THE UNLOCKING OF AMERICA’S CEMENT PLAYGROUND | DOGTOWN & Z-BOYS

Picture 6zephyr team dogtown west los angeles skateboard

ca. 1975, the original Zephyr (Z-Boys) skateboard team at the Del Mar Nationals, the first US national skateboarding competition — Shogo Kubo, Bob Biniak, Nathan Pratt, Stacy Peralta, Jim Muir, Allen Sarlo, Chris Cahill, Tony Alva, Paul Constantineau, Jay Adams, Peggy Oki, Wentzle Ruml – Image by Craig Stecyk.  While the Z-Boys non-conformist style and brash behavior did not sweep the winners podium, every major skateboard company took notice and came after their stars with lucrative offers and endorsement deals. Jeff Ho and Skip could not compete with the big brand’s deep pockets– within 6 months, the Zephyr team we be no more.

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Born out of the gritty Venice Beach surf slumtown called Dogtown– where you had better have eyes in the back of your head– the infamous Z-Boys were the motley badass boys of skateboarding assembled by the co-founders of Jeff Ho Surfboards and Zephyr Productions–Craig Stecyk, Jeff Ho, and Skip Engblom. This scrappy group of street kids, who gave skateboarding  teeth, were loyal disciples of their radical father figures who put Dogtown style on the map. These kids would carry the torch and create a skateboarding cultural revolution that started as an extension of their surfing, and grew into a distinctive Z-Boys style that forever changed the skating world.

Heavily influenced by Dogtown’s mean streets, Jeff Ho’s surfboard design and attitude was a direct reflection of the neighborhood’s tough low rider and graffiti lifestyle. Ho and crew thumbed their noses (or more accurately “flipped the bird”) at the mainstream squeaky-clean surf culture, and the Zephyr surf team fiercely guarded their turf against any invading non-locals who wanted to ride their waves. And if the locals didn’t get you by hurling chunks of concrete and glass as you surfed, the insanely dangerous conditions of the decaying Pacific Ocean Park would. The mangled and jutting pier pylons were there waiting for a screw-up so they could impale you, or snap your precious board to pieces.

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dogtown zephyr surf team jeff ho

Dogtown’s legendary Zephyr surf team with c0-founder and designer Jeff Ho far right.

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The Zephyr surf team was the mafia of the waves, and that same toughness and independent spirit was manifested in their talent and angst on the pavement. Jeff and Skip nurtured and forged this young gaggle of waifs and strays, many from broken homes or no place to go, into the world’s best skaters. The kids all found their role at Jeff Ho’s shop– whether it was sweeping the floors or rolling joints for Jeff– everyone found a unique way, on their boards and in the shop, to contribute, complement, and propel the Z-boys forward and keep the team as a whole at the top of their game. It was a wild environment for a kid to grow-up in– legend has it there was plenty of pretty crazy shit going on back then behind closed doors that no one on the outside needed to  know about.

This young crew of Dogtown skaters were driven ruthlessly to aggressive, competitive perfection by Jeff Ho and Skip Engblom. They reached the peak of fame, completely up-ending and innovating the the sport along the way– first with their unique surf-style skating, and then setting the world on fire with the epic pool sessions and radical vertical skating. Ironically through the deeply engrained drive of Jeff and Skip, and their own natural human desire for personal fame and riches, their star skaters would end up unraveling the group and ending the Zephyr organization as they knew it. Legends and brands rose like a phoenix from the former Zephyr team’s ashes– Stacy Peralta, Tony Alva, and the one whose talent and aggression most strongly epitomized the heart and soul of the entire Zephyr crew– Jay Boy Adams.

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jay adams marina skate park 1978

1978 — Jay Adams, Marina Del Rey Skate Park — Image by David Scott

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“In contests, Jay was simply the most exciting skater to watch. He never skated the same run the same way twice. His routines were wickedly random yet exceedingly tight and beautiful to watch: he even invented tricks during his runs. I’ve never seen any skater destroy convention and expectation better. Watching him skate was something new every second– he was “skate and destroy” personified.”  

–Stacy Peralta

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“For me, skateboarding started in 1965, so by the time the Dogtown era came around I’d already been skatin’ for 10 years. When I started it was clay wheels and mostly home made decks. We were just trying to copy surfing. Everything about skateboarding had to do with surfing. It was all about fun and a way to surf when the waves were shitty.”

–Jay Adams

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Jay Adams at the Dogbowl — Image by Glen E. Friedman. The mid 1970s in California were the scene of unprecedented drought conditions where residents were restricted from watering their lawns, and it wasn’t  long until hundreds of swimming pools across L.A fell prey and were drained to conserve precious water. The Z-Boys revolutionized skating by repurposing empty pools for vertical skating and in the act invented innovative moves like the frontside air (Tony Alva). The “Dogbowl” is the most legendary, named for the owner’s dogs that were seemingly always at the pools edge checking out the Z-Boys in action. It was the Z-Boy’s friend Dino’s home, and he was terminally ill. His parents allowed the pool to be drained so that his friends could come and hang out, skate and party. Glen Friedman took a ton of shots that are iconic to any skateboarding fan out there. Read more here…

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“I went to the party at Dino’s house and saw the pool before we drained it the next day. It was kinda like a dream skatepark because there weren’t any rules. Only the boys got to ride.”

