Stacy Peralta & Tony Alva
by Rob Blackwelder/SPLICEDwire
A scene from 'Dogtown & Z-Boys'
Alva in the '70s (from "Dogtown & Z-Boys")

WHO: Stacy Peralta & Tony Alva
WHAT: Granddaddies of modern skateboardering
WHEN: April 5, 2002
WHERE: Prescott Hotel, SF, CA
HOW (you might know them):
You might not know them, but if you've ever seen a skateboarder in a half-pipe or a swimming pool, you have them to thank for it.

"Dogtown & Z-Boys"

 LINKS for this film
Official site
at movies.yahoo.com
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Watch the trailer
Skateboard legends Tony Alva, Stacy Peralta were gung-ho to reminisce about their '70s hay day for 'Dogtown' documentary

By Rob Blackwelder

The idea of a 44-year-old man on a skateboard might seem downright laughable at first. But at the end of the inventive, kinetic, spirit-capturing documentary "Dogtown and Z-Boys" -- about the revolution of surf-style skating spawned in 1970s Santa Monica -- legendary skateboarder Tony Alva is shown riding the vertical sides of the swimming pool in his back yard (it's never had water in it since he moved in) with a bunch of young pro-circuit skateboarders, and he puts them to shame.

In person, Alva -- who still skates for a living and runs his own skateboard-building company -- looks like an aging rebel who has been rode hard and put away wet. But he is comfortable with his years and hasn't lost his cool. He has a head full of knotty dreadlocks, and a couple broken teeth that apparently just come with the job. Alva doesn't really smile per se, but the chipped choppers are visible when he laughs, and he does that quite a bit.

Alva was in San Francisco recently with Stacy Peralta, a friend from his stake punk youth in the dilapidated "Dogtown" section of Santa Monica, Calif. -- the part of town that went to seed when the Santa Monica Pier amusement park closed down, then fell down, leaving twisted roller coaster tracks in the tide. The spot became a Mecca for daredevil surfers.

Peralta became a filmmaker when he grew up and a few years ago started pulling together old 8mm footage and photographs of the heyday of skateboarding. He had resolved to make a documentary about how he and Alva -- along with a dozen other kids from their neighborhood -- took their surfing style to the streets in the afternoons when the waves died down.

They had become the Zephyr Skateboarding Team (a.k.a. the Z-Boys), and literally led the revolution by blowing away skating competitions, where the other entrants where doing nothing fancier than nose wheelies and handstands on their decks. What is now known as extreme sports can be directly traced back to this bunch of guys. With the spectacular, self-produced film about their team (narrated by Sean Penn) headed for theaters, Peralta and Alva met me for an interview. I pulled out my own 25-year-old skateboard for the occasion and rode it to their hotel, knowing it would be a conversation-starter.

As I enter the room, Alva laughs, "He brought his deck in for us to sign so he can sell it on eBay this afternoon!"

Rob Blackwelder: No way! I've had this thing since I was 13. I just thought you might get a kick out of seeing it. It's an old Kryptonics. These [spinning a couple wheels] are 20-year-old Kryptonics C-65s, and they've haven't coned at all.

Stacy Peralta: Wooowww. What kind of trucks are those? Trackers?

RB: Uh...yeah.

Stacy Peralta: Oh my god. Tony, check those out! Those are old-fashioned Trackers with the bolt coming out.

Tony Alva: Yep, yep.

SP: It's an old Krypstic. Late '70s. That's a good board.

RB: The first board I had was a kid's board, about that wide [putting my fingers six inches apart], rollerskate wheels.

TA: Yeah, we all started on that (kind of board), too.

RB: I was never much of a trick rider. I don't think I ever even learned to do a proper ollie. But I'd tighten the trucks down and I could get some pretty good speed going. I had a friend follow me down a hill in a car once and I got going about 45 MPH.

SP: That's fast!

TA: 45 is fast.

SP: That's a very high price if you don't make it.

RB: Yeah, well... [Laughs] So I really got a kick out of the film. I saw it with a friend I used to skate with in high school -- he happened to be in town the day of the screening -- and man, (when it was over) we just wanted to go find an empty parking structure or something. We were just having a great time. But I was curious about something -- the film was so packed with information, yet there wasn't anything about the actual origins of the skateboard.

SP: I don't know that there's a definitive story about it. Everyone seems to agree that it came off the apple crate scooter. You know, the 2x4 with the apple crate handle bars and the little wheels.

