Revolutionary Dogtown

In 1999, professional skateboarder Tony Hawk ‘ollied’ himself out of a 13-foot half-pipe, rotated two and a half times and landed back in the ramp on his skateboard.

Soon after Hawk completed the first 900-degree spin, skateboarding’s popularity exploded. Its impact on pop culture spread through an increase in commercials, video games and televised shows, such as Blue Torch, that featured skating.

But how did this sport, or lifestyle, outlive its past association with fads like the yo-yo and the hula-hoop? How did skateboarding evolve into what it is today?

Catherine Hardwicke, director of the movie Thirteen, answers these questions and more in her new film Lords of Dogtown. Based on the award-winning documentary Dogtown and Z-boys, Hardwicke follows local surfers from their start in a decrepit 1970s Venice beach known as Dogtown to their rise as up-and-coming skateboarders with a revolutionary new style.

During this period, skateboarding competitions were orchestrated on flat surfaces where riders attempted monotonous and uninspired handstands and grounded 360 spins. A few years later, Dogtown locals such as Stacy Peralta, Tony Alva and Jay Adams, sponsored by the Zephyr Surf Shop, would change that image.

Their aggressive new style originated from the Z-boys’ local surf spot underneath the dilapidated Ocean Park Pier. Surfing at OPP differed from most California locales in that surfers had to adapt and ride through fallen pilings, debris from amusement park rides, concrete and rebar hazards.

“It was a playground for outlaws,” screenwriter and former Z-boy Stacy Peralta said in a press release. “It really defined the topography of what Dogtown was: a seaside slum.”

But it wasn’t until two developments in the mid-’70s that skateboarding began to adopt its present-day characteristics.

With the advent of urethane, a softer wheel was created. This allowed skaters to roll over minor cracks and rocks. The former wheels, made from clay, were notorious for locking up on the smallest of pebbles and sending their cargo flying at full speed.

At the same time, a severe California drought dried up area swimming pools and turned the old freestyle venue on its head.

The Z-boys scouted out these empty pools and, by trespassing onto private property, were the first to skate vertical concrete walls.

“We used to ride walls as if we were surfing them,” Peralta said. “We were surfers first who took all our drive and ambition and motivation to become professional surfers and switched it to becoming professional skateboarders.”

Together the Z-boys pushed skateboarding to a new level, and soon after, wooden ramps were being built that eventually led to the modern form of the half-pipe.

But as the skating progresses in the movie, a more subversive theme plays out. Skateboard legends Peralta, Alva and Adams shock the skateboard underworld with their new and more aggressive maneuvers, while a rift develops between the relationships the three skaters have with Zephyr Shop owner Skip Engblom, played by Heath Ledger. The lure of money and fame from rival skateboard companies persuades Alva, an arrogant rock ‘n’ roll type, to leave the Zephyr team. The more responsible Peralta also leaves the team, but manages to conduct his new business dealings in a more practical way. As for Adams, the rebellious punk rocker is not swayed by endorsement deals and money as much as he is by drugs and partying.

Even though the movie lacks a developed plot, the film is successful in drawing an accurate recreation of lower-class Venice Beach and the personality of three young legends.

Rating: B-
Drama, PG-13, Running time:105 min.