Dogtown is an area that straddles Santa Monica and Venice on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Its epicenter in the late '60's and early 70's was Pacific Ocean Park, or POP, as it is commonly known. Opening in July of 1958 on the Ocean Park Pier, POP was designed as a futuristic nautical playground meant to rival Disneyland. With rides like Diving Bells, Ocean Skyway, King Neptune's Courtyard, and the Sea Serpent roller coaster, POP enjoyed a few years of solid success, followed by many years of slow decline. The coup de grace occurred in 1965 when the city of Santa Monica implemented an urban renewal project that made access to the Pier increasingly difficult. In October 1967 the Pier and all of its attractions were closed for good.
But in the end is a new beginning. For several years, until 1975 when the Pier burned down, POP became a prime hangout for young surfers who didn't mind courting the danger of riding their boards in the area on the south side of the Pier they called “The Cove”. To the untrained eye this space seemed like a wasteland of matchstick-like timbers protruding from the ocean floor. Riding a board between these elongated pegs was dangerous, yet exhilarating - sure to get the adrenaline pumping.
The skill required to navigate the gauntlet of wooden spears was great, and those who honed their skills there benefited from the boards created by a young surfer/board maker named Jeff Ho. Ho's shortboard designs enabled riders to maneuver their boards using nimble s-turns. Much more responsive than the older longboards, Ho's boards were also ideal for riding the lip of a wave.
In 1972 Jeff Ho met Skip Engblom and Craig Stecyk, two other surfers with artistic and entrepreneurial spirits. Together they opened the Jeff Ho and Zephyr Surfboard Company on the edge of Dogtown. As portrayed in the celebrated documentary, Dogtown and Z-Boys, and the feature length movie, The Lords of Dogtown, Ho was the brains behind the company’s surfboard designs, Stecyk created the graffiti-like graphics that were airbrushed onto the boards, while Engblom was more or less the business manager. To keep things interesting they sponsored a surf team, called the Z-Boys. Among those on the team were Jay Adams, Bob Biniak, Tony Alva, Stacy Peralta, Peggy Oki, Nathan Pratt, Jim Muir, and Wentlze Ruml.
Waves, however, only occur sporadically. When the surf wasn’t up, the surfers had to find other things to do. The Z-Boys found they could approximate their surfing feats by using skateboards. The invention of urethane wheels in 1972 perfectly coincided with the need for more maneuverable and responsive skateboards. These new types of wheels replaced the old clay ones, and are still in use today. With the surfing techniques learned on their shortboards, the Z-Boys began adapting their style to the skateboard, riding low, knees bent, fingers swiping the pavement as if touching a wave. Imitating the low center of gravity and slashing cut-back surfing style of Larry Bertleman (the moves he created are still referred to as “Berts”), the Z-Boys perfected their skills in a variety of settings. With concrete most everywhere in Santa Monica and Venice, there were copious landscapes for riding: sidewalks, schoolyards with banked walls, ramps descending from offices and, most importantly, empty swimming pools, all of which served as training grounds for these young, intrepid skate warriors. It was in these pools or “bowls” that the Z-Boys perfected their craft—mastering acceleration, flips, turns, and getting air.
The Z-Boys surf team soon morphed into the Z-Boys skateboard team. In 1975 Engblom heard there was going to be a national skateboarding competition in Del Mar, just north of San Diego. The team was psyched to compete and with their flair and brash, take-no-prisoners attitudes, they blew everyone away, creating a sensational new “extreme” sport. Success came quickly and pulled the team members in different directions. Stacy Peralta and Tony Alva accepted lucrative sponsorship offers, making them into instant celebrities. Irreverent, but never irrelevant, the Z-Boys were celebrated in the pages of Skateboard magazine and became the most visible faces of the new skateboarding culture.
From its humble beginnings in Dogtown, skateboarding has now become a global phenomenon that, according to a 2016 report by global marketing and research firm, Technavio, will exceed $5 billion dollars in revenue by 2020. Coincidentally, this is also the year when skateboarding will become an official event at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Not too shabby for a sport whose origin can be traced to a little pocket of coastline between Santa Monica and Venice!
Written by Marty Schatz