RB: Like in "Back To the Future," where Michael J. Fox rips the apple crate off a kid's scooter and rides it as a skateboard.

SP: Right, right. Then I think in the '50s some time they made those little red Roller Derby skateboards with the little metal wheels.

TA: Yeah, those were probably the first ones. That was like the scooter without the crate.

SP: And I think there are stories about, you know, some guy in Malibu ripping the crate off. Some guy in Topanga ripped it off. Some guy somewhere else ripped it off. So I think it was just a zeitgeist -- it all happened at the same time.

RB: So do any of you Z-Boys still live in the old neighborhood?

SP: Oh, I do. So does Jim Muir. So do Bob Biniak and Paul Constantineau. I just moved back two years ago.

RB: Does it still feel like home? It's changed a lot.

SP: It still feels like home. But the areas we used to hang out in, what once were slums, now have limousine parking and expensive restaurants.

TA: I don't live in Santa Monica, but I still spend a lot of time in the little Dogtown epicenter. It's like a magnet if you were born and raised there, it's like where you get reacquainted with your roots.

RB: The culture that grew up around Dogtown really became a persuasive movement in American youth culture.

SP: [With lingering amazement] Yeah, it did!

TA: That was an epicenter -- and still is an epicenter -- for that kind of combustible energy. Not only because of the surfing and the skateboarding, but you can look now and it's an influential spot in entertainment and fashion. It's just gone to another level.

SP: When we were growing up there, we were always ridiculed by East Coasters because we lived in an area that was a cultural wasteland. Behind us was the desert with nothing in it, in front of us was the ocean with nothing in it, and in between were just these dumb surfer people. But they obviously didn't see what was happening. You look back now and you go, there really was a vibrant culture.

RB: You really got the last laugh.

SP: Yeah!

RB: So Tony, I know you still ride all the time because they say so at the end of the movie and they show you boarding in your pool...

TA: And that's how I started out my day today here in San Francisco, over in Amazon Park at 6 in the morning.

RB: Stacy, you still ride too?

SP: I ride. Not as a professional skateboarder. I skate for fun, and I still enjoy it. [Tony] actually took me to my first vertical skateboard park in San Diego two days ago, and I gotta tell you, it was really, really fun. I hadn't done that in a long time.

RB: So you still do half-pipe and all that?

SP: I have an 11-year-old son. He skateboards and surfs. I built him a little quarter-pipe in the driveway. He's always asking me to skate with him. You know, "Dad, show me how to do this. Dad, show me how to do that." So I do a lot of kick turns and all sorts of stuff.

TA: He's still got a few tricks in his bag, you know. He just only busts 'em out for his boy!

SP: I still feel loose and all that, but Tony's got the lines down. He's still a really strong athlete. But we're both in good shape.

RB: It must feel great to be 44...

TA: ...and be able to jump on a board and fly down a hill at 50 MPH?

RB: That's what I'm sayin'.

TA: Yep. It feels great. But the thing for me that's inherent to all skateboarders -- even when you're 10 or 12 years old -- is that when you look at the concrete, when you look at the terrain that society has built around us, you see it with different eyes. We see it as a canvas. It's something for us not only to tap into, but to use as a vehicle for expression.

RB: Yeah, yeah. Every banister you see, you wonder if you can slide down it. Every staircase you see, you wonder if you can jump it.

TA: The stairs. The banks. The driveways. In San Francisco, out in the Avenues, you see these beautiful streets with all these banked driveways, and there's gaps and curves and rips. Those are things that a skateboarder uses. For other people, these are things you just walk by. Maybe you use the handrail to put your hand on. Meanwhile, skateboarders are riding, doing 50/50 grinds down the thing.

SP: You know, you say "being 44," but Tony is the age limit for skateboarding. Every year that goes by that he's still skating is a year that the sport grows older, that shows you can still do it at that age.

RB: He's setting the mark.

SP: Yeah, yeah.

TA: See, the guys that I looked up to -- the guys like Torger Johnson, like the Hilton brothers -- they've either passed away already or they've grown out of it. Those guys were full-on surf-skaters. I kind of just stepped into what they were doing but just took to another level from a different approach. We kind of did it from more of a low-slung, down and dirty street level. Then we progressed with it, taking it to vertical walls, to empty swimming pools and stuff like that. We took it from the ground up. That was it. That was the revolution in skateboarding.