–Jay Adams

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Jay Adams at the Dogbowl — Image by Glen E. Friedman

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“I was a P.O.P. local from birth. The ORIGINAL MASCOT. My dad rented surfboards under the Northside of the pier. All the guards at the park used to let me in for free. FUCK Disneyland, I had P.O.P., surf and all. I surfed the cove with Mickey Dora before leashes were invented.”

–Jay Adams

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“Jay Adams was not the greatest pool skater, nor was he the greatest bank skater, or the greatest slalom skater or the greatest freestyler. The fact is, Jay Adams’ contribution to skateboarding defies description or category. Jay Adams is probably not the greatest skater of all time, but I can say without fear of being wrong that he is clearly the archetype of modern-day skateboarding. Archetype defined means an original pattern or model, a prototype. Prototype defined means the first thing or being of its kind. He’s the real thing, an original seed, the original virus that infected all of us. He was beyond comparison. To this day I haven’t witnessed any skater more vital, more dynamic, more fun to watch, more unpredictable, and more spontaneous in his approach than Jay. There are not enough superlatives to describe him.”

–Stacy Peralta

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L.A.’s vastly paved architectural valleys, canyons, and reservoirs fenced-off and separated the varying neighborhoods, and would became a massive cement playground of unlimited potential seen through the eyes of young skaters years before skate parks were around or readily accessible. 

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“He (Jay Adams) didn’t give a shit about money, and I don’t think that’s why he did it to begin with. He never was interested in any of the material rewards that came from skateboarding. I think that he just basically had a total Fuck You approach to the whole commercialism of skateboarding.”

–Tony Alva

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Jay Adams — Image by Glen E. Friedman

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“Once pool riding came in– that was like ALL we wanted to do.”

–Jay Adams

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1976, Jay Adams — Image by Glen E. Friedman

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“People just wanted to have what he (Jay Adams) had, you know? They just wanted a piece of him. “

–Jeff Ho

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This low-slung, surf-influenced, fluid style was the hallmark of early Dogtwon Z-Boys skating– which was all about style. If you didn’t have great style, and looked good while you skated– you weren’t anything– you were stinking the place up. “(Surfer) Larry Bertelman was the fundamental impact on the Z-Boys thing– the Z-Boys thing was Larry Bertelman on concrete. That’s what we were all trying to do, because Larry Bertelman just blew the doors off everybody.” –Nathan Pratt. And then the Z-Boys set the bar again with vertical skating, and the world has never looked back…

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“Jay Adams may not have been the world’s best skater, but he was the man, the real deal, the original, the first. He is the archetype of our shared heritage.”

–Stacy Peralta

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1976, Jay Adams — Image by Glen E. Friedman

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“I missed a lot of good times, doing things that I shouldn’t have been doing. There are certain mistakes I’d like to change, but I’m not going to trip on it to hard.”

–Jay Adams 

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Jay Adams, King of the “Bert-slide” — Image by Craig Stecyk. The Dogtown Z-Boys skating style was heavily influenced early-on by Hawaiian surfing badass Larry Bertelman. “I remember being in the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and watching Hal Jepsen’s surf film ‘Super Session’ and a young Hawaiian surfer named Larry Bertelman came on the screen…” –Stacy Peralta. “He, like, put his hands on the wave– he was one of the first guys that I remember doing that. So we started copying that on the ground.” –Jay Adams. 

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“I believe this photo of Jay (above) is the most stunning and strikingly clear representation, of any photo ever taken, of modern skateboarding. It contains all the elements that make up what modern-day skateboarding has become: awesome aggression and style, power and fury, wild abandon, destruction of all fear, untamed individualism, and a free-spirited determination to tear, shred, and rip relentlessly. Jay should’ve had it all, and it makes me so sad that he didn’t.” 

–Stacy Peralta 

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1978 — Jay Adams at Marina Del Rey Skatepark — Image by David Scott

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“Some kids are born and raised on like, graham crackers and milk– Jay was born and raised on surfing and skateboarding, you know.”

–Tony Alva

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Z-Flex skate team, back to front, left to right– Marty Grimes, Jimmy Davies, Eric Andersen (Froggy), Solo Scott, Jimmy Plummer, George Wilson, Shogo Kubo, and Dennis Agnew (Polar Bear). — Image via Venicepix

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11 thoughts on “THE UNLOCKING OF AMERICA’S CEMENT PLAYGROUND | DOGTOWN & Z-BOYS

  1. Man, the 70’s really did have it all, cool music, movies, cars, and a sense of freedom that is gone forever. Awesome stuff!

  2. GREAT photos, of course. Thank you for your fine work… Just wondering: is there any overlap with the guys seen in your Venice Beach article from 4/11/2011? Some of the faces look familiar, but I’m not seeing any captions for the VB article (at least not when viewing the mobile version of the page, like now).

  3. Peralta did a great documentary called Dogtown and Z Boys.
    Just don’t confuse it with the POS Lords of Dogtown.

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