I seem to have developed an interest in urban sports recently (as a spectator only, I hasten to add), so I naturally gravitated towards this DVD in Blockbuster. In fact, you don't really need to be interested in skateboarding to enjoy this documentary. It's a fascinating story--how did a bunch of poor, tough kids from a rough area of LA (Dogtown) come to develop a whole new style of skateboarding?
Skateboarding was developed by surfers in the 50s as an after-surf activity. At first, the style was all clean-cut pastel colours and a very straight upright riding style. The Z-Boys (a team put together by the owners of the radical Zephyr Surf Shop) blasted on to the scene like a bunch of break dancers at a ballroom dancing competition. They honed their skills on the concrete banks of school playgrounds, and in swimming pools drained because of the drought in the 1970s, breaking in to yards and splitting when they heard the Police sirens. They emulated the new style of their surf heroes with a low, sweeping action, carving tight turns and touching the concrete with their hands. There were odd echoes of the ethos of the free runners:
Two hundred years of American technology has unwittingly created a massive cement playground of unlimited potential. But it was the minds of 11 year olds that could see the potential. --Craig Stecyk, 1975 Going big worked only as long as you looked good doing it. --Narration by Sean Penn
One of the most wonderful things about the film was the extraordinary contemporary photography of Craig Stecyk--at the time, a 26 year old photo-journalist. The images are grainy black and white shots, showing the skinny kids swooping about on the tarmac, perfectly balanced, blond straggly hair describing an arc. Their faces show a look of utter absorption and focus--as if there is no place to be but here and now.
It was really quite inspiring. Many of the Z-Boys became famous and rich by their boarding, but it was quite reassuring to see that they still seemed to do it for the fun and glory of the activity. They never expected to make any money from skateboarding, and they never really expected it to go anywhere. They did it because they loved it, and because they were creating something like art.