RB: Absolutely. Speaking of setting the mark, I loved the footage in the film at the skateboarding competition where you guys just broke it out. Everyone else was doing nose wheelies and handstands, and you guys are on the ground, sliding around...

SP: That really provides the context for seeing what we were up against.

RB: You really get the essence of the movie out of that scene. Everybody else there -- everybody except the guys in Zephyr T-shirts -- look like squares after you skate.

TA: And it just so happened that Jay (Adams, one of the first famous skateboarders), being the youngest member of the team was the first one to ride. Our first guy came out -- he was maybe 14 at the time -- and hit a grand slam without even getting anybody on base yet.

SP: [Laughs] Yeah!

RB: [Laughs] I loved the fact -- as it said in the film -- that these weren't all practiced moves. He was just making stuff up on the spot.

SP: I remember looking at Skip (Engblom, a Zephyr sponsor) going, "He's never even done that before!"

TA: He was doing like G-turn nose 360s, and he did like a laid-back bertie off the platform onto the ground and back up without ever taking his feet off the board. It was unheard of, that stuff. That stuff was light years ahead of where those other competitors were coming from.

RB [to Alva]: Do you have a chipped tooth?

TA: Yeah. I cracked 'em originally from skateboarding. Through the years, every time I got my teeth fixed, I broke 'em again, so I gave up. I think it's part of the deal. I don't think skateboarders are supposed to be really that handsome.

RB: So how did it come to pass that so much of what you guys were doing was being filmed?

SP: I think we had a lot of things going for us. (Around) Santa Monica in the '70s, for whatever reason, it was kind of a Mecca for surf filmmakers. One of the key surf filmmakers out of the area was this guy Hal Jepsen. Hal started putting skateboarding in his surf movies in the early '70s, and he started shooting Jay and Tony, so all that footage was available. Plus, you know, that was the era of Super-8 cameras and it was also a time when Minolta and Canon developed a professional camera for the layperson. So there were a lot of kids that wanted in on our scene that couldn't get in (with their skateboarding skills), but they got in by documenting us. I mean, (photographer Glen) Friedman wasn't a good skater -- he wasn't even a particularly cool kid! But he brought a camera and showed us he could take good photographs.

TA: [Laughs] Come on! He was a nerdy little Jewish kid from Brentwood. He was so far outside the zone! But he had the insight, he kind of had his finger on the pulse of what was going on. He knew it was something special, and he had the timing and the intelligence to document it.

SP: He wanted in. He wanted to be a part of the scene, and that was his contribution.

RB: So Stacy, when did the thought occur to you to make this film?

SP: In 1999. Hollywood was interested in making a fictional film based on a Spin magazine article that appeared in 1999. I figured if they're gonna make a fictional film, who knows what it's gonna be like? I just felt we deserved a chance to, you know...

RB: ...get there first.

SP: Get there first. And also to have first-hand testimonial. To hear Tony speak. To hear (former Z-Boys) Bob Biniak and Jim Muir speak. It was too precious a time to not do a documentary on this. It had all the ingredients. It had a great cast of characters and a real diverse range of people, and a very unusual neighborhood it came from and a very unusual set of circumstances. As a filmmaker you look at that and go, all the ingredients are there, we just have to figure out how to mix them. So that was the impetus -- to tell our story before Hollywood came out with theirs.

RB: And you had the footage...

SP: I didn't have it, but I knew it was there.

RB: But you knew it wasn't going to be one of these documentaries where the visuals are all a camera moving back and forth across stills.

SP: Yeah, and using the same still over and over and over again.

RB: Right.

TA: Well, it did have some good techniques with the stills, though.

RB: Yeah! The editing was incredible. It had so much energy. The film truly felt like it was made by the Z-Boys.

SP: Well, that's the whole thing. We wanted to make sure the film was a reflection of the subject matter -- as it should be, being a documentary.

TA: And Paul Crowder is a musician and a really talented editor. I think he tapped into the rhythm and the beat and the energy.

SP: He did.

RB: It stayed visually interesting, beyond just the skateboarding footage.

SP: We wanted to keep the warts-and-all approach. Like if someone got long-winded in an interview, we'd speed them up.

RB: That's was great! I loved that. That was a great technique. I think that could start a trend. It didn't feel like you were fast-forwarding through something boring. It wasn't a slight to the people speaking. It was just a cool technique.

