit of the Z-Boys lives on both in Dogtown lore and the continued global popularity of skateboarding culture. Their daring exploits left an indelible mark, cementing the area’s status as the birthplace of modern skateboarding.

Venice Beach Skatepark

In 2009, Venice Beach Skatepark opened near the boardwalk and beach, serving as a tribute to the original Zephyr skaters who pioneered skating in the empty backyard pools of Dogtown decades earlier. The skatepark’s location was deliberately chosen for its proximity to the original Jeff Ho and Zephyr Productions Surf Shop, which acted as the central hangout spot and launching point for the Z-Boys in the 1970s.

The park itself contains a large swimming pool-like bowl, echoing the backyard pools that the Z-Boys first skated in secret. There are also street sections with rails, banks, and gaps for skaters to session. In this way, the park pays homage to both the vert and street origins of modern skateboarding that emerged from Dogtown’s empty pools and oceanfront sidewalks. With world-class features optimized for high-performance skating, Venice Skatepark serves as a gathering place for pros and amateurs from Southern California and beyond who wish to skate on hallowed ground where the sport essentially began.

Since opening, Venice Skatepark has hosted numerous contests, demo events, and filming sessions, further cementing its status as a premier skate destination. As a result, the park attracts skaters of all ages and abilities who make the pilgrimage to experience the birthplace of modern skateboarding culture. In this way, Venice Skatepark keeps the spirit of Dogtown skating alive in the very place where it originated decades before.


Venice Beach Skate Park: The Birthplace of Modern Skateboarding

The Legacy of Dogtown

the legacy of the z-boys

The Z-Boys had an enormous cultural impact on skateboarding that continues to this day. Their aggressive vertical skating style, embracing of surfing maneuvers, and emphasis on style and creativity became the blueprint for modern street skating. As professional skater Tony Hawk put it, “they revolutionized skating and made it what it is today”1. Before the Z-Boys, skateboarding was seen as just a toy – they transformed it into a legitimate sport and artform.

The 2001 documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys directed by Stacy Peralta brought their story to a mainstream audience and cemented their legendary status. It won awards at numerous film festivals and is considered one of the best skateboarding documentaries ever made. Peralta also directed the 2005 dramatized film Lords of Dogtown starring Heath Ledger. These films exposed new generations to the rebellious ethos and counterculture origins of skateboarding.

The Zephyr team’s aesthetic – cutoff jeans, Vans, flannel – also influenced skater style for decades after. And the Dogtown name still evokes a sense of authenticity and old school coolness. Skate/surf brands like Vans, Volcom and RVCA reference Dogtown in their marketing and designs. There are skateparks named after Dogtown legends like Jay Adams. Their impact resonates anytime skaters embrace creativity over competition.

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