Monday, March 12, 2012

Dogtown and Z-Boys: L.A. Then and Now

"There is a place where American manifest destiny collides into the Pacific Ocean. This is Dogtown"
--Dogtown and Z-Boys

DURING class last week, I jotted down some ideas for blog inspiration while our speaker, Mike the Poet,  recited his poems by heart while occasionally inserting Los Angeles tidbits and suggestions for our reading and viewing. Among these ideas were the words and phrases, "Venice," "Cold cases/unsolved mysteries," "The Black Dahlia," "Noir," "Gary Phillips," "Dave Eggers," and "Dogtown and Z-Boys." Inspired by my list, I decided to watch Dogtown and Z-Boys, a documentary about skateboarding and surfing in Los Angeles in the 1970s. Although, as a native Texan, I have never surfed or skateboarded, I found the documentary very interesting, especially because of the illustrations and images it provided of old Los Angeles. I have always thought that in order to understand a place better, you must first understand it's history, and Z-Boys offered a glimpse of what Los Angeles was like back in the 1970s through telling the story of the Zephyr skate team and how they helped shape modern skateboarding into what it is today.

I find it hard to summarize the documentary because it presented so many personal stories and interviews from the Zephyr skate team, but in a nutshell, it discussed how skateboarding and surfing have come to be what they are today through the influence of a group of Angeleno kids who simply loved to surf, skate, and have fun doing so, yet accidentally and inadvertently created a cultural phenomenon, transforming skateboarding to something that was considered an insignificant hobby to a sport, lifestyle, and attitude.

One of the most surprising aspects of the documentary was the discussion of the image surfing used to have. Now, especially in California, surfing is a popular and arguably "cool" thing to do. It requires talent, money, and often a proximity to the beach. Most kids who live near the beach are often skilled in surfing or have at least tried it. The kids I babysit, who live in Manhattan Beach, often go to the beach to surf on weekday mornings for school, as it is considered a sport for Physical Education class. However, surfing in 1971-72 was completely different and was considered an outcast sport. Surfing was not something you did to build your self-esteem or gain popularity, but was rather an antisocial activity done by kids who were considered drop outs. From surfing, skateboarding became popular because when the waves died down by 10am, Angeleno kids needed another hobby, and so they glued wheels from hand-me-down roller skates to pieces of plywood and practiced the surfing tricks they learned in the water on land, using empty swimming pools as their creative canvases.

The most astonishing and inspiring aspect of the documentary was the general message that these kids weren't trying to create a phenomenon through their skating--they just wanted to be kids, having fun and doing what they loved, and this genuine passion and talent for the sport manifested itself into an entire movement, as skateboarding became so popular that skateboarding magazines were the best sellers at gas stations. The kids who decided to take advantage of their new found fame and market themselves traveled across the country and became famous everywhere, even abroad.

As for what I learned about California, I jotted down and copied below some notable quotes that reflect how Los Angeles used to be. The vintage black and white pictures and videos of the Zephyr team skateboarding in empty pools, (drained due to a serious drought at the time), and surfing on crowded beaches offered a view into Los Angeles circa 1970.

A quote from the film on the striking differences between parts of Los Angeles that we have talked about in class and that still exists today:

"There is an invisible line of demarcation from the North side of Santa Monica and the South side. On one side, there are trophy houses with a lot of money, and the other side isn't like that at all. There is a visible financial line: If you lived above Wilshire you had money, if you lived below Wilshire, you wanted their money."

I am not sure where exactly these visible financial lines exist today, but judging from what I have seen of Los Angeles and how it can go from astonishingly wealthy to extremely run-down in a matter of minutes, I have no doubt that many of these lines are still present today. There isn't just one line of demarcation, but multiple lines, and through my adventures exploring new parts of L.A., I hope to find them.

Link to watch the entire documentary (in 8 parts) online:

--Caroline Queen
--Photo Credit:

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