SP: Yeah, we just wanted to get to the next point.

RB: I loved the fact that you left it in when Sean Penn cleared his throat in the narration.

SP: Well the thing is, documentaries can be so uptight, and there was just no way this one was going to be uptight. It couldn't be!

RB: Were you there for Penn's recording?

SP: Oh, I directed his recording, and believe me it was nerve-wracking. I'd only met him once before when he came to see a rough cut of the film. I didn't know what he was gonna be like. I didn't know if he was gonna say, "Hey, this line sucks!" or "Who wrote this?" But he was dead cool. Absolutely dead cool the whole time. Then afterward we were just about to get on a plane and he said, "No, man. Let's go have some drinks." So we stayed up until 5:30 in the morning talking about skateboarding and surfing.

RB: So why Sean Penn and how Sean Penn?

SP: Um, he just seemed like the logical choice, culturally and personally. He grew up 30 minutes north of us. He went to the same high school that Tony and Jay went to. He is a surfer, he was a skateboarder, and we just figured he was the right person.

RB: And he had that whole Spicoli thing going for him. (Penn played the stoned surfer in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High.")

SP: Well...it was beyond that. Sean grew up on our culture.

TA: That's why he was able to play Spicoli so well!

SP: Yeah. We all went to high school with a million Spicolis.

TA: [Big laugh]

SP: [Smiling] You know what I mean? We did! I'll tell you something, man. When Sean saw this film for the first time, he told me, "Man, I almost cried." Because it was affecting him because it was so much of his childhood as well. Seeing all those blond-haired surfer kids -- he was one of those kids, you know? So anyway, Glen Friedman, who was a co-producer of the film, came in one day and said, "Hey, I know someone who knows Sean's assistant. Let me see what I can do." And he pulled it off. He pulled Sean in. Sean came in and he liked what he saw.

RB: Was he someone who had already occurred to you, or was it because of that conversation?

SP: You know, I think what happened was we were sitting around the office one day and someone said, "Hey, I was watching TV and I saw Sean Penn with his son at the X Games. And instantly I thought, Wow! That's it! Then I immediately thought, Yeah, sure.

RB: So it must have been thrilling when he said yes. He's absolutely the perfect person for it.

SP: [Nodding emphatically] Oh, it's beyond that. I mean, just the name -- he brings so much cache to the project, and he's been such a champion of the film. He's seen it three or four times. And he also likes it as a filmmaker. He likes the construction of it. So, yeah. It was a windfall getting him.

RB: Are you guys just shooting in and out of San Francisco today, or are you going to go up to Marin County to hang out with Sean?

SP: Actually, we were supposed to. But he had to take his daughter back east on some school trip, so we're not going to see him. But I saw him last week in Los Angeles. When he comes down there, he usually calls and stuff.

RB: Do you guys have a favorite skateboarding movie?

SP: Yeah! "Skater Dater." It's a short film, about 15 minutes long, and it's the very first skateboarding film ever done.

TA: It's super.

SP: Really beautiful, beautiful film. It's about this group of kids that skateboard together. There's no talking -- it's all done with looks and stuff. And a girl comes into the scene, and she likes one of the kids, and she breaks him away from the group. There's a challenge on a hillside, slaloming around cans and stuff -- they battle for the girl, kind of.

RB: So it's a skateboard silent movie showdown.

SP: Yeah. Total '60s.

RB [to Alva]: So would you rank that as your favorite, too?

TA: No, I like the classics. I like the old documentary, surf films...that were theater worthy. The cinematography and everything were just excellent.

RB: How about Hollywood skateboard movies. What was the last one? "Gleaming the Cube?"

TA: Pretty much every fictional skateboard movie and every fictional surf movie has been pretty stupid. There's layers of cheese on them. Nachos with extra cheese!

At this point the film's publicist comes in to tell us our time is up. As I'm packing up and heading for the door, Alva stops me.

"You're not getting out of here without me signing your deck, dude."

He pulls out a fat Sharpie marker, finds the least dirty spot on the bottom of my board and gives it his John Hancock. I'm not a person particularly interested in autographs, but as I ride my board away from the hotel, I pass another skateboarder on the street -- a guy who looks like he's into the scene -- and I think, If he only knew!

My skateboard is autographed by Tony Alva. I'm cool, man.


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