I was digging through our DVD collection on Saturday, when I came across Dogtown and Z-Boys, a documentary I'd picked up a few years ago, about the birth of extreme skateboarding in the late 70s.
While my search for this DVD was for a friend, I decided to watch it once more, before I loaned it out. Wow. I'd forgotten how powerful the Dogtown film was in the years since first watching it. It's the story of a couple of surfers, Jeff Ho and Skip Engblom and how they sponsored a team a local Venice California kids as the Zephyr team (Z-Boys) who shook the world of skateboarding with their extreme yet stylish moves.
As the story unfolded about this crew of misfit guys turned skateboarding rock stars, I was transported back to my youth, and the long summer days spent cruising our neighborhood on skateboards. In the mid and late 70s, I was a skateboarder, along with the rest of my friends in our North Side Chicago neighborhood.
As soon as it was warm enough to ride on cement in the spring, we were out cruising the sidewalks, alleys and streets of our neighborhood. We would ride our boards from early morning 'til late at night — we practically lived on our boards — riding to the store, the park, wherever. Anything out of skateboard range we'd cover on our bikes, with skates under our arms.
We didn't have much vertical terrain or pools like the California riders did, so most of our skating was on the flat, up and down curbs, and on whatever curving bits of cement or blacktop we could locate. Our mission was to find the smoothest terrain, or most challenging areas, then ride them until dinner, eat and get back until we couldn't see for the dusk.
When we started seeing pool and ramp riding take off in Skateboarder Magazine, we managed to construct a quarter pipe in a friend's backyard, riding clear to the top and cracking our wheels on the 1x2 chunk of wood nailed on top, to keep us from flying off. We spent hours perfecting our moves on that ramp, enjoying every run to the top.
Some guys across the street were also into skateboarding, and built a wider, more technically challenging half pipe ramp and challenged our guys to a contest. So, we had a "battle royale" in that cement backyard across the street. our crew did well, matching their guys and proving we could ride ramps with the rest of the skaters on our block. We'd earned their respect and it felt great.
When it was too dark to ride, we would head home and read through the pages Skateboarder, where guys like Craig Stecyk wrote about the Dogtown crew of the Zephyr team — The Z-Boys. We wanted to be like the Z-Boys: Stacy Peralta, Tony Alva, Jay Adams, Bob Biniak, and Wentzle Ruml to name but a few.
Now in reality, our crew of North Side Chicago skaters would have paled in comparison to the Z-Boys, but it didn't matter. Those guys challenged us to be the best we could be. They reminded us that skateboarding was about the pure joy of riding: being free and feeling the wind in our hair as we cruised across a stretch of flawless blacktop, the ground rumbling through our wheels.
I still own an old-school Town & Country skateboard, which I pull it out for rides now and then. After seeing the Dogtown DVD, I'm inspired to head to the neighborhood black-topped parking lot for some riding. I think the joy I experienced as a kid in the 70s is still be embedded in the deck of my old board.
I can't wait to find that joy again. :-)