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Laramie Movie Scope:
Dogtown and Z-Boys

The genesis of extreme sports

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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November 4, 2002 -- "Dogtown and Z-Boys" is an enthusiastic ode to a few pioneers of extreme sports, specifically extreme skateboarding. It is directed by Stacy Peralta, one of several "Z-Boys" who started as a surf bum and went on to fame and fortune in business and sports. You definitely don't have to be a surfer or skateboarder to appreciate this film.

The Z-Boys name was based on the name of their team, the Zephyr Skateboard Team, put together by Jeff Ho, Skip Engblom and Craig Stecyk, who ran a local surfboard shop in Venice, California called "Jeff Ho & Zephyr Surfboard Productions." The local surfing action in the 1960s and 1970s took place in an area between between Santa Monica and Venice known as Dogtown. Surfers would ride in dangerous waters around abandoned amusement parks and piers, darting between the piers. Now this area is all expensive and up-scale. In those days Dogtown was known as "the last great seaside slum," or the place where "the debris meets the sea." The coolest dudes in town were the Zephyr Surfboard Team members. They ruled the waves with a vengeance. Local latchkey kids hung out at the Zephyr Surf shop which served both as a clubhouse and a home away from home.

The surf would die down around 10 a.m. every day, so the kids looked for something else to do, and that turned out to be skateboarding. After skateboarding died out in the 1960s it made a big comeback in the 1970s with the advent of polyurethane wheels. These wheels made it possible for skateboarders to achieve surfboard-like maneuvers. Soon the Zephyr Surfboard shop started making skateboards and it sponsored a skateboard team to go with its surfboard team. Shop owner Craig Stecyk, a talented writer and photojournalist, featured the team in a number of magazine articles written under different pseudonyms. Stecyk's photos, along with those of Glen E. Friedman, are featured in the film. The legend of the Z-Boys (actually, at least one of them, Peggy Oki, was a girl) was born through Stecyk's articles and photos.

Skateboarding on local grade school parking lots and swimming pools, the Z-Boys developed their own surfing-influenced style of skateboarding, including revolutionary vertical maneuvers on the sides of the pool and in the air above the lip of the pool. The fact that they were trespassing and did not have permission to use the swimming pools did not slow down the Z-Boys one little bit. There were the outlaws of skateboarding. The Z-Boys took the mainstream skateboarding world by storm at the Bahne-Cadillac Skateboard Championship (also known as the "Del Mar Nationals") in 1975. Their crouching, fluid, nimble style of skateboarding was unlike anything the judges, or most of the public, had ever seen before. The team instantly revolutionized the sport.

The team was so successful it killed the business that sponsored it. Large skateboard manufacturers lured away the team's top talents with money the Zephyr team could not match. The skateboard stars went on to bigger and better things, while the Zephyr surf shop closed down. Some team members became very successful in business. One team member started his own skateboard company at the age of 19. Several became world champions in the sport. Others fell by the wayside, succumbing to drugs. According to the credits at the end of the film, one team member was in jail at the time the film was released (although he has since gotten a shoe contract because of the film). All in all, though, the Z-Boys did pretty well for a bunch of kids whose only ambition was to skate and surf better than anyone else. One skateboarder recounts how astounded his parents were that he was able to make so much money by skateboarding. In its own way, it is an inspirational film.

The film features an energetic soundtrack with songs by The Beach Boys, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, The Stooges, Alice Cooper, Neil Young, The Allman Brothers, Rod Stewart, Ted Nugent, ZZ Top and Thin Lizzy. The film editing is equally energetic and well-synchronized with the music by Paul Crowder (he was also the film's music supervisor). Innovative use of film stuttering, burning, blackouts and artful jumps from one medium to another (stills, 8mm, 16mm, video) really juice it up. Crowder's aggressive editing has that same outlaw style of those early daredevil surfers and skateboarders in the film. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2002